The History of Pathology – Guildford and St Luke’s

Our researchers are busy working on topics and stories from the SLHHP archive and here is the latest research from Phil Davie, lead researcher, on the history of Pathology in Guildford, particularly at St Luke’s.

Pathology Services

Pathology: the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes. From

When patients of the Guildford Workhouse required pathology services the work was given to a local specialist on a per item basis. After the 1914-18 War Dr Allan Pimm became the Guildford pathologist. He was a member of the Pimm family that had long run a furniture manufacturing and showroom business at the top of North Street, Guildford.

Dr Pimm undertook Public Health work, for Guildford Corporation (or Town Council), and Pathological Testing, for the Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH) and Guildford Institution Infirmary (the renamed Workhouse Infirmary). Dr Pimm utilised a laboratory based in rooms in Harvey Road, possibly part of the family home. At the same time a Dr R C Matson was working as a part time pathologist for various hospitals in the Woking area plus Woking Urban District Council.

In 1923 Dr Pimm ceased his pathology activities to become full time Medical Officer for the Guildford Institution (ex-Workhouse). Dr Matson succeeded Dr Pimm in providing pathology services to the RSCH. From 1925 Dr Matson also provided services to the Guildford Institution. Dr Matson’s increased workload necessitated appointment of a Laboratory Technician. In 1928 a converted garage at the RSCH became the Pathology Laboratory and base for Dr Matson and Technician.

A still increasing workload led to appointment of an Assistant Pathologist in 1931. Their duties included visits to the Warren Road Hospital to collect samples for later analysis at the RSCH. This was undertaken on a contract basis for Surrey County Council, who then ran Warren Road Hospital (the renamed Guildford Infirmary).

World War 2 saw an extra 135 beds, an operating theatre, and a Radiotherapy Unit open at the Warren Road Hospital – all having additional pathological requirements. In 1943 an unused operating theatre was converted in to a Pathology Laboratory, the first on the Warren Road site – although it still worked under limited supervision from the RSCH unit. Use of Penicillin, the first antibiotic, in 1944 further increased the workload at Warren Road, which now had 3 staff. Rapid growth continued after the war ended and the Laboratory became an independent unit in 1946.

Warren Road Hospital was renamed St Luke’s Hospital in 1945 and formed part of the Guildford Hospital Group when the NHS was formed in 1948.

A new Laboratory was built at St Luke’s in 1953 and opened by the Minister For Health (the Rt. Hon. Ian McLeod). A Public Heath Laboratory was housed on the upper floor with the Pathology Departments of Haematology, Biochemistry, Histology and Bacteriology on the lower floor. It enabled all Public Health and a large proportion of Medical Pathology to be centralised, albeit with some professional friction. The Laboratory became a Pathology Training School in 1958 with two consultants and 11 Technicians

Guildford and Godalming Hospital Groups merged in 1961. In 1964 the associated Pathology departments also merged, with administration centralised at St Luke’s and other Laboratory activities being transferred slowly thereafter. By 1966 the St Luke’s Laboratory was grossly overcrowded so a prefabricated single storey extension to the building was added for Haematology. In 1967 Pathology Medical Services comprised 6 Consultants, 2 Registrars and 2 Senior House Officers. A Principal Biochemist, 4 Chief Technicians, 28 further Technicians, plus ancillary staff provided Technical Services.

In 47 years the Pathology function at Warren Road/St Luke’s Hospitals had grown from one part time doctor to some 43 medical and professional staff covering the Guildford and Godalming areas.


Unpublished booklet: 50 years Development of the Pathology Services in the Guildford and Godalming areas, Dr S Keyes M.R.C. Path, undated

Minute Book of the House/Visiting Committee of the Guildford Poor Law Union (1924 To 1930). Reference BG6/12/12, Surrey History Centre

Minute Book of the Board of Guardians of the Guildford Poor Law Union (1923 To 1926). Reference BG6/11/45, Surrey History Centre.

Biography of Allan Pimm MRCS, LRCP, Liz Lloyd, Researcher at The Guildford Spike, 2014