Montagu Lomax – a detective story

Welcome to ‘Who was Dr Montagu Lomax’, and to my very first blog page.

I suppose I should explain why anyone should be interested in a man who died nearly a hundred years ago. 

If you put ‘Montagu Lomax’ into Google it will churn up plenty of references to his 1921 book – The Experiences of an Asylum Doctor’ (1), and you will learn that the book shocked the British public to the core by telling them how their relatives were being cared for in the lunatic asylums throughout the country. The ensuing scandal eventually resulted in a change to the law with the 1930 Mental Treatment Act, and the beginnings of the modernisation of our mental health services. That, although interesting in itself, is not the reason for my homage to the man.

Having read his book, it became apparent that there was a missing backstory. How did an obscure, retired GP manage to write a book which had such a profound effect, so that within weeks of publication, questions were being asked in Parliament? The conundrum had also occurred to a certain T.W. Harding  who wrote an appraisal of the  ‘Lomax Affair’ in in his 1990 paper (2). Harding commented that he had very little biographical information on Lomax, and he hoped that he might be able to trace Lomax’s family to ‘allow a more complete account of a remarkable man to be written’. I read this paper in 2010, and as far as I could ascertain, nobody had taken up Harding’s challenge in the interim. 

It has been a detective story – my entertainment through long winter evenings on and off for the past decade. I learned a great deal about Lomax’s background digging through ancestry.com. I was able to read contemporary accounts of his activities through the online newspaper archives, I visited the Public Record Office at Kew, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Warwick archives, and corresponded with the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand, the Surrey Archives, and the archivists at Marborough and Gresham’s School. I read history books, medical papers, history papers and began to accumulate an enormous, disorganised collection of facts and ‘interesting snippets’ spread across three computers and spilling out of several drawers. I have always meant to ‘do something with it’ when I had the time. Then in March 2020, COVID-19 arrived and suddenly, I had plenty of time.

The story of Dr Montagu Lomax is laid out in chapters which are arranged in date order through the Home page. The Introduction page explains the background to the story. There are still some gaps in the narrative, so if you are able to help fill them in, dear reader, please contact me. 

 

1. Lomax M. The experiences of an asylum doctor : with suggestions for asylum and lunacy law reform.: Allen and Unwin; 1921.

2. Harding TW. “Not worth powder and shot”. A reappraisal of Montagu Lomax’s contribution to mental health reform. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 1990;156(2):180-7.

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