(1527-1608) Born in London in July 1527, John Dee was a celebrated scientist in his day and a delver into the occult. Of over 80 books which he wrote, they cover such diverse subjects as Navigation, Mathematics, Theology, Politics and Astronomy. A friend, astologer-adviser and confidant of Queen Elizabeth I, he was widely travelled, possibly as a spy for the royal court, and an avid collector of books. He came with his wife and seven children to Manchester in 1596 to take up the position of Warden at the Collegiate Church (now Manchester Cathedral), already famous for his learning and occult leanings. He was a controversial figure, and parishioners did not take well to him – they disliked his sermons as well as his selection of curates, but the more superstitious among them consulted him on matters of witchcraft. He also functioned as surgeon. Suspicions about his occult practices gave him a bad reputation, and in 1604 he petitioned King James to clear his name. His request was, however, denied, and he was forced to leave Manchester to return to a home in Mortlake where he suffered the direst poverty, often selling his beloved books to feed his family. He died in 1608 aged 81.
(1728-1813) Born in Manchester, the son of a physician, Charles White studied medicine at London and Edinburgh, and on graduation took a partnership in his father’s practice. In collaboration with the merchant Joseph Bancroft, he founded the Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1752, the first hospital in the area – it served not only Manchester, but it drew patients from as far afield as Derbyshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Initially, the hospital was a small affair, set in a house at Garden Street in Shudehill, but in 1756 it moved to larger premises in Piccadilly, on the site of present day Piccadilly Gardens. White worked as a surgeon at the Infirmary for 28 years, and in 1790 he also helped set up the first “lying-in” hospital in Manchester, near the Old Bailey Prison in Salford (now St Mary’s Hospital). His main specialism was in obstetrics, where his modern practices earned him an international reputation. His work resulted in a massive drop in the rate of infant mortality. He published his findings in a book, “The Management of Pregnant and Lying-in Women” in 1773. The book was reprinted many times, and translated into several foreign languages, becoming the standard medical reference work on pregnancy and childbirth. He also advised Elizabeth Raffald in writing her book on midwifery. In 1762 he was admitted to the Royal Society and became a member of the Corporation of Surgeons (now the Royal College of Surgeons). He was also a literary man, and helped found The Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society, and was its first vice-president. He also took part in founding the College of Arts & Sciences, where he lectured on anatomy. His interests included botany, and he kept an extensive collection in a museum at his home in King Street, Manchester. He died at his country home at Sale Priory in 1813 after a long illness of epidemic ophthalmia which made him go blind. There is a monument to the White family in the church at Ashton-on-Mersey.
(1740-1804) Born in Warrington in 1740, the son of a local merchant, Thomas Percival chose to follow the profession of his grandfather and uncles – that of a physician. Both of his parents died when he was a very young boy, and he was raised by a sister. He was educated at Warrington Grammar School and at Warrington Academy. Later he followed by studying Medicine at Edinburgh University, where he came into contact with several Scottish intellectuals, including David Hume. On graduation, Percival returned to Warrington, where he married and established a medical practice, though in 1767 he moved the practice to Manchester. He was a prolific author, and apart from several childrens’ stories, he published two volumes of essays : “Essays, Medical and Experimental” in 1767, and “Essays, Medical, Philosophical and Experimental” in 1773 – both books found popular praise from the critics. In 1770, concerned by the high rate of mortality in Manchester, he began to study death records in an attempt to discover the causes. He isolated several now self-evident causes – poverty, malnourishment and lack of public hygiene. He made specific proposals for the more detailed and accurate keeping of official death records. His work caused him to develop a great deal of sympathy for the poor of Manchester, and he became more involved in reforms aimed at correcting the worst effects of poverty – these included reforming the conditions of work in factories. With other local men like Thomas Henry and the Rev. Dr Barnes, Percival was instrumental in 1781 in setting up the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, which he started in his own home. It grew so large that another meeting place had soon to be found. Percival was President of the Society for the most part of his life. In 1803, Percival published a document on medical ethics; this laid down strict rules of conduct for medical practitioners. His Code was the basis of the “Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association” drawn up in 1849. A man of great charisma, Percival numbered Voltaire and Diderot amongst his friends. Thomas Percival died in 1804. A monument to his memory stands in Warrington Parish Church, and an inscribed tablet can be found in the rooms of the Literary & Philosophical Society.
William Crabtree, after Ford Madox Brown’s painting in Manchester Town Hall
(1610-c1644?) William Crabtree was born in Broughton in Salford and was educated at the Manchester Grammar School. A good marriage to Elizabeth, who came from a wealthy family in Pendleton made him financially secure, though he continued to work as a merchant, while pursuing his great enthusiasm for Astronomy in his spare time. His precise calculations revealed the inaccuracy of many of his contemporary astronomers, and he made new careful measurements of the movement of the planets. Using a decimal system he rewrote the Rudolphine Tables of Planetary Positions. In 1636 he befriended the young Jeremiah Horrox, also a keen amateur Astronomer. Together they observed, plotted and recorded Horrox’s predicted transit of the planet Venus across the Sun on 24th November 1639, and on the basis of their calculations, predicted its next occurrence on 8th June 2004. Horrox’s death in 1640 was a great blow to their collaboration, and little is known of Crabtree’s work after that. There is even uncertainty as to the exact year of his death – various accounts record the date as 1644, 1652 and 1653. Crabtree is celebrated in Manchester Town Hall, where he is the subject of one of Ford Madox Brown’s murals “Crabtree Rapt in Contemplation” .
(1880-1958) Doctor Marie Stopes, world renowned pioneer of birth control for women was the first female lecturer at the University of Manchester. From the start she was an exceptional high-flyer, taking just 2 years to complete her degree botany and zoology, (instead of the normal three), and then gained her doctorate which she completed in German. Her marriage to Dr Reginald Gates, having been annulled in 1916 on the grounds of non-consummation, she learned about sex from books in the British Museum. It was the self-realisation of how ignorant she had been, and more generally the ignorance with which most of the women of her day entered marriage, that led to her writing her first and best-selling book “Married Love” in 1918. At the age of 37 she married again, this time to aircraft manufacturer Humphrey Verdon Roe, (partner of Sir A. V. Roe). In 19921 she opened her first birth control clinic. The clinic was free, aimed at poor women, and publically declaimed as “criminal”, particularly by Catholic clergy. In the event Stopes sues a local Catholic doctor for slander and won her case in court, though it was lost under appeal to the House of Lords. Nevertheless, her work attracted many awards as it also attracted criticism. Her professional and personal life was dogged by controversy until her death in 1958.
Colonel Sir William Coates
(1860-1962) Although born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, William Coates moved to live in Moss Side, Manchester in 1884. He joined the 20th Lancashire Volunteer Corps which later became the Manchester Regiment Territorial Army as acting surgeon with the rank of Captain. He married Nora Freeland, who, later as Lady Coates, was Vice-president of the Whalley Range Division of the British Red Cross Society. Coates was to live in Whalley Range right up to the time of his death in 1962. In 1900 he became President of the Manchester Medical Society. By the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Coates was serving in South Africa and was later appointed Assistant Director of Medical Services for the Western Front, and remained active in both surgery and the Territorial Army until 1946. He died in 1962 at the age of 102 years.
Robert Angus Smith
(1817-1884) In 1872, Doctor Robert Angus Smith was the first to identify the phenomenon now known as “acid rain”, in Manchester. Angus Smith was most active and probably the first to campaign for the introduction of smokeless fuels. He worked from his laboratory near All Saints Church in Rusholme and was appointed in 1863 as Manchester’s first Alkali Inspector, and published “Air & Rain: the Beginnings of Chemical Climatology”. Manchester and Salford were the first in Britain to have smokeless zones, thanks largely to Smith’s pioneering work. Salford first introduced smokeless zoning to the Fairhope and Ladywell Districts in 1949, while the Manchester Corporation Act of 1946 led directly to the first controlled zones in 1952, followed by 105 acres of central Manchester in 1956. In July 1972 Salford declared itself to be the world’s first fully smoke-free zone.