Dr Bobby Headley


Interview details:

Date: 13 October 2005
Location: St George's Hospital, Tooting

The Life of Bobby Headley (1915-2013), Consultant Anaesthetist, by his son Nigel, July 2014.

Seton Robert Tristram Headley – always known as Bobby – was born 29 March 1915 at Barnes in West London. His father was postmaster for the Hammersmith area and Bobby first attended Collet Court prep school there but his father took up the position of postmaster at Eastbourne in the 1920s so Bobby’s secondary schooling was completed at Eastbourne College. Most of his early memories were of that school and growing up in a very lively sociable community with a background of tea dances at the grand hotel and young ladies from various girls schools.

After leaving school he went to Imperial College, London, and Kings College in the Strand to study for a medical qualification. His studies were completed in the clinical setting of St Georges Hospital, then based at Hyde Park Corner. After gaining his medical degree he had various postings, including locum general practitioner in Alfriston, Sussex, and a hospital posting at the West Middlesex Hospital in Twickenham.

He married Joan in June 1939 but in the following months decided to join the army and duly set sail for Egypt via the Cape. He did not return to England until the end of the war at which time, armed with a testimonial from his commanding officer, he was able to obtain the position of consultant anaesthetist at St George's Hospital. He was to remain there for the remainder of his career. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Anaesthetists in 1953.

In the late 1940s the family moved from a flat in Barons Court to Wimbledon as the town was well placed to access both St George’s at Hyde Park Corner and the Tooting Fever Hospital, then developing as the central London hospital’s  suburban wing. He and Joan had three children - Nigel born in 1948, Charles in 1949 and Angela in 1956. They all attended Wimbledon schools - the Rowans, Rokeby and Wimbledon High.

Bobby joined the then John Evelyn Society early on and always took a strong interest in the history of Wimbledon. He retained this interest long into retirement, keeping active and positively contributing towards the Society’s activities.

When the family first came to Wimbledon in the post-war years the place was filled with huge Victorian mansions with large grounds. Their first house was on the corner of Cottenham Park Road and Durham Road, number 23 until 1955 when it was renumbered 53. There was no housing on the other side of the road as the land was owned by the large properties lining Copse Hill. Those estates were rather run down but gave Cottenham Park Road a very rural feel.

On the slopes just above their home was a large mansion occupied by the bandleader Ted Heath. His son had a small holding which opened directly onto Cottenham Park Road and the children had great fun scrambling among the chickens and pigs that he kept there. As the years went by, all the great houses and their land were taken over by developers who replaced them with large estates on the flanks of the hill and only traces of that earlier time remain today.

Further along Cottenham Park Road was the opening to the lower grounds of Atkinson Morley’s Hospital. During the 1950s there was a very active sporting fraternity there and the family enjoyed wonderful hospital cricket matches and tennis sessions. But there seemed to be very little control over the demolition of some of Wimbledon's grand houses. Bobby felt this was a local tragedy. An obvious example was the mere fragment left of what had been the home of William Wilberforce in Lauriston Road.

Bobby and Joan sold 53 Cottenham Park Road in 1958 as she was suffering from arthritis and its tall Victorian stairs didn't help the condition. They sold it for a little less than the market value. The buyer said he was looking for a family home. Bobby said he was very keen that it should be kept intact as it was a large corner site with a huge Deodar cedar tree in its generous mature garden. Sadly within a short space of the sale taking place the tree was chopped down and in the following year or two a terrace of houses was built facing Orchard Lane.

Developers never change. You only have to think of the loss of Wimbledon Village's green, appropriated in the early 20th century by one such developer. All the endeavours of the John Evelyn Society failed to stop building on this local asset which can never be replaced.

Around 1959-60, the Headleys moved to 43 Lancaster Road where the children grew up before leaving home. Bobby’s last home was at Vine Cottage, 2 Lancaster Gardens from around 2006. He died in November 2013.

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