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

Dr-Johnsons-HouseIt’s #MuseumWeek on Twitter and museums all over London are among the more than 2,000 institutions worldwide already tweeting away. Among those, large and small, taking part in London are the @hornimanmuseum, @ExploreWellcome, @JewishMuseumLDN, @BFHouse@HRP_Palaces, @NMMGreenwichand @drjohnsonshouse (pictured). Each day of the week they’ll be tweeting on a different theme until Sunday (today’s is #souvenirsMW). For the full stream, head to @MuseumWeek.

• Dickens fever is well and truly upon us in the lead-up to the bicentenary of his birth in February and tomorrow the Museum of London opens its own unmissable exhibition, Dickens and London. Displays centre on the relationship between Dickens and the city and visitors will be able to follow in the great novelist’s footsteps as they visit some of the places which sparked his imagination as well as confront some of the great social issues of the 19th century – including childhood mortality, prostitution and poverty – and be taking on a tour of some of the age’s greatest innovations – everything from railways and steamboats to the Penny Post. Among the objects on display will be Dickens’ writing desk and chair, his bank ledger, excavated items from Jacob’s Island, a notorious slum which was located near Bermondsey, and manuscript pages describing an East End opium den which was featured in Dicken’s unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (this, along with William Powell Frith’s celebrated portrait of the author, are being lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum). The exhibition also features a specially commissioned film looking at London after dark in Dickens’ time and today. Costumes from the upcoming BBC One drama series, Great Expectations, will also be on display and there is also a specially commissioned window display by acclaimed creative director and set designer Simon Costin showing a wintery London in the mid-19th century. The museum is also offering a new iPhone and iPad graphic novel app, Dickens: Dark London, which will take users on a “journey through the darker side” of Dickens’ London. Opens on 9th December (tomorrow) and runs until 10th June, 2012. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. For more on Dickens, see www.dickens2012.org. PICTURE: Dickens Dream by Robert William Buss (Courtesy Museum of London).

New hoardings have gone up at Leicester Square celebrating the area’s history as work continues on an £18 million plan by Westminster City Council to revitalise the Leicester Square streetscape. The more than 160 square metres of hoardings feature 11 images spanning a period of 250 years (and selected from thousands of archive images of the square). Meanwhile in Trafalgar Square, the famous Norwegian Christmas Tree was lit in a ceremony last Thursday. The tree is an annual gift from the people of Oslo as thanks for British support during Norway’s years of occupation in World War II. It will be lit from noon until midnight every day until 6th January.

And, briefly…..London’s Kew Gardens has been voted the top visitor attraction in Britain at the British Airways magazine travel award while the London Eye and Tate Modern came runner’s up…..Figures released to mark the 10th anniversary of free admission to England’s national museums show that visitor numbers to the museums have more than doubled over the past decade…..and, the first woman Tube driver, Hannah Dadds, reportedly died at the age of 70.

On Now: The Flamboyant Mr. Chinnery: An English artist in India and China. This exhibition at Asia House in New Cavendish Street in the West End, focuses on the work of 19th century artist George Chinnery and features landscapes and portraits he painted while in China and India. Runs until 21st January. Admission is free. For more, see www.asiahouse.org.

• On Now: Miracles & Charms. The Wellcome Collection is hosting this exhibition which features two shows – Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings, the first major exhibition of Mexican votive paintings outside of Mexico, and Charmed life: The solace of objects, an exhibition of unseen London amulets from Henry Wellcome’s collection. Runs until 26th February, 2012. For more, see www.wellcomecollection.org.

• The Royal Wedding will be broadcast live on giant screens at Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park under plans announced by the Department for Media, Culture & Sport, the Mayor of London and The Royal Parks. The live coverage will be free to watch from 7am on 29th April and guests are advised to get there early. A “celebration wheel” has also been set up in Hyde Park – fees apply. See www.london.gov.uk/royalwedding.

• A blue plaque has been unveiled at the house where novelist Graham Greene wrote Brighton Rock. Greene, who died in 1991, lived at 14 Clapham Common North Side in London from 1935 to 1940 and while here wrote several works – these also included the Cannes’ winning collaboration with Carol Reed, The Third Man, and The Power and the Glory – before he joined the forerunner to intellgience service MI6 in 1941. Graham moved out of the house at Clapham Common after it was hit by a bomb in October 1940 (the Queen Anne-style property has since been rebuilt). No-one was in the house at the time – Greene’s wife Vivien and his children had been evacuated to Sussex while Greene himself was staying in Bloomsbury with his lover Dorothy Glover when the bomb hit. The English Heritage plaque was unveiled by Greene’s daughter, Caroline Bourget.

• On Now: Dirt, the Filthy Reality of Everyday Life. Get down amongst it at the Wellcome Collection where they’re running an innovative exhibition on dirt and humanity’s at times desperate efforts to keep it under control. The exhibition features 200 artefacts including visual art, scientific artefacts, film and literature with highlights including the earliest sketches of bacteria, John Snow’s ‘ghost map’ showing the spread of cholera in London in the 1850s, and a bejewelled broom. The exhibition features six different locations – from a street in Victorian London to a New York landfill site in 2030 – from where to begin the exhibition. Runs until 31st August. See www.wellcomecollection.org.

• Oxford Street and Regent Street in London’s West End will be closed to cars and buses this Saturday (27th November) as part of the sixth annual West End VIP Day. The day, which is sponsored by American Express,  will also bring singers, entertainers and celebrities hit the streets as they fundraise for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Other entertainment will include a seven foot climbing wall on Regent Street, giant TV screens, fair ground style rides and the chance to climb inside a lifesize snow globe. Runs from 9am to 10pm. For more information, see www.westendlondon.com/vip.

• This week was National Curry Week, so to celebrate, we thought we’d tell you about London’s oldest curryhouse (in fact it’s said to be the oldest in the UK). Veeraswamy was founded in 1926 at its current location of 99 Regent Street (entry via Swallow Street) by, according to the restaurant’s website, “the great grandson of an English General, and an Indian princess”. Customers are said to have included Indira Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, King Hussein of Jordan and Marlon Brando. See www.nationaleatingoutweek.com or www.veeraswamy.com.

Kenwood House in Hampstead, north London, is set to undergo major repair and conservation works meaning the house will be closed to the public from early summer 2012 for just over a year. The grounds will remain open. The current house was designed by Robert Adam and built over the period of 1762 to 1779 for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and the Lord Chief Justice. It now houses a collection of paintings bequeathed to the nation in 1927 by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, which includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough and Turner. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood-house/.

On now: Compare Horatio Nelson’s handwriting before and after he lost his right arm in battle at a special showing of two of his letters at the Wellcome Collection tomorrow night (26th November). The letters are part of Hands: Amazing Appendages, a one night only show. There will also be the chance to try out some nail art, try out some surgeon’s tools and hear talks and see performances. Admission is free (but some talks and performances will be tickets – tickets available on the night only from 7pm). See www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/events/hands.aspx.

 

An exhibition containing the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses has opened at the Imperial War Museum, housed in what is the museum’s first new major permanent gallery for 10 years. The Extraordinary Heroes exhibition – housed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery – contains his Lordship’s collection of 162 Victoria Crosses, awarded for parts played in wars stretching from the Crimean to the Falklands, displayed alongside the 48 Victoria Crosses and 31 George Crosses already held by the museum. As well as the awards, the new gallery will display many objects for the first time, including a badly damaged backpack worn by Lance Corporal Matt Croucher when he leapt on a grenade during action in Afghanistan in 2008 to save the lives of his fellow soldiers (he survived as well), and the diving suit worn by Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis who won a VC for his role in placing limpet mines in the Johore Straits in World War II. The gallery was paid for with a £5 million donation from Lord Ashcroft. Admission is free. For more information, see www.iwm.org.uk.

The remains of a Roman settlement have been unearthed at historic home, Syon Park, in London’s west. Archaeological experts from the Museum of London have already removed around 11,500 pieces of pottery, jewellery and about 100 coins from the site on the Syon Park estate. Syon Park, the home of the Duke of Northumberland, sits on the northern bank of the Thames, opposite Kew Gardens. The site was excavated in 2008 in preparing for the construction of a new luxury hotel there. Some of the artefacts will go on display at the new hotel, the London Syon Park, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which will open early next year. The settlement, which includes a Roman road and burials, was discovered only half a metre below ground level. For more information on the property, see www.syonpark.co.uk.

Now on: From an early morning coffee in European cities to chewing betel nut in Asia, the Wellcome Collection’s major winter exhibition, High Society, traces the role mind-altering drugs have played in history and culture. The display includes more than 200 exhibits, from an 11th century manuscript written by monks in Suffolk detailing poppy remedies, to a 17th century account by Captain Thomas Bowrey describing his crew’s experiments with the cannabis drink bhang, and an account of NASA’s experiments with intoxicated spiders. Admission is free. The exhibition runs until 27th February. For more information, see www.wellcomecollection.org.