Thursday, 11 March 2010

Bloomsbury Day

Bloomsbury Day, a celebration of Bloomsbury Past and Present, will be held on Friday 12 March in the Department of English at University College London. During the course of the event, guests will be able to look at the Bloomsbury Project website (although the most interesting features are still password-protected) and at the Bloomsbury People blog. This has now been online since April 2008 when I decided that it would be exciting to find out as much as possible about the ordinary folk of the area as well as the elite who changed Bloomsbury during the 19th century from swampy rubbish dump to a centre of intellectual life.

I was relying on descendents of Bloomsbury residents to come forward with stories, and that is more or less what has happened over the past two years. Perhaps I could have wished for a few more than the forty features that I have been able to post, but links have been made with some extraordinary families such as the Hornes and the Bartons, and also with South Africa, to where a large number of Bloomsbury residents emigrated in the early 19th century. This in itself deserves a more thorough investigation.

The Bloomsbury Project has another year to run and I am therefore appealing to anyone who has ancestral links with the area, however tenuous these might be, to contact me with your story. The blog has been able to link up members of a number of families as you'll see if you read the story of Sir Rickman Godlee immediately below this one. The Bloomsbury Project has also benefited from the information given by the families. Together we hope to reconstruct the area as it existed in all its vibrancy between 1800 and 1904.

Sir Rickman Godlee and the first brain tumour operation

Paul Tucker, another descendent of the incredible Barton family (John Barton, 1789-1852, was a founder member of what is now Birkbeck College, Bloomsbury), has highlighted a further Bloomsbury link between John and his second wife, Fanny Rickman. They were married in 1828 and had nine children before Fanny died of scarlet fever in 1842, along with their 4-year-old daughter, Sarah.

Fanny’s aunt, Mary Rickman (1770-1851), married John Godlee (1762-1841). The firm of Rickman and Godlee were ship builders and built the first sea-going vessel to sail out of Lewes Harbour in Sussex. It was named the Lewes Castle and its keel was laid on Queen Victoria’s Coronation day, 28 June 1838.

John and Mary Godlee had a son, Rickman Godlee (1804-1871, who became an eminent barrister at Middle Temple, just over the Bloomsbury border. Rickman married Mary Lister who was the daughter of Joseph Jackson Lister (1786-1869), a wine merchant but also a very competent optical engineer. He built the first achromatic microscope lenses and thereby revolutionised microscopy in the mid-19th century. Joseph Jackson Lister was not only the father of Mary but also of Sir Joseph Lister (1827-1912), the surgeon whose antiseptic techniques using carbolic acid, helped reduce the surgical death rate from infection. The top photograph shows Sir Joseph Lister (centre) with his family.

Rickman and Mary Godlee’s son, also named Rickman (1849-1925), became a well known surgeon who performed the first operation to remove a brain tumour in 1884 at was is now the Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, Bloomsbury. He was knighted for his services to medicine and also wrote a biography of his uncle, Lord Lister. Sir Rickman Godlee was also surgeon to the household of Queen Victoria, and a Fellow of University College. The middle photograph shows Godlee operating on a child at University College Hospital, and the bottom picture is a portait.