Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

DR JOHN STORER, 1747-1837

John Storer MD FRS became the first President of Bromley House Subscription Library from 1816 to 1819. He was one of Nottingham’s most successful physicians and a prominent figure in developing the town’s medical facilities. But he was also interested in raising the cultural profile of the population and was involved with a ‘Book Society’ which met at the White Lion on Long Row from the late 18th century. The first meeting of subscribers to Bromley House Library was held at Thurland Hall, Dr Storer’s home, on 2nd April 1816, at which they decided he was the ideal man to be their President. (He also presided over an Auxiliary of the Bible Society for many years.)

He was born on 21st July 1747 at the Manse, Fossoway, Kinross, the only son of the incumbent, the Rev. John Storer. At 13 he went to grammar school in Stirling, followed by Glasgow University to study Divinity. He changed course, however, and was awarded a degree in Medicine. He then joined the Army Medical Service and went to Holland as a surgeon, probably for the newly-formed Black Watch Regiment fighting in the War of Spanish Succession. In October 1777, William of Orange conferred on him the Freedom of the Cities of Holland for saving life. On his return in 1777 he resided briefly at Grantham, shortly after his first marriage to Mary Douglas, the daughter of James Douglas of Carlisle. They moved to Nottingham in May 1781, just a few months after the foundation stone of the General Hospital had been laid, on 12th February. Later that year, the Governors appointed him and two others as the hospital’s physicians. Dr Storer played a prominent part in developing the hospital and was appointed Consulting Physician Extraordinary for life in 1802 when he retired from his post there. He lived and practised in Thurland Hall. He saw far too many patients with smallpox and was naturally very interested in Edward Jenner’s discovery of vaccination, which was first used in Nottingham in 1800 by John Attenburrow, surgeon to the General Hospital for 61 years. The service was offered freely but struggled to keep going, so in 1805 the Nottingham Vaccine Institution was set up by Dr Storer and Dr Charles Pennington, to be funded by public subscription so that anyone could be treated. It was, however, constantly difficult to raise funds and the Institution had to close in 1813. Unfortunately, it had had to compete for subscriptions with the General Hospital and the General Lunatic Asylum, both actively promoted by Dr Storer.

Dr Storer had long been interested in the welfare of the mentally ill. When the General Hospital was opened, he wanted to include lunatics as patients but the Governors refused his request. The climate of opinion began to change when George III’s ‘madness’ became such a prominent talking point, leading to suggestions about the formation of public as well as private asylums. Dr Storer wrote to Dr Alexander Hunter of York Asylum in 1803 regarding his plans for an asylum for twenty inmates in Nottingham, but no further progress was made until the passing of the County Asylum Act in 1808. This allowed an asylum to be set up in each county, financed by a county rate, which Dr Storer advocated in an address he gave at County hall in October 1809. He also suggested that ministers should preach sermons inviting contributions to this charity. Largely thanks to him and the Rev. J.T. Becher, the General Lunatic Asylum at Sneinton was the first County Asylum to be opened in England, on 12th February 1912. Dr Storer served as a visiting physician and committee member for many years. In the 4th Annual Report of the Asylum in 1814 it was recorded that ‘Your able Physician has been eminently successful’.

He remained very active in the intellectual, social and political life of the town, continuing to live and practise at Thurland Hall until moving in 1828 to Lenton Firs. There he retired from all professional engagements except such as he could perform in his library. His wife Mary had died in July 1803 but he was married again in November 1803 to Lois Turner, the daughter of the Rev. Hammond Turner, rector and lord of the manor of Hawksworth. They led a quiet life, notably interrupted on one notorious occasion during the Reform riots in Nottingham. After setting fire to Nottingham Castle on 11th October 1811, the rioters moved to Beeston, calling on Dr Storer at Lenton Pines where ‘after an acrimonious exchange they stole his carrots’.

Dr Storer died at home on 17th September 1837, aged 90, his second wife Lois having died the previous year. In the Nottingham Review of 22nd September, readers were informed ‘that the remains of this venerable and respected man will be met at the top of Derby Road, at about half past nine in the morning of Monday next, by a retinue of those of our townsmen who wish to mark their strong sense of the benevolence and talent of the deceased. The procession will pass through the town to the London Road on its way to Hawksworth, the place of sepulture’. He was buried in the chancel of St Mary and All Saints church and a monumental brass in his memory set in the floor. A wooden plaque erected in 1837, now above the north door, declares ‘This church was enlarged and beautified at the sole expense of Dr Storer’. It was the last generous act of this ‘man of unsullied character, of genuine humility’, who was much respected and much loved. His name was commemorated in Storer Street, off Carlton Road (now gone) and by the John Storer Clinic at the Queen’s Medical Centre. A fine portrait of him by Thomas Barber hung on the staircase of Bromley House for many years but, sadly, it is believed to have been stolen. Surely he deserves a plaque of some kind somewhere in Nottingham?

Terry Fry