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Science & Discovery

John Dee

John Dee

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.

Charles White

Charles White

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.

Thomas Percival

Thomas Percival

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
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

William Crabtree

William Crabtree, after Ford madox Brown's painting in the Manchester Town Hall
William Crabtree, after Ford Madox Brown’s painting in Manchester
Town Hall

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”

Marie Stopes

Marie Stopes

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

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

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.





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This page last updated 20 Jan 12.