William Cheselden was one of the leading and most prestigious English surgeons of the early
18th century. He was born in Somerby, Leicestershire and received his medical education at St Thomas' Hospital, London. He became a 'Bound Apprentice' at that institution in 1703 and qualified in 1710. During this time he was taught anatomy
by Cowper. In 1710 he was admitted to the London Company of Barber-Surgeons and he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1712.
During the late 17th and early 18th centuries medical training in Britain was poor and in particular there was little formal anatomy tuition. As a result, in 1711, Cheselden began private tuition in anatomy. This attracted many students
away from the 'public' tuition at the Company of Barber-Surgeons and brought him in to conflict with this organisation. His first major book was The Anatomy of the Human Body, published in 1713, and this became a standard medical
text for well over the next one hundred years. In 1733 he published Osteographia or the Anatomy of Bones. This was the first full and accurate description of human osseous anatomy.
As a surgeon he was most prolific as a 'Lithotomist'. At this time bladder calculi were a prevalent and significant surgical problem. Most surgeons removed stones by performing a midline perineal lithotomy. This was a prolonged operative
procedure associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Cheselden (and John Douglas) developed the 'high' operation to remove stones through a suprapubic incision and he published his experiences of this in A Treatise on the High
Operation for the Stone (1723). He later described a lithotomy through a lateral perineal incision with an operating time of minutes rather than hours and an operative mortality of less than 10%. As a result of this achievements he was
appointed 'first lithotomist' to the Westminster, St George's and St Thomas' Hospitals.
Cheselden retired in 1737 to Chelsea Hospital from where, in 1738, he was elected an examiner of the Company of Barber-Surgeons. He was elected a Warden of the company in 1744. From this position he had a pivotal role in the separation of
the Surgeons from the Barbers. This eventually lead to an Act of Parliament in 1745 forming the Independent Company of Surgeons, an organisation that was later to become the Royal College of Surgeons of England.