Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and collector, American-born Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome’s name lives on in London’s Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Library as well as the world-renowned biomedical research charity known as the Wellcome Trust.

The son of a farmer turned itinerant preacher, Wellcome was born on 21st August, 1853 in a log cabin on the American frontier in northern Wisconsin and, working in his uncle’s drugstore in Garden City, Minnesota, developed an interest in medicine, particularly the marketing of medicine (his first marketing success was his own invisible ink).

Taking various positions at other pharmacies over the ensuing years, he studied at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and there meet Silas Burroughs. Graduating in 1874, he spent a few years as a pharmaceutical salesman (and an explorer, travelling to South America to search for rare native cinchona trees, a source of quinine) before, with the encourage of Burroughs, he moved to London in 1880.

There they founded a pharmaceutical company, Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. They introduced the selling of medicine in the form of compressed tablets – it had hitherto been sold largely in liquid or powder form – to England with their patented ‘tabloid’. They also pioneered direct marketing to doctors.

When Burroughs died in 1895 (they had already fallen out), Wellcome took over the flourishing company in its entirety and set up two research laboratories connected to his pharmaceutical company. In 1924, he consolidated all his commercial and non-commercial entities in one holding company, The Wellcome Foundation Ltd.

In 1901, Wellcome married Gwendoline Maud Syrie Barnardo, daughter of Dr Thomas John Barnardo, founder of children’s charity Barnardo’s (they had met in Khartoum).

They had one child, Henry Mounteney Wellcome, who was born in 1903 and sent to foster parents at about the age of three due to the travelling lifestyle of his parents. The couple, however, were not happy and Gwendoline, known as ‘Syrie’, reportedly had several affairs including one with department store identity Harry Gordon Selfridge and another with author William Somerset Maugham, whom she later married. Wellcome and Gwendoline divorced in 1916.

Wellcome, meanwhile, became a British subject in 1910 and was knighted in 1932, the same year he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Something of a recluse in his later years, he died in pneumonia at The London Clinic on 26th July, 1936, following an operation.

Under the terms of his will, the Wellcome Trust was established for “the advancement of medical and scientific research to improve mankind’s wellbeing” which, initially funded by the income from the Wellcome Foundation and now a separate charity, continues to fund biomedical research and training.

Wellcome, meanwhile, had amassed an enormous collection of artefacts with the aim of creating a ‘Museum of Man’, which by the time of his death amounted to more than a million objects including at least 125,000 medically related ones and such oddities as Napoleon’s toothbrush and King George III’s hair. The first exhibition of selected objects from his collection opened at a temporary exhibition in Wigmore Street in 1913 next door to the Wellcome Burroughs showroom and since 1976 some of his collection have been on show at the Science Museum.

The Wellcome Collection, based in Euston Road, was established in 2007 to display some of Wellcome’s medical collection as well as artworks. The Wellcome Library, now part of the Wellcome Collection, is based on the book collection of Sir Henry which he started collecting seriously late in the 1890s. The books were housed in a series of locations around London before, in 1949, opening as the Wellcome Historical Medical Library in Euston Road.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque can be found at Sir Henry’s former home at 6 Gloucester Gate, Regent’s Park, which he leased from about 1920 until his death.

PICTURE: Henry Solomon Wellcome in 1930/Wikimedia/CC BY 4.0

euston-gardensThe name Euston first makes an appearance in London in the Georgian era when Euston Square was laid out north of the City.

The moniker came from the square’s landlord, the Duke of Grafton, who owned a country seat called Euston Hall near Thetford in Suffolk, and apparently derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Efe’s Tun’ meaning the ‘farmstead of a man called Efe’.

The now much altered square (the gardens of which are pictured) was originally developed in the 1820s; in the 1850s the New Road – which had been developed by the second Duke of Grafton, Charles Fitzroy, in the 1730s to take farm traffic off Oxford Street and Holborn – was renamed Euston Road.

It only makes sense then that when the mainline station on that road was developed in the 1830s (it opened in 1837, exactly a month after Queen Victoria became the monarch), it too was named Euston (as was the now long-gone Euston Arch – see our earlier post here).

Euston Underground Station opened in 1907 while Euston Square Underground station, which originally opened as Gower Street in 1863, was renamed Euston Square in 1909.

Interestingly the area around Euston Road also features numerous references to Grafton in honour of the duke – Grafton Street, Grafton Place and Grafton Way among them – while other streets also have links to the names of the dukes’ family – Warren Street (which also lends its name to a Tube station), for example, is named for Anne Warren, the wife of the second duke’s grandson.

PICTURE:  Kevin Gordon/CC BY-SA 2.0

The original entrance to Euston Station, Euston Arch was not so much an arch as a colonnaded monumental gateway, formally known as a propylaeum, which resembled the entrance to a Greek temple.

Euston-ArchBuilt in 1837 (pictured here in 1851), it was designed by architect Philip Hardwick and inspired by the ancient architecture he had encountered on a trip to Europe – in particular the grand entrance to the Acropolis in Athens.

Commissioned by the London and Birmingham Railway as the grand entrance to the company’s new station then facing on to Euston Square (the site is now covered by the station structure), it was designed to complement the existing structure which had been built at the other end of the line in Curzon Street Station in Birmingham.

The building, which rose to a height of 21.5 metres and was built from Yorkshire-sourced sandstone, featured four columns behind which stood large iron gates. Rather controversial even when built, it led to an apparently unexciting courtyard lined with offices. There were lodges to either side.

While there had been a couple of proposals to relocate the arch – particularly after notice was given in 1960 that it would be demolished so the station could be rebuilt – none of the proposals came to fruition, and despite some intense last minute lobbying to preserve the arch by conservationists (among those lobbying were poet Sir John Betjeman and architectural scholar Sir Nikolaus Pevsner), demolition – viewed by some as an “architectural crime” – started in December 1961.

While sections of the arch was subsequently used as fill in the Prescott Channel in East London (numerous sections have since been recovered from the water), the main gates were saved and given to the National Railway Museum in York.

There has been talk of rebuilding the arch particularly since the formation of the Euston Arch Trust in 1994 (the patron of which is Michael Palin) with the aim of reusing some of the lost stonework. While rebuilding hasn’t yet eventuated, the proposed redevelopment of Euston Station in more recent years has given the project new impetus.

PICTURE: Wikipedia.