Barbara Clayton

Chemical Pathologist


Image courtesy of Sir Charles George

  • BORN 1922 Liverpool, England
  • DIED 2011 Fareham, Hampshire, England
  • WORKED Scotland: Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
    England: St Thomas’ Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, London; Medical School, Southampton University, Hampshire
  • HONOURS CBE 1983 and DBE  1988, for outstanding contributions on the importance of diet and nutrition and in Chemical Pathology; 1999 British Medical Association’s Gold Medal (a rarely awarded honour); Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Biology; Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

With thanks to Sir Charles George and Professor Stephen Holgate CBE

Artistic Connections

Professor Dame Barbara Clayton was suggested as a subject by Dr Patricia Fara, President of the British Society for the History of Science, in response to an invitation to create something for the Southampton Science and Engineering  Festival in 2018. We don’t know as yet if she had any personal connections to the arts, but we hope she would have approved of our song!


Title: ……..Because of Barbara Clayton
Words by: Frances M Lynch
Written in: 2018
For: Solo voice with community chorus, piano and orchestra
Performed by: Frances M Lynch

This song was written for the Southampton Science and Engineering Festival and was due to be performed on March 10th 2018. Unfortunately, the Science and Engineering Day 2018 was cancelled, but we decided to finish writing the song and posting this page about her. She would never have wanted to shout about her work, but when I found out about her extraordinary achievements I felt that everyone else should. We don’t quite have a community choir – but if you sing-a-long perhaps you can imagine it. Here are the words of the chorus: (full text is on Soundcloud)

Southampton, shout out for Dame Barbara Clayton
A woman too modest to shout for herself
Let’s strive to take care of our people and planet
Because of Barbara Clayton


Barbara Clayton progressed from being Head Girl at Bromley County School for Girls, through undergraduate medical training at the University of Edinburgh to become a research assistant to the distinguished chemist, Professor Guy Marrian, at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
In 1949 she moved to London where she completed her PhD at St Thomas’ Hospital. Her work there began to bring her widespread recognition.


Barbara became a consultant at St. Thomas’s Hospital. On her first visit to the consultant’s dining room, an all male environment at that time, someone said “I think you’re in the wrong place dear”.  Suffice it to say that no-one ever said that to her again!
In 1959 she became Consultant Chemical Pathologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital where she pursued her passion for improving the health of children.
In 1978 she moved to the new Medical School at the University of Southampton, becoming their first female professor. She was appointed Dean of Medicine in 1983, for which, despite the post being ordinarily held for 4 or 5 years, she negotiated a three year tenure.
She Chaired and served on a great many committees – all of which were directly related to her research eg:-

  • Barbara led the Government’s Nutrition Task Force for the Health of the Nation (1993-6).
  • President of the Royal College of Pathologists (1984-7); the National Society for Clean Air and Pollution (1995-97) and the British Dietetic Association (1989-2008)

    (left to right) The late Sir Donald Acheson, Sir Charles George, Dame Barbara Clayton, Sir Eric Thomas, Sheila Mooney the Faculty’s Senior Assistant Registrar, the late Colin Normand who was Dean from 1990-93 and the late Professor Jack Howell CBE. Image Courtesy of Sir Charles George.

Scientific Achievement

  • All babies born in the UK are now tested for phenylketonuria, a rare inborn error of metabolism that makes milk hard to digest and leads to brain damage. It was Barbara who not only developed this technique, but also:
    • negotiated with the Department of Health to introduce testing throughout the UK
    • set up the laboratory service
    • arranged relevant training for midwives
    • ensured that babies diagnosed with these disorders had the best nutrition possible by working with hospital dieticians and baby milk manufacturers.
  • She was the first to set up screening for thyroid deficiency in children.

She led the Royal Commission study “Lead in the Environment” 1983 which found that lead in household paint, furniture and petrol, impaired children’s intellectual development. The government instantly drafted a law prohibiting lead additives in petrol. It’s thanks to her that blood lead levels in the UK population are now very low.

Sir Charles George, Holly and Dame Barbara Clayton. Image Courtesy of Sir Charles George.

Did You Know?

  • Her father was the food technologist who invented salad cream!
  • She loved going on holiday to Iceland
  • She loved dogs. While she was Dean of Medicine at Southampton University, one of her much loved dogs died. Her colleagues, to mark the end of her tenure, bought her a new one, which fitted her own very specific requirements. Their meticulous research produced Holly, a beautiful Golden Retriever. She and Barbara were great friends, walking most weekends around Lulworth Cove, Dorset.

An Inspiring Woman

Dame Barbara believed that women just had to be better than men to succeed.
She was both sociable and private, never shouting about her own achievements, but her modesty belied her strengths:-

  • 1st woman to be Dean of a provincial medical school
  • 1st woman to be president of the Royal College of Pathologists
  • published more than 200 research papers
  • gave great public service on more than 30 expert committees, chairing several of them
  • cared for all her students, male and female, who were in turn fond of her

She once admitted – “I usually get my own way when I want it”