Charles Hastings (English physician)

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Sir Charles Hastings – artist unknown

Sir Charles Hastings (11 January 1794 – 30 July 1866) was a medical surgeon and a founder of the British Medical Association, the BMA, originally Provincial Medical and Surgical Association on 19 July 1832.[1][2][3]

He was also a notable lifelong philanthropist, investing his own money in new housing designed to improve public health and founding a natural history museum.

Birth and early life[edit]

Charles Hastings was born at Ludlow in Shropshire, the ninth of fifteen children born into the family of Rev. James Hastings (1756-1856), a clergyman who was rector of the church in Bitterley near Ludlow, but about to take up the position of incumbent at Martley in Worcestershire. It was in Worcestershire that he was educated and spent his formative childhood, attending Worcester Grammar School. He was a younger brother of Admiral Sir Thomas Hastings.

Charles was interested in natural history as a young boy and as he matured he was drawn towards the study of medicine, especially after his father suffered an incapacitating accident. In fact it would seem he was quite a precocious student, becoming an apprentice to an apothecary initially then attending anatomy school in London at age sixteen and becoming house surgeon as Worcester Infirmary at eighteen years of age, before entering Edinburgh University at twenty one, where he was elected President of the Royal Medical Society, returning after completing his studies and gaining his medical degree in 1818, immediately to Worcester Infirmary again. He even declined a lectureship at Edinburgh in order to do so.

Campaigning work in Worcester[edit]

Hastings in 1864

Hastings had a close relationship with his home city, Worcester, and although he could have developed an interesting, challenging and rewarding medical career anywhere including London or Edinburgh, he started his career in the locality where he had grown up.

In 1854 he was looking for ways of investing his own money in innovative, purpose-designed living and working accommodation for Worcester's artisans. These 'modern dwellings', as he called them, were well-designed and well-built houses of varied construction types that replaced often cramped, old, crowded, medieval buildings and later cheaply built terraces and town houses which were little more than slums by Hastings' time and places where diseases such as typhus would break out in the right conditions, an all too regular development.

Cholera had broken out in Worcester many times. It spread throughout the city in 1832, claiming many lives and recurred in 1849 and 1853 taking children and workers of all ages. It is said that Hastings attended to people in every outbreak, personally seeing every single case and ministering to the sick and dying with no regard for his own health.

The new housing he had helped to introduce, for example in Copenhagen Street – now sadly demolished in turn – was having a dramatic effect on health with the death rate dropping by 45% in a decade. However, he was facing a great reluctance on the part of Worcester City Council to introduce even simple measures, as we see them today, such as introducing clean water to their houses, pumps and streets. In fact, it was 1872 before legislation was on the statute books for clean water to be piped into most metropolitan areas, Worcester included.

Sir Charles was also a forthright critic of hydropathy.[4]

He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1850 for his pioneering work, resolve and social conscience.

He also founded the Worcester Museum of Natural History, hoping that it might inspire the younger generations following him to have at their disposal a valuable facility in which they could further their studies and gain an insight into the wonders of the world around them and a greater understanding of how to improve it for the greater good.

In the last years of his life, Hastings was the first chairman of the ill-fated Worcester, Bromyard and Leominster Railway, and during his tenure the operating company had spent £20,000 on line without purchasing the necessary land or signing a contract with the construction company.[5]

Death and legacy[edit]

His grave lies in Worcester's Astwood Cemetery, alongside his wife Hannah, who predeceased him by just three months. They had two daughters, and a son, George Woodyatt Hastings, who became a local MP. He had lived out his final years at his home, Barnards Green House, in Malvern and died at age seventy-two on 30 July 1866.

When the new Worcestershire Royal Hospital was opened on land just outside the city of Worcester in 2002, the road for the new hospital was called Charles Hastings Way, which now serves as the most public recognition of his lasting contribution to the area alongside the main building on the University of Worcester's city campus.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by P. W. J. Bartrip, ‘Hastings, Sir Charles (1794–1866)’, accessed 28 Feb 2007.
  2. ^ BMA Website: a brief history Archived 9 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ W. H. McMenemey (1966). "Charles Hastings (1794–1866): Founder of the British Medical Association". British Medical Journal. 1 (5493): 937–42. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.5493.937. PMC 1844886. PMID 20726159.
  4. ^ Bradley, J.; Depree, M. A (2003). "A Shadow of Orthodoxy? An Epistemology of British Hydropathy, 1840–1858,". Medical History. 47 (2): 173–194. doi:10.1017/S0025727300056702. PMC 1044596. PMID 12754763. (see pp. 192–193 & footnote #105)
  5. ^ The Worcester, Bromyard & Leominster Railway Archived 27 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine.

General references[edit]