Lives of the fellows

Edward (Sir) Alston

b.? d.24 December 1669
AB Cantab(1615) AM(1619) MD(1626) MD Oxon(1626) FRCP(1631)

Sir Edward Alston, M.D., a native of Suffolk, [‘a native of Suffolk’ deleted in Munk’s notes] [the son of Edward Alston of Edwardston in the county of Suffolk – by his wife Margaret dr of Arthur Penning (?) of Kebleborough in the same county. The Visitation of London. Anno dom. 1633-34 &35. Harveian Society Vol.XV, 1880, p.16. He was] was educated at St. John’s college, Cambridge, as a member of which he proceeded A.B. 1615, A.M. 1619, M.D. 1626. He was incorporated at Oxford 10th July, 1626; was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 10th December, 1628, and a Fellow 4th April, 1631. He was Censor in 1642; Elect, 9th August, 1648; Treasurer, from 1649 to 1654 inclusive; Consiliarius, 1653, 1667, 1668; and President for twelve consecutive years, viz., from 1655 to 1666, both included. Being President of the College at the Restoration of Charles II, he on the 3rd September, 1660, kissed hands in his official capacity, and received the honour of knighthood.

The affairs of the College had in the political disturbances of the times fallen into great disorder. The funds were well nigh if not quite exhausted; the lectures were suspended; a large number of physicians were settled and practising within the liberty of the College without a licence; and the examination of apothecaries’ apprentices, which for many previous years was rigorously enforced, had been discontinued. Sir Edward Alston, as President, exerted himself actively in the correction of these abuses. With the view of bringing within the pale of the College those practicing without its licence, and at the same time of improving the finances of the Institution, he suggested in 1664 the creation of Honorary Fellows: “1664, Sept. 1. Com. Maj. Extraordinariis. Resarciendis Collegii impensis, firmandæque ejusdem auctoritati, consultum videbatur, viros doctos, gravesque, Doctoratûs laureâ ornatos, in Collegium nostrum, Sociorum Honorariorum titulo, adsciscere. Placuit itaque omnibus hæc sententia: Quoniam in urbe hâc complures Doctores medici, tum ætate et moribus graves, tum dignitatis ac literarum famâ celebres reperiuntur, quos examinationi publicæ sisti durum videtur, et tamen in Collegii nostri communitatem admitti commodum fuerit; ideò statuimus et ordinamus, ut quicunque ejusmodi tesseræ videbuntur, consentientibus in id Sociorum plurimorum in Comitiis Majoribus suffragiis, Sociorum Honorariorum nomine insigniantur; medicinamq. intra civitatem hanc ejusque regiones amburbicas faciendi libertate aliisque privilegiis gaudeant, quibus Socii, Candidatique extra Collegium legitimiè fruantur.”

“Anno 1664, Sept. xvj. Statutum de admittendis Sociis Honorariis, sponsioque ab iis danda, præleguntur, et plurimorum suffragiis sanciantur.”

In sequel to this statute, upwards of seventy physicians, many of whom, however, as will be seen hereafter, were resident in the country, and not in the town were, ere the close of the year, elected Honorary Fellows. The objects aimed at by the new regulations were fully attained. All physicians practising in London were thus brought into the College, and the finances of the Corporation were so much augmented, that, as we are informed by Hamey, they were then in a more prosperous condition than at any former period in the history of the Institution. Misfortunes, however, of a severe character were in store.

In 1665, when the plague was raging in London, the President and most, if not all, the College officers retired for safety into the country. During their absence the College was broken into, and the treasure chest, containing the whole of the College funds, now greatly augmented by the contributions of the Honorary Fellows, was robbed of its entire contents. (1) In the following year the College, and the whole of the library, with a few unimportant exceptions, were destroyed by the great fire. (2) Sir Edward Alston was still the President. He entered warmly into the arrangements for rebuilding the College, counselled liberality to his colleagues, and by his own munificent promises encouraged them to more ample contributions. At this point a difference unfortunately occurred among the Fellows as to the site of the new building. Sir Edward not only took, but by his conduct in and out of the College gave offence to his colleagues, and at the general election next ensuing Dr. Glisson was elected President. Sir Edward thereupon revoked his promised subscriptions, and died shortly afterwards at his house in Great St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, on the 24th December, 1669. [He was buried at St. Helen’s Church in the chancel there and near to his daughter the Lady Langham on 31 Decr. His relict did not long survive and was buried in her husband’s grave 3 August 1670 ? Vide Fox’s Annals of St Helen’s Bishopsgate.]

Sir Edward Alston was fortunate in his professional career, and accumulated an ample fortune. [By his wife Susan dr of Christopher Hudson of “Norridge” he had two daughters.] He married his eldest daughter to a son of Sir John Langham, and gave her a handsome dower. His youngest daughter he married to a son of Sir Harbottle Grimston, endowing her with the same sum he had given to the elder, and when, shortly afterwards, she became a widow, Sir Edward gave her an additional 10,000l. as a portion on marrying into the family of the duke of Somerset. Sir Edward Alston was the author of A Collection of Grants, &c, to the College of Physicians. 4to. Lond. 1660.

William Munk

[(1) “1665 Junii xxvi. Subitò post, pestifera lues densissimâ strage grassatur et complura hominum millia demessuit: sequutumq. nobis est aliud magnum incommodum. Nam postquam, Thesaurarii potissimùm suasu et consilio, supellectilem argenteam, nummosq. longo tempore corrasos, cistæ ferreæ in Ædibus Collegii concredidimus, occlusisq. probe foribus, omnia in tuto fore arbitrati sumus; crescente plurimum Libitinæ censu, ipse ædium custos, Dr. Merrett, sibi familiæq, suæ cavens, rus secedit; intereàq. ærarium nostrum, mille circiter librarum pretii, à Lavernione nescio quo, prorsis expliatum est.”
(2) “1666 2do Septembris, exortum est ingens, nec fando auditum antehâc incendium quo Urbs propemodum tota, ipsumq. adeò Collegium, cum maximâ Bibliothecæ parte, conflagrârunt.” – Annales.]

[Note the family connections between Sir Edward Alston and Colonel A. A. Fenn, Alson Court, Nayland. (12.12.55)]
[See also Medical History 1974, 18, 370-374]
[Dr. A Briscoe of Woodbridge, Suffolk, reported verbally to the Librarian RCP, 6.3.73 that his quest for the portrait of Sir Edward Alston (originally in the possession of Augustus ?) had ended when he found that it had been stored at Maples’ during World War II, and had been destroyed when the store was bombed.?]

(Volume I, page 202)

<< Back to List