Calvin Percival Bampfylde Wells (1908-1978) was a leading palaeopathologist in the United Kingdom who was active from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s. With over 130 published articles on palaeopathology, Wells remains one of the most prolific authors on the subject. Forty years after his death Wells' publications continue to be cited by researchers and academics working in a range of disciplines. A qualified general practitioner Wells' medical training significantly informed his approach to diagnosing disease in ancient skeletal remains. His major contributions to palaeopathology include his studies of cremations, his introduction of the concept of pseudo-palaeopathology, and his use of radiology in diagnostic examination. Moreover Wells played a significant role in the development of collaboration between anthropology, archaeology, history of medicine, clinical medicine, and laboratory science, in order to enhance the study of palaeopathology.
Born in Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames, London, on 2 April 1908 to Arthur Wells (1879-1970), a barrister and medical doctor, and Violet Caroline Annie Percival (1886-1929), Calvin attended various primary schools, and was at Charterhouse for two terms in 1922. Like his father, Wells studied medicine at University College London and qualified with a Conjoint Diploma in 1933. After receiving his qualification, Wells worked as an obstetrician in various London hospitals, including Wimbledon Hospital, Queen Charlotte's Hospital and Barking Maternity Hospital. For a time he served as an anaesthetist in the Department of Obstetrics at University College London. During the Second World War, Wells served for six years in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was stationed in Ramsey, Norwich, Luton and Colchester. In 1938 Wells married his first wife Ida Clara Warrington (d.1977). There is little information about their marriage other than they did not have children and quickly became estranged despite remaining legally married until Ida's death. Wells' longest relationship was with Winifred Peterson, or Freddie Wells (d.1997), then a nurse at University College Hospital. Together they adopted two children and settled in a former manor house known as the Old Manor Hall in Mulbarton, a village south of Norwich. It was in Norwich where Calvin established his general medical practice while pursuing his interest in palaeopathology.
By 1950 Wells had become a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a fellow of both the Royal Archaeological Institute and the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 1955 Wells started to dedicate himself seriously to the study of disease in ancient bones through developing close links with Norwich Castle Museum and collaborating on articles with local archaeologists such as Roy Rainbird Clarke (1914-1963), Charles Green (1901-1972) and Barbara Green (1933-2018). Many of Wells' bone reports and palaeopathology articles were based on skeletal material excavated in East Anglia, particularly in and around Norwich. In the mid-1960s Wells retired as a General Medical Practitioner to devote himself full-time to palaeopathology. By this time Wells' skeletal reports and palaeopathology articles had been published in leading journals, including Antiquity, the British Medical Journal, Man, and the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1964, Wells' first book Bones, Bodies and Disease was published and formed part of Thames & Hudson's Ancient People and Places series, edited by his friend and confidant Glyn Daniel (1914-1986). The book received generally positive reviews and sold enough to merit a second printing. In contrast Wells' second book Man in his World (London: Baker, 1971) was released to very little acknowledgement.
Alongside his writing, Wells undertook regular speaking engagements, lecturing at events and conferences mainly on topics related to palaeopathology or the history medicine. In 1966 Wells embarked on a lecture tour of Canadian universities and medical organisations organised by his friend and bibliographer Gerald D. Hart (1927- ), which was widely publicised by the Canadian national press. A natural showman, Wells enjoyed the spotlight and regularly contributed to radio and television. A career highlight was a 30 minutes profile about Wells' life and career titled Discovery: Down among the Dead Men made by Yorkshire Television and broadcast on ITV in March 1974.
In addition to Wells' palaeopathology work he wrote extensively for newspapers and magazines on a range of subjects. This included a regular column for the Eastern Daily Press which Wells authored under the pen-name 'Calliphon'. Similarly Wells was a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, in which he reviewed both scientific and more general publications. Based on the material in Wells' archive, which includes unpublished memoirs as well as short fiction and poetry, it is evident that he possessed literary ambitions.
Outside of his professional endeavours Wells was interested in architecture and house renovation. After selling the Old Hall in the mid-1970s, Calvin and Freddie bought and extensively renovated an old pub in Hapton, Norfolk. Similarly the couple kept a cottage in Buis-les-Baronnies Drôme south-eastern France where they spent the summer months. An active person up until his death Wells water-skied almost daily and was a member of Norwich Water Ski Club. Another major interest was cartography, and Wells had a large collection of antique maps which he often lent out for museum exhibitions. At the beginning of 1977 Wells was diagnosed with an aggressive carcinoma. At the time he was organising an international meeting on Disease in Ancient Man to be held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in 1979. He had an operation in October 1977 followed by two further surgical procedures and radiotherapy, though treatment proved unsuccessful. Wells died at home on 31 July 1978. Following his death Freddie was dedicated to getting all of her husband's remaining work published in order to preserve his legacy. This included her involvement in getting Calvin's archive and library transferred to the University of Bradford in 1984. Freddie Wells passed away on 7 January 1997.