Sue Young Histories

John Spurgin 1797 - 1866

May 19, 2011

{::}John Spurgin 1797 - 1866, was a British orthodox physician and medical writer, Senior Physician to the Foundling Hospital from 1835 to his death, and Honorary Physician at St. Mark’s Hospital (see Frontispiece to** *{::}Cure of the sick: not homœopathy, not allopathy, but judgment).*

Spurgin was the second Chairman of the Swedenborg Society, indeed, he was the longest serving Chairman, holding this office nearly every year from the latter 1820s until the early 1860s. Spurgin, as a young medical student at Guy’s Hospital, had acted as a mentor to John Keats, even writing earnest letters to the poet from Cambridge encouraging him to read Emanuel Swedenborg.

Spurgin was a colleague of John Ryan (who wrote an article _Spurginism _and coined the term Spurginism in honour of his friend who wrote two works referring to homeopathy), and James John Garth Wilkinson.

’… As for our mutual friend Dr. Spurgin [John Spurgin]*, I fear his advice would not help me, for his practice is not, I am sorry to say, on the increase. I spent a day or two with him at his country place at Bradwell in the autumn, and he was most kind; but he complains heavily of the present state of medicine… Dr. Spurgin, by the way, delivers the _[Harveian]_ Oration next year… __(_Swedenborg Archive K134 [b] Letter dated 19.12.1850 from Garth Wilkinson to his father James John Wilkinson senior*)’_

Spurgin wrote Cure of the sick: not homeopathy, not allopathy, but judgmentHomeopathy not ‘the law of healing’, and a very large number of other publications on various matters.

Spurgin also had an extensive practice at 38 Guilford Street, and later at 17 Great Cumberland Street,

From,John(DNB00) ‘… SPURGIN, JOHN (1797–1866), medical writer, son of William Spurgin, farmer, was born at Orplands, Bradwell, Essex, in 1797, and educated at Chelmsford grammar school from 1804 to 1813, and at St. Thomas’s Hospital (1813–15). He matriculated at Cambridge from Caius College on 3 July 1814, and was scholar from Michaelmas 1815 to Michaelmas 1816. He afterwards proceeded to Edinburgh, and, returning to Cambridge, graduated M.B. 1820, and M.D. 1825. He was admitted an inceptor candidate of the College of Physicians on 30 Sept. 1822, a candidate 30 Sept. 1825, and a fellow on 30 Sept. 1826. He was censor in 1829, and conciliarius in 1851–3 and 1862–4. He delivered the Harveian oration in 1851 and the college lectures on materia medica in 1852. Spurgin was physician to the Foundling Hospital from 1835 to his death, and about 1837 became physician to St. Mark’s Hospital. He enjoyed an extensive private practice, first at 38 Guildford Street, Russell Square, from 1820, and at 17 Great Cumberland Street, Hyde Park, from 1853 to his death. He was the inventor and patentee of an ‘endless ladder,’ an appurtenance of the scaffolding in building, which came into general use, and he also brought out the thermoscope for taking the temperature of the body. ‘Dr. Spurgin’s Condiment’ was a solution of common salt and alkaline phosphates, which he introduced as a digestive and a purifier of the blood. After an illness, brought on by injuries received from thieves in Bishopsgate Street on 20 Sept. 1865, he died at 17 Great Cumberland Street, Hyde Park, London, on 20 March 1866. His portrait is in the Royal College of Physicians. His widow, Rose, died on 30 Nov. 1882. Spurgin had from early years studied the works of Swedenborg, whose views he gradually adopted. He gave an account of his mental experiences in a lecture read before the Swedenborg Association on 24 Feb. 1847, and published in the same year as ‘A Narrative of Personal Experience concerning Principles advocated by the Swedenborg Association.’ He also projected an edition of Swedenborg’s philosophical works, and made some progress with their translation, but the only volume published was ‘The Introduction to an Anatomical, Physical, and Philosophical Investigation of the Economy of the Animal Kingdom,’ with an ‘address to the reader’ by Medicus Cantabrigiensis, 1861. Spurgin’s other works were: 1. ‘Six Lectures on Materia Medica and its Relation to the Animal Economy,’ 1853. 2. ‘The Physician for All, his Philosophy, Experience, and his Mission,’ 1855; second curriculum, 1857, dedicated to Lord Palmerston. 3. ‘Drainage of Cities, reserving their sewage for use and keeping their rivers clean,’ 1858. 4. ‘The Cure of the Sick not Allopathy nor Homœopathy, but Judgment,’ 1860…’

From  ‘… In addition to its work as an orphanage, the Foundling Hospital became, almost by accident, a major landlord in the fast-developing Bloomsbury area in the nineteenth century. The Governors of the Hospital had been forced to buy much more land (56 acres in total) than was actually needed for the orphanage itself, and by the late eighteenth century, when the Hospital faced a shortage of funds, residential development of the surplus land became its best financial option (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). The planned development met with opposition from both local residents who had hitherto enjoyed uninterrupted views, such as the residents of Queen Square and Great Ormond Street, and also from concerned citizens who worried about the adverse effect on the health of the children as the surrounding area was built up (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). The Hospital faced the further difficulty of the isolation of its site, and the surrounding estates which intervened between it and the established main traffic routes in the area; only Red Lion Street connected the estate’s land with the outside world (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). Another potential problem was posed by St George’s Burial Grounds, north of the Hospital buildings; if the estate opened up road access across this part of its land, it risked funeral processions travelling through its streets (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). Despite (or perhaps because of) these difficulties, the Governors of the Hospital went ahead with the development in the most careful and considered way possible, aided by their architect and surveyor, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who submitted his plans to them in 1790 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). The plans included a variety of residential housing of different classes, with the two grand squares of Brunswick Square and Mecklenburgh Square at the heart of the estate, flanking the Hospital buildings (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). Development began almost immediately, thanks largely to James Burton, who took building leases on large parts of the estate from the 1790s onwards, and who became its major builder (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). Difficulties in executing the plans, including complications caused by insufficiently-supervised subcontractors and the (unjustified) allegations of rival surveyors about the poor quality of his work, led Cockerell to be edged out by 1808 and replaced by Joseph Kay (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). The estate was originally planned as being entirely residential, and requests to build shops or convert houses into shops were not permitted in Compton Street or Great Coram Street, although some were allowed in Kenton and Upper Marchmont Streets, which later became shopping streets sanctioned as such by the estate (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). Despite its proximity to the Bedford estate and the high standard of much of its housing, similarly aimed at the well-to-do middle classes, the Foundling Hospital estate faced quite different problems from the Bedford estate during its first century of residential development. One perennial problem in the area was prostitution: in 1827, 34 inhabitants of Hunter Street petitioned the estate paving commissioners saying the street “has become the common walk of the lowest prostitutes”, and in 1845 the same problem was reported in Brunswick and Mecklenburgh Squares (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). Another problem was the development of slums on the estate, particularly in its mews, which turned out not to be needed by many of the residents of the estate (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984); the Foundling Hospital estate appears to have been much less successful in this respect than the Bedford estate. Instead of being used for stabling, the Foundling Hospital’s designated mews were increasingly occupied by poor families, often criminal, and “chiefly Irish” in Compton Place, according to complaints made by residents of Compton Street in 1823. The Irish were also said to be causing problems in courts behind Great Coram Street in 1845 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). Compton Place was one of the two main slum areas which developed on the estate; it was continually altered, pulled down, and re-erected, only for the same problems to recur, and complaints were still being made in 1858 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). The other problem area was on the western edge of the estate, between Tavistock Place and Bernard Street (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). “In January 1857 the medical officer of St Pancras suggested a permanent solution: the purchase of all the leasehold interests, followed by the demolition of the buildings. On their site could rise model lodging houses, the great new enthusiasm of the Victorian philanthropist” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). Despite statistics showing the alarmingly high death rates in the slum areas, it was to be more than a decade later that such drastic measures were finally approved on the Foundling estate, in comparison to the building of model lodging houses on the Bedford estate as early as 1849–1850 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). “The 1870s finally saw the beginning of a vigorous program of demolition and redevelopment, but the initiative came from outside the Foundling Hospital. In the summer of 1872 the St Giles’s Board of Works obtained a legal order for the demolition of the whole of Russell Place and Coram Place. Later that summer the Peabody Trustees applied to purchase the freehold of Coram, Russell, Marchmont, and Chapel places, together with a portion of Little Coram Street. After some hesitation the governors agreed to sell the property for £5400” (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). The vestry of St Pancras condemned property in the Colonnade and in Poplar and Compton Places in 1884, buying up the leasehold interests and surrendering them to the Foundling Hospital, although nothing was built on the cleared sites in Compton Place until the late 1890s, and there were still 18 houses whose leases did not expire until 1907 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). Like the Bedford estate, the Foundling Hospital estate had insulated itself by a gate at the end of Heathcote Street and by having few streets going across the estate’s northern boundary (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). Boarding houses or let apartments were not allowed in the two showpiece squares until 1892 (Brunswick Square) and 1909 (Mecklenburgh Square) (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984). The rental income of the Foundling Hospital estate was over £18,930 by 1897; the entire estate was eventually sold for £1.65 million in 1926 (Donald Olsen, Town Planning in London, 2nd edn, 1984), after an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1920s by the University of London to acquire the site and turn it into a “University Quarter” (The Times, 26 May 1920, 1 October 1920, 7 October 1920). Another large local institution, Great Ormond Street Hospital, made an equally unsuccessful attempt to take over the site when it was sold. Also known as Guildford Street/Upper Guilford Street, It is in the east of Bloomsbury, running from Russell Square right through to Gray’s Inn Road. It was laid out in 1792 by Foundling estate surveyor Samuel Cockerell, and subsequently built by James Burton by 1797 (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). The part west of the Foundling Hospital was originally known as Upper Guilford Street. There had been an irregular meandering track here prior to residential development (Survey of London, vol. 24, 1952). It was named after Lord North, Duke of Guildford (sic), President of the Foundling Hospital…’