Sunday, 31 December 2017

Dr Thomas Nadauld Brushfield MD, FSA (1828-1910) – Budleigh Salterton’s Ralegh scholar


Inevitably, with the approach of Sir Walter’s 400th anniversary, the name of Dr Brushfield comes to the fore among Budleigh worthies of the past.
It was a Budleigh resident, Roger Bowen, who felt that Brushfield’s story ‘richly deserves to be told’, tackling the first-ever detailed biography of this celebrated 19th century specialist in mental illness.
As a pioneer in the treatment of lunacy, writes Roger, he had few equals. But like Ralegh he was a polymath, and as a bibliophile he was equally celebrated for his studies of Sir Walter’s life and literary works.

Roger’s book From Lunacy to Croquet: The Life and Times of Dr Thomas Nadauld Brushfield was published in 2013. And now, in 2018, Dr Brushfield is receiving a further honour with the installation of a blue plaque at his former home in Budleigh, the Grade II listed building known as The Cliff.

Dr Brushfield in later years

Thomas Nadauld Brushfield was born in London on 10 December 1828. He was a son of Thomas Brushfield, a City merchant, magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower of London. Brushfield Street in the London district of Spitalfields was named in his honour in 1870. There was Huguenot ancestry in the family: Dr Brushfield’s grandfather, George Brushfield, had married Ann Nadauld, great-granddaughter of the sculptor Henri Nadauld.

Examples of Henri Nadauld’s work are at Chatsworth’s Conduit House, seen above, and Westminster Abbey.   

Dr Brushfield was educated at a private boarding school at Buckhurst Hill, Essex, before becoming a student at the London Hospital, where he obtained three gold medals and became Resident House Surgeon. He became member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1850, graduating MD at St Andrews University in 1862.

A 19th century engraving of Chester County Lunatic Asylum

After serving as house surgeon at the London Hospital he joined Dr John Millar at Bethnal House Asylum, London. In 1852 Brushfield was appointed house surgeon to Chester County Lunatic Asylum, and was first resident medical superintendent from 1854 until 1865.

Brookwood Hospital, as the former Asylum became known, in 1900

In 1865 he was appointed medical superintendent of the then planned Surrey County Asylum at Brookwood, near Woking. The buildings were designed by architect Charles Henry Howell, the principal asylum architect in England and architect to the Lunacy Commissioners, but were planned in accordance with Brushfield’s suggestions, and later on he helped to design the Cottage Hospital there. The Brookwood Asylum, as it was originally known, was renamed Brookwood Hospital in 1919.

From its opening on 17 June 1867 until its closure in 1994, it was the leading mental hospital for the western half of Surrey, occupying a large site at Knaphill, near Brookwood. The hospital had a dairy farm, a cobbler's workshop, a large ballroom, and had its own fire brigade, gasworks and sewage farm. It employed the services of many local businesses.

Depiction of a fancy dress ball at Brookwood Asylum shown in The Illustrated London News, 1881.   
Image credit: http://wellcomeimages.

Brushfield was a pioneer of the non-restraint treatment of lunatics, and he sought to lighten the patients’ life in asylums by making the wards cheerful and by organising entertainments.  

‘Full of zeal in his work and with a remarkable capacity for organization and management’, as he was described in an obituary for the British Medical Journal, Brushfield introduced a new era in the treatment of the insane. ‘His kind and thoughtful solicitude for the welfare of his unfortunate patients caused him to promote schemes for their entertainment which have been adopted in every asylum since that time.’ 

He was, it seems, on every occasion, ready to take on the role of playwright, actor and stage manager in addition to that of medical superintendent.

He held the post at Brookwood post 16 years until 1882, when he was seriously assaulted by a patient, an incident which brought about his retirement to Budleigh Salterton.  

Why Budleigh? The town had been specially praised for its health-giving properties in Thomas Shapter’s 1862 book The Climate of the South of Devon, and Brushfield was perhaps aware of this following the Brookwood episode.
Eight years after his move to Devon, in 1890, he would describe Budleigh as ‘a favourite resort of many, who, during the summer months seek a quiet health inspiring change from the atmosphere of large towns, with the additional advantage in the eyes of some, that the precincts have not as yet been invaded by the locomotive.’
And in 1902 it was clear that he had not changed his mind when he claimed: ‘No seaside resort in the West of England is better suited for the recovery of the invalid, for the recreation of the casual visitor, or for prolonging the life of the resident.’

Hayes Barton, near East Budleigh: Ralegh's birthplace
But perhaps a more likely attraction, even given Brushfield’s state of health after the incident at Brookwood, is Budleigh’s proximity to Sir Walter Ralegh’s birthplace. Two biographies of the Elizabethan adventurer had been published in 1868: James Augustus St John’s Life had been based on researches in the archives at Madrid and elsewhere, while the librarian Edward Edwards’ two-volume work had included 159 of Sir Walter’s letters. 

And then, of course, there was Sir John Everett Millais’ celebrated painting ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’ famously begun on Budleigh beach in 1870 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.
Shortly after his arrival in the town Brushfield joined the Devonshire Association (DA) and wrote a paper, ‘Notes on the Ralegh Family’, which he read at the DA meeting the following year. 

His bibliography of Ralegh  was published in book form in 1886 – with a 2nd edition in 1908; it first appeared serially in The Western Antiquary: or, Devon and Cornwall notebook. This began a series of papers, ‘Raleghana, research into Walter Ralegh’s life and literary work’, which were published in the DA’s Transactions between 1896 and 1907. ‘Ralegh Miscellanea’ – Parts I and II followed in 1909-10.

Brushfield was keen to explore in depth various aspects of Ralegh’s life. In 1909, at the DA meeting in Launceston, he stated that he had chosen a subject which should relate to Sir Walter’s links with the sister-county. ‘Although his name is more intimately connected with Devonshire, it has many claims to be included in any history of Cornwall,’ he explained, quoting Raleigh’s support as an MP for the tin miners. 

He went on to point out the anachronism in the celebrated Victorian painting by Seymour Lucas, entitled ‘Bowls on the Hoe’, which depicts both Drake and Ralegh at the moment that the Spanish Armada had been sighted. Sir Walter, noted Brushfield, was in fact at that moment ‘fully occupied in Cornwall in seeing the coast defences were in order’.

The ‘Farm of Wines' Indenture which boosted Ralegh's income 

Another extremely detailed paper contributed by Brushfield concerned Ralegh and the ‘Farm of Wines’ conferred on him in 1583 by Queen Elizabeth I as a mark of royal favour: this was a monopoly whereby every retailer of wines was required to take out a licence, for which a fee or annual rent was paid to Ralegh.

East Budleigh’s All Saints’ Church, where the Ralegh family worshipped and where Sir Walter’s father was churchwarden, was the subject of a series of papers published by Brushfield in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association between 1891 and 1894. He contributed other papers on similar themes to other journals.  

Brushfield was involved with a number of West Country associations. He was elected to the Council of the Devonshire Association in 1883, and was its President in 1893–4. His presidential address at the DA meeting in Torquay on Tuesday 25 July was titled ‘The literature of Devonshire up to the year 1640.’  He was also a founder-member of the Devon and Cornwall Society in 1904.

Lady Gertrude Rolle with wheelbarrow at the cutting of the first sod to build Budleigh's railway on 6 November 1895. The ceremonial spade used for the cutting is in Fairlynch Museum

Nearer home, he was present at the cutting of the first sod for the new Budleigh railway, having joined the Board of Directors. He was also a member of Budleigh Salterton Urban District Council and was active in establishing the Cottage Hospital, becoming Chairman of the Trustees for many years. He was also the 1907-9 President of Budleigh’s Croquet Club. And he was a well-known Freemason, having held the rank of Past Provincial Grand Senior Warden (P.P.G.S.W.) of Surrey.  

As at Brookwood Asylum, Brushfield entered into the spirit of the occasion by taking an active part in community events. In the report on a Jumble Sale to raise funds for the Budleigh Salterton and East Budleigh Cottage Garden Society on 12 November 1896 he was noted as taking a stall and contributing songs during the evening. On another occasion, when he had been unable to attend, a report noted: ‘Great disappointment was felt by many at the absence of Dr Brushfield, so long associated with, and always with great advantage, to theatricals of Salterton.’

The Cliff, on Cliff Road, Budleigh Salterton

Dr Brushfield’s Grade II-listed former home is one of the landmark buildings of Budleigh, though, amazingly, at one time it was threatened with demolition. The Cliff was built at some time between 1827 and 1834.

Fine stained glass is one of the features of the building 

In 1882, following his purchase of the house, he added a single storey Gothic style library wing to the north side; a little later a Swiss-chalet style pavilion was built on the south side. 

Yet more stained glass: a view from the road

Both were built by a Budleigh builder, Jacob Cowd, with woodwork by local carpenter, William Keslake; this included the many bookshelves, fitted all round the wall of the Library to house Brushfield’s 10,000 volumes.

Brushfield in his library. The desk used to belong to his neighbour opposite, the writer Thomas Adolphus Trollope, brother of the better known Anthony.

It was in this Library that Brushfield earned a further distinction. According to the British Medical Journal for December 1910 he was one of the oldest and most significant readers for the Oxford English Dictionary, to which he contributed upwards of 70,000 slips. 

The news of his death at the age of 81, when it came on 28 November 1910 after a short illness, was greeted with sadness not just in Budleigh but throughout Devon and beyond. ‘The world has lost a bright, useful man,’ noted the British Medical Journal

He left a widow, Hannah, together with three sons and three daughters. Two of the daughters married medical men. Two sons followed their father into the same profession: one of them, Thomas, became a noted physician in his own right, being the first to describe ‘Brushfield spots’ – often observed in newborn infants with Down syndrome in his 1924 MD thesis. 

Typically, a bookplate from one of Dr Brushfield’s books bears images of Ralegh's birthplace and of the great man himself; it also tells us how to spell his name

On his death, Dr Brushfield’s lantern slides went to the Exeter Public Library, with some of the major Ralegh items from his library. The rest of his library of about 10,000 volumes and manuscripts was dispersed after his death, being sold by auction in Exeter.

Dr Brushfield and his wife Hannah are buried in St Peter’s Burial Ground, Budleigh Salterton.  Block C, row 6.  

Roger Bowen’s book From Lunacy to Croquet is available via Amazon at

Publishing this tribute on New Year's Day seemed only right to me. People sometimes do question the workings of the British Honours system. However in Dr Brushfield's case I think that everyone would agree that he deserved at the very least an MBE - if such things had been around during his lifetime. 


No comments:

Post a comment

Radical Ralegh

The point about Sir Walter Ralegh: historian Anna Beer with Millais’ celebrated 1870 painting at Fairlynch Museum.  Dr Beer’s visi...