Science in the Archive: Doctors come to Brighton
19 February 2016
By Kate Elms
History and science are often seen as opposite disciplines, but the history of medicine – a fascinating subject in itself – brings the two together, documenting social change along with advances in science and technology. The history and growth of Brighton is closely tied to health and medicine, thanks to the enterprise and ideas of a group of 18th-century doctors who exploited the town’s coastal location, wealthy patrons and proximity to London to attract new visitors.
The first of the medical men was Dr Richard Russell, who was born in Lewes and studied medicine at the University of Leyden. Qualifying in 1724, he set up a practice in his home town and developed an interest in diseases of the glands. Although Russell wasn’t the first to prescribe seawater cures, he was an extremely successful advocate of this type of treatment, corresponding with leading physicians of his day and, in 1750, writing his now-famous Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands. The first edition was written in Latin but an English translation appeared in 1752. A couple of years later, Russell built a house by the sea in Brighton, where he could supervise his patients’ treatments more closely.
Much has been written about the fact that Russell recommended not just bathing in sea water but also drinking large quantities of it, often up to a pint per day. He would also prescribe medication made from unusual combinations of ingredients – including tincture of woodlice, burnt cuttlefish bone and syrups of violet and rose – to treat a wide range of conditions.
Russell died in 1759 but there was no shortage of doctors looking to take advantage of Brighton’s growing reputation as a health resort. London-based doctor Anthony Relhan spent the summer season at his home in East Street and in 1761 wrote one of the town’s first guide books, A Short History of Brighthelmston, with Remarks on its Air and an Analysis of its Waters. As the title suggests, the book includes chapters on the town’s Air, Water, Well Water, Sea Water and Mineral Water, and Relhan emphasised the health benefits of Brighton’s chalky soil and refreshing sea breezes, along with its sea and spa waters. He also seems to have tried to back up his claims by comparing Brighton’s birth and death rates with London’s, concluding that the statistics ‘show [the town’s] healthiness in a still stronger light’.
Another key figure at around this time was Dr John Awsiter, author of a publication entitled Thoughts on Brighthelmston. Concerning Sea Bathing and Drinking Sea-water with some Directions for their Use and proprietor of Brighton’s first indoor baths. Awsiter refers to the bathing traditions of the Romans, who would ‘use the temperate bath, hot bath and sometimes the sweating room, to open the obstructed pores, and breathe off the offending humours by sweat,’ adding that with the availability of indoor baths, ‘invalids would have the advantage of this bathing remedy all the year round’ His own establishment opened in 1769, featuring six cold baths, a hot bath, a showering bath and a sweating bath. Others followed Awsiter’s example, notably – in the early 19th century – Sake Deen Mahomed, who we have featured previously on this blog.
Awsiter, like Russell, advocated the drinking of sea water, but he recommended it be mixed with ‘an equal quantity of new milk’. This, in theory, was to prevent the nausea, sickness and extreme thirst that was caused by excessive consumption of salty water. To modern tastes, however, the idea could have come straight from the pages of Horrible Histories rather than from the annals of medical science!
The Keep’s archive includes lots of interesting material relating to Brighton’s history as a health resort, including works by Russell, Relhan and Awsiter, all of which make fascinating reading.
Science in the Archive: Magnus Volk
2 February 2016
By Kate Elms
Mention the words Brighton and Magnus Volk and, for most people, Volk’s electric railway and his extraordinary ‘Daddy Long Legs’ spring to mind. Volk’s other achievements – and there were many of them – are perhaps less well known. In a series of posts written to coincide with Brighton Science Festival, which runs from 2-28 February, we’re taking a closer look at how science is represented in our archives here at The Keep. This post focuses on how Magnus Volk’s endless curiosity and invention helped bring electric light to Brighton’s public buildings and spaces towards the end of the 19th century.
Brighton claims to have the longest continuous public electricity supply in the world. The first steps were taken in 1881, when Robert Hammond arrived in town. He demonstrated an arc lighting system that seems to have dazzled a group of observers, including members of Brighton Corporation. A brief experimental period followed, during which time local people – or those who could afford it – were able to try out the service, and in February 1882, Hammond set up his eponymous Electric Light Company.
Meanwhile, Magnus Volk was busily experimenting at his home and workshop in Brighton. First, he decided to build an organ. Then he set up a telephone connection linking his house with that of his friend William Jago; he also began to think about installing electric lighting. Volk’s endeavours may or may not have overlapped with Hammond’s, but he was certainly making progress at around the same time. In December 1881, for example, he demonstrated ‘Swan’s Incandescent Electric Lamps’ (alongside electric bells, clocks, fire alarms and a complete telephone exchange) at The Brighton Health Congress and Domestic & Scientific Exhibition, which was held at the Royal Pavilion.
What seems to have happened next is that Hammond’s initiative spurred Brighton Corporation into action and, in 1882, Volk was asked to use the new incandescent lamps to light parts of the Royal Pavilion during a promenade concert and display of electrical appliances. The operation was a success, and on 4 November 1882, the Brighton Gazette reported that, ‘The room…was brilliantly lit by means of the electric current …The light was dispensed from arc and incandescent lamps, there being three varieties of the latter…’
On 5 April the following year, the same newspaper reported that ‘the powers that be’ had engaged Volk to oversee the installation of electric lighting at the Pavilion, starting with an ‘experimental display’ in the Banqueting and Music Rooms. 216 lamps were required to light the Banqueting Room – 96 for the central chandelier and 30 for each of the side lights – and the effect was described as, ‘a light of great purity, strength and softness’. It was also considerably safer than gas lighting.
Electric lighting was adopted by Brighton and Hove Councils in 1890 and 1891 respectively, and during the 1890s, arc lighting was used to illuminate the seafront and other main arteries. When the Palace (Brighton) Pier was opened in 1899, it’s said that it was lit from end to end with more than 3,000 lightbulbs. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s difficult to imagine a town such as Brighton without its landmark buildings lit up at night, but in the late 19th century this new technology – and the skill and tenacity of men such as Magnus Volk – enabled people to see their home town quite literally in a new light.
Look out for more science-inspired posts later in the month.