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The King's Physician, The Theatre Royal and London's First STD Clinic

The King's Physician, The Theatre Royal and London's First STD Clinic

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Published by georgianlondon
The beginning of charitable medical support for Londoners afflicted with venereal disease.
The beginning of charitable medical support for Londoners afflicted with venereal disease.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: georgianlondon on Jan 07, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The King's Physician, the Theatre Royal and London's first STD clinic-
Time for the 'human interest' story of the week: venereal disease. For the past twenty fiveyears the world has been obsessed with HIV: a nasty disease, and a very clever one thatgives you a decade of appearing normal and infecting other people before it kills you withthe common cold. Syphilis or 'the pox'* was the big concern in Georgian London. It is acorkscrew-shaped bacteria, preferring a warm, damp environment such as thecrotch. There are three stages of symptoms ranging from unthinkable sores in speciallocations, to white, fungal-type blooms, to the final stage where it corkscrews into your bones and brain, leaving you grossly deformed and insane. The first Britons to contractsyphilis were the Crusaders but it became widespread when England's naval capabilityprovided international 'travel'.By the Elizabethan period syphilis was the new leprosy and by the end of her reignElizabeth had put into place a system of local relief to help people disabled by thedisease. Elizabeth's measures to care for the poor continued throughout the 17thC but asthe population became increasingly urban, diseases began to concentrate upon thetowns. Syphilis was no different. Of course, the natural reaction was to blame the whoreyou caught it from, which is a bit like putting your 'hand' in the fire and then blaming her because it's still hot. The law-makers of the time were aware of the women who ended upliterally sitting in the streets after becoming so sick they could not support themselves byany means, but it was a thorny subject. Their solution was the 'foul' wards in hospitals, butit was unsatisfactory, both for patients and carers. Traditional remedies were the poisonsarsenic and mercury, either applied directly to the affected parts, or administered in amanner of unappealing ways. No matter how unpleasant, these cures did not work, andonly the natural remission of the disease between stages lead physicians to declare onethird of their patients 'cur'd'.William Bromfield was a doctor In Holborn. His father was a Doctor of Medicine at Oxfordand his maternal grandfather had instructed Isaac Newton in anatomy and been WilliamIIIrd's private physician. In 1744 he was elected Demonstrator of Anatomy at Barber-
Surgeon's Hall (a better job than it sounds) and 1755, he became Vice-Surgeon to ThePrince of Wales. In 1746, Bromfield began to rustle up a committee to raise money for ahospital concerned only with venereal disease, to be advised by doctors from St George'sHospital (where, co-incidentally, Bromfield had just been elected Surgeon). He wasconcerned at both the implications of housing the infected with other patients and themoral implications of housing prostitutes and men of 'low moral character' both with eachother. Hospital boards had started putting patients of 'low character' in yellow outfits,giving rise to the name 'canaries' for those afflicted with venereal disease, but that wassoon recognized as inhuman and stopped.It is interesting to note that as early as the 17thC, a clear distinction was drawn betweenprostitutes and 'lewd women'. Historians often lump them together but prostitutes wererecognized as a necessary part of society, and of male life. The average age of a firstmarriage during the 18thC remained fairly steady at around 26. If we take 16 as thebeginning of sexual maturity that leaves a decade of abject frustration, or recourse towhores. It is likely all but the shyest or most devout men would've made somearrangement with one, or a few of London's estimated fifty thousand prostitutes.Bromfield's charitable society was well-patronized, and on the 31st of January 1747, theoriginal London Lock Hospital opened in the fine setting of Grosvenor Place near HydePark Corner (it is the building on the bottom left extreme of the map image, just behindwhat are now the gardens of Buckingham Palace). The engraving in the gallery is a bithazy, but the large signs on the front read 'London Lock Hospital. VoluntaryContributions.' A Lock Hospital was the old name for a lazar house, thought to come fromthe French word for rags:
and soon there were more opening across London,utilizing old lazar and workhouses
Of course, you had to have a bit of God in your 'cure',so there was a zealot chaplain (Wesleyan Martin Madan), but the care given out was of ahigh standard, whilst all the time acknowledging that a true cure was notpossible. Bromfield was nothing if not resourceful when it came to getting money out of his rich clients for his needy poor: he rehashed at least one old play,
The City Match
, byJasper Maine and it was performed at the Theatre Royal in 1755 specifically to raisemoney for a separate hospital chapel (which gave its name to Chapel Street,SW1). William's brother Thomas was the 'visiting apothecary', charged with dispensing

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