Contact Lens History
through the work of UK contact lens pioneers
Compiled and introduced by
Andrew Gasson and Tim Bowden.
Introduction to the British Pioneers
These historical pages are a celebration of the pioneers of contact lenses. They begin in the early nineteenth century with purely historical figures; progresses to the almost forgotten names of the early twentieth century who experimented with long obsolete materials, designs and fitting techniques; and ends with more recent, well known figures who laid the foundations of modern contact lens practice.
The criteria we have adopted for ‘pioneer’ status are that individuals:
- Should have made a significant contribution to the evolution of contact lenses.
- Were British or lived in the UK during the period of their participation in contact lens development.
- Are deceased.
We have therefore tried to include all of those with a significant influence on contact lenses whatever their background, whether medical, optometric, technical or occasionally purely theoretical. As such, the following selection is multidisciplinary, reflecting the nature of the British Contact Lens Association itself. Alas, by virtue of the selection criteria, our pioneers are no longer with us. We are therefore happy not to include some very obvious individuals who will one day be contact lens pioneers.
Pioneers are presented in approximately chronological order and as such give an overview of contact lens history. It emerges that because of the nature of most early fitting the background of our subjects is mainly medical in origin. Three other features become apparent. First, because of the original German innovations, European co-operation could only take place between the two world wars, after which British innovation followed its own course. Secondly, the pioneers were extensive travellers sharing ideas at an international level. Thirdly, much of UK contact lens development occurred in central London, in and around the Harley Street and Wigmore Street areas, traditionally homes of the great names in ophthalmology and dispensing optics.
In addition, there are many early practitioners, not in themselves responsible for key or pioneering developments, who in retrospect exhibited great courage in fitting rudimentary forms of contact lens to equally valiant patients. These are afforded an honourable mention on the final pages together with a listing of overseas pioneers who do not satisfy our criteria but deserve recognition in any publication concerned with the history of contact lenses.
It is quite possible that through oversight we may have inadvertently omitted early figures of note. We would be pleased to receive information on these or further enlightenment on our selected pioneers where research has been able to provide only scant particulars. These details will be included in subsequent revisions along with today’s future pioneers.
Thomas Young (1773-1829)
Sir John Herschel (1792-1871)
Andrew Rugg-Gunn (1884-1972)
Frederick Williamson-Noble (1889-1969)
Ida Mann (1893-1983)
Josef Dallos (1905-1979)
George Nissel (1913-1982)
Charles Keeler (1903-1993)
Arthur Poole (1905-1998)
Dick Smellie (1903-1992)
Hermann Treissman (1901-1963)
Harry Birchall (1884-1952)
Frederick Ridley (1904-1977)
Keith Clifford Hall (1910-1964)
Frank Dickinson (1906-1978)
Geoffrey McKellen (1903-1985)
Arthur Forknall (d. 1961)
Raymond Kelvin Watson (1911-1974)
Stephen Gordon (1922-2004)
Arthur Bennett (1912-1994)
Frederick Burnett Hodd (1911-1999)
Irving Fatt (1920-1996)
Jonathan Kersley (1939-2000)
The London Pioneers – Where They Were
Much of UK contact lens development occurred within a small area of central London, in and around Harley Street and Wigmore Street, traditionally homes of the great names in ophthalmology and dispensing optics.
Red = Ophthalmologists
Green = Dispensing opticians
Blue = Others
* = off the map
1. 48 Welbeck Street. Thomas Young – 1820-1829
2. 39 Wigmore Street. Keeler’s – Arthur Poole – fitted lenses 1948-1964
3. 47 Wigmore Street. Keeler’s – ArthurPoole – Fitted lenses 1938-1948
4. 21-27 Marylebone Lane. Keeler’s – Arthur Poole – fitted lenses from 1964
5. 19 Wigmore Street. Dixey – from 1954
6. 114 Marylebone Lane. Cyril Winter of Dixey – from 1939
7. 16 Wigmore Street. Clement Clarke – Edmund Plaice – lenses from 1937
8. 18 Cavendish Square. Hamblin – Josef Dallos and Dick Smellie – from 1937
9. 9 Wigmore Street. Hamblin – Josef Dallos – 1937
10. 31 New Cavendish Street. Hamblin – Dick Smellie – 1927 and 1957
11. 27 Harley Street. Frederick Williamson-Noble – 1930s
12. 49 Harley Street. Andrew Rugg-Gunn – 1930s
13. 78 Harley Street. Herman Treissman – 1940s
14. 80 Harley Street. Jonathan Kersley – 1970s-1990s
15. 96 Harley Street. Ida Mann – 1920s-1949
16. 12 Wimpole Street. Frederick Ridley – 1940s
17. 23 Wimpole Street. R. A. Greeves – 1930s
18. 17 Devonshire Place. Josef Dallos – 1964-1979
19. 7 Devonshire Street. Freddie Burnett Hodd – from 1960
*20. Siddon’s Lane. Nissel & Co. – 1946
*21. 139/140 Park Lane. Keith Clifford Hall – 1945-1964 – about 0.5 miles south
*22. Holborn. Moorfields Contact Lens Clinic – from 1948 – about 1 mile east