William was one of six sons of John Jagger Pickles, a general practitioner, and Lucy Pickles. All six children went into medicine. He attended Leeds Grammar School and then Leeds Medical School (Yorkshire College) in 1902. In his third year, he proceeded with his clinical studies at the Leeds General Infirmary, qualifying as a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA) in 1909. He served as resident obstetric officer at the Infirmary, followed by a series of temporary jobs and locums. He graduated MB BS London in 1910 and MD in 1918.
Pickles began working in Leeds, but in 1912 he visited Aysgarth as a locum for Dr. Edward Hime. Later that year he served as a ship's doctor on voyage to Calcutta, and on his return to England, resumed working for Dr. Hime as a second assistant in either 1912 or 1913.
In 1913, Dr. Hime left Wensleydale and sold the practice to Pickles and Dr. Dean Dunbar for £3000. Dunbar, from the Aysgarth, Wensleydale, surgery assumed the position of Medical Officer for Health at the workhouse and was also on the Board of Guardians of the workhouse at Bainbridge. Pickles was the second assistant to Dunbar. At the time, the practise in Aysgarth served eight villages and a population of 4,267.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Pickles joined the Royal Navy as ship's doctor in the Atlantic and remained in service until the end of the war. In 1919, he published his first article about Vincent's disease, from his experiences during the war.
In 1917, he married Gerturde Adelaide, daughter of Harry Tunstill, a wealthy mill owner from Burnley.
In 1930, he published an account in the British Medical Journal of an epidemic of catarrhal jaundice in Wensleydale the previous year, in which he traced the entire epidemic affecting 250 people to a single child, and also established the long incubation of the disease of between 26 and 35 days. His seminal text Epidemiology in Country Practice appeared in 1937, touting the benefits of being a general practitioner to study diseases.
Pickles became the first President of the Royal College of General Practitioners in 1967.
He died on 2 March 1969. His wife died later the same year.
- "Vincent's disease", J Roy Nav Med Serv 1919; 5: 87.
- Epidemiology in Country Practice, Proc R Soc Med. 1935 August; 28(10): 1337–1342.
- "Trends of general practice; a hundred years in a Yorkshire dale", The Practitioner. 1951.
- "Sylvest's disease" (Bornholm disease). N Engl J Med. 1954 Jun 17;250(24):1033-6.
- "William Hillary; 1697–1763" Br Med J. 1957 Jan 12;1(5010):102.
- Pemberton, John. Will Pickles of Wensleydale (1970).
- William Pickles, MBBS, MD London, Hon. DSc. Leeds (1885–1969), School of Medicine, University of Leeds
- Dr William Pickles 1885 – 1969 (PDF), North East Public Health Observatory