Dr Hadwen: a man ahead of his time

We are delighted to offer you the story of Dr Walter Hadwen, the courageous and campaigning namesake of this Trust, written by Hadwen’s grand-daughter, Eulalie Rodenhurst. We feel sure that you will be inspired!

The story of Dr Hadwen by Eulalie Rodenhurst

Dr HadwenThe name Hadwen is Norse in origin and the family were descendants of Vikings who had settled near Carnforth in Lancashire. In appearance Dr Hadwen could easily have been mistaken for one of his ancestors. He was tall and upright and always had a ruddy complexion; he had a mane of snowy white – originally bright auburn – hair and a heavy white moustache; and, most striking of all, were his unusually blue, twinkly eyes. But if his appearance was that of a Viking his calibre was more akin to that of an Old Testament prophet in that he took advice from no one but sought only the will of God in any situation, and once he was convinced of what was right or wrong in the eyes of God, nothing on earth would influence his opinion or action.

His father was William Hadwen of Lancaster where he had some medical training before spending a few years abroad in the Royal Marines until he settled in Woolwich to become chemist and dispenser of the Royal Marines Infirmary there. He married Sarah Pendle of Suffolk, who must have been quite an outstanding personality. Walter Robert Hadwen, the elder of two boys, was born in Woolwich on 3rd August 1854.

Young Walter’s education began at a very early age, when he was taught by his father and the Hospital Chaplain, and it was then that his sense of duty and power of concentration were developed. Apparently at the age of seven he could read Latin as intelligently as he could read English! This extreme mental ability and concentration remained with him throughout his life. He left school at thirteen, having passed his preliminary examination “for entrance into the Pharmaceutical Society.” His headmaster, when saying Goodbye, said to him:- “Let me give you one piece of advice: Never allow yourself to do anything that you cannot give a good reason for doing.” The promise was given. He was then articled to a chemist in Woolwich, and as soon as his parents had settled him in with Mr James and his wife they themselves left Woolwich, in April 1869, and went to Reading where Mr William Hadwen had obtained a post as dispenser at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Young Walter was no financial burden to his parents from the age of fourteen.

Many were the letters that passed between Walter and his parents, and as some were preserved they give an insight into his life and development at that time. It was evident that he studied very diligently, often far into the night. He joined the Woolwich Temperance Society which had been founded by his father, and remained a convinced teetotaller throughout his life. It was at this early age that his interest in religion began: he had been brought up to go to church, but it was in attending open air meetings that the spark of personal religion was ignited. Hundreds flocked to these evangelistic meetings which were often followed by discussions. This was the beginning of his intense study of the Bible, which continued throughout his life.

In 1872, at the age of eighteen, he moved to London where he had obtained a post in Bedford Square with a Mr Burden, who showed such confidence in the young man that he left him in charge of his pharmacy for week-ends and longer. He was given so much work and responsibility that he found it difficult to find sufficient time for study. In due course he was able to join his parents in Reading, where a chemist needed an assistant, was prepared to help him on the theoretical side, and made it possible for him to go to London to the Pharmaceutical College for a few weeks’ final grind before sitting the final examination. This he sat and passed in 1876 at the age of twenty-two.

It was soon after he moved to Reading that Walter joined the Plymouth Brethren. The simplicity of their mode of worship had great attraction for him, and he felt that it was in line with the worship of the early Church as described in the New Testament. He by no means approved of all that the Brethren said and did. It was not the people but the One Person who had won his heart; not their system, but the principles underlying their teachings, that he took for his own. Throughout life it was principles, not personalities, that mattered; loyalty to his Lord and Master, not to man that counted. He often remarked, “To my own Master I stand or fall.”

It was in Reading that he began his evangelistic work, teaching and preaching, and this was ever after to occupy so large a place in his life. And of course a by-product of his preaching was that he became a great orator. Incidentally his parents also joined the Plymouth Brethren due to his enthusiasm.

He must have had tremendous physical energy, walking for long distances being one of his activities, and an episode is described of how he walked home from London to Reading!

Vegetarian – in 1875!

It was also when he was 21 or 22 that he became a vegetarian – originally when taking on a bet from a fellow-student that he could not live six months without meat. He not only proved that he could, but that he was in much better health, and by this time he had naturally gone into the matter with his usual thoroughness. He had already been upset at the realisation of the sufferings of animals killed for meat, and now he was convinced that the slaughter was both unnecessary and wrong. At the age of 22 he wrote to a friend:- “For my part I am quite satisfied with my trial of Vegetarianism, and it would take more than mortal power to persuade me once again to make my stomach a graveyard for the purpose of burying dead bodies in!”

In 1877 he had another chemistry examination, and in the autumn he became Manager of a Pharmacy at Clapham – where, incidentally, Charles Kingsley was a frequent visitor, and also Mrs Dickens. It was at this time that he met Alice Harral, daughter of Dr and Mrs Harral of Wimbledon and the eldest of their five children. It was apparently love at first sight and he also had a great regard for Dr Harral with whom he had a very close and happy relationship thereafter, Anyway there was a whirlwind courtship of six months, and Walter and Alice were married in March 1878.

In 1878 Walter and his bride moved to Highbridge, Somerset, where he had purchased a wholesale and retail pharmacy business. He was not yet 24. The business was soon a flourishing concern, and there was great activity, especially on market days, when he treated all and sundry, and sometimes even their animals. This was also a time of great evangelical activity. He gave a course of lectures at the Adult School; he planned and instigated the building of a hall for Christian worship; he conducted open-air preaching on Sunday evenings in the Market Square and elsewhere; he accepted invitations to preach in other towns and villages; he held meetings and lectures in private homes, often miles away. He was constantly in request, not only by the sick, but as guide, comforter and friend, to those in perplexity and sorrow. He was a well-known and well-loved figure both in Highbridge and in neighboring hamlets and villages.

After ten years in Highbridge Walter made the decision to study Medicine. This meant practically going back to school to swot up subjects he had not taken in order to pass the necessary examination to gain entry to the Medical School at Bristol University: this was in 1888. The next obstacle was transport as lectures began at 9 a.m. and there was no train early enough, and because he was not a milk-churn, the G.W.R. refused permission for him to travel on an early-morning goods train. So he took a room in Bristol, literally for bed and breakfast, travelled on the last train at night and arrived back in Highbridge about 5 p.m. next day. Even though others were helping to hold the fort for him in his pharmacy there was usually business to see to and letters to be written; two evenings a week there were meetings at the Hall for prayer and Bible study, and these he never missed. Then he had to catch the last train back to Bristol….. This was his daily routine for three years till he took up temporary residence in London to take his degree in Surgery at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and his Mid-wifery at Queen Charlotte’s. His excellent memory and early-informed habits of concentration now proved his most valuable assets.

His qualifications at the end of this period were: L.S.A., M.R.C.S. (England), L.R.C.P. (London). At Bristol University he had carried off many trophies. He was First Prizeman in Physiology, Operative Surgery, Pathology and Forensic Medicine. He was Suple Prizeman and double Gold Medalist in Surgery and Medicine. He also won the Clark Scholarship in 1891 awarded to the most distinguished Medical Student of his year. In 1893 he obtained his M.D. at St. Andrew’s University.

When Dr Hadwen returned to Highbridge on the completion of his medical training he sold his business and started to practice medicine among those he knew and loved. Already he was known in all the countryside as “Our Doctor.” He did his work on foot, on bicycle and latterly with a pony and trap.

He did much to improve the sanitary conditions of Highbridge, so that sanitation, water-supply and the surface of the roads had all been improved largely by his efforts, and Highbridge was eventually to be promoted into township with a Council of its own. Altogether he was in Highbridge for eighteen and a half years until the move to Gloucester in 1896.

Hadwen moves from Somerset to Gloucester

After selling his practice in Highbridge he brought a house in Brunswick Square and opened a surgery in Barton Street. This was the beginning of the practice, and he ran it quite by himself from then till his death in 1932.

Dr Hadwen was led into the Anti-Vivisection movement not long after he moved to Gloucester.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) was founded in 1898 by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, and after a while she invited Dr Hadwen to speak – knowing of his power as an orator. This was the beginning of his exhaustive research into the history of medicine in relation to experiments on animals, the same kind of studies that the famous surgeon Lawson Tait had carried out in the field of surgery. For both the answer was the same, namely that vivisection had “done nothing whatever for the amelioration or the cure of any human disease.” Having reached this conclusion he was ready to throw himself heart and soul into the anti-vivisection crusade.

Following the death of Miss Cobbe, the HQ of the BUAV was moved from Bristol to London, a General Secretary was installed, and Dr Hadwen became its practical head and later its President. It was his custom to work half the night assembling facts and writing articles – all in his beautiful long-hand. He addressed meetings in different parts of the country, and the audiences were amazed at his mastery of the facts and his power of oratory. A statement is quoted: “Of the Doctor’s oratory in his best days there are no two opinions; he carried every audience with him, and his manner of dealing with opponents, especially medical men, was a delight to witness.” Again it was said of him: “He was a man who never doubted, never hesitated, never feared, never compromised. He was strength personified.”

In Dr Hadwen’s personal life one great tragedy must be mentioned. His second child and only son was John, always known as Jack. Jack was handsome, gifted and loved by all. He studied Medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and, having qualified, joined the Royal Navy. By then he was Lt. Comdr John Hadwen, MB, BS, BSc, LRCP, MRCS. In 1918 the great influenza epidemic was almost world-wide, and Jack was serving as Medical Officer on HMS Lancaster somewhere in the Pacific. On board there were between 200 and 300 influenza victims whom he helped to tend and cure.

At last he himself fell victim and continued to serve others long after he should have given up. The result was that he contracted pneumonia and died on 25th October, only a fortnight before Armistice was declared, and he was buried in San Diego, California. This was a sorrow from which family and friends, and Dr Hadwen in particular, never wholly recovered.

As will be realised, Dr Hadwen had scarecely any spare time; already he was doing the work that at least three normal men would do. But Thursday afternoon was his half-day with no evening surgery, so except on the many occasions when, for instance, he had to go to London for meetings, he did try to make use of it. In his younger days he walked or cycled long distances, sometimes joined by his elder daughter, Una, before she married.

It was when they were on their way home from one of these cycle rides that he said: “Do you know we’ve never been up that turning to Pitchcombe: let’s climb up and see what the village is like.” He not only fell in love with the village but with a vacant property, Hillside, which was up for sale. The house was originally 18th century weavers’ cottages with a superb view down over the village and up the Painswick valley. He was so enthusiastic that, instead of continuing home to Gloucester, they went to Painswick to start negotiating for the property. The deeds give the date as 1909. From then on this was his bolt-hole and chief hobby. He supervised the development of the garden and had some old eccesiastical ruins transferred to part of it. (They no longer exist.)

He installed a nurse and sent his needy patients up there to convalesce – it is believed in many cases at his own expense. He would say: “I’ve done everything I can for you: what you need now is some good Pitchcombe air.” And so he or she would be taken up to be cherished there. But this became a trifle expensive, and after a while he installed a housekeeper instead, and Hillside became a little vegetarian guest-house to which people came from all over the country.

It was Dr Hadwen’s great joy to go up on Thursday afternoon, to potter round the garden, have tea with guests, and revel in the view which he felt sure was the most beautiful in the world.

In the mid-1920s his teenage grand-daughter would come from Newcastle for her summer holidays, first to stay with her grandparents in Gloucester and then to stay at Pitchcombe. This was when the Thursday afternoons were used by Dr Hadwen to take her on long drives in the Cotswolds and beyond, together exploring everything of interest. How he enthused over the activities of the coloured devils in the west window in Fairford church!

He did not have holidays as such: life was far too full of major responsibilities for which he had no deputies. But on certain occasions he did manage to extricate himself sufficiently to travel abroad. In 1905 he was given the opportunity of a break, so he visited Palestine and was able to picture afresh the Bible stories he knew so well. Twice he visited America in response to invitations, the first time being in 1921. This was partly to visit the leading anti-vivisectionists and conduct lecture-tours, partly to visit his son’s grave in San Diego, and partly just to see such sights as Niagara and the Grant Canyon. As usual he made use of every moment, and it was not long before he had a book published, “First Impressions of America”, by Walter R. Hadwen. His last trip abroad was in 1926 when, at the age of 72, he decided to carry out a deep desire of many years’ standing, namely to visit India. And so it was that he undertook a voyage round the world.

This was a tremendous thrill for him and he never missed an opportunity to see and to learn everything possible about every place that was visited. And while his fellow travellers were drinking or sleeping he was writing fascinating articles which were despatched home and appeared day by day in the Gloucester Citizen.

For 36 years Dr Hadwen was a general practitioner in Gloucester, carrying his practice single-handed. He was clear in his mind that if he had a partner that man must hold similar views to his own on vivisection etc., and it was not easy to find such a one. At last Dr James Horsley of Newcastle, a vegetarian and with all the right principles, appeared and Dr Hadwen felt that this was the man for whom he had been waiting. But Dr Horsley was still gaining extra qualifications and experience and was not quite ready to come. And so it was that Dr Horsley never actually joined Dr Hadwen but came to take over after his death.

As a physician Dr Hadwen was naturally very skilled, and few people could have been more conscientious in caring and visiting. He was not only a good physician but was always aware of the human needs of his patients and their families.

Not for nothing had he done so much pastoral work during his years at Highbridge. He never spoke about what he was doing, but some, at least, of his acts of kindness and generosity would sometimes come to light, by chance. Above all he always tried to be a faithful disciple of his Lord and Master, the great Physician. In 1932 he was still in active practice at 78 when, two days after Christmas, he had a severe heart attack and died peacefully within a few hours. The funeral was on New Year’s Eve, and the route between Brunswick Square and the cemetery, with extra police to ease the traffic, was lined with hundreds of people standing with heads bared and bowed to pay their last respects to one they had grown to love and revere, and who had come to be known as Dr Hadwen of Gloucester.

written by Eulalie Rodenhurst


Eulalie was the grand-daughter of Dr Hadwen. The above edited piece first appeared in our newsletter, Alternative News, serialised in Winter 1983/4 and Spring 1984 editions. Eulalie was a supporter of the Dr Hadwen Trust until her death on 1st December 1995.

The Dr Hadwen Trust, founded in 1970, was the brainchild of Sidney Hicks. Sidney was the General Secretary of the BUAV at that time, and named the new organisation after Dr Hadwen – what better choice could there have been?

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