All posts by theperfumeddandy

How did the doctors end up in a designer sausage factory?

RCP Elevation PLan Cropped
It’s January 1965.

The Royal College of Physicians are reflecting on their new home and how they have come to occupy a building a senior member regards as resembling a battleship and a neighbour thinks looks like a sausage factory.

But then, the year just gone by has been a pretty remarkable one…

Marble Hall 1964, RCP, Cropped

In ’64 Harold Wilson and Labour won a general election for the first time in 13 years ousting a Tory party laid low since the Profumo affair and heralding an end to the age of deference. That Was The Week That Was may have gone to America, but the satire boom is in full swing, just like, so they say, London itself.

Christine Keeler V and A

Private Eye is on the shelves alongside Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Top of the Pops is on the television, The Beatles are at number one, seemingly all the time, a barefoot Sandie Shaw and made up Dusty Springfield are new kinds of female singers. Many Quant and the mini skirt have arrived.

Bond is back in the gloriously overboard Goldfinger, its theme tune belted out by arguably Britain’s first home-grown black superstar.

A cooler gentler form of jazz still plays for hip cats on London’s club scene, while ‘theatre clubs’ like the New Watergate are redefining what constitutes obscene on the stage and flouting centuries-old censorship laws in the process. From France a New Wave in cinema flows across the Channel blown on the winds of Left Bank cool and existential philosophy.

In this era of technological white heat, economic success and social reform a mood of optimism, sometimes anarchic, often tempered by harsh reality, but defiant all the same, reigns supreme.

It is a time of unprecedented levels of housebuilding: council estates replace slums and bomb damage, New Towns for old. Danish design and the cheerful chic of the nearly-but-not-forgotten Festival of Britain are filtering through to the buying habits of enthusiastic young consumers eager to furnish these first homes. Terrance Conran opens his habitat store on the Fulham Road.

Habitat Fulham Road 1964 Cropped.ppt

A generation of uncompromisingly drawn Universities constructed on the edge of towns and cities is springing up in concrete campuses. Arts centres and civic projects taking their lead from London’s South Bank bring culture, so the hope goes, to the masses up and down the land. New schools, soon all to be comprehensives, open at a rate not seen since the reforming zeal of the Victorians.

Gleaming hospitals, palaces of hygiene and healing for a National Health Service not yet 20 years old, are commissioned with pride and commitment.

And everywhere, in house and home, school and art centre, university and shopping precinct, habitat store and hospital one style dominates.

St Andrews Elevation Cropped 1964

That style, the style of the ’60s, is modernism.

Be it international, Scandinavian, Bauhaus, Brutalist, sleek or neo-deco, modernism is the look.

Modernism as much as the miniskirt, the Vidal Sassoon bob, or The Beatles mop came to define a decade and more of post war Britain.

Sassoon Bob

So when the Physicians reflect, then and now, on how a body as august and ancient as theirs ended up with such a remarkable, unflinchingly modernist home, it is because they wanted to move, and to be seen to be moving, in time with the modern world.

Because Sir Robert Platt, the president of the RCP who helped select the up and coming Denys Lasdun as their architect, saw an opportunity to shift the organisation and its members, physically and psychologically, out of the space they previously occupied at the heart of clubland in Pall Mall and into the new world of optimism, even egalitarianism, which beckoned them at Regent’s Park.

Their great fortune and ours is that they did chose Lasdun, an architect on the very top of his form, to execute this plan, and that the Physicians had the courage and the deep pockets to provide for a generous, beautifully appointed, proportioned and realised building that has become an absolute classic of its kind.

More sublime than sausage factory.

RCP Exterior 1964 Cropped

If your intrigue has been enticed into exploring this masterpiece building and its collections, and reliving something of the spirit of the ’60s on Thursday 29 January the Royal College of Physicians will be staging

Lasdun Late : Modernism at the Medical Museum…

“Banish the cold and midwinter blues with a dose of mid-century cool. An exclusive late view of acclaimed retrospective “The anatomy of a building” showcasing the work of modernist uber architect Denys Lasdun in his 60s design classic the Royal College of Physicians.

“Live lounge core marimba jazz, Bond themes, black berets, retro board games, Eames chairs, a style council with the Director of the 20th Century Society and a free drink for all ensure the evening goes with a swing.”

Lasdun Fridge Magnet Cropped

We’ll be there with our friends from Meetup and and would love it if you could join us.

Tickets are just £10 (including a free drink) and are, unsurprisingly, selling out like chicken bricks and lava lamps from that first habitat branch.

For more details of the evening, what else there’s to see at the RCP and to reserve your place visit the RCP website

The exhibition The anatomy of a building : Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians runs until 13 February click here for more information

Anatomy of a building banner

Our half-day study tour Modernism Optimism Medicine Architecture, looking at London’s happy masterpieces of the post-war period from the Royal Festival Hall to the RCP is a must for anyone with a passion for the period and can be booked for private groups at any time. Find all the details here.

Edward the Caresser: Gentleman, Addict and, almost by accident, rather a fine King…

NPG x95831; King Edward VII; Queen Victoria; Alexandra of Denmark by and after Alexander Bassano

Edward Albert Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, despite the monicker, the quintessential Englishman: a playboy prince turned merry monarch, who gave his name to an entire, if brief, era, was ‘addicted to love’.

Though in truth, and in contemporary treatment terms, his addiction could be said to be to sex.

Vintage champagne

Moreover his life long relationship to alcohol might not seem too healthy to modern medical eyes, so much so that when he ‘joined’ his many, many ‘lady friends’ he had a rather unusual receptacle for his finest Champagne, a device that ensured indulging one obsession need not get in the way of feeding the other!

Edward VII had a soul-crushing wait to accede to the throne , as Prince of Wales he lived in the shadow of a doughty mother, biding his time for decades for a coronation that must have appeared as though it would never come.

A parallel perhaps with the long pause before taking on ‘the top job’ that Prince Charles is experiencing today.

The psychological effects of waiting until and beyond the age at which most people retire before starting one’s appointed career have been, then and now, the subject of much debate.

Whatever his frustrations, the King sought solace, and much else, in mistresses throughout his married life.

Skittles Plaque

This constellation of ladies included among its more notable members Agnes Keyser (who he persuaded into a medical career of surprising renown), the famous actress Lillie Langtree, Lady Daisy Brooke (inspiration of the popular song “Daisy Daisy”), Lady Randolph Churchill (the mother of Sir Winston Churchill), Skittles, “The last ‘Victorian Courtesan” (as her blue plaque proudly reads) and near neighbour of Florence Nightingale and Scottish society hostess Alice Keppel, great-grandmother of the present Duchess of Cornwall (a case widely reported in the press to the chagrin of the Royal family).

His behaviour stood in marked contrast to the austere and aloof latter years of Queen Victoria’s reign. She had practically shut herself away in seclusion in her homes at Balmoral Castle and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, following the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert.

But her son was determined to party! While his mother was nicknamed ‘the Widow of Windsor’, her second son became universally known as ‘Edward the Caresser’.

Moulin Rouge

The Prince of Wales threw himself into the wild life, rather than shooting wildlife, the preferred past time for royal and aristocratic heirs. Edward was a frequent visitor to Paris, where he became a familiar face at racy venues such as the Café des Anglais and the Moulin Rouge, where he was affectionately, if mockingly, bestowed the title ‘king-ky’. He spent a huge amount of time, and money, at the notorious lavish brothel ‘Le Chabanais’, which first opened its doors in 1878.

In operation right up until 1946, this luxurious bordello was extremely popular with some of the world’s most famous and wealthy men – including many kings and crowned princes – and the future Edward VII spent much of the 1880s and 1890s making extensive use of its services.

‘Bertie’, as he was known to those closest to him (a term of endearment he would share with his grandson the later George VI) had his own special room decorated with his own royal coat of arms.

In this chamber where the King-in-waiting met his ladies, he did away with the flute or boule that others might use for a seductive glass or two of champagne and replaced it with a large ornate copper bath in the shape of a swan-necked mythological figure filled to the brim with bubbly.

Edward Vii Champagne Bath

The room became so famous that when the establishment closed down just after The Second World War many of its belongings were auctioned off, including the infamous bathtub, which was purchased by the artist Salvador Dali for 112,000 francs!

Whilst such conduct over an extended period of time would surely wind most of today’s celebrities, politicians or even princes in recurrent rehab sessions, Edward’s behaviour did nothing to impede his ultimate pathway to the crown. Only a skirt with death via acute appendicitis on the eve of coronation could do that… though therein lies another story!

Indeed, against all the odds Edward VII proved to be one of the most popular monarchs of the modern era, seen by some historians as creating the archetype of the role of committed and caring monarch and credited by others with preserving the fragile peace in Europe. A peace which did not long survive him.

Proof positive that what is seen fit for medical treatment in one age is simply regarded as extrovert behaviour in another and, perhaps, that the drinking and sexual habits of a person are not always evidence of whether they are Fit to Rule…


The towering figure of Edward VII appears on a number of our walks.

‘Fit to Rule’ is a tour of the places where the mighty have sought treatment and succour through history and seeks to find out whether they were well enough to be in charge at all!

For details of times and dates click here.

‘One for the Road’ is one of our new walks for 2014, a ‘tongue in cheek’ look at some of the characters of Marylebone and the complex relationship between demon booze and healing!

To find out more and when this tour runs next visit the webpage here.

Finally, ‘Medicine at War’ a history of warfare and the healing professions includes an examination of the role of Edward’s mistress Agnes Keyser in military medicine and includes a brief stop at the hospital that bears both their names.

More on this walk, including details of times and dates right here.

What’s inside the box…?

Prujean Chest

The Prujean Chest  is one of the true treasures of the Royal College of Physicians.

But what does it contain?

Fifty two wonders of seventeenth century surgery is the answer… but that’s only half as many as were once here! And only part of the truth…

Prujean Chest Instruments Bullet Extraction

To discover more, including which procedures the sinister-shaped implements pictured above once performed visit our guest blog at Royal College of Physicians Museum site. 

Or join us on one of our “Medicine at War” tours find all the details and dates here. 

The Handsome Hoaxer of Harley Street

This April Fools’ Day we take you on a trip back in time to the first half of the nineteenth century, when one man took a large portion of polite society for a ride with his pointless and pernicious cures for consumption.

Allow us to introduce ‘King of The Quacks’, ‘The Handsome Hoaxer of Harley Street’: Mr John St John Long.

John St John Long NPG

It is October 1830, London society is gripped by a dramatic trial at the Old Bailey for manslaughter. The accused one John St John Long.

Mr St John Long has long been touted as the most successful “quack” practitioner in the  London of his day. He is one of the first to set up on Harley Street , the area still synonymous with high class private clinics of both a reputable and less orthodox nature.

The manslaughter case is brought by a Mrs Cashin, a wealthy society lady who comes to London in August 1830 seeking a cure for her daughter’s consumption. Having heard much about Mr St John Long’s wonderful cure, she brings her daughter to him and he commences his treatment.


He applies a mixture of egg-yoke, vinegar and turpentine on the back shoulders and front.

The intention: to create a wound to bring the lung infection to the surface, with the resulting blister to be soothed with cabbage leaves.

But Miss Cashin’s wound, unsurprisingly perhaps, gets only worse and spreads.

She becomes extremely ill and, after several days, dies.

What the Cashins didn’t know is that St John Long has no medical training whatsoever. In fact  he is a downright charlatan.

A good looking charmer, he had come from Cork, Ireland to London in 1822 to work as a painter, becoming a pupil of the much in vogue John Martin, rendering vast biblical canvasses somewhat in the manner of his master (though not in anywhere like the same league).

One of his paintings in fact “The Temptation in the Wilderness” (shown below) remains in Tate Britain‘s collection, though is rarely on public show.

The Temptation in the Wilderness 1824 by John St John Long 1798-1834

In 1827, not earning enough from his art, he turns his anatomical skills learnt, we assume,  from life classes, to medical use, and sets himself up in practice. It is at this point that St John Long claims to have found a miraculous cure for tuberculosis, known at the time as consumption.  He  soon develops a prestigious clientele of aristocratic young ladies, like Miss Cashin, treating them in the same way as that unfortunate young woman.

The Lancet

Within a few years, however, Mr St John Long’s methods are exposed in the expert medical journals, provoking  a campaign by The Lancet which publishes an article on him entitled “The King of Humbugs”.

Then in 1830, in the midst of scandal, two of his patients, including Miss Cashin, die.

So, back to the Old Bailey…

Despite the testimony of tens of Mr St John Long’s high class patients in his defence, he is found guilty of manslaughter on the 30th of October 1830.

Only to be fined £250!

Though this was not an insubstantial sum, the evidently wealthy Mr St John Long flamboyantly pays the debt on the spot. To compound matters, at  a subsequent trial, he is actually found not guilty for manslaughter for the other death in his care.

Notwithstanding the verdicts,  the court cases cause uproar. Lenient judgements or no, St John Long  becomes the butt of satire, and the opposition campaign to his cures continues with, if anything, increased vigour.

He gives up his practice in 1831 and life in 1834, being buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. 

The inscription on the grandiose tomb reads:

St John Long Kensal Cemetry

“It is the fate of most men to have many enemies, and few friends.  This monumental pile is not intended to mark the career but to shew how much its inhabitant was respected by those who knew his worth and the benefits derived from his remedial discovery.  He is now at rest and far beyond the praises or censures of this world.”

But the “humbug” did not end with St John Long’s death.

Gossip prevailed that he fell victim to consumption himself after having refused to receive his own treatment!

Sadly, there is no clear evidence of how he actually died.

One more secret that “The Handsome Hoaxer of Harley Street” took to his miniature mausoleum with him. 


Above is the anonymous and unmarked location on current day Harley Street near where the ‘King of Humbugs’ had his consumption clinic. 

John St John Long is just one of the great figures featuring on our walk, “Harley Street: Healers and Hoaxers” for more information and dates click here.


There’s a pulse…


Welcome to the Medical Discoverers Blog.

On this page we’ll be regularly publishing our explorations of curiosities and histories of medical places, people and practices past and present.

Keep your eyes peeled as the first post is just around the corner…


By the way, anyone recognise that distinguished looking fellow at the top of the page?