Nottingham Hospitals History



(1801 - 1856)

President of the Nottingham Medico-Chirurgical Society


John Calthjorpe Williams:- Nottingham. Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. Graduate of the University of Edinburgh, 1824 Physician to the Nottingham General Hospital and Visiting Physician to the Nottingham Lunatic Asylum. Author of “Practical Observations on Nervous and Sympathetic Palpitations of the Heart.”

Medical Directory, 1849.


John Calthorpe Williams was born in Nottingham in 1801 and died 1856. He was the second surviving son of William Williams, M.D. and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, who practised in Nottingham. Nottinghamshire Directories of 1814, 1818, and 1825 mention W. Williams Surgeon, at Rose Place, Bridlesmith Gate.

J. C. Williams was educated at Repton School under the Reverend Boulthee Sleath, M.D. In his book on palpitations of the heart Williams states that he was a pupil of Dr. Marsden at the Nottingham General Hospital “sixteen years ago.” That would appear to be 1819 or 1820. In his preface Williams says that he was at Edinburgh in 1818. He took his degree at Edinburgh in August, 1824. Immediately he started to practise in Sheffield but in the next year, as a result of the death of Dr. Pennington, he removed to Nottingham where he lived until his death.

In the year 1827 he published a pamphlet (which is now in the possession of the Public Library) entitled A letter to the governors of the Hospital, ie. the General Hospital, being a brief collection of medical evidence, proving the safety and propriety of Establishing Fever Wards in connection with general infirmaries. A note at the end of the preface of this pamphlet tells us that Williams lived at Pelham Street in October, 1827. In a list of physicians in the Nottinghamshire directory for 1829, his address is given as Pelham Street still; and his name is spelt Calthrop. On the cover of the pamphlet, Williams is described as “Extraordinary member of the Royal Medical Society, Edinburgh.”

By 1833, John Calthrop Williams, Physician, is living at Rose Place, and in the directory for 1834 it is given as Rose Place, Bridlesmith Gate, the same residence that his father had. The last record of W. Williams is in a pollbook of 1830. Subsequent to this date, but prior to 1832, he must have died.

About 1833-5 a medical school was established in Nottingham with premises in St. James’s Street, and in his book on the palpitation of the heart, Williams states that the material in the book was originally a course of lectures that he gave there. He describes himself as “lecturer on the principles and practice of physic.” Despite such a distinguished patron as the Duke of Newcastle, the idea of a Nottingham Medical School fell through, and by 1836 (also in the preface to his book) Williams speaks of it in the past tense. The British Museum has only the second - 1852 - edition of this book, which was published in London by Longman, and printed in Nottingham by J. Hicklin at the Journal Office. The copy of the first edition in the Nottingham Public Library was presented by the author to the Nottingham Artizan’s Library - the forerunner of the modern public library - which was situated on Smithy Row.

About this time, Williams married Anne, eldest daughter of Reverend George Sanders, rector of Wollaton. They had five children - two sons and three daughters. Both sons went to Merchant Taylors School and according to the Nottingham Review, July 25, 1856, the younger son was “Captain or Head Boy” of the school. The Merchant Taylors School register give the following information: “William Rhys Williams, born 7th March, 1839, was admitted to the school in December 1848.” It also says that “William had an Exhibition to St. Thomas’s Hospital, 1855. M.D. St. Andrews 1862; L.K.Q.C.P. Ireland, 1865; M.R.C.P. Edinburgh, 1866, Commissioner in Lunacy, 1878.” About George, the register states that he was “elected to St. John’s Oxford, 1857; elected to Ceylon Civil Service, 1861; Assistant Government Agent at Badulla, 1873.”

In the Directory for the City of Nottingham of 1840 it says that John Calthorp Williams of Rose Place, Bridlesmith Gate was “Honorary Physician to Nottingham Dispensary, the General Hospital and the Union Workhouse.” The Dispensary was built in 1831 but the Workhouse, although begun in 1840, was not completed until 1843.

During the year 1840-1, Williams moved house to Low Pavement where he remained at least until 1850. This is the last directory of him as John C. Williams, M.D., Low Pavement.

In a copy of History of the Coppice by D. Hunter, privately printed by the author in Nottingham in the year 1918, John C. Williams, M.D. appears as physician to the Hospital, 1843 onwards. Presumably the position was held until 1856 - his death - as his name was the last mentioned before 1858 when the Hospital moved to Mapperley from Sneinton.

From directories of Nottingham of 1844, it is learnt that John Calthorp Williams, M.D., magistrate, owned his house in Low Pavement freehold. It is also stated that he was president of the Literary Society which met in the Assembly Rooms, Low Pavement. In History and Directory of Nottingham by S. Glover under the heading “General Lunatic Asylum” J. C. Williams, M.D. (salary £150) is named as physician. He is also mentioned as being physician to the General Hospital during that year.

Between 1850 and 1853, Williams moved to Wheeler Gate where he lived until his death in 1856. From the directory of 1853 we learn also that Williams was “visiting physician” to the General Lunatic Asylum.

In the Nottingham Date Book there is an entry as follows:

1856: July 30th (this date should read July 21st according to contemporary accounts in newspapers). Death of Dr. J. C. Williams, physician of Nottingham through a fall from his carriage near the top of Derby Road the previous evening.

Condensed from Nottingham Reviews of July 25 and August 1st 1856 is the following information:

Dr. Williams was returning from Wollaton Hall, the home of Lord Middleton whose physician he was, and who incidentally died later the same year, when, probably as a result of the behaviour of the horse, he tried to step out of the carriage. He slipped and fell, however, hitting his head and becoming unconscious. This occurred on Sunday, 20th July, and on the day Williams died. He was buried on Friday, July 25th, in the family vault on the south side of St. Peter’s Churchyard.

From various accounts in these newspapers some facts are elicited. Williams had chronic asthma during the later years of his life and as a result his practice was contracted. In borough politics he was a staunch Conservative and was in the forefront - as a leader - “in many a civic struggle.” He was a trustee of the Church Cemetery on Mansfield Road. In 1836, John C. Williams, M.D. (Edinburgh) wrote a book on “Practical observations on nervous and sympathetic palpitation of the heart,” he deplored the frequency with which functional derangement of the heart was attributed to heart disease itself and brought the pendulum a wee bit back from the extreme swing, the reverse of Galen’s, for which Corvisart and others of that day and since were responsible. He wrote that palpitation was:-

“...frequently, by a careless observer, regarded as symptomatic of some serious or structural change being established, either in the coverings of the heart, its muscular texture, or in some of its valvular appurtenances. A careful and deliberate inquiry, however,” [he went on to say], “will in the generality of cases, enable us to strip them of their apparent obscurity and danger and reduce them to their true place in nosological arrangement.... Latterly there has to be a rage for tracing diseases almost exclusively to vascular derangement. I deprecate this, because I am convinced of the unceasing influence of the nervous system, both in health and disease A deservedly popular writer on medicine of the present says, ‘The longer we live, the  more we see; and the deeper we study, so much the more we become convinced, that not only are the primary impressions of morbific causes sustained by the sentient system of the human fabric, but it is here the primary morbid movements first began, and are thence propagated to the vascular apparatus, which from that moment reacts upon, and is again influenced by the nervous system.’ No man I am satisfied, can ever be a sound  Pathologist, or a judicious practitioner, who devotes his attention to these systems in preference or to the exclusion of the other; through life they are perpetually acting, and inseparably linked together.”

Williams also quoted “The late eminent Dr. Baillie” as follows:-

“There are in truth phenomena, which puzzle, perplex, and lead into error the inexperienced (and sometimes the experienced) practitioner, so much as inordinate action of the heart. He sees, or thinks he sees, some terrible cause for this tumult in the central organ of the circulation, and frames his portentous diagnosis and prognoses accordingly. In the pride of his penetration he renders miserable for the time the friends - and by his direful countenance damps the spirit of his patient. But ultimate recovery not seldom disappoints his fears, and the Physician is mortified at his own success.”

Finally, Williams presented several case reports, the most striking of which was that described by Morgagni of a boarding mistress who had palpitations. She was bled with some appearance of relief. The palpitation returned and also she was bled again daily until she died. Nothing abnormal was found at autopsy in thorax or abdomen, and Morgagni wrote:-

“It would have been well had her physician remembered, that the very name of Palpitatio Cardiaca implies a course of proceeding quite the reverse.”

Dr. Williams was appointed Honorary Physician to the Nottingham General Hospital in 1840; four years after he had written his book; in succession to Godfrey Howitt who had gone to Australia.

It was Dr. Patrick O’Donovan (President 1956-57) who discovered his book in the library of our famous American heart specialist, and then found it in the * Nottingham Reference Library. *

It was Dr O’Donovan who collected the foregoing his life story. There are 130 pages, which begin with the advocacy of the stethoscope the use of which Dr. Williams had learned from Dr. Duncan (junior) of Edinburgh in 1818 and also as a pupil of the famous Laenec himself. Then followed a chapter on percussion, and another on the varied actions of sympathy both on emotional and reflex.

The second half of the book gives a detailed discussion on nervous and sympathetic disorder of the heart and finally a chapter on treatment.

Dr. Williams belongs to the leech era, and used small bleedings and a few leeches in some forms of functional disorder. For some organic troubles, such as pericarditis he applied twenty leeches over the heart. But he severely deprecated bleeding for most forms of nervous and sympathetic derangement. He also advised on the use of various drugs and in some cases severe purging. But his great virtue lies in his personality. First by reason of his use of the new instrument of diagnosis - the stethoscope - he is able not only to assure his patient that his heart is normal but to do so with a convinced certainty and sincerity that will carry conviction to the patient’s mind.

Secondly, he persuades the patient to a wise way of life and to a benevolent interest in his fellow men.

So he relieves the patient of his fear and directs his mind away from himself, while he comforts his immediate need by a mild sedative medicine.

From A History Of The General Hospital Near Nottingham

By Frank H. Jacob.

Pages, 172, 173, 174, 175,176, and 177.


* Nottingham Reference Library *

The Book referred to is now held in the Local Studies Library,

Angel Row, Nottingham