Street View: 16 and 5 Suppl.
Address: 311 Regent Street
The elevation depicted above for 311 Regent Street clearly shows that the premises were occupied by brothers Thomas and James Turner, veterinary surgeons; we can easily imagine horses in need of treatment going through the stable door on the right, but the frontage does not look as if anyone, other than perhaps a stable boy, lived on the premises. A drawing by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, dated 1843, however, clearly shows a ‘proper’ house on the same spot and from other depictions of the property, we can surmise a major building conversion somewhere between 1839, when Tallis produced his Street View, and 1843. Two more illustrations of the building show a similar view to the drawing by Shepherd, although he seems to have miscounted or misremembered the number of windows upstairs.
On the other side of number 309, the building of the Polytechnic Institute, more stables can be seen and although Tallis does not name the proprietors for those, it has been suggested that they were part of the Turner establishment, frequently referred to as ‘the horse infirmary’.(1) The 1839 Street View clearly shows the Polytechic building separating the two part of the stables and that is still the case in the 1847 Street View, although by then, the house had been built at number 311. If one is to turn to the 1849 Grand Panorama, however, the Polytechnic Institute is twice as large and the stables on the left have shrunk accordingly.
The 1851 census shows James Turner living above the veterinary business with a stable boy, a housekeeper and another boy without a job description. It so happens that brother Thomas, his wife Mary Jane, and their daughter Maria are visiting when the census is taken on 30 March. Thomas and family could normally be found in Croydon. I do not think that the personal life of the brothers was very remarkable, but their professional life certainly was. We will start with James, the eldest of the two who had been at 311 Regent Street since 1830, if not earlier.(2)
James, according to the 1851 census, was born ±1793 in Croydon, but that is about all we know about the first part of his life. We first hear from him as a vet in The Veterinarian, a Monthly Journal of Veterinary Science in which he writes short items on the treatment of horses’ feet. These articles were brought together in 1832 as A Treatise on the Foot of the Horse, and a New System of Shoeing by one-sided Nailing; and on the Nature, Origin, and Symptoms of the Navicular Joint Lameness, with Preventative and Curative Treatment. From the title-page, we learn that James is a Member of the Royal Veterinary College, and Veterinary Surgeon in the Army. Turner explains that Navicular Joint Lameness used to be called Coffin Lameness and that the subject had interested him since 1816 when he submitted some notes on the subject to the College. Should you wish, you can read Turner’s whole book online here. According to The Veterinarian (1832, p. 455), “there can be no dispute, that Mr. James Turner was the first person who directed the attention of veterinary practitioners to the navicular joint disease as the most frequent seat of groggy lameness”.
James’s knowledge of horses made him an ideal ‘expert witness’ to be called in when litigation involved the condition of a horse, such as Baldwin v. Dixon where the horse appeared to have a lameness which did not seem to get any better(3) or Hutton v. Boorer, although it that case, the vets called in to examine the horse could not agree on whether it was lame or not.(4) The Veterinarian of 1843 reprinted An Essay on the Condition of Horses by James Turner which he had apparently written twenty years earlier. The Era of 12 February, 1843, devoted almost a whole column about that particular volume of the journal, mentioning Turner’s essay and calling it “usefull for all to peruse who dabble in horse-flesh”. Apparently horse dealers were often accused of selling diseased horses and were hence often forced to pay compensation to disgruntled customers. Turner claims that blaming the dealer was often based on a pre-conception as it was quite possible for a healthy horse to fall ill of lung trouble and die within a week. On dissection, the lungs would appear rotten suggesting bad practise on the dealer’s part, but that need not be the case as, according to Turner, lung tissue affected by inflammation deteriorated quickly. These are just a few examples of the work done by James Turner, but numerous other examples can be found in the newspapers and journals. What surprised me was that he seemed to have fully specialised in horses. No other animal seemed to have crossed his door or warranted his opinion. But perhaps I should not really be surprised given the number of horses around in those days.
Let’s turn to brother Thomas who was about 7 years younger and born in 1800 or thereabouts. As far as I can work out, James never married, but Thomas stood before the altar in 1827 with Mary Jane Walter. The couple had at least five children of whom Thomas junior was the eldest.(5)
Although Thomas does not seem to have contributed to the veterinary discourse in the same way as James did with his articles, he did a lot for the professionalization of veterinary practitioners. His claim to fame came about in 1844 when he became the first President of the newly incorporated Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. He had been the driving force behind the application for a Royal Charter which was granted and sealed on 8 March 1844 and his first action in his new role was to call a General Meeting of the members.(6) Thomas remained the President till 1851 and in 1857, brother James was chosen to lead the College. Unfortunately, the brothers died quite soon after James’s spell as President. Thomas died 19 December 1859 and James a few months later on 3 April 1860.(7) What happened to the horse infirmary in Regent Street is unclear.
(1) Hermione Hobhouse, A History of Regent Street: A Mile of Style (2008), p. 58.
(2) Letter to the editor in The Lancet, vol. 2, p. 843-844, dated 14 August 1830.
(3) The Times, 17 February 1831.
(4) The Morning Chronicle, 23 February 1833.
(5) Thomas (1828), Mary (1831), Fanny (1832), James (1834), William (1838).
(6) Read more on the Charter on the RCVS webpage here.
(7) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1860 for both James and Thomas. Thomas named his wife and James as his executors and the surviving executor of James’s will was William Walter, no doubt a relation of his sister-in-law Mary Jane.