Personal papers of Sir Lionel Whitby, Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge University (1945-56) and Master of Downing College

Scope and Content

Includes original articles, diaries, photographs and other papers, plus copies of originals held by the family of Sir Lionel Whitby. Also includes other items such as his undergraduate gown, copies of published books and secondary material donated by his family.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Lionel Whitby (1895-1956) was Master of Downing College 1947-56, Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge from 1945, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, 1951-3, and one of the most eminent bacteriologists and haematologists of his generation. He was due to take up a place studying Medicine at Downing in 1914, but his admission was delayed until after the First World War due to military service. During the war he saw action in Serbia, Gallipoli, Macedonia and on the Western Front, attached to the Machine Gun Corps, and was awarded the Military Cross for action at Passchendaele in 1917. He was seriously injured in March 1918, resulting in a life-saving blood transfusion (by Gordon Gordon-Taylor) and the amputation of his leg, and retired from the Army in late 1918 with the honorary rank of Major. After Downing, Whitby completed his medical training at Middlesex Hospital and was one of a team of doctors who treated King George V, 1928-9. (He was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in recognition of his role in the treatment of the King in 1929). He had married Ethel Murgatroyd - herself a qualified physician from Newnham College - in 1922. From 1936 to 1938, he researched the use of the new sulphonamide drug group, identifying the activity of 'M and B 693' (sulphapyridine - a first generation antibiotic) in the treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia. In 1938, he was awarded the John Hunter triennial medal and prize by the Royal College of Surgeons for his work in the development of the clinical use of sulphapyridine. That year, he was promoted to colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Territorial Army and, on the outbreak of the Second World War, was called up for active service and transferred to the Territorial Army (Commands and Staff). He was promoted to Brigadier on 1 March 1942. At the outbreak of war, he was appointed commanding officer of the Army Blood Transfusion Service based at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, although he travelled around the country and to various theatres of war. The development of the A.B.T.A. under his command was described by Major-General Ogilvie as "the greatest surgical advance" of the war. In July 1945, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine in recognition of his work on wound shock and blood transfusions. He was knighted in the 1945 New Year Honours 'for services in the development of the sulphonamide group of drugs'. Sir Lionel Whitby was appointed as Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge in 1945, and elected as Master of Downing College in 1947. He held both positions until his death and served additionally as Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1951 to 1953. Sir Lionel died at the Middlesex Hospital, London, on 24 November 1956 following an operation. He had recently returned from a lecture tour of Australia and New Zealand as Sims Travelling Professor.


When this collection was first catalogued, it consisted of mainly photographic or scanned copies of original papers and photographs in the hands of various grandchildren. A large collection of papers (2018-19/053) was later donated to the College Archive by Sir Lionel's grandson on a visit to the College in June 2019, with later additions over the following months, including the personal diaries of Lionel and Ethel Whitby (from another grandson).

Access Information

Open to academic researchers.

Acquisition Information

17-18/38;18-19/27a; - Also 2018-19/043 and /053; 2019-20/011, /013-014. Donated and copied by various members of the Whitby and Kennedy families (Sir Lionel's grandchildren).

Conditions Governing Use




Related Material

DCHR/1/2/WHIT; DCHR/1/2/WHIT2; Records of the Regius Professor of Physic at the University Archives (University/Med 1/1)

Additional Information

Some still held by family (DCPP/WHI/2-3).