The department builds on a remarkable history of scholarship that extends back to 1937 when Lord Nuffield endowed the first chair of orthopaedic surgery in the United Kingdom as part of his colossal benefaction towards the University’s Medical School.
It was during the Great War that William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, became interested in the work of G. R. Girdlestone, a young RAMC surgeon who treated injured soldiers on the grounds of the former Wingfield Convalescent Home in Headington. Substantial benefactions resulted from this friendship leading to the further development of the orthopaedic hospital, today’s Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, and the establishment of the first chair of orthopaedic surgery in the country.
H. J. Seddon succeeded Girdlestone and led the department through the turbulent years of the Second World War. He was followed by J. A. Trueta, a military surgeon exiled from Spain, witnessing the development of penicillin in Oxford. Recognising the multiple inter-relationships of orthopaedic surgery with genetics, clinical medicine, surgery, metabolic diseases, biochemistry and engineering, R. B. Duthie established the Oxford Orthopaedic Engineering Centre (OOEC) in the 1970s. His successor, J. Kenwright, realised the need for a building dedicated to research into musculoskeletal health and thereby laid the foundations for the Botnar Research Centre, the University's Institute of Musculoskeletal Sciences.
Under its current head, A. J. Carr, the department’s research activities have further flourished and expanded, making it one of the largest musculoskeletal research departments globally.