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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

Thomas Southwood Smith (1788–1861)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

He was a socially concerned medical practitioner at the London Fever Hospital at King’s Cross, and a Unitarian who had taken his medical degree in Edinburgh in 1816

He applied for one of the two Philosophy chairs advertised in 1827 in advance of the opening of the University of London (later University College London) in October 1828

Southwood Smith won the recommendation of the majority of members of the University’s Education Committee at a meeting of 22 June 1827 for the Chair of Moral and Political Philosophy, but he was not in the end recommended to Council for appointment, as one of the committee members, Zachary Macaulay, objected to his heterodox religious opinions

At a meeting of the Education Committee only four days after Smith’s name was recommended, Macaulay, in the chair, declared that each candidate for a chair in the university should be known for “having had a liberal education”, for “his experience as a public lecturer”, for “his moral character”, and – crucially in the case of Smith – for “his not having made himself remarkable by the avowal of objectionable opinions in religion”

Smith’s name was not among those which the Committee passed on from this meeting as recommendations to Council for appointment to chairs (Education Committee, 26 June 1827, Committee Minutes 1826–1827, UCL Records Office)

As another powerful member of the Education Committee, George Grote, was equally adamant that no minister of religion should occupy a Chair of Philosophy, the Professorship was left vacant for the time being (H. Hale Bellot, University College London 1826–1926, 1929)

Smith had further connections with the University, however; in December 1830 he was asked by George Birkbeck if he would step in to teach physiology on the sudden resignation of Charles Bell

Smith agreed, on the understanding that it was to be made known that he was doing this to save the University embarrassment halfway through the academic year and that he, as an experienced practitioner of 42, was not giving the lectures as a probationer (Council Minutes, vol. II, 4 December 1830, UCL Records Office)

Smith applied for the Chair of Physiology when it was advertised in February 1831 (Council Minutes, vol. II, 5 February 1831, UCL Records Office), but was again unsuccessful

The Medical School was in turmoil with the resignation of Bell and others and the dismissal of the Professor of Anatomy, Granville Sharp Pattison, in 1831, and the opportunity was taken in the session 1831–1832 to restructure the School, so that physiology and anatomy were taught by a single Professor (Annual Report 1832, UCL Records Office)

When Smith’s friend Jeremy Bentham died in June 1832, he was, according to the wishes expressed in his will, publicly dissected in the Webb Street School of Anatomy by the anatomist Richard Grainger, with Smith delivering a lecture to the assembled audience

Bentham’s mummified body, dressed in his clothes, was kept in Smith’s consulting rooms at Finsbury Square until he retired in 1850, when he donated this “auto-icon to University College London

A letter from the President of University College, Lord Brougham, to the Council, read out at the meeting of 23 March 1850, stated that in case of his absence from the meeting, he wanted it to be known that he had been offered by Dr Southwood Smith the “most valuable wax figure I ever saw. It is of Jeremy Bentham and the likeness is so perfect that it seems as if alive” (Council Minutes, vol. IV, 23 March 1850, UCL Records Office)

The figure was Bentham’s real skeleton and skull in a mahogany and glass case; it still sits in its glass case in UCL today See an image of the auto-icon (opens in new window)

For more general biographical information about Thomas Southwood Smith, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 7 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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