Celebrating Professor Roberts in Newmarket

28th July 2018

Today would have been the 100th birthday of pioneering equine veterinary surgeon Edwin James Roberts. To mark the centenary of his birth we are displaying items from the Roberts Collection, held by the National Horseracing Museum. The display explores Roberts’s place in the development of veterinary practice in the twentieth century as an innovative and pioneering veterinarian.

In a career spanning over 55 years he made a significant contribution to clinical equine practice and research. He was Veterinary Consultant to the Royal Household and is closely associated with top racehorses, Mill Reef and Arkle. He was based in Newmarket for over 20 years, principally as Head of the Clinical Department at the Animal Health Trust.

Professor Roberts performing standing surgery on an equine patient c.1960. Photograph © National Horseracing Museum

Roberts was born in Bia, Angola in West Africa on the 28th July 1918. His family recall that from a young age he had a passion for animals and he aspired to become a veterinary surgeon. Following an education at King Edward VI Grammar School, Southampton he won a scholarship to attend the Royal Veterinary College in London. He qualified in 1942 as a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and, after three years in general practise, went on to specialise as an equine veterinarian with G.P. Male.

In 1952 he joined the Animal Health Trust’s Equine Research Station here in Newmarket, as Head of the Clinical Department and to set up and run a specialist surgical unit. The Gladys Yule Surgical Wing was opened in 1961 by the Trust’s patron, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and was one of the most advanced equine veterinary complexes in the world at the time; it was also the first equine consultant clinic in England.

Roberts-blog-photo-1 Professor Roberts demonstrates the new operating table to Queen Elizabeth II as she opens the Gladys Yule Surgical Wing at the Animal Health Trust, Newmarket, 29 September 1961. Photograph © Bury Free Press.

Roberts was one of the top equine veterinarians of his time, in his position at the Animal Health Trust he was recognised as an authority in general surgery and perhaps the most skilled in equine surgery in the UK. He was an extremely careful and meticulous surgeon and working in a pioneering field he would at times need to adapt his instruments and implants for new procedures.

Following his time at the Animal Health Trust he held a professorship at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School and then ran his own consultant veterinary practise. He ceased clinical work in his seventies but was still much in demand as an advisor. His collection of equine veterinary equipment, specimens and archive material was donated to the National Horseracing Museum where it is valued as a primary research collection. It is available to visitors to view by appointment.

Roberts in Newmarket (1918-2012) will be on display until September.

Written by: Briony Jackson Assistant Curator, Science and Learning