CCS: Dr R Edgar Hope-Simpson

Notable Cirencester resident Dr Simpson


One of the outstanding general practitioner researchers of the 20th Century.

Edgar Hope-Simpson was born in Oxford in 1908 but spent most of his childhood in India where his father Sir John Hope-Simpson (a British diplomat) worked in the Indian civil service.

At the age of six he became a boarder with his elder brother at Gresham’s school in Norfolk where they both developed a love for natural history.

In 1925 he studied zoology and botany at Grenoble University and in 1932 he qualified as a physician from St. Thomas’s Hospital medical school in London.

He then moved to Dorset where he was house surgeon at Dorset County Hospital for six months followed by work at Bridport hospital and general practice in Beaminster.

He was a much-loved doctor, famously visiting his patients on horseback or skis if roads were impassable.

In 1945 Edgar moved to Cirencester and in 1946 took over a new practice in Dyer Street. where in 1947 the Medical Research Council allowed him to establish an epidemiological research unit to which was added a virus laboratory in 1961.

The GP practice eventually moved to Sheep Street in Cirencester and then to Chesterton Lane where it continues as the Phoenix Surgery.

The research unit in Dyer Street was finally shut down by in 1992.

Whilst running his own practice, eventually with a partner, Dr Guest, he also chaired an MRC working party which organised a major collaborative study in general practices around Britain.

His numerous publications (over 80) were scattered throughout the world’s most prodigious scientific journals and he travelled the world to lecture on his work.

His research unit in Cirencester became ‘the Mecca to which many of the World’s

Leading epidemiologists and virologists made their pilgrimages’

Dr Hope-Simpson was the World’s first epidemiologist to establish the connection between shingles and chickenpox which was the result of his painstaking observations amongst his patients in his practice. Chickenpox and shingles were known to be related but how? Experts at the time believed that two viruses existed but Edgar increasingly believed there was only one, but how to prove it?

Visit the blue plaque at 86 Dyer St.

In the end, he took his small team of research colleagues to the island of Yell in the Shetlands in 1953 and literally followed up every known case in a much-closed community. He was empowered by local islanders’ memories of occurrences and dates. By 1962, new microbiological techniques enabled him to prove his point.

He delivered his conclusion in the Albert Wander lecture of 1965,

His report became one of the most cited general practitioner publications.

‘This was world class research in clinical medicine and Hope-Simpson made probably the most important clinical discovery in general practice in the 20th century’

BMJ 2003

He was awarded numerous honours including the OBE in 1963 for his services to public health medicine, the Stuart prize from the BMA, the Kuenssberg prize from the Royal College of General Practitioners and an award from the International Society of Biometeorology. The VZV Foundation in the United States gave him its gold medal in 1999 at the Pump Rooms in Cheltenham, and in 2000 the President of the RCGP presented him with the George Abercrombie award for outstanding contributions to the literature at the Stratton Hotel in Cirencester, and two years later their gold medal, as a founding member of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

His practice in Cirencester was used as a model in 1994 when the RCGP introduced research practices which later became NHS research and development general practices. He would have been fascinated in researching the current pandemic of Covid 19.

He took a full part in Cirencester life and was a longstanding member of the Natural History Society and the United Nations Association also being vice –president of the Poulton cricket club.

He was a kind, generous and compassionate man with a zest for life and an interest in everyone he met. He was also an artist and poet with a love of nature, being an inspiration to those who spent time with him. During an interview when asked what message would he give to today’s physicians caring for patients with post-herpetic Neuralgia, Edgar responded;

‘So long as there is a kindly understanding doctor who will go on keeping in touch with the patient even if it goes on a very long time, this will be enormously valuable therapeutically.’ Such was his love for fellow mankind.

Edgar had a very strong Christian faith. He joined the Society of Friends in 1932 and continued to worship with them until his death in 2003.

He is fondly remembered by many local people in Cirencester to this day.

His widow Julia has kindly contributed much of the information which has enabled me to write this tribute and The Civic Society is delighted to have erected a blue plaque at 86 Dyer Street to mark his contribution to medical science.

John Tiffney

Cirencester Civic Society

Town Walks Update:

The Civic Society’s trusty band of guides are ready and willing to start the Town Walks on 1st May but only for small groups who pre-book of course. Contact William Cooper on 07922 044442.

1 comment on “CCS: Dr R Edgar Hope-Simpson

  1. r. trebble

    thank you

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