In pursuit of background material on a character in my third Regency novel, which is in production, I recently found myself browsing nearly every page in Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide. The full title of this weighty tome is typical of many Regency-era books: Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide, and Street Directory; on a New and More Efficient Principle than Any Yet Established. Running to 851 pages, Johnstone’s guide is divided into four parts:1
- Names of streets … with lengths of each; number of houses; address and professions of the inhabitants.
- Names of individuals, firms, and companies, alphabetically arranged, with a descriptive reference to each residence.
- All professions and trades, on an original and scientific classification.
- An accurate list of coaches, waggons [sic], etc. The inns, and their days of departure; to which is affixed, a separate one, of the mail coaches; and all wharfs, whence goods are conveyed coastwise.
Goldmine. That’s the best word for Johnstone’s guide. I have consulted it in the past, but never in such detail. I sought information about surgeons, since the protagonist in my third Regency-era novel is a London-based surgeon. I have many questions about the state of medicine and how it was practiced by surgeons and doctors between about 1800 and 1830. My researches are still a bit muddied on this topic, but in the case of one question—How many surgeons practiced in London in 1815 or 1816?—a reasonable answer can be found in Johnstone’s guide for 1818.
Number of London Surgeons in 1818
London surgeons must have found themselves in need of additional income—much like apothecaries who took up surgery and midwifery in addition to pharmacy3—and for this reason, they took on additional roles such “accoucheur” (an accoucheur is a man-midwife) or “apothecary”. (Previous blogs have described the rise of the man-midwife and their awful ignorance in some cases.) Note that Mr. Ames labeled himself a surgeon, apothecary and man-midwife in his trade card (shown above at right), but I found no such designation in Johnstone’s guide. Here are the types of surgeons I did find, the number in each category, and the percentage of the total of each category:
- Surgeon-accoucheur — 195 (44%)
- Surgeon — 137 (30%)
- Surgeon-apothecary — 70 (15%)
- Surgeon-dentist — 30 (7%)
- Veterinary surgeon — 10 (2%)
- Surgeon-oculist — 3 (<1%)
- Surgeon-cupper — 2 (<1%)
- Surgeon-chemist — 1 (<1%)
Some 448 surgeons of one type or another practiced in 1818 London. Most worked as surgeon-accoucheurs. Only a handful reported specialties such as surgeon-dentist or veterinary surgeon or surgeon-cupper.
The surgeon-cupper is an interesting category. Cupping is an ancient method of bloodletting. Although there is no scientific basis for this treatment, it was popular in Jane Austen’s day for treating a variety of medical conditions, such as phlegmonous inflammation,4 encysted tumors,5 and closing of the ear’s eustachian tube.6 Cupping is still used today.
It is not clear to me why a surgeon would use the designation “surgeon-cupper,” since all surgeons would employ this method of bloodletting when circumstances warranted it. (Anne de Bourgh, the heiress of Rosings Park and fiancé of the illustrious Mr. Darcy, endures cupping therapy in my novel Cousin Anne.) Perhaps the two medical men who classified themselves as surgeon-cuppers perceived a benefit in setting themselves apart from the common surgeon.
Other Tidbits from Johnstone’s London Guide
Here’s another tidbit gleaned from Johnstone’s guide: the cupping set shown in the image above was made by John Weiss. According to Johnstone’s guide, Weiss’s business was based at #33 the Strand, being sandwiched between a silk hosier and a musical instrument maker.7
Jane Austen and her family might have visited any number of shops along the Strand, for here were situated the glover and haberdasher, bookseller and stationer, china and glass warehouse, stationer and quill dealer, chemist and druggist, pocket-book maker, and linen draper. Rudolph Ackermann, printseller, etc., was situated at #101 the Strand.8 His Repository of Arts was a source of delight and curiosity for every fashionable woman.
Sir William Blizard, Surgeon
While reading through Johnstone’s street directory, I found an entry for Sir William Blizard (1743-1835). His office and/or residence was at #1 Devonshire Street, a fashionable address in London’s west end. Blizard was a lecturer and surgeon at the Royal College of Surgeons and founded The Hunterian Society. He is credited with introducing the habit of walking the wards to assess his patients’ status.
I recently found his name mentioned in a book I am reading about death and dying during the Regency era (vital information for my next novel): Dissecting the Criminal Corpse, by Elizabeth T. Hurren. In a fascinating chapter titled “Becoming Really Dead: Dying by Degrees,” Hurren describes the difficulty Regency-era surgeons had in determining when a hanged criminal was truly dead. She describes a case where Sir William and a colleague, William Clift, dissected the body of William Sawyer, who had been hanged at Tyburn for murder.9 Sawyer was hanged officially at 8 am on May 15, 1815. His body was received by Blizard and Clift at Surgeon’s Hall at 9:20 am. It was opened at 9:40 am, but the heart was still beating. At 10:30 am the right auricle within the heart was still contracting but the lungs were not functioning. Not until 11:40 am, more than three hours after the man had been hanged, did Blizard and Clift confirm by various anatomical checks that Sawyer was well and truly dead.
My next blog will report some other interesting findings from Johnstone’s commercial guide to London. Do you know what a “solar tincture” is?
1Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide, and Street Directory; on a New and More Efficient Principle than Any Yet Established. (London: Bernard and Farley, 1818), title page (PDF p. 6).
2Ibid., p. 55 (PDF p. 63).
3Chamberlaine, William. Tyrocinium Medicum; or a Dissertation on the Duties of Youth Apprenticed to the Medical Profession. (London: W. Chamberlaine, 1819), p. 60 (PDF p. 91).
4Surgeon’s Vade-Mecum. (London: John Murray, 1809), pp. 1-3 (PDF pp. 24-26).
5Ibid., pp. 76-77 (PDF pp. 99-100).
6Ibid., pp. 134-135 (PDF pp. 157-158).
7Johnstone, p. 465 (PDF p. 268).
8Ibid., p. 467 (PDF p. 269).
9Hurren, Elizabeth T. Dissecting the Criminal Corpse: Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, pp. 52-53.