Until recently there was a plaque with an engraving resting on the Weber baby grand piano in the Foyer of the Royal London hospital. It read; ‘Donated by the family of Professor Horace David Ritchie MA (Camb) ChM (Ed) FRCS (Ed) & (Eng). Who worked at the Royal London Hospital from 1958 to 1985, loved the East End patients, the NHS and playing Mozart on the piano’.


Prof. H. David Ritchie.

Drawing by Professor John P. Blandy CBE 

David Ritchie was a most remarkable man. I first met him when I was a medical student. Then, in 1972 I became one of his house officers on the Surgical Unit. Subsequently I got to know him as an extraordinarily talented colleague and polymath. I remember him with respect & affection.

David was born in 1920 in Falkirk, one of four children of a grocer. He intended to be a Presbyterian minister and, in pursuance, he entered Glasgow University. He graduated MA with honours in theology and classics, but then changed direction. He read medicine at Magdalene College Cambridge and Edinburgh University where he qualified in 1947. He won the Crichton Research Scholarship and in 1953 an MRC scholarship to Liverpool, where he performed a cardiac transplant on a pig named Lively Lady - which he kept on the hospital roof. Later he moved to Dundee, then to the Mayo Clinic and in 1959 he won a Gold Medal in Edinburgh for his thesis on surgical jaundice.

In 1958 he was appointed to the then London Hospital as a senior lecturer and he very rapidly developed experimental surgery in support of the cardiac surgeons. In 1964 he was promoted to Professor in the Medical School and in London University. He was convinced that basic science research was the bedrock of surgical clinical practice and set about tirelessly building a formidable surgical unit. He also threw his considerable energy into assembling a remarkable clinical team. They included Richard Earlam (originator of the London Air Ambulance), Douglas Eadie (distinguished vascular surgeon & Master of the Society of Apothecaries), David Maclean (eminent surgical tutor), John Hermon Taylor (Professor & Head of Surgery at St Georges Hospital Medical School) and Charles Mann (bowel surgeon & Dean at St Marks Hospital) who paved the way for David’s successor – Professor Sir Norman Williams PRCS. David obtained hefty research grants and also established academic departments in gastroenterology, neurosurgery and immunology. He wanted the London to be known for what it was doing, not what it had done. He was an outstanding teacher and a great friend to his trainees. In 1982, at a difficult time in the medical school he was unanimously elected Dean. Being Dean was not his natural inclination and it proved to be an unhappy episode in his life. It also coincided with the break-up of his first marriage.

From a young age he had been a keen golfer and he taught himself to play the piano, sail, ski and to speak French. Indeed his ability to lecture and argue in fluent French, albeit with a pronounced Scottish accent, made him very welcome in France. He published numerous scientific papers and was for many years co-editor of Bailey and Love's A short practice of surgery. He died in Tenterden, Kent, on 21 December 1993.

David was an enigma; sometimes he seemed to be a mass of contradictions. In spite of his success and towering intellect his extrovert facade concealed a shy, sensitive, and vulnerable person. One of his sons, Sir Andrew Ritchie told me ‘Dad would play Beethoven’s bagatelle and many other pieces on his piano at home after work - to calm down’.

Now, all of us at the Royal London Hospital can be calmed down too - through the music of the Weber piano which the family’s donation facilitated. The piano was purchased after a Crowd funding initiative by Josh Bhatt. It was hailed as a very good idea by colleagues but only a relatively small amount of money was raised. David’s sons, Bruce & Andrew Ritchie then stepped in and generously donated the vast majority of the considerable final cost - in memory of their father. Their bequest has enabled thousands of patients and staff to enjoy the musical legacy which honours his memory. The Friends offer the family our sincere thanks.


Prof. Trevor Beedham. President.  Friends of the Royal London Hospital.

     January 2024



  • 1) Plarr's Lives of the Fellows, Royal College of Surgeons of England
  • 2) The Independent . Saturday 8th January 1994