The mystery of ‘the man in the painting’ at Moorfields

As part of Moorfields LGBT+ History Month, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (the trust) is celebrating its LGBTQ+ staff and volunteers. The trust is also recognising those who have and continue to work towards extending the rights of the community, and thanks to one staff member, a significant part of the history of LGBTQ+ rights was discovered at the hospital’s main site at City Road, London.

Robert Dufton, chief executive of Moorfields Eye Charity, shares his story of discovering a particularly striking portrait, and how the man in the painting turned out to be not only a brilliant eye surgeon, but a pioneering gay rights activist.

The man behind the painting

‘Soon after I joined Moorfields Eye Charity, I wanted to find out more about the history of Moorfields and the people connected with it. 

‘I came across a collection of portraits hung on the back staircase of our Ebenezer Street building, probably the most obscure and least visited part of our City Road site. Amongst the 19th century ophthalmologists was a more modern and interesting portrait. Unlike the others, there was no caption saying who it was.

‘I took it off the wall and turned it around. I was interested to see a headed card pasted to the back, which made it clear that it was a portrait of Patrick Trevor-Roper, a Moorfields consultant. I looked him up on Wikipedia and was delighted to find out how significant a figure he was to LGBTQ+ history.

Decriminalising homosexuality

‘In 1954, The Wolfenden Committee met and published its report into the laws about homosexuality in 1957.

‘Over the course of 32 days, the committee heard from dozens of witnesses, most of who were concerned about the impact of relaxing equality laws and decriminalising homosexuality. Only three gay men gave evidence in person – one was Patrick Trevor-Roper. 

‘In his evidence, in which he courageously ‘outed’ himself, he spoke about his own life, and that of his friends. He shared, in some ways, how conventional it was – but also about the terrible impact of homophobia and blackmail on gay men at the time, causing depression and sometimes leading to suicide.

‘Thanks in part to his evidence, the committee recommended the partial decriminalisation of gay sex. The law was changed in 1967.

Patrick’s later contributions

‘Later, in 1982, Patrick hosted the first meeting of the Terrence Higgins Trust at his house and was a great founder supporter of the charity. The Terrence Higgins Trust was founded at the height of the AIDS crisis to provide support to people living and, at the time, dying of AIDS.

‘It was named after a British patient who died of the disease. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Terrence Higgins Trust, which today is the largest voluntary sector provider of HIV and sexual health services in the UK, and is campaigning to end transmissions of HIV In the UK by 2030.

Important ophthalmology and charitable contributions

‘But Patrick Trevor-Roper wasn’t only concerned with LGBTQ+ equality and services, he supported the challenge to the opticians’ monopoly that led directly to the sale of reading glasses without prescription.

‘He founded the Haile Selassie Eye Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was involved in the founding of similar hospitals in West Africa. Patrick was an important figure in ophthalmology, both here in the UK and internationally. But I like to think his most important contributions were made in the charity sector. 

‘So, it’s particularly fitting that thanks to support from MoorPride, the trust’s network for its LGBTQ+ staff and volunteers, his portrait which was once unseen on a dim staircase, now occupies pride of place on Moorfields “charity row” at our main City Road ground floor entrance corridor, overlooking the Moorfields Eye Charity hub.’

Further information:


Staff and volunteers who’d like to find out more about MoorPride, our LGBTQ+ staff network, can visit the network’s page on our intranet, eyeQ. You will need to be logged in to view this page.

Moorfields Eye Charity

To find out more about our charity and how it supports the trust through vital fundraising and research, visit the Moorfields Eye Charity website

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