One of the Founders of 20th century Forensic Medicine

Arthur Pearson Luff (1855-1938) CBE (1919) Bsc Lond(1883) MD DPH Glasg MRCS LSA FRCP(1896) JP

One of the first owners of the magnificent High Bois House at the turn of the 20th century was Arthur Pearson Luff (1855-1938). Like many of the professional class people who bought houses around Amersham following the building of the railway, Arthur and his family were not based full time in Amersham and retained their London address.

Arthur was a noted and eminent physician who is considered one of the founders of 20th century forensic medicine.

Early Life

Arthur was born in Clerkenwell, London in 1855, educated at the Western Grammar School and  the Royal College of Science, where he obtained a  Bachelor of Science degree in 1883. Arthur went on to study medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital and achieved brilliant results in his examinations, qualifying as a doctor in 1886, aged 31.

A Notable Career

Arthur carved out a multi-faceted career in medicine for himself . He held several junior appointments in St. Mary’s Hospital and was assistant physician to the North-West London Hospital for a short time. In 1887 he was made lecturer on medical jurisprudence and toxicology at St. Mary’s, a post that he occupied for twenty-one years. He was elected assistant physician in 1890, becoming full physician six years later and consulting physician in 1913.

Writing the  important  and much studied  two-volume Textbook of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology was one of Arthur’s most lasting achievements. It was published in 1895. He was joint author, with H. C. H. Candy, of a Manual of Chemistry for Medical Students which reached a seventh edition, and wrote a notable book on gout. He examined for the Universities of London and Victoria and both Royal Colleges and delivered the Goulstonian Lectures in 1897.

One of the most interesting aspects of his work was serving as  scientific analyst to the Home Office between 1892 and 1908 where his interest in forensic medicine was paramount. He took part in the investigations which identified the cause of the outbreak, in 1900, of peripheral neuritis among the beer-drinking population of Manchester and Salford. More than 6000 people were affected and 70 died in the Manchester area. He also appeared in court as an expert witness in cases of criminal poisoning, including that of  the notorious Dr Crippen. Crippen was an American homeopath, ear and eye specialist and medicine dispenser who was hanged in Pentonville Prison in  London for the murder of his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen.

Extract from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey online- Court date 11 October 1910  “He [Arthur Luff] had heard Dr. Willcox’s evidence and had repeated his tests with pure drugs. They were absolutely the right tests, and he agreed with Dr. Willcox’s results. The poison present was undoubtedly hyoscine, judging by those tests.”

Arthur retired from practice in 1913 ,when he was 58, but soon came out of retirement to serve in the First World War. as a lieutenant-colonel on the staff of the 3rd London General Hospital. He was created C.B.E. in 1919.

Personal Life

Arthur was relatively late to marry and have children. He was 38 when he married Amy Annie Leon, 13 years his junior in 1893. They had two children – Mary, born in 1898 and Brian in 1901. Mary followed in her father’s footsteps as a doctor, She studied at Newnham College, Cambridge before she qualified as a doctor in 1925 after studying at University College London (UCL). Her husband, Philip Wiles became a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Middlesex Hospital. She developed a successful practice in Harley Street and was a pioneer in the developing field of psychiatry. In 1939 she became the first woman in charge of London’s Tavistock Clinic. During WWII, as a major in the army, she served as head of the psychiatric unit at Shenley Military Hospital. Her younger brother, Brian, was a civil engineer and worked in mining around the world.

Arthur Pearson Luff is listed as living as a  private Chesham Bois resident in 1903, 1907, 1911,1915 at High Bois. The family probably used the house for weekends, giving their children a taste of life outside London.

Arthur was known to be a worshipper of punctuality , with golf and carpentry being his favourite hobbies. He sold the house at High Bois in 1919, following the First World War, and retired to Surrey.

He is considered as one of the founders of 20th century forensic medicine


Jane Barker, January 2020

Sources – Wikipedia; Royal College of Physicians- Lancet 1938; Proceedings of the Old Bailey online- Court date 11 October 1910

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