Portraits of the Past: Leonard Parker Gamgee

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.


Leonard Parker Gamgee was born in Birmingham in 1868 to a family of well-established medical practitioners. His father, Sampson Gamgee, was renowned for his invention of ‘Gamgee tissue’, a new form of surgical dressing – the name ‘Gamgee’ became a local slang term for cotton wool, which Birmingham-born J.R.R. Tolkien later used as a surname in Lord of the Rings, for a character coincidentally also named Sam. Other significant Gamgees in the medical community included Leonard’s uncle Arthur, who was a biochemist, and his grandfather and uncle John, both of whom were successful veterinarians. His son would later continue the family tradition.

With so much to live up to, Gamgee did not disappoint. He made his career in his hometown, finishing his education at Queen’s College and going on to work at various Birmingham institutions including the Queen’s Hospital, the Children’s Hospital, and the General Hospital.

At the peak of his career, Gamgee headed a large private practice in the Midlands, and was well liked and respected by both his students and his peers. In 1919, he became the Professor of Surgery at the University of Birmingham, a role he stayed in for twenty-two years before retiring – he was granted Emeritus status for his lengthy and admirable service.

In 1956, after fifteen years of retirement and a long and successful life, Leonard Parker Gamgee died in his home in Leamington at the age of 87.

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