Posts Tagged ‘Bethlem Hospital’

A guest post by LH Member Alan Harrington, writing about his ancestor.

John Winder (1709-1780) was my 7x great-grandfather and my research into his professional life grew out of the basic details which emerged during a genealogical search – beginning with his birth in Bray. Records held by the Company of Apothecaries in London show that he was apprenticed in that trade – for a standard eight year term – beginning on 7 September 1725, when he would have been 16. He was trained by an apothecary in Paternoster Row, by St Paul’s Cathedral

Further records list him first on the yeomanry and then the livery lists of the company; and significantly Land Tax Records from 1746 then show John only a stone’s throw away at Ave Maria Lane, no doubt in his view – by then – set up in business for life as a London apothecary. At the back of the shop would have been a compounding room where he would have mixed his remedies, and most probably he would have gone to the Apothecaries Hall (on the site of the former Black Friars monastery) to buy the herbs and plants which he needed; and in later years he is actually known to have led herborising walks for student apothecaries out into the villages around London – to learn about various plants and their properties.

apothecaries hall

Apothecaries’ Hall, Blackfriars. Image: Mike Paterson.

It was a shock to me, although that can have been nothing like the shock it must have been to him, to discover that soon after this he was in fact declared bankrupt. Initially I thought that he might have returned to Berkshire and yet with further searching I found instead that on 22 May 1751 he was appointed as the apothecary at the Royal Bethlem Hospital; and it was in that institution that he spent the rest of his working life, of almost 25 years. That must, however, have been a dramatic change from the way he had planned his career.


Dr John Monro (1715-1791) was the ‘mad doctor’ at Bethlem during John Winder’s time there.

At the time John started his new job, the Bethlem governors had not long reviewed the role of their medical staff and had also recently constructed an apothecary’s shop to serve the hospital, so he began with a more clearly defined ‘job description’ than had ever previously been the case. He seems to have, in fact, been the first resident apothecary; and the main condition of his employment, in addition to living-in, was that he attended the patients each morning of the week except Sunday. He would be paid £80 per annum and, in addition to that, he would be provided with accommodation – together with coal, candles and house provisions. A further condition of his employment was also that he should not marry, which no doubt suited his situation – since was by then a widower; one of his daughters (my 6x great-grandmother) having been born just before his bankruptcy and the death of her mother.

Past scandals concerning payments for medical services never provided and medicines not supplied resulted in a tightening up of internal procedures as well. The apothecary was now required to deliver, for the approval of the Committee every Saturday, a list of all medicines he would need for the coming week. Leaving it there would, however, give the impression that the apothecary was very much the dispensing pharmacist of his time, providing medicines on the orders of the physician.

That would not, it seems to me now, provide a particularly accurate portrayal of the role he fulfilled at the hospital. Many years later, the response of Dr Thomas Monro (the third in the family dynasty of Bethlem doctors) when questioned about his attendance at the hospital (at the Madhouses Enquiry of 1815) was that he went to the hospital merely ‘about three times a week’ and that he only ever examined the patients that the apothecary recommended. It is to be presumed that this had also been the situation back when John was the apothecary.

hogarth rakes

Hogarth’s famous scene at Bethlem – from The Rake’s Progress.

Just how much of a responsibility that was, is indicated by an example from 1761, when – during the vacancy for a surgeon – the apothecary (who we know was John Winder) was instructed to ‘Apply to the Surgeons of Saint Bartholomew’s requesting their assistance if any Accidents should happen to any of the Patients’. So, the physician only called in a few times a week and at times there was no surgeon either. Added to all this, there is known to have been a smallpox outbreak during the 1760s, in addition to all the other probable physical ailments and infections which must have spread like wildfire through such a crowded environment. If John also lived in, then presumably he was also ‘on-call’ to deal with any emergencies. There was a resident Matron, but at that time no concept of nurse training existed; and her role was simply to ensure that patients were clean and that domestic arrangements were adhered to. John was effectively then, it seems, the only remotely qualified or experienced medical practitioner available for much of the time. I have seen mention of a patient being put into a ‘strait-wastecoat’ on the orders of the apothecary and there are even references to the apothecary assisting the surgeon at post-mortem examinations. All this is a far cry from my initial perception of an apothecary as being someone who probably sat behind a counter giving out medicines which had been decided on by a doctor.
moorfields area

Bethlem – especially at this time – has had an enduringly bad press and, in that context, an especially endearing mention of John appears when the city ward of Coleman Street wanted to build a watch-house between the hospital and the nearby city wall. He, along with the physician and surgeon, reported to the hospital governors that in their opinion this should be opposed because it would be ‘very near the infirmary and contagious to a dozen or more of the cells of this hospital’ thereby adversely affecting several patients. So, these senior men rather than opting for a quiet life were going out of their way to express concern about the possible noise and disruption that this proposed watch tower might cause.

Some twenty years after John’s time as the apothecary, the next appointment – after his immediate successor – came from a seemingly different medical world altogether. He had been no apprentice, but had rather studied at nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital as well as at Edinburgh University. Then, by the mid-1800s, the apothecary’s role was replaced altogether, by that of ‘Assistant Medical Officer’; which is possibly actually a better description of the job that John Winder had in fact been doing a century beforehand.

V0013197 Statues of "raving" and "melancholy" madness, each reclining

The figures of ‘Raving’ and ‘Melancholy’ over the gateway of the Bethlem Hospital at Moorfields.

After his retirement, in December 1776, and his eventual return to Berkshire, during the final years of his life John was appointed as a governor at both Bethlem and at St Thomas’s hospitals. He died when he was 73, being buried on 12th November 1782 back in the small village of Bray where his story had begun; a far cry from one of the most notorious places in Georgian London.

bethlem hospital 1739

Robert Hooke’s Bethlem Hospital in 1739.


The History of Bethlem (1997) (ed) Jonathan Andrews et al (London; Routledge)
Bedlam: London and its Mad (2008) Catherine Arnold (London; Simon & Schuster)
Thanks to: Mrs Janet Payne, Honorary Archive Assistant at The Worshipful Company of Apothecaries of London; and to Mr Colin Gale, Archivist at The Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Alan Harrington

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