Eighteenth century physician Dr Richard Mead is noted not only for his attendance on the rich and famous of his time – including royalty – but also for his philanthropy, his expansive collections and, importantly, his contributions in the field of medicine.

Born in Stepney, London, on the 11th August, 1673, as the 11th of 13 children of nonconforming minister Matthew Mead, Mead studied both Utrecht and Leiden before receiving his MD in Italy. Returning to England in 1696, he founded his own medical practice in Stepney.

He married Ruth Marsh in 1699 and together the couple had at least eight children, several of whom died young, before her death in 1720 (he subsequently married again, this time to Anne, daughter of a Bedfordshire knight, Sir Rowland Alston).

Having published the then seminal text – A Mechanical Account of Poisons – in 1702, the following year Mead was admitted to the Royal Society. He also took up a post as a physician at St Thomas’ Hospital, a job which saw him move to a property in Crutched Friars in the City – his home until 1711, when he relocated to Austin Friars.

It was after this that he become friends with eminent physician John Radcliffe who chose Mead as his successor and, on his death in 1714, bequeathed him his practice and his Bloomsbury home (not to mention his gold-topped cane, now on display at the Foundling Museum – see note below).

Following Radcliffe’s death, in August of that year Dr Mead attended Queen Anne on her deathbed. Other distinguished patients over his career included King George I, his son Prince George and daughter-in-law Princess Caroline – in fact he was appointed as official physician to the former prince when elevated to the throne as King George II – as well as Sir Isaac Newton, lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Sir Robert Walpole and painter Antoine Watteau.

Mead, who had been named a governor of St Thomas’ in 1715 and elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1716, was over the years recognised as an expert in a range of medical fields – including, as well as poisons, smallpox, scurvy and even the transmission of the plague.

Among the many more curious stories about Dr Mead is one concerning a ‘duel’ (or fistfight) he apparently fought with rival Dr John Woodward outside Gresham College in 1719 over their differences in tackling smallpox and others which concern experiments he conducted with venomous snakes to further his knowledge of venom before writing his text on poisons.

Dr Mead was also known for his philanthropy and became one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital (as well as being its medical advisor) – a portrait of him by artist Allan Ramsay (for whom he was a patron), currently hangs at the museum.

Dr Mead, who by this stage lived in Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury (the property, which backed onto the grounds of the Foundling Museum and which Mead had moved into after his first wife’s death, later formed the basis of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children), is also noted for the large collection he gathered of paintings – including works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Canaletto, a library of more than 10,000 books, antiquities and classical sculpture as well as coins and jewels, all of which scholars and artists could access at his home (it took some 56 days to sell it all after his death).

While Dr Mead – who died on 16th February, 1754 – was buried in the Temple Church, there is a monument to him – including a bust by Peter Scheemakers – in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Dr Mead is currently being honoured in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum – The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Meadwhich runs until 4th January. There’s an accompanying blog here which provides more information on his life and legacy.

Advertisements

Peter-Pan2In JM Barrie’s 1911 novel, Peter and Wendy (based on the stage play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up), the adventure begins when Peter Pan visits the home of the Darling family.

He secretly listens in – via an open window – while Mrs Darling tells bedtime stories to her children – Wendy, John and Michael – but during one visit loses his shadow and it’s on returning to claim it that he meets Wendy and, well, you know the rest…

Peter Pan is most famously associated with Kensington Gardens – it’s here that we are first introduced to the character of Peter in the book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (in fact there’s a rather famous statue of him there to this day, pictured above) – it’s most often assumed that the Darling’s house must be nearby.

But, in fact, the book Peter and Wendy never states where the Darlings’ house is located exactly  – just that it is at number 14 in the street in which they live – while in the 1904 play the address is given as “a rather depressed street” in Bloomsbury. Barrie explains that he placed the Darlings’ house in Bloomsbury because Mr Roget (of Thesaurus fame) once lived there and “we whom he has helped to wend our way through life have always wanted to pay him a little compliment”.

Worth noting, however, is a property at 31 Kensington Park Gardens. Once the home of the Llewellyn Davies family, family friend Barrie was a frequent visitor here and in fact went on to adopt the five Llewellyn Davies children following the death of their parents in the early 1900s. The property, which is divided into a series of flats, is, as a result, said to have been something of a model for the Darling’s house.

Barrie, himself, meanwhile, owned a house at 100 Bayswater Road – not far from Kensington Gardens where he first meet the Llewellyn Davies family – but, interestingly, had previously lived in Bloomsbury. The house is marked with a blue plaque.

Another Peter Pan-related address we have to mention is that of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children to which Barrie gave the rights to receive royalties from Peter Pan in perpetuity. You can arrange for a tour of the hospital’s Peter Pan-related memorabilia.

For more on the story behind the writing of Peter Pan, see Andrew Birkin’s book, J.M.Barrie and the Lost Boys.

It’s now one of the most popular statues in London – the diminuative “boy who wouldn’t grow up”. But few people today are aware of its somewhat unusual origins.

Located about half-way along the western shore of the Long Water in Kensington Gardens, the bronze statue first “appeared” in the park in 1912. The story goes that author JM Barrie, who published his first story about Peter Pan – The Little White Bird – in 1902, chose the location of the statue based on it being the place where, in the story, Peter Pan landed after flying out of the nursery window of his home.

Peter Pan first appeared on stage two years later in 1904 in the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, and this was later expanded into a novel by Barrie, Peter and Wendy. He’s since appeared in numerous film and stage adaptations – including sequels and prequels to the original tales.

Barrie had apparently been thinking about the statue for some time prior to its appearance – in 1906 he went so far as to take a series of photographs of six-year-old  Michael Llewelyn Davies wearing a Peter Pan costume (it was Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family which is said to have inspired Peter Pan’s creation).

Six years later Barrie commissioned Sir George Frampton to create the statue – interestingly, in what was a cause of some friction between the artist and patron, Sir George modelled his figure not on Llewelyn Davies but on another boy. Peter is seen playing on some pipes and is surrounded by small animals and fairies. There’s no sign of Captain Hook.

On the 1st of May, the statue simply appeared in its current position after being taken into the park under the cover of darkness. Barrie announced what he called his “May Day gift” to the children of London in The Times newspaper, describing it as “delightfully conceived”.

There was apparently some initially concerns raised among MPs about the appropriateness of an author erecting a statue to promote his own work but it has since become an iconic symbol of the gardens (and undergone some repairs – including after an incident in 1952 when Peter’s pipes were stolen).

So popular has the statue proved, that copies of the Peter Pan statue – created using Sir George’s mould – can now be found in Liverpool as well as in countries including Canada, Brussels, Australia and the US. There are others (not copies) in Kirriemuir, Scotland (Barrie’s birthplace) and another of him with Tinkerbell outside Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (which holds the copyright to the character).

WHERE: Peter Pan statue (nearest Tube station is Lancaster Gate); WHEN: 6am to dusk daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Kensington-Gardens.aspx