John Langdon-Down, son of an apothecary descended from a Protestant bishop of Derry, was born at Torpoint in Cornwall. After attending local schools, he was apprenticed to a doctor in his native village at the age of fourteen and determined to become a scientist. He therefore entered the laboratory of the Pharmaceutical Society in Bloomsbury Square, London, and worked there with success until his health broke down. There then followed two years of recuperation in Devon until, on his father’s death, he decided to take up medicine. Accordingly in 1853 he entered the London Hospital where he obtained many of the prizes open to students and the gold medal for physiology at London University. He became medical tutor and lecturer on comparative anatomy at the Hospital and was thus enabled to support himself while reading for his examinations. In 1858 he graduated as M.B. and was appointed medical superintendent of the Earlswood Asylum for Idiots. He now devoted himself chiefly to the study of mental deficiency, retaining his position at Earlswood for ten years although he was also elected to the staff of the London Hospital in 1859 as assistant physician. There he later became physician and lectured on materia medica and therapeutics and on medicine. The efficiency and humanity of his work at Earlswood meanwhile gained wide recognition and, on leaving, he rapidly built up a large consulting practice and achieved his plan of establishing a similar home for mentally deficient children of the wealthier classes. This he founded at Normansfield, a house at Hampton Wick, which soon proved insufficient for the demand. It was enlarged several times and at the time of his death was able to accommodate two hundred patients. In later life, Langdon-Down was an alderman of the Middlesex County Council. Gifted with considerable charm of manner, he delighted in entertaining his friends and professional gatherings at Normansfield. Langdon-Down, who was married, died at Normansfield.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1896; B.M.J., 1896]