Anaesthesia was first used in an operation at Westminster Hospital on 11th January 1847. This was by a dentist called Mr Robinson of Gower Street for the removal of venereal warts performed by Hale Thomson. The real introduction of anaesthesia at Westminster Hospital was by Mr J Chitty Clendon, the first dentist appointed to the Hospital. Not always successful, his most famous failure was with the Hospital porter, who failed to fall asleep after half an hour of inhaling ether.

The person who advanced the understanding of ether was a medical student at the Hospital called John Snow, who also devised a simple draw-over vapouriser as a means of controlling concentration. Although he gave anaesthetics at Westminster, he was never on the staff.

Joseph Clover was the first chloroformist to appear on staff at the Hospital but the first officially appointed anaesthetist may have been Mr Bourns in 1889. He was followed by CEA Macleod, 1896; VB Orr; CHM Hughes; EW Gandy; DA Blunt (but for only three months); Kaye Davidson; and H Pinto-Leite in 1920.

It was in 1924 that Sir Ivan Whiteside Magill was appointed. Sir Ivan was born in 1888 in Northern Ireland and graduated in medicine at Queen’s University in Belfast in 1913. He worked at Sidcup with the famous plastic surgeon, Sir Harold Gillies. He was also on staff at the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich and the Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, now better known as the Royal Brompton Hospital.

During this period the ‘wide bore’ endotracheal tube was devised, that as Gillies suggested was “a means of letting the gas out without anaesthetising me”, and also the Magill attachment and forceps. With Robert Machray at the Brompton they developed the wherewithal for chest anaesthesia, including everything from high-spinal anaesthesia to bronchial blockers and the accurate placement of bronchial tubes by direct vision using bronchoscopy. Promoted to Knight’s Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1960, he died in 1986, his 99th year.

Other prominent names include Michael Nosworthy (1933-1974), who developed controlled ventilation with cyclopropane and RJB Broad, who like Magill was an expert proponent of blind nasal intubation. GSW Organe, who had been involved in the introduction of curare and decamethonium, became the first Westminster Professor of Anaesthesia in 1966. He was also President of the Association and a founder of the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists. He was knighted in 1968.

JB Wyman was the first Hunterian Anaesthetic Professor and later Dean of Westminster Medical School. He was an unsung pioneer in obstetric epidural work. Cyril Scurr introduced succinylcholine and was involved in the development of other relaxants. He also had interests in respiratory physiology and profound hypothermia. He was Dean of the Faculty of Anaesthetists between 1972 and 1974. Julian Leigh, Len Hargrove, Peter Barnes and Vivien Thomas were all important contributors to the department.

Cyril Conway was the second Professor, 1974, and was renowned for his work on breathing systems.

In 1990 Stanley Feldman was appointed as the third Magill Professor, consolidating the academic department in the new Hospital of Chelsea and Westminster, now under the aegis of Imperial College Medical School. In the same year, in conjunction with Portex, Smiths Industries, the Magill Symposium was launched as an opportunity to bring academia and clinical practice together. It was at this time that the idea of inviting an outstanding anaesthetist or intensivist to give the Magill lecture was introduced. This tradition has continued until this day.

In 2000, Mervyn Maze became the fourth Magill Professor, during his era there was significant expansion of the basic science base, with a particular interest in the mechanism of action of anaesthetics. He returned to the United States in 2009 to take up a professorial chair in San Francisco.

Professor Masao Takata was appointed as the fifth Magill Professor in 2010. His interests lie in the perioperative period and in lung injury.

Despite the changing times and mixed fortunes of anaesthesia around the UK, the Magill Department is a leading example of what can be achieved when basic science and clinical practice are combined.