Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

John Francis Hall-Edwards—a radiology pioneer

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, UK


Image of John Francis Hall-Edwards
Hall-Edwards (Courtesy of The Library of Birmingham Archives)

John Francis Hall-Edwards was born on 19 December 1858 in the Kings Norton area of Birmingham, United Kingdom. He was educated at King Edwards School in Birmingham followed by Queen’s College, Birmingham where he studied medicine and was an apprentice to Professor Richard Norris.1,2 He qualified in medicine in 1885. Norris was a physiologist with an interest in blood who had written several books on this topic. He was interested in microphotography and used this technique in researching blood corpuscles. In 1878 Norris was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for his contribution to this field.2

Hall-Edwards also developed an interest in photography and as an amateur photographer won medals and became president of the Midland Photographic Club from 1891-93.3 In 1895, the year of Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays, Hall-Edwards became an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society. On 14 February 1893 Hall-Edwards married Constance Marie di Pazzi Clutton Blair Salt (1866–1923) and together they adopted a daughter.

The news of the discovery of X-rays by Röntgen in Wurzburg on 8 November 1895 soon came to Hall-Edwards’ attention. From then on, X-ray imaging became his lifelong interest. In 1896 he gave one of the first demonstrations of this technique on Hodge Hill Common, on the east side of the city of Birmingham.4 He was one of the first radiologists in the world to use X-rays to identify a foreign body, imaging a sewing needle embedded in the hand of a patient, which assisted the surgeon in its removal. This was published in the British Medical Journal5 and reported in the local press. He delivered a lecture to the Midlands Medical Society on “The New Shadow Photography” that was published in The Photographic Review.6 In 1899 he was appointed to the staff of Birmingham General Hospital and as a “consultant surgeon radiographer” to a number of hospitals in and around Birmingham, where he set about developing the new field of radiology.

In 1900 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as major and went to South Africa during the 2nd Boer War where he served as a radiologist at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital in Delfontein. The war resulted in 75,000 deaths, including 22,000 British soldiers. Portable X-ray machines were deployed in the hospitals to localize bullets, including Mauser bullets from the rifles that were then being used. The use of radiology in the military setting was published in the paper “Bullets and their Billets” in the Archives of the Röntgen Ray.7 Hall-Edwards X-rayed around 280 patients in the Delfontein unit and published a number of papers on his military experiences.8

Hall-Edwards returned to the General Hospital, Birmingham as its inaugural radiologist and set about developing the new department. He served as editor of the journal Archives of the Röntgen Ray, one of the early British journals in the field, from 1903-1905. He was president of the British Electrotherapeutic Society in 1906 (the forerunner of the current radiology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, London) and in 1915 was elected vice-president of the Röntgen Society, which in 1928 became the British Institute of Radiology. During the First World War he hosted rallies at local football stadiums to recruit soldiers.

Hall-Edwards wrote papers on the treatment of cancer with Röntgen rays but sadly developed side effects of radiation himself. Dermatitis in his hands eventually progressed and resulted in the amputation of his left arm and four fingers on his right hand. He remained undeterred and took up painting using the thumb of his right hand. Hall-Edwards wrote about the harmful effect of X-rays and cited his own case as an example.9,10 His amputated hand resides in a pot in the Birmingham Medical School as a reminder of the harmful effects of radiation.

Hall-Edwards also performed civic duties for his city, serving as councillor from 1920-25; as a member of the public health, library, and art gallery committees; and as vice-chairman of the Birmingham war pensions committee.11 He received honors including the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1911, life member of the German X-Ray Society in 1913, an honorary member of the British Medical Association in 1926, and an honorary fellowship in the American Röntgen Ray Society.

Hall-Edwards died on 15 Aug 1926. His name is one of fourteen from the UK listed on the memorial to X-ray martyrs erected in Hamburg, Germany in 1936 to commemorate those early fearless pioneers who gave their lives to advance the science of radiology.



  1. Banerjee A K ‘John Hall- Edwards -invited review’ Proceedings of the UKRadiology Congress 21-23 May 2001
  2. Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002 Royal Society of Edinburgh July 2006
  3. Thomas A M K Banerjee A K The History of radiology 2013 OUP
  4. Major John Hall-Edwards. (n.d.). Birmingham City Council. Retrieved from http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/xray
  5. Clayton J H Needle in Hand removal BMJ 1896 1 749
  6. Hall-Edwards J Radiography popularly described The Photographic review 91-97 1896
  7. Hall-Edwards J Bullets and their billets Archives of the Roentgen Ray 6 31-39 1902
  8. Hall-Edwards J The war in South Africa Lancet 1 130-131 1901
  9. Hall-Edwards J The effects upon bone due to prolonged exposure to the X-rays Archives of the Roentgen Ray 13 144 1908-9
  10. Busch U Banerjee A K A Short History of Early Radiation Protection in ‘The Story of Radiology’ Vol 2 p25-48 ESR 2013
  11. Ross Reyburn and Banerjee AK Tribute to a forgotten hospital hero – J. Hall-Edwards Birmingham Post, 19th May 2001 p. 51




ARPAN K. BANERJEE, MBBS (LOND), FRCP, FRCR, FBIR, qualified in medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School. London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham from 1995-2019. He served on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012-2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology from 2012-2017. He is Treasurer of ISHRAD and adviser to radiopaedia. He is the author/co author of numerous papers and articles on a variety of clinical medical, radiological, and medical historical topics and seven books including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology 2005 and “The History of Radiology” OUP 2013.


Spring 2020  |  Sections  |  Physicians of Note

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