Portraits of the Past: John Hall-Edwards

For the past few months, Biddle & Webb have been delighted to store a fascinating collection of portraits, courtesy of the University Hospitals Birmingham Charity. Painted by various artists between the 19th century and mid-20th century, the portraits depict prolific surgeons working in Birmingham hospitals during this period. Before the collection is put to auction, we would like to showcase a few of the life stories behind these amazing paintings.

The full collection will be put to auction on July 11th and will help to fund the charity’s work.


John Hall-Edwards FRSE was a pioneer in the field of radiology. Born and based in Birmingham, Hall-Edwards went on to become the first ever Surgeon Radiographer at what was then the Birmingham General Hospital – he was the first person to perform an X-ray in a clinical setting, and the first to use a radiograph during surgery.

In the portrait, Hall-Edwards is pictured in military uniform, and appears to be at work in the field – after his successes in the medical field, Hall-Edwards was appointed as the first military radiographer in 1900, and supported the Warwickshire Regiment for over a year during the Boer War. A closer look at the painting reveals that Hall-Edwards has lost his left forearm and several digits on his right hand, but this was not as a result of the war: having dedicated his career to the development of radiography, his long-term exposure to radiation caused him to develop a form of skin cancer. After his amputation, his left arm was preserved as an example of the effects of radiation, and remains on display in the Birmingham University Museum.

Unfortunately, continued work in radiography meant that his cancer returned – after using his own experiences to further knowledge of the disease, John Hall-Edwards died in his home in Edgbaston in 1926, at the age of 68. In the years to come, his name would be carved alongside Marie Curie’s in the X-ray Martyrs’ Memorial in Hamburg.

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