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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

in our time

I am a massive fan of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, BBC Radio 4 most Thursdays at 9am. There are various ways you can search it, but as a service to our readers, here is a list of the London-related ones.

Aphra Behn
Annie Besant
Athelstan

Thomas Becket
Bedlam
The Black Death
The Bluestockings
The Book of Common Prayer
Boudica
Robert Boyle
Brunel
Fanny Burney

Caxton and the Printing Press
Chaucer

Mrs Dalloway
The Death of Elizabeth I
Dickens
The Domesday Book

The East India Company
Englishness
The Enlightenment in Britain

Michael Faraday
The [Great] Fire of London
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

The Gin Craze
The Great Exhibition of 1851

William Hazlitt
Octavia Hill
Holbein at the Tudor Court
Robert Hooke

[Samuel] Johnson

London

Marlowe
Milton

The Novel

Titus Oates and His ‘Popish Plot’

The Peasants’ Revolt
Pocahontas
[Alexander] Pope
The Putney Debates

The Restoration
The Royal Society

The Scriblerus Club
Seventeenth Century Print Culture
The  South Sea Bubble
Suffragism

The Trial of Charles I
The Tudor State

Utilitarianism

Oscar Wilde
Mary Wollstonecraft


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This article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of December 2013.
by Caroline Rance.

Charlotte Street, following the line of the modern A400 leading off Bedford Square (and distinct from the Charlotte Street west of Tottenham Court Road) became home in around 1862 to an elusive and morally dubious fellow named Dr Charles Daniel Hammond.

Detail from Smith's Map of London 1860

Quack Central. Bloomsbury from Smith’s Map of London, 1860.

Perhaps ironically for someone with a website and book called The Quack Doctor, I try to avoid branding nineteenth-century medicine vendors ‘quacks’. The demarcation between orthodox physicians and the practitioners on the fringes of their profession was blurred. Treatments from either were often ineffective or harmful. Medical qualifications came with no guarantee of trustworthiness, and a lack of certificates was no guarantee of incompetence.

There are cases, however, where I have fewer qualms about referring to ‘quackery’, and that’s when evidence suggests a practitioner was deliberately out to extort money. Hammond and his associates fall firmly into this category.

They were involved in a lucrative field of bogus medicine centred on historically specific anxieties about masculinity. The fictive disease of ‘spermatorrhoea’ – an involuntary leakage of semen thought to render its sufferer physically and morally weakened – is less well-known than the comparable phenomenon of female hysteria. Yet it ‘existed’ as a medical expression of the anti-masturbation rhetoric that remained under the influence of the eighteenth-century Onania and the work of Samuel-Auguste Tissot. Widely accepted by doctors, the condition was subject to unpleasant treatments that enabled quacks to denounce the medical profession and promote their own comparatively easy and discreet cures.

Perhaps it would be wise not to go into too much detail about this background in case it gets London Historians’ fine newsletter condemned to the spam bins, so I’ll focus instead on some of the practical methods Hammond and those like him used to attract and retain patients.

Francis Burdett Courtenay, a surgeon who used the pseudonym ‘Detector’ to expose the activities of quacks in a series of letters to the Medical Circular, cited the case of an anxious young man who answered Hammond’s advertisement for an ‘Electric, Curative and Phosphoric Vitaliser.’ The reply asked for two guineas for a ‘self-curative’ belt – the man sent the money, but received only some medicine and lotion in return. Annoyed that he didn’t get what he paid for, he wrote back to complain.

Hammond’s reply was calculated to induce terror. He had looked further into the case (even though he had never actually seen the man) and decided ‘a slight disease of the kidneys’, was causing semen to drain away.

‘This vital waste is not only capable of causing all the symptoms you detail, but such is the sympathy existing between the generative functions and the brain, that should this drain of the most vital of all your secretions be not immediately arrested, your whole system must suffer very serious derangement, whilst the organs of generation themselves will become vitiated and relapse into a state of utter impotency.’

Added to this was the horrifying prospect of ‘withering and wasting’. In case the lad wasn’t already anxious enough, Hammond predicted that his case would end in insanity. But, thank goodness, he had sought help just in time!

The patient ended up sending another two guineas, and while it would be easy to call him gullible for throwing good money after bad, there’s nothing funny about being inexperienced and scared that there’s something seriously wrong with you.

The belt – when it eventually turned up – was an ordinary suspensory bandage, holding up a circle of metal pieces through which the patient had to place the part concerned. This was supposed to provide ‘a continuous current of electricity, which is taken up by the whole system, infusing new life and “manly vigour” into the debilitated or relaxed frame.’ Unsurprisingly (and perhaps fortunately) it did not work. Hammond’s patent, filed in 1864, shows that it had no way of generating a current.

Dr Hammond's Curative Vitaliser

Eye-watering. Patent diagram of Dr Hammond’s Curative Vitaliser.

But how did Hammond reach prospective patients like this young man?

In the newspaper advertising columns of the 1860s, it is common to find a plethora of competing practitioners all targeting such ‘nervous’ male readers. They promote their own books and electric belt devices, using eye-catching straplines such as ‘Electricity is Life’ and ‘Electricity at Home.’ The reader worried about his health could take his pick from Dr Hammond at 11 Charlotte Street; H. James, (Medical Electrician) at Percy House; Dr Watson at No. 1, South Crescent, Bedford Square; W. Halle Esq. at 1 South Crescent, Store Street, and W. H. Hill Esq. at Berkeley House.

What choice! Yet his letter would arrive at one of only two actual buildings – the changing identities of the practitioners were as fluid as the patients’ own spermatorrhoeic bodily state.

These advertisements were not aimed at the Londoner who could walk to Store Street or Charlotte Street and readily discover the duplicity. Instead, they were placed in newspapers across the country in the hope of attracting mail order custom. The dissatisfied punter of one practitioner could try his luck with another, unaware that his money was going into the same pocket.

Dr Hammond advert

A typical ad, this one from The Edinburgh Courant in 1869.

While Hammond and ‘Henry James’ operated from one address in Charlotte Street, Dr Charles Watson and William Hill Esq. were based just down the road in South Crescent. They advertised information on the:

‘SELF-CURE OF NERVOUS AND PHYSICAL DEBILITY. Wasting of the Vital Fluids, and withering of the Nervous Tissues, Lassitude, Loss of Energy and Appetite, Groundless Fears, and other Disorders of the Sexual System; presented to Sufferers, in order to lay bare the hidden causes of those maladies which afflict Humanity, and afford such advice as will effect a cure in the majority of cases, without dangerous Medicines and expensive consultations, which may be dispensed with.’

Courtenay viewed the Watson-Hill partnership as distinct from the Hammond-James one, but the striking similarities between them make it possible that the two concerns were linked. They used almost identical false qualifications, both subscribed to voluntary hospitals in order to imply that they had an official connection with them, used similar language in their advertising and both held genuine patents for galvanic devices. The name ‘Watson’ is occasionally cited by Hammond’s critics as one of the latter’s aliases, suggesting that they were considered part of the same group even if the technicalities of who was who are rather obscure.

By advertising in the provincial press under multiple names and addresses, the mid-nineteenth-century quack could take advantage of both geographical and personal distance from his patients, advising them by standard letter that he had ‘given their case mature consideration’ and concluded that they were in danger of impotence. As well as reducing the chance of repercussions if patients were dissatisfied, this system also enabled the compilation of mailing lists of likely prospects, who could be sent pamphlets from more than one alias in the hope that they would respond.

The system of distance, however, could also appear advantageous to the patient, who need not take time away from his business or domestic roles, and was not even obliged to give his real name. It is easy to see that this had some appeal compared with the prospect of consulting the family doctor and admitting one’s embarrassing concerns face to face. The agreement of anonymity in remote diagnosis served the immediate purposes of both practitioner and patient, enabling the perpetuation of practices that ultimately left the latter out of pocket.


London Historians member Caroline Rance is the author of several books on the subject of the history of medicine, including The Quack Doctor: Historical Remedies for All Your Ills (2013) and The History of Medicine in 100 Facts (2015). 

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A guest post by LH Member David Whittaker

Iron Men How one London Factory Powered The Industrial Revolution And Shaped The Modern World, by David Waller.

ironmenWhen considering the Industrial Revolution some of us, although well aware of earlier developments in that we all know about Coalbrookdale but may not know about the rest of the pre-Victorian era. Many tend to think that the most important phase of the Industrial Revolution took place in the Victorian era and associate it with “Railway mania”. They may also assume that most of this activity took place near the coal fields in northern towns. But what came before this? It was a world almost contemporaneous with well-known changing social commentaries of Jane Austin. So, it’s easy to forget that the beginnings of mass production started in the late Georgian era. Furthermore, ask most people, even those who have an interest in Britain’s industrial history, to name a famous engineering innovator. Only a few would name Maudslay. So, who were Henry Maudslay and his men? As Waller says “Amid the truly voluminous literature on the Industrial Revolution with much on the social impact of mechanisation, but surprisingly little about the machines themselves and the men who built them.”  In “Iron Men” Waller endeavours to fill this gap. Much of this activity, perhaps surprisingly, took place in London.

The book starts with an account of an early example of the mass production maritime pulley block-making mill at The Royal Dockyards Portsmouth. In 1800 The Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars required more than a hundred thousand blocks per year. This drove the move to machine manufacture. These block mills were the result on the labour and vision of three men, General Sir Samuel Bentham (Jeremy’s younger brother), Marc Isambard Brunel and thirdly, the young Henry Maudslay. Maudslay moved on to London to work for Bramah’s locks in Denmark Street, then to set up his own machine shop at 64 Wells Street London, developing new and more accurate “boring machines” all the time. These were not only capable of manufacturing rapidly and consistently to fine limits but were also a thing of aesthetic beauty in their own right. In 1810 Maudslay made the move to Lambeth to build his “Most Complete Factory” The greater space allowed far larger projects to be undertaken. Here were manufactured a wide range of mechanical machines and parts including “Time Balls” as synchronising indicators for ships. The one on Greenwich Observatory is one of these.

Through the following thematic chapters, the author moves on to those associated with Maudslay. Here he covers him working with the Brunels and the Thames Tunnel, noting that Brunel’s tunnelling shield was constructed at the Lambeth factory. Then, on to Manchester and Richard Roberts, via Babbage, the great polymath, designer of cowcatchers and his attempts to build his “Difference Engine”. On to railway locomotive design improvements to Nasmyth’s steam hammer and further transportation developments. Then the standardised Whitworth screws nut and bolts. Ending with locks, labour disputes and fire arms. A fast-paced romp, each fact-filled chapter sprinkled with engineering nuggets. Interestingly, these men were mostly of humble practical backgrounds, often educated via apprenticeship and the rise of the technical schools. They had “bashed metal” and possessed an ability to visualise the various interactions of complex mechanical devices.

Waller also interestingly, in several places, likens this period to the computer technological developments of Silicon Valley.

After all this you are probably wondering what happened to Maudslay’s wonderful factory? Founded in 1810, before the battle of Waterloo the site is now that of Lambeth South tube station. Waller writes  “There is nothing left to remind us of Maudslay’s presence, expect a memorial tablet erected  high on the wall inside the ticket office of the tube station, which you would hardly notice if you did not come looking for it:

“On this site between 1810 and 1900 stood the works of Maudslay, Sons & Field famous for marine and general engineering and as the training place of many engineers of renown”.

“This ought to be hallowed ground for all engineers and aficionados of the Industrial Revolution, as it was for knowledgeable contemporaries.” I agree…

In conclusion, this book is very much for the general reader as well as the industrial history enthusiast. It should fill in many gaps in knowledge how everything is put together

Also it should please those like me who delight in all the “connections”. That web of people, places, things and timelines that somehow fall together to make it happen.

Lastly, one minor gripe which seemed rather ironic considering the subject matter of quality and standardisation. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s contents and it has certainly inspired me to investigate the life and technical innovations of Maudslay and his associates, it was slightly spoilt by the rather small type size and inconsistent quality of the print where it appears that the ink has not fully adhereed properly to the page.


Iron Men: How one London Factory Powered The Industrial Revolution And Shaped The Modern World, 244pp, by David Waller is published by Anthem Press in hardback and Kindle. ISBN 978-1-78308-544-6

 

 

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A guest post by LH Member, Laurence Scales.

Herbert William Garratt (08 Jun 1864–25 Sep 1913)

In 1902 engineer Herbert Garratt patented ‘an improved egg-opener’ for dealing with boiled eggs. In the words of the patent ‘A spring strip or band is bent to form a circular portion a and handles b, and provided with teeth c on the circular portion, preferably by stamping, and is used for breaking-off or opening eggs.’ Unfortunately for Garratt the egg opener never achieved the indispensability of the tin opener, and he did not make his fortune. But greatness still lay ahead.

When my mother, a lover of nature and a painter, reminisced about her childhood in the Transvaal and her journey to school, the words ‘Bayer Garratt’ sounded as incongruous as if I had turned a page of Pride and Prejudice and suddenly found Elizabeth Bennet kicking the tyres of a Harley Davidson. The name of Herbert Garratt, tends to resonate with those of southern African heritage in a way that not even Sir Nigel Gresley could manage with those born near King’s Cross.

Garratt was born in Loddiges Road, Hackney and apprenticed at Bow Locomotive Works on the North London Railway. He then embarked on a career in and beyond the far outposts of the British Empire.

From 1889 to 1906 he worked on railways in Argentina, Cuba, Nigeria and Peru, all the while mulling over the problem of pulling heavy loads along steep and winding mountainous routes. The obvious solution to the problem was to couple several small locomotives together. But this was expensive in manpower and equipment. The alternative was to have one big fat locomotive. But then the boiler and firebox could not sit between the driving wheels or fit through the tunnels.

In 1907 Garratt patented his solution to the big fat problem, a very long articulated steam locomotive. In his design, rather than having the boiler directly above the wheels, a short fat boiler was slung like a hammock between two widely separated bogies (sets of axels). These bogies also carried the pistons, water and fuel. He was supported by Beyer, Peacock & Co. in Manchester. Garratt locomotives did not just sell around the British Empire. There were already rival designs notably those of Robert Fairlie (who lived in Clapham) and Anatole Mallet (Swiss) but the Garratts had advantages: energy efficiency, gentleness on the track and higher top speed.

The Garratts were a strange sight. In a sense they were like man-made elephants – enormous and with strange appendages. Perhaps they commanded in Africa the same awe and affection as the elephants with which they co-existed.

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

Rhodesia Railways

The first Garratt locomotive, known as K1, was more of a mouse built in 1910 for the narrow gauge of Tasmania. Sadly, Garratt died at his Ellerker Gardens home in Richmond in 1913 before he had lived to see his locomotive design succeed. Eventually 1,600 Garratt locomotives ran on 86 railways in 48 countries, greatly assisting their trade and development.

Although a rarity in Britain some Garratts, including the first, from Tasmania, can be seen working today on the steep narrow gauge Welsh Highland Railway where the same requirement for power with economy drove the choice of motive power when the defunct line reopened in 2011.


 

Further images of Garratt Locomotives
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasmanian_Government_Railways_K_class#/media/File:K1_works_photograph.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:K1_Garratt_at_Caernarfon.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garratt#/media/File:Class_GMAM_4122_July_2004_%287863980914%29.jpg

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DSC01912_250Last week I went to the Royal College of Physicians to take a look at their new display celebrating the Tudor polymath John Dee. I don’t know why but I rather foolishly had no big expectations of the Royal College itself. But what an amazing place! My apathy may have been caused by the fact that their home is in a building designed by London’s number one brutalist concrete maestro, Sir Denys Lasdun. Grade I listed and opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1964, it’s actually a rather handsome structure and once inside you realise it does a great job. One would expect this incongruous mid-20C building to stick out like a sore thumb amid the classical, cream Nash-ian terrace of Regent’s Park, but no: the RCP’s headquarters is indeed a gracious neighbour.

Royal College of Physicians

Provided you sign in and don one of those human cattle badges on a lanyard (yellow), you’re free to explore virtually the whole building unhindered. Most wallspace is covered with portraits of the greats of medicine of the past, by some of the leading portrait painters of their times. Reynolds, Lely, Lawrence, Hoppner, Zoffany. Here and there are portrait busts: I spotted at least one by Roubiliac.

But the most engaging parts are on the ground floor: a large collection comprising several hundred apothecary jars; a museum room with a wonderful, intriguing and sometimes eye-watering collection of historical medical instruments and devices, the pride of which must be the rare example of a 17C Prujean chest, named after Dr Thomas Prujean who devised it; and the Censors’ Room, dressed in the original 16C Spanish oak, transferred from the college’s three previous homes. This is where you would have your final examination to become a Member of the College, that is to say a legally practising doctor of medicine. You’d face the torture of a proper grilling by the leading medical men of their age. Prompted by English physicians of the time, Henry VIII founded the college in 1518 to reflect that which pertained on the continent. Prestige.

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Physicians

Royal College of Physicians

What follows about Dee notwithstanding, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Royal College of Physicians any time.

John_Dee_250John Dee (1527 – 1608/9), like his exact contemporary Sir Walter Ralegh, was an Elizabethan renaissance man par excellence. The two men had much in common, not least sharing a catastrophic drop from favour when James I became king, despite in both of their cases being friends of – and championed by – young Henry, Prince of Wales. And while Sir Walter may have been a more belligerent man of action, Dee was no mean traveller himself and shared with Ralegh a great the vision of an English Empire.

Dee was a mathematician, an astronomer, a map-maker, an apothecary, a courtier, an achemist. While not a qualified physician, he was sufficiently trusted on medical matters for Queen Elizabeth to send him to Europe to seek a cure for one of her ailments. He believed, as many did then, that we could communicate with angels and indeed less benevolent creatures from beyond the veil. Assisted by his associate, the “scryer” Edward Kelley, he would communicate with spirits. Not surprising, then, that in 1555, Queen Mary had him locked up in the Tower as an alleged sorcerer. Fortunately – and unlike many others – he was able to charm and actually befriend his interrogator, Archbishop Bonner, establish his good Catholic credentials and be given the official stamp of approval.

Like most men of affairs during his era, John Dee was a great bibliophile. His library comprised over 4,000 books and manuscripts, vast by the standards of the day. It was housed at his home, a large house in Mortlake where he also kept his laboratory and entertained guests, including the queen herself. Heartbreakingly for Dee, most of his books were stolen or sold off by an unscrupulous relative – one Nicholas Fromond – while Dee was away on one of his travels. Down the years, over a hundred of these have come into the possession of the RCP, making it the biggest single collection of Dee’s books in the world. A selection of them forms the basis of a new display which opened last week. They are a joy to examine.

Royal College of Physicians, John Dee

Royal College of Physicians, John Dee

Clearly these tomes were not just for display, but for careful reading. For they are heavily annotated by Dee, as was the habit of those times. Underlinings all over the place, and marginalia comprising commentary and the little diagrams of the pointing hand here and there, a common Tudor era device (Henry VIII used it a lot, along with an eye). But there are also other types of diagrams – horoscopes, faces, shapes – particularly where topics like geometry are concerned. Best of all, though, is Dee’s drawing of a ship in full sail in the bottom corner of a page in Cicero’s Opera, published in 1539.

What interested me about this show was thinking about the golden generation of the late 16C – Shakespeare, Dee, Ralegh and their like – and comparing it with another golden generation but very different group a hundred years later – Wren, Hooke, Boyle, Evelyn, Pepys etc. In the interim, Francis Bacon had taught brainy men to think differently and the tumult of civil war and plague had entirely transformed the country, London in particular.

Hence, this exhibition is a must-visit for everyone interested in early modern history: absorbing and thought-provoking.

Scholar, Courtier Magician: the lost library of John Dee runs until 29 July 2016 at the Royal College of Physicians. Entrance is free.

Royal College of Physicians, John Dee

Victorian genre painting depicting John Dee at his house in Mortlake entertaining the queen and her entourage.

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Sometime before the birth of powered flight – even before the Wright brothers themselves were born – there was the Royal Aeronautical Society. Founded on the 12 January 1866 in London, today is its 150th anniversary. Many happy returns.

The British Aeronautical Society HQ at 4 Hamilton Place, London W1.

The British Aeronautical Society HQ at 4 Hamilton Place, London W1.

The oldest of its kind in the world, the Society was founded as the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, holding its first public meeting on 27 June 1866. It became the RAeS in 1918 and moved into its current HQ – an elegant five storey building near Park Lane – in 1938.

The Society’s aims are to promote and support the advancement of aerospace through its 67 international branches. Society gold medal winners – rarely bestowed – include the Wright brothers, Frank Whittle, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, Sir Frederick Handley Page and most recently the aerospace entrepreneur Elon Musk.

We wish the Society all the best for the next 150 years.

Royal Aeronautical Society on Wikipedia.
Royal Aeronautical Society history page.
Royal Aeronautical Society 150 commemoration.

Royal Aeronautical Society on Twitter: @AeroSociety

 

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How doth the Banking Busy Bee,
Improve his shining Hours?
By studying on Bank Holidays,
Strange insects and Wild Flowers!

sir john lubbock bt.So wrote Punch magazine in 1882 about the man who more than anyone gave us that strangely and quintessentially British-named institution: the bank holiday. Londoner Sir John Lubbock Bt. (1834 – 1913) was the archetypal Victorian man of affairs. A successful banker, an MP, a philanthropist, a keen amateur scientist. Lubbock was the primary sponsor of the Bank Holidays Act 1871, which introduced four bank holidays under Law: Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. These have been added to or changed under subsequent Acts, the most recent being 1971. Because some of the Bank Holidays can fall on the weekend, the dates have to be fixed each year by Royal proclamation.

Christmas Day and Good Friday were already holidays under the Common Law and therefore are not official Bank Holidays.

But why bank holidays? Until 1871 – led by the Bank of England – most banks gave their staff the day off on selected saints’ days. Sir John Lubbock felt it would be rather nice if this boon in some small measure was spread to the wider national workforce. No person is obliged to pay any debt or transact any business on days such designated.

Three cheers for Sir John!

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