DOCTOR TO FEMALE PATIENT
“Well, you’ve got acute appendicitis…and the rest of you isn’t bad either!
A VERY OLD JOKE
If the human digestive tract was like South Western Railways, with St Margarets as the mouth, and Waterloo as the rectum the appendix would appear as an unused siding joining the line at Queenstown Road…
Of course, nobody really knows what the appendix actually does. Some say it is a vestige of the days when we lived in the trees and ate leaves. Others say that it may have something to do with the management of bacteria in the gut. Most of the time the appendix sits quietly at the junction of the large and small intestine minding its own business - until it decides to become infected and tries to kill us! Then it has to be removed …and the first surgeon to perform that operation had a family name that is marked and remembered around St Margarets.
Claudius Amyand (1681 - 1740) was born to a Huguenot family from Mornac in Xaitonge, France. Fleeing persecution the family came to England where Claudius was naturalised on September 9, 1698. He served as a surgeon with the army and then at St. George’s Hospital in London. In 1715 he was appointed Surgeon-in-Ordinary to King George II.
WARNING; THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS ARE A BIT GRUESOME!
On October 8th, 1735 an 11 year old boy called Hanvil Anderson came to St George’s Hospital suffering from an inguinal hernia. This is a swelling in the lower groin caused by the intestines pressing through a rupture in the interior stomach wall. When Amyand examined the boy he thought the rupture ‘was small and not troublesome’. What concerned him more was a fistula or open ulcer alongside the hernia that seemed to be leaking ‘a great Quantity of an unkindly sort of matter.’
On the 6th December 1735 when he operated - and this was done without anaesthetics - Amyand discovered that the swelling was caused by Hanvil’s inflamed appendix pressing through the stomach wall. The appendix was badly perforated, allowing ‘faecal matter’ to leak through the fistula. (I warned you it was a bit gruesome!) Amyand decided the only thing that he could do was to remove the infected appendix entirely and then reconnect the gut. It was a procedure that had never been done before and no one knew the possible consequences. Even if the boy survived the operation would his digestive system ever function normally again? Amyand later wrote…
“This operation proved the most complicated and perplexing I ever met; with many unsuspected Oddities and Events concurring to make it as intricate as it proved laborious and difficult….’Tis easy to conceive that this Operation was as painful to the Patient as laborious to me…..It lasted nearly half an Hour - and the Patient bore it with great Courage. He was composed by half an Ounce of Diacodium (a syrup made of poppies) and Emollient Embrocations.”
The operation was a complete success. After a month of careful nursing Hanvil Anderson was sent home and lived a normal, healthy and appendix-free life. When Amyand examined the appendix he was amazed to discover that the perforations had been caused by a pin that the boy had apparently swallowed. The pin and the appendix were later presented to the Royal Society.
YOU CAN OPEN YOUR EYES NOW
Claudius Amyand, the pioneering surgeon, does not have any direct or personal connection with St Margarets. In his will he describes himself as “of St Martin in the Fields”. It is his descendants who have lent the family name to a house, (Amyand House), a road (Amyand Park Road), a row of cottages (Amyand Cottages) and a Baptist Chapel (Amyand Park Chapel). It was Claudius’s third and youngest son Thomas and his wife Frances who would appear to be the main culprits. He had the Amyand name - and she had the property in St Margarets. In 1758 Thomas Amyand married Frances Rider, the youngest daughter of William Rider, a ‘gentleman of Twickenham’. William lived in what is now ‘Amyand House’ on “an acre, a quarter of an acre and three Polls of three acres of customary land formerly converted into an orchard in Twickenham aforesaid.” This small estate stood at the northern end of Oak Lane facing what is now known as Amyand Park Road, its garden stretching down the east side of Oak Lane.
In 1760 Frances’s sister Maria moved into Amyand House. Following Thomas Amyand’s death in 1762 and wishing to be near her sister Frances leased the house now known as Devoncroft at the top of Oak Lane. In 1789 Maria died and Frances moved into Amyand House herself, living there until her own death in 1804.
In 1879 local philanthropist Elizabeth Twining bought the property and established on the site ‘St John’s Hospital’ on the understanding that it was “forever thereafter to be used as and for the purpose of a hospital or dispensary”. Amyand House was appropriated for the use of the medical Superintendent of the Hospital. St. John’s Hospital now stands on Strafford Road, formerly known as Amyand Road.
As for our hero, Claudius Amyand, he is remembered for a number of papers that he wrote on various medical conditions - most of which are best described as being ‘below the belly button’. He does have one final recognition - inflamed appendix are found in about 1% of all inguinal hernias - and they are still known as Amyand’s Hernia… which as honours go - went!
– from Martyn Day
Written with the generous assistance and encouragement of Mr. Laurence Mann.
Note: Photos from Twickenham Museum