William Hartston was born in London, the son of Lewis Hartston, a timber merchant. He was educated at Parmiters School and the University of London, where he studied medicine at the London Hospital, qualifying with the Conjoint in 1926, and soon after graduating MB BS with honours and a distinction in medicine. During the next five years he held a series of junior positions at the London, as house physician, house surgeon, house physician to the skin department and then as clinical pathologist. A period of further clinical experience followed as resident medical officer at the Mile End Hospital and at the Queen’s Hospital for Children, and as medical registrar at St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. During this time, be obtained the MD in 1928 and the MRCP in the following year. His interest then turned towards preventive and social medicine; after obtaining the DPH in 1933 he held the posts of assistant MOH in the Rhondda, and later at Scunthorpe, where he developed his enthusiasm for diseases of the chest and tuberculosis.
In the second world war he served five years in the RAMC, first as a deputy director of hygiene and later as principal medical officer to GHQ Middle East Command, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following demobilization, he obtained the DTM&H in 1946 and continued his career in the field of public health, first as MOH in Cambridge, and in 1947 as deputy MOH to the Middlesex County Council. Finally, in 1950, he was appointed principal medical officer to the London County Council (later the Greater London Council) and he remained in this post until his retirement.
It was at the LCC that he was able to pursue his special interest in the control of tuberculosis which, in the post-war years, was prevalent and posed a problem to the public health. He was successful in creating a comprehensive tuberculosis service and, before the general introduction of anti-tuberculosis drugs, he was involved in a major programme of BCG vaccination of London schoolchildren and young persons. For many years he held the post of clinical assistant (research) in the chest department of St Thomas’s Hospital, where his earlier experience of the pathology of skin disease (in particular, the micro-circulation of the skin), combined with his interest in tuberculosis,enabled him to pursue his researches into tuberculin, BCG as well as the Kveim test in sarcoidosis.
For many years he contributed an update on diseases of the chest and tuberculosis to the British Encyclopaedia of Medical Practice. He was especially fond of his association with the Acid Fast Club and the British Microcirculation Society. In 1964, the MRC awarded him a Dorothy Temple Cross research fellowship, and he went to Nigeria to study leprosy. After his retirement from the GLC in 1969, he did not give up work, but was consultant physician to the Boroughs of Camden and Islington, and he continued his clinical attachments at St Thomas’s chest department and the London Hospital skin department.
Bill’s medical achievement was, however, merely one aspect of his much wider interest in social welfare. His great passion, especially in his later years, was for medical history in its relation to social history; in particular the history of the Poor Law, the London dispensaries and the life of James Parkinson. He was a popular lecturer at the diploma course in the history of medicine at the Society of Apothecaries, as well as a leading light in the history of medicine section of the Royal Society of Medicine, where he had a successful term of office as president.
Bill was a well-rounded personality, with both the scientific and artistic sides of his nature displaying themselves harmoniously. He was no mean oil painter, enjoyed pottery and prided himself on his culinary skills.
Usually genial, but occasionally a little abrasive, there was always an underlying genuine kindness. His first marriage to Marjorie White in 1932, ended in 1945. He then married Mary Roland and they had one daughter and one son, the latter (also a William Hartston) being a famous chess player.
[J. roy. Soc. Med., 1980, 73, 694]