The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Sir Clifford Allbutt

WYAS logo longSir Thomas Clifford Allbutt (20th July 1836 – 22nd February 1925) was a nationally esteemed physician, who resided in Leeds from 1862 – 1889. He served for 20 years as a consultant physician in Leeds before retiring from his post. Following this, he moved to work in London to take up the Commissioner in Lunacy post, and then later to Cambridge, where he eventually died. 

Clifford AllbuttDuring his time at the LGI, Sir Clifford Allbutt treated patients with a variety of diseases and conditions. It may interest you to know, that four of Allbutt’s patient casebooks have survived from his time spent consulting in Leeds and these offer us insight into the types of patients and conditions he was treating.

One of the most common diseases in the 19thCentury was tuberculosis. Allbutt treated many patients who suffered with tuberculosis. There was no typical age, gender or occupation of his patients who suffered with tuberculosis in Leeds. Allbutt did treat individuals such as miners—who have stereotypically been expected to suffer with lung related illnesses, due to the nature of their work—but he also treated young women, housewives and children who suffered with tuberculosis too. 

Allbutt showed himself to be a thorough and concerned physician who conducted detailed examinations on all aspects of his patient’s lifestyle and occupation. He also included careful records of his patient’s temperature, which he tracked regularly whilst they were in hospital. This is important as Allbutt was known for introducing the clinical thermometer in its current format. He reduced the size of the thermometer from 10-inches to 6-inches, making it much more practical for physicians to carry around in their pockets. 

medsPicture1In the case of Mr Jacques, a 35-year old miner who had been suffering with a painful chest for 3 months, we can see how Allbutt’s use of a temperature chart enabled him to monitor and assess his patient’s health and recovery process. His temperature chart showed that upon admission to hospital, Mr Jacques had a temperature of 103°F (the average body temperature is 98.6°F). However, after careful medication and monitoring, his temperature did drop back to a more normal 98-99°F.

Mr. Jacques was also successfully relieved of his illness, tuberculosis, and the temperature charts enabled Allbutt to regulate and monitor his condition.

In addition to being a well-regarded consultant in Leeds, Sir Clifford Allbutt was also a regular attendee at the LGI’s weekly board meetings where he was involved in regulating the running and teaching of the LGI hospital. In this role he demonstrated himself to be a man with strong principles, who was not averse to voicing his concerns and challenge his colleagues.  He was also a trusted member of the board because he was regularly involved in sub-committee meetings, which were created in order to provide more specific advice to the board. He remained a member of the board until his departure from Leeds. 

Sir Clifford Allbutt contributed greatly to medical developments in Leeds; his accomplishments included: promoting open-air methods for treating typhus patients and redeveloping the clinic thermometer. He was also a good friend of novelist George Eliot who is said to have modelled her character Dr Lydgate in Middlemarchon him.  

If you would like to find out more about Sir Clifford Allbutt’s work several of his patient casebooks—covering the years: 1880, 1881, and 1882—and copies of the LGI weekly board meetings can be found in the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds.

This research into the history of Sir Clifford Allbutt was written by Olivia Wakefield.