Lives of the fellows

Hugh Crichton-Miller

b.5 February 1877 d.1 January 1959
MA Edin(1899) MB ChB Edin(1900) MD Edin(1902) MD Pavia(1902) MRCP(1931) FRCP(1939)

Hugh Crichton-Miller was born in Genoa where for forty-one years his father, the Rev. Donald Miller, D.D., was minister to the Scots Church. His mother, like his father, was a Scot, Mary Wotherspoon, of Glasgow, the daughter of a local businessman.

In 1889 Hugh, as a child of twelve, travelled alone across Europe for his first term at a boarding school. This was Fettes College, Edinburgh, where he won an open scholarship and a Governors’ exhibition. He entered Edinburgh University in 1894, taking the arts as well as the medical course. In 1900 he was elected president of the Union and became house surgeon and later house physician at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh.

So far his career followed conventional lines; but on completion of his junior appointments he took the unusual step of setting up in practice in two places—San Remo in the winter, and Aviemore, Inverness-shire, in the summer. From his student days he was interested in the link between mind and body and chose hypnotism as the subject for his M.D. thesis at Edinburgh. Nevertheless, although a sound practitioner, he could find no effective treatment for the considerable number of patients suffering from functional nervous disorders, and he refused to fob them off with placebos. In those days there was no nursing home and no hospital where such patients could get the treatment he considered they required, namely psychotherapy.

In 1911 he made a move to solve this problem by opening a nursing home for the treatment of neurosis and similar disorders. It was the first home of its kind in the country— Bowden House, Harrow-on-the-Hill. This meant giving up general practice and launching out on a pioneer venture with its inevitable financial and professional risks; but it succeeded.

When war came in 1914, Crichton-Miller volunteered for the R.A.M.C, and served abroad with the 21st General Hospital in Egypt in the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Later he was consultant neurologist to the 4th London General Hospital. His absence on military service caused considerable financial difficulties as by that time he had a family of six children. Yet this risk, like the previous one, had been deliberate.

Shell-shock was then the omnibus term used to cover non-organic disabilities, and success in its treatment did much to create a demand, when the war was ended, for the treatment of functional disorders in patients of limited means. With considerable courage and vision Crichton-Miller, in 1920, founded the Tavistock Clinic for their diagnosis and treatment. He was the honorary medical director till 1934, and for the following ten years honorary senior physician. By 1939 the honorary medical staff numbered ninety.

In addition to his private practice and being director of Bowden House and the Tavistock Clinic, Crichton-Miller—H. C.-M. to his friends—was in demand as a lecturer at medical gatherings, training colleges and university societies. His objective was to educate public opinion and explain to the layman the ‘new psychology’. While he could thrill an audience he could also evoke scornful remarks from his critics; but this did not bother him unduly. He established himself as a writer and his books had a wide appeal. His Hypnotism and disease appeared in 1912 and The New psychology and the teacher (1921), The New psychology and the parent (1922) and The New psychology and the preacher (1924) formed a highly popular trilogy.

In 1937 he was chairman (medical section) of the British Psychological Society and in 1938 president of the psychiatric section of the Royal Society of Medicine, president of the International Society for Psychotherapy, vice-president of the C. G. Jung Institute, Zürich, and Sir Charles Hastings lecturer of the British Medical Association. Between 1939 and 1941 he was medical officer in charge of the Emergency Medical Service Psychiatric Hospital at Watford. He resigned from the staff of the Tavistock Clinic in 1941, from his private practice in 1945 and from his position as medical director of Bowden House in 1952.

Thereafter he lived in retirement at Harrow-on-the-Hill till his death. It was a sad retirement for he, the most active of men, was afflicted with a slowly developing Parkinsonism, which he bore with courage, even with gaiety, for at least his last thirteen years.

There was about Crichton-Miller a Presbyterian rigour and a certain restraint which some found forbidding; but there was also a depth of human feeling which was the basis of many close and lasting friendships. He brought almost a missionary zeal into his administrative work; yet he never suffered fools gladly. In his heyday he was a first-rate speaker, often provocative, and a great fighter when he crossed swords with his critics at meetings of the psychiatric section of the R.S.M.

Mountaineering in Switzerland and in Skye, together with sailing, were his main recreations, and these he shared enthusiastically with his family and his friends. In 1903 he married Eleanor Jean, daughter of Sheriff Lorimer, K.C., of Edinburgh; they had two sons and four daughters. His elder son became headmaster of Fettes, and later headmaster of Stowe.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1959, 1, 116-17 (p); Lancet, 1959, 1, 104-05 (p); Times, 2, 3, 8 Jan. 1959; Hugh Crichton-Miller, 1877-1959: a personal memoir, by his friends and family. Dorchester, Dorset, 1961 (p); [E. F. Irvine] A Pioneer of the new psychology: Hugh Crichton-Miller, 1877-1959. [London], 1963.]

(Volume V, page 87)

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