Tributes to Batley IVF baby pioneer

A COMMEMORATIVE tree was planted in Batley last Saturday in honour of the scientist who pioneered testtube babies.

Mayor of Kirklees Coun David Ridgway performed the ceremony near Bagshaw Museum to celebrate the achievements of Sir Robert Edwards.

The Nobel Prizewinner, who jointly pioneered InVitro Fertilisation (IVF), grew up on Oakhill Road almost opposite the museum in Wilton Park.

Sir Robert, now 86, was too frail to attend the event but his daughter, Dr Jenny Joy, was there on his behalf.

The tree planting came out of research into Sir Robert’s life by Batley History Group secretary Susan White.

It reclaimed the former University of Cambridge boffin, widely and wrongly thought to have been born in Manchester, for Batley.

Susan’s efforts showed Sir Robert was born at the Batley Maternity Hospital after his dad, a railway tunneller, moved to the area for work. The family moved from Oakhill Road to Leeds Road, Howden Clough, and only moved to Manchester some years later. Sir Robert went on, with colleague Patrick Steptoe, to invent IVF, which won them the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.It led to the first testtube baby – Louise Brown – in 1978 and has since helped millions of couples with fertility problems.

Event organisers were delighted when a family who had two children recently by IVF arrived unannounced at the tree planting.

Susan also discovered Sir Robert has a passion for trees, leading to the idea that his connection to Batley could be marked by planting one. Sir Robert cannot be honoured with a blue plaque as he still alive.

The copper beech, one of Sir Robert’s favourites, features a wooden plaque made by Batley History Society member Peter Cooper.

Group chairman Malcolm Haigh said the IVF family’s arrival made it an especially emotional occasion.

He added: “I hope this will be the first of many to mark the achievements of people connected with Batley who have made life better for everyone.”

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