The Twickenham Museum
People : Physicians and Surgeons

Dr John Rudd Leeson MRCS, MB, JP
1854 - 1927

Dr Leeson as Charter Mayor in 1926. Photograph by courtesy of Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library

J R Leeson, was baptised the son of John Leeson, in Hanover Square, London and brought up in Davies Street nearby. His father may have been John Leeson, a surgeon recorded at the Royal College of Surgeons between 1832 and 1865. John, the son, trained as a physician at St Thomas's Hospital London, Edinburgh, Vienna and Berlin. While at Edinburgh he worked as an assistant to Professor Joseph Lister, gaining his coveted gold medal for clinical surgery. Later, he was senior consultant physician at St John's Hospital in Twickenham where he was also Consultant Physician to the Metropolitan and City Police Orphanage.

Clifden House from the garden

Practice in Twickenham

In general practice by 1879, he was living at no6 Clifden Road, Twickenham, a recently built semi-detached house standing today. Here, his first wife, Margaret Anne, nee Lewis from Diss in Norfolk died in 1886 at the young age of 36, leaving three daughters, Gertrude born in 1880, Edith born in 1882 and Gladys in 1884. He married again, Caroline Winifred Casmajor Gwatkin (1851-1931), daughter of Frederick Gwatkin, a solicitor living in Grove House just along Heath Road. In 1892 their son, Spencer Stottesbery Gwatkin Leeson was born.

In 1887 Dr Leeson moved into Clifden House, newly built in 1886, on the corner of Heath Road and Clifden Road and here he spent the remainder of his life. In the 1891 Census the household included two step-daughters, Alice M and Winifred E L Thompson. With three resident female servants it was a substantial household, to be swelled to eleven in the following year with the birth of Spencer. A picture of the house taken in 1904 shows thirteen in the garden with two gardeners, a dog and a cat.

Clifden House from Heath Road

Local affairs

Dr Leeson retired from practice in 1908, releasing himself to pursue a wide variety of interests.

In 1881 he was one of the founders of the Whitton Gospel Mission and in 1887 the Hope Mission Hall in Colne Road. Affiliated to the YMCA and the Baptist Chapel on Twickenham Green, it only lasted for eight years.

For 32 years he was president of the Twickenham Literary and Scientific Society, formed in about 1890. One of its prominent members for many years was Francis Cotterell Hodgson (1837-1919), some of whose lectures to the Society were published in 1913. This book, Thames Side in the Past, was dedicated to Leeson:

Dedicated to Dr JOHN RUDD LEESON
for more than twenty years
President of the
Twickenham Literary and Scientific Society,
in which he has always
encouraged good taste and a high intellectual tone
in the choice of subjects
and in the treatment of them

The Plaque on a house in Bell Lane

He was a prominent supporter of the free public library movement. Twickenham's first library was established in the Town Hall in 1883. In 1903 a donation from Andrew Carnegie enabled the construction of a new library in Garfield Road where Leeson, in 1905, donated some of the land needed for the building. He acquired or developed other land in the town: a pair of cottages in Bell Lane carry a plaque bearing his initials and the date of construction, 1910.

When Thomas Twining died, in 1895, his possessions were dispersed to a number of institutions and people in Twickenham. Leeson took possession of the invalid chair which Twining had designed for Michael Faraday and which had been displayed in Twining's Scientific Museum. In 1908 he presented the chair to The Athenaeum Club in London, of which he was a member.

Wider interests

Scholarly interest in astronomy, pond life and microscopy led to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (1911), the Royal Microscopical, Geological, and Linnean Societies. He was a Life Member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Royal Institution. During World War 1 he was a somewhat elderly Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

In the public sphere he served as an Urban District Councillor from 1909 until 1919. In 1912, as Chairman of the Council he gave a banquet towards acquiring a municipal charter for Twickenham. and applied to the College of Arms for approval for a coat-of-arms for the place. This was granted and he supplied the motto: Looking Backward Looking Forward, a translation of the Latin respiciens prospiciens.

He became a Middlesex County Councillor and Magistrate, sat on the Court of the Salters Company and was President of the South West Middlesex Boy Scouts Association. He was a divisional surgeon of the St John's Ambulance Brigade. In 1926, he joined Oswald Mosley's British Fascists.

The Twickenham Coat of Arms

Last days

His final achievement was to obtain, in 1926, a Charter of Incorporation for Twickenham. Following a dispute with the College of Arms the 1913 coat-of-arms was retained and, in 1927, he was elected Charter Mayor. Notably, during the celebrations in November 1926, Eel Pie was served at a luncheon.

His death in office in October 1927 was recorded by the Royal Astronomical Society in 1928:Charter Day in Twickenham was observed with great splendour and rejoicing, finding its focus in his inspiring and beloved personality, for he had veritably become the father of the place, giving his unsparing help to people of every class and creed in every type of difficulty ………. At his funeral the whole town turned out to mourn him, for the jovial and inspiring personality of the Mayor, united with that of the untiring friend and beloved physician of former years, had endeared him deeply to all classes and callings of men. His coffin was covered with the white flag of the new borough, and the “Last Post” was sounded by Volunteer fellow townsmen.In 1928 his widow Caroline was made the first honorary freeman of the Borough.

In 1957 a screen was erected in
St Mary's Church
and dedicated by the Bishop of London. Separating the ringing chamber from the nave of the church, this commemorated the lives of John Rudd Leeson, his wife Caroline and their son Bishop Spencer Leeson who had died the previous year.

Spencer Leeson enjoyed a distinguished career: educated at the Dragon School in Oxford, Winchester College and New College, Oxford, he was appointed Headmaster of Merchant Taylors School in 1927 and, in 1935 Headmaster of Winchester College. From 1929 until 1946 he was chairman of the Headmasters Conference. Ordained in 1940, and a canon of Chichester Cathedral, he was appointed Bishop of Peterborough in 1949, where he died in 1956.

Further reading

J M Lee, The Making of Modern Twickenham, Historical Publications

B L Pearce, Free for Al The Public Library Movement in Twickenham, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper no55, 1985

B L Pearce, Thomas Twining of Twickenham, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper no61, 1988

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1928, Vol. 88, pp.253/254

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (for Spencer Leeson)

Article in the Centre for Local History Studies Newsletter no 9, Jan 2005 by Steven Woodbridge

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