Dr George Bodington MD (1799-1882)
George Bodington MD published in 1840 a revolutionary essay on
the treatment and cure of pulmonary consumption in which he roundly
condemned the current therapy and advocated instead fresh air
in abundance, gentle exercise in the open, an adequate and varied
diet and a minimum of medicaments. Violently attacked by reviewers
he became discouraged about tuberculosis and devoted the remainder
of his professional life to the care of the mentally ill.
The life of Dr Bodington has
been fully researched by Andrew MacFarlane and I am very much indebted
to him for all the following text which is his summary of his research.
The full story has been published by Sutton
Coldfield Local History Research Group in
2013 and is obtainable from them.
George Bodington: Pioneer Physician
Treating TB and Mental Illness
George Bodington (1799–1882) is renowned in medical history as the
first known physician to publish written evidence describing the successful
treatment of Pulmonary Consumption (Tuberculosis of the lungs) by use
of the Sanatorium/ fresh air method. After severe criticism, Bodington
discontinued this work. (1) However, by the end of the Nineteenth Century,
due to the efforts of later physicians, the Sanatorium method had become
the accepted treatment for TB until antibiotics came into general use.
Bodington went on to build another pioneering career, providing skilled
and humane care for mentally ill patients (known in those times as
Bodington came from a large, landed family and was born
in Calverton, Buckinghamshire. He was educated at Magdalen College School,
Oxford and decided at the age of 17 to become a physician. (2) In those
times, there were few formal medical schools and most students had to
arrange their own training, normally watching and assisting practising
physicians. Thus, from 1817, Bodington worked as apprentice to two surgeons,
in Atherstone, Warwickshire and London to gain surgical and medical experience.
In the early 1820s, he went St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. That
great institution had not yet become a medical training school. Like
other aspiring physicians, Bodington arranged his own training "on
the job", assisting on the wards and, where possible, gaining
knowledge at whatever meetings and lectures were available. (3)
1825, Bodington's only qualification was a Licence from the Society
of Apothecaries, which allowed him to prepare and dispense medication.
(4) He opened his GP practice in Hillaries Road, Erdington (then
in Warwickshire, now in Birmingham), and married Ann Fowler, daughter
of a prosperous local family.
Bodington showed great interest in developing
new ways of treating disease, which differed considerably from conventional
practices. He was convinced that building up a patient's resistance and
fostering well being was vital. To this end, he stressed the importance
of building up the resistance and well being of patients. He recommended
healthy, wholesome food, exercise, fresh air, and regular sleep. This
went against age old beliefs among physicians who were fixated with using
leeches, emetics, mercury-based medicines and other unpleasant "purgatives"
to drain and purify the patient's blood and internal organs. Bodington
knew that doctors were weakening and killing far more patients by
these methods than they were curing. (5)
His place in history rests upon
the application of these ideas to treat Tuberculosis (TB) by what later
became universally known as the "Sanatorium Method", and which was adopted
world-wide as the standard method of treatment until the advent of antibiotics.
in Erdington, and from 1836 in Sutton Coldfield, Bodington treated at
least six patients with TB. For seven years, he rented a house in Maney,
Sutton Coldfield. Known as "The White House" this
was the first known building used for specialist treatment of TB
patients. (It was unfortunately demolished in the 1930s, to make way for
shops and a cinema!). (6) In 1840, Bodington published his now-famous Essay
On the Treatment and Cure of Pulmonary Consumption, which was widely
circulated and reviewed.
Title Page of Bodington's Essay,
Bodington described treating his patients in a cool environment, with
plenty of fresh air and giving them a full and healthy diet, topped
up with a relaxing glass of wine! These strategies contrasted with
normal treatment within tightly closed, hot and stuffy rooms and
fed only with a sparse, unappetising diet. Bodington followed up his
treatment at night with sleeping drafts and sometimes more wine! (7)
the start Bodington encouraged patients to take as much exercise as possible,
building up from gentle movement to longer walks and riding in the open
countryside. He wrote that patients should "live and breathe freely in
the open air … the only gas fit for the lungs …" His first recorded patient
(perhaps the first in the world known to have received the "fresh air
/ diet / exercise" treatment was a young tool-maker from Erdington. According
to Bodington's Essay he came in a breathless and exhausted condition,
expecting to die. After a healthy diet, port wine, exposure to the open
air, sleep and daily exercise, he eventually returned to work. He was also
taught to re-apply these "natural" treatments whenever his symptoms threatened
The White House, Maney,
prior to demolition
Bodington claimed to have achieved other successes,
including the cure of a "16 year old lady". He did not reveal that
she was his wife's own niece, Hannah Fowler from Birches Green, Erdington.
He treated at a very late stage after stern opposition from her (and
his wife's!) family, who only relented when she was near to death.
In 1902, she wrote (as Mrs E M) to a TB Physician in Switzerland,
describing her treatment, praising her uncle for her cure, and claiming
still to be very well 66 years later! (8)
As well as describing his treatments,
Bodington advocated specialist facilities for TB patients, almost uncannily
predicting the exact course that later generations would follow in the
TB Sanatoria that existed from around the 1890s to the 1960s.
but perhaps understandably, Bodington received savage and hostile reviews
in the medical press. He was accused of being an unknown and inexperienced
country physician, without higher qualifications. (9) His Essay was also
described elsewhere as a poor and unwanted advertisement for his medical
practice. Although he had pledged in the Essay to continue his treatment
of TB, Bodington had totally given up TB treatment within three years.
The "White House" was closed and Bodington even
gave up his general practice. He does not seem to have given any
reasons for his decision. Perhaps he felt humiliated and feared the loss
of his reputation. Perhaps the flow of patients and income ceased. We
do not know. His only mention of regret came in 1866 when he wrote
to his son confessing that he wished he had "persevered more with
the Consumption issue". (10)
There was one positive element. Despite the
ridicule in England, Bodington submitted his Essay in 1843 to the University
of Erlangen, Bavaria along with a money order for £20 and some excellent
testimonials. His work was recognized by the award of his Doctorate
in Medicine. (11)
Bodington's letter of application to
the University of Erlangen, 1842
(University of Erlangen Archives)
Bodington's MD Certificate 1843
(University of Erlangen Archives)
Towards the end of his career, Bodington
was also awarded a higher degree, the Licentiate of the Royal College
of Physicians, by Edinburgh University. (12)
Even while engaged in general
practice, Bodington was already becoming very involved with care of the
mentally ill (known, without censure, in his times as Lunatics. He had
purchased Driffold House Lunatic Asylum, Sutton Coldfield in 1836 and
was building a new and demanding career devoted to the care of mentally
ill people. This aspect of Bodington's life and work has been very sorely
neglected by his biographers; even memorials in Sutton Coldfield and in
Erdington, make very little mention of his 30 years work, treating the
mentally-ill. Neither does his widely published Obituary.
one of the only private asylums in Warwickshire, at a time when there
was little expertise in treating people with mental illness. There was
also much ignorance and even cruel abuse reported from numerous public
and private asylums. It was unusual for the owner of an Asylum to make
his family home on the premises, and also to be providing the medical supervision.
(13) There is evidence that Driffold House Asylum was a family business,
with especial participation from Bodington's wife and daughters. (14) Many private owners were often criticised as absentees, taking
their fees and paying staff, who were often untrained, to provide
unsatisfactory levels of "care".
There are many recorded instances of abuses, and often brutality,
in these situations. (15)
Driffold House in the 1880s
Typically, Bodington has left plenty of written
evidence, showing that he provided exercise, stimulation and good food
for his patients. He also made good use of the surrounding farm and
parkland attached to Driffold House to enhance their treatment. Census
information between 1841 and 1871, also confirms that he
restricted the number of patients, below the approved levels, to ensure
better care. His writings describe interesting and creative
treatments and record some complete cures. There was, for example,
a 59 year old lady who had "experienced horrors" in a large asylum
that seemed to be a "place of punishment". She recovered
at Driffold House and became "a sincerely attached friend to the female
part of my family". (16)
Bodington also describes treatment of a very
colourful character who became delusional after a wildly alcoholic visit
to France. This man was convinced that enemies had followed him, and
were trying to poison his food and drink. Bodington colourfully
describes this "boisterous, joyous and somewhat domineering"
patient. The man had become "thin, of a dirty, yellowish
complexion, with an expression of anxiety and melancholy".
He eventually used ingenious strategies, using the resources
of his own attached farm and dairy, to gain Mr J's trust.
He slowly resumed eating and drinking and remained under
treatment for 15 months, before returning to his family.
Bodington did not always escape criticism. In 1862, towards
the end of his time running Driffold House, the national
Commissioners in Lunacy praised the quality of care shown
over many years but noted some flaws in the state of the
accommodation. John Connolly, who was a great national reformer
of mental health treatment, also praised Bodington for being
"as kind and candid a man" as any in charge of the private
asylum, but also went on to criticise his views. Connolly
was leading a national campaign to abolish the use of physical
restraint within asylums. He strongly attacked Bodington's
written defence of "kindly" physical methods to deter violent
patients from harming themselves and others. In the Asylum
Journal he ridiculed Bodington's views, comparing the size
of Driffold House with that of his own, vast Middlesex asylum.
The attack was unfair, since Bodington did not favour the
open and brutal suppression that Connolly was fighting against.
Bodington retired in 1866, moving to a nearby house
with his wife and daughters and passing the Asylum on to his eldest
son. He did not seek a quiet retirement and devoted the rest
of his life to local civic affairs. He had strong political
views and even stood, very unsuccessfully, for Parliament
in 1859. (19) He had been appointed to the (non-elected)
Warden and Society (Sutton Coldfield's traditional governing
body) in 1848. He was Warden (Mayor) for two years.
Coldfield's former Moot Hall
A further page: A son of Dr George Bodington, Dr
George Fowler Bodington (1829-1902).
Key to References:
(1) Richard J Cyriax: George Bodington 1799-1882 British Journal of
Tuberculosis (April 1941)
(2) Bodington's Obituary British Medical Journal 15th March 1882
(3) Thomas Neville Bonner: Becoming a Physician. Medical Education
in Britain France, Germany and the United States 1750-1945 1995
(4) University of Erlangen Archives, Germany: Biographical Information,
including Bodington's degree application and supporting evidence
(5) George Bodington: Essay On the Treatment and Cure of Pulmonary
Consumption 1840 (Accessible in Google Library)
(6) Richard J Cyriax see (1) above
(7) George Bodington: Essay … see (5) above
(8) A J Tucker-Wise MD: The Origins of the Modern Treatment of
Pulmonary Consumption British Medical Journal 22nd February 1902,
the 1841 Census (Aston) and information from A H Saxton Bygone
Erdington 1928 p102
(9) Lancet Review of Bodington's Essay (5) above 11th July 1840
(10) Copy of 1866 Letter from George Bodington to his son George
Fowler Bodington in Sutton Coldfield Reference Library Archives
(11) University of Erlangen Archives see (4) above
(12) Bodington's Obituary see (2) above
(13) William Parry-Jones The Trade in Lunacy : A Study of Private
Madhouses in England and Wales….RKP 1972
(14) Census Returns for Sutton Coldfield 1841-1871
(15) Annual Reports of the Commissioners in Lunacy
(16) Lancet 11th September 1841
(17) Lancet 8th December 1838
(18) The Asylum Journal 15th November 1853
(19) Rev W K Riland-Bedford: P 55 History of Sutton Coldfield 1891
(20) Proceedings of the Sutton Coldfield Local History Research
Group Vol 3 1994 Article by David Bramham
(21) Minutes of the Sutton Coldfield Warden and Society 2nd May
(22) Birmingham Registry Office
(23) George Bodington's Obituary see (2) above
Richard J Cyriax : George Bodington 1799-1882 British Journal of
Tuberculosis (April 1941).
Thomas Neville Bonner: Becoming a Physician. Medical Education
in Britain France, Germany and the United States 1750-1945
Bodington's Letters in The Lancet and the British Medical Journal
(see web sites, or University of Birmingham Library for details).
George Bodington: Essay On the Treatment and Cure of Pulmonary
Consumption 1840 (Accessible in Google Library).
Rev W K Riland-Bedford : History of Sutton Coldfield 1891.
Minutes of Sutton Coldfield's Warden and Society 1836-1882 (Sutton
Coldfield Reference Library Archives).
Census Returns for Sutton Coldfield 1841-1881.
William Parry-Jones The Trade in Lunacy : A Study of Private
Madhouses in England and Wales….RKP 1972.
Annual Reports of the Commissioners in Lunacy 1848-1867.
University of Erlangen Archives, Germany: Biographical Information,
including Bodington's degree application and supporting evidence.
Bodington's Obituary British Medical Journal 15th March 1882.
Photographs by courtesy of Sutton Coldfield Reference Library Archives.
Text © Andrew
No unauthorised copying or publication.