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A little bit of personal history by Chris Stephens

Reunions are more enjoyable as one gets older. No longer does one have to listen to how wonderful everyone else’s children are doing at school, university, or the City and can relax and talk about former shared times. While most dental school have alumni  associations their reunions take a variety of forms. As far as I am aware in the UK there are only two reunions of formerdental staff. There is our own which meets every couple of months now centred on the Shakespeare pub in Redland. It is not exclusive to  former Bristol dental staff  and graduates are welcome. The other is theEmbryo Club which meets twice yearly in Whitehall London and is of much older vintage having been established in in the late 1940s by notable Guys Dental staff.

Whilst Embryo Club lunches are not exclusive to Guys alumni it is rather old fashioned in that joining is by invitation only and it has only been agreed in the past few months to admit women! (It was after all only 1948 that the Guys Dental School admitted women to the dental course  whereas in enlightened Bristol  we had done so from 1909; the first woman to qualify in dentistry being Marjorie White in 1915).

But I digress. Having become a new member of the said Embryo club (don’t ask about the origins of the name it is a long story)  I found myself in the august company of my former teachers, notably Jack Rowe Professor of Conservative Dentistry and later Dean of the School, now in his 90s.  He had been taught by David Robinson who had qualified 4 years before him in 1944. This was the era of “see one do one teach one” where promising students on qualification were invited to join the staff as part time demonstrators. DavidRobinson had by this time become a part-time lecturer and was busy building up his practice in south London which Jack Rowe soon joined in 1949. In 1965, the year in which I qualified, Jack completed his MDS, the first Guy’s graduate  to do so, and was appointed  to a full time senior lecturer post there.This left left a  vacancy in  David Robinson’s practice which my wife and I were invited to join.

Another member of the Embryo Club present at my first lunch  was BruceRobinson, who I remembered as an 11 year old while  I was working at his father’s practice.  Very recently Bruce, who turned out to be the third generation of dentist in his family,  presented me with a photograph of his grandfather’s year of qualification in 1924. As this was from Bristol he pointed out that my arrival at Bristol in 1971 had completed the Robinson “teaching circle”. 

Some of the other names of those who qualified in 1924 can be arrived at by searching early  Dentists Registers. Almost all of those who I have identified had taken the LDS Bristol or the LDSRCS (Eng)  for although the BDS (UBrist) had been established  in 1909  in order to become a BDS student one had to have matriculated which was still a rarity at that time. It is intriguing to realise that the Class of 1924 would have been taught, among others,    

by  George Fawn who finally retired in 1947. His eponymous prize in Childrens’ Dentistry is still awarded today. George  had been the first to qualify with the BDS Bristol in 1912.  However this was not the first Bristol BDS degree to be awarded. That honour goes jointly to Messrs Kelsey and Lennox who a year earlier had been examined by Sir Charles Tomes the then external. However both had achieved the licentiate of one of the Royal Colleges several years before; Kelsey obtained the LDS RCPS Glasgow in 1898 and Lennox the LDSRCS England in 1903. William Lennox would remain on the school staff until 1941.

 But who then is the much older suited gentleman in the back row of the photograph? At first I had assumed that he was one of the class’ teachers but why only one when there were at least three clinical teachers by this time? More likely it is William Herbert Phillips who had qualified LDSRCS (Eng) in 1898  in the days before one needed a dental qualification to practise. He then seems to have been moved, like others of that generation,  to obtain the LDS Bristol in 1924. He was still practising in Paignton in 1954.


Saunders CJG.  The University of Bristol Dental School and Hospital. University of Bristol, 1964

Saunders CJG. The United Bristol Hospitals. Board of the United Bristol Hospitals, 1965

Smith GM. A history of the Bristol Royal Infirmary. J W Arrowsmith Ltd., Bristol. 1917

Stephens CD. A history of the University of Bristol Dental School and its site. Bristol Dental Alumni Association. 2010. ISBN 978-0-9549861-5-5

Stoy PJ. The  Bristol Dental  School  1874-1940. British Dental Journal 1947, 82: 141-142