Sir Frederick Walker Mott (1853-1926) MD Lond Hon LLD Edin FRCP(1892) KBE(1919)

Sir Frederick Walker Mott (1853-1926) MD Lond Hon LLD Edin FRCP (1892) FRS
Sir Frederick Walker Mott (1853-1926)
MD Lond Hon LLD Edin FRCP (1892) FRS

We do not know when Dr Frederick Walker Mott first came to Chesham Bois but in 1894 he purchased the Old School House on the corner of Bois Lane and Chestnut Lane at an auction at the Crown Hotel and converted it to a weekend house for his young family, renaming it Downash. According to Roger Cook’s research there was a large ash tree on the corner of the property that was removed about 1941 after inspection by a specialist from Kew Gardens. At this time Dr Mott’s main residence was his London House at 25 Nottingham Place in Marylebone.

Around this time he also speculated in several pieces of land around the Old School House, building and then letting out The Gables, The Leys and the Northcott amongst others. He also bought building land north of the Common in the Manor Farm Auction of 1896 where Seclusion and Orchard House are today. He sold Downash in 1911 to Dr Short but continued to own property in the area until the 1920s.

The Old School House (PHO3370)

Frederick Mott was born at Brighton, the only son of Henry Mott and his wife Caroline. He began his medical education at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, and from there went on to University College, London, where he graduated MB, BSc in 1881 and MD in 1886. He had a distinguished career at numerous universities and hospitals including Liverpool University, Charing Cross Hospital and UCL. In 1885 he married Georgina Alexandra Soley and they had four daughters, Agnes, Helen, Joan and Phyllis, who became a well-known sculptor. In 1886 he became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and was elected to the Fellowship in 1892. He became F.R.S. in 1896.

The researches for which he became famous, however, were achieved in his capacity as pathologist to the London County Council Asylums, working in the laboratory at Claybury from 1895 till 1916 and thereafter, till 1923, at the Maudsley Hospital. The Obituary in the British Medical Journal 1066 June 19 1926 states that “Perhaps his most notable achievement was the definite discovery that general paralysis of the insane was due to infection, part of a general disease, and therefore preventable, and possibly on further investigation, curable. Another discovery of his was that asylum dysentery was not a necessary condition of asylum life, but was due to the absence of precaution against infection.” This was just one of the many practical improvements he effected in the treatment of the insane which saved hundreds of lives.

During the War of 1914-1918, as Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel attached to the 4th London General Hospital and later at the Maudsley Neurological Clearing Hospital, he devoted his whole time to the investigation and treatment of shell-shock, issuing papers and lecturing on this throughout the War. In his book on the subject “War Neuroses and Shell Shock” he stated “it is very important to recognise the fact that a man who has suffered from true shell shock is not fit to return to general service for six months at least, and in many instances not at all”. After retiring from his L.C.C. post in 1923, Mott continued to lecture and direct research at the Maudsley Hospital, Hollymoor Hospital, Birmingham, and at Birmingham University until his death.

Mott published his research in the Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, which he founded and edited. He also contributed numerous papers in scientific and medical periodicals and published several books, including what was described as his “masterly work” (BMJ Obituary) “War Neuroses and Shell Shock” as mentioned above. This includes chapters on spinal concussion, periodic amnesia, the psychoses of war, carbon monoxide gas poisoning, the diagnosis of malingering, physio-psycotherapy in the treatment of mutism and so on. However it is far from a dry medical read, in the chapter on the Psychology of Soldiers’ Dreams he quotes Shakespeare’s Mercutio –

“Sometimes she (Queen Mab) driveth o’er air a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear; at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again…”

Mott’s achievements won him numerous honours and prizes, as well as appointments to lectureships, in recognition of his scientific work. These include the Stewart prize of the Medical Association (1903), the prize of the Medical Society of London (1911), and the Moxon gold medal of the Royal College of Physicians (1919). He was Croonian lecturer (1900), Oliver-Sharpey lecturer (1910), Lettsomian lecturer (1916), and Harveian orator (1925) to the Royal College of Physicians, London, Morrison lecturer to the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh (1921), Huxley lecturer at Charing Cross Hospital (1910), Bowman lecturer to the Ophthalmological Society (1904), and Fullerian lecturer at the Royal Institution. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him as “a good lecturer, always speaking to the point, and an honest investigator.”

Memorial Plaque of Sir Frederick Walker Mott by Phyllis Mott unveiled in Birmingham University Medical School, 1939
Memorial Plaque of Sir Frederick Walker Mott by Phyllis Mott unveiled in Birmingham University Medical School, 1939

He was created Knight of the British Empire in 1919 in acknowledgement of his war services in the Royal Army Medical Corps and in particular his notable work on shell shock. At the time of his death in Birmingham he was president of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association. The importance of Mott’s work in Birmingham was recognised in 1939 when a memorial plaque was unveiled in the new University Medical School in Edgbaston. The plaque was designed by Mott’s daughter, Phyllis, a distinguished artist, and sculptor.

For all his fame, Mott was a simple, unaffected and kindly man. He was described as an “indefatigable worker” and “extremely hospitable” in his obituary in the British Medical Journal. This goes on to say that “his scientific achievements would have been impossible had it not been for certain inherent qualities. Single-hearted in his search after knowledge and his devotion to science, he was free from prejudice and from that type of vanity which makes a man adhere to a view simply because he has been previously associated with it. There was no man free from envy, or fuller of generous admiration for the work of others.”

Mott, an accomplished singer, was devoted to music and an authority on choral works. His interest in this was recognized by his election as president of the Society of English Singers in 1923.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Sir Frederick Walker Mott. Photogravure after Elliott & Fry.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Sir Frederick Walker Mott. Photogravure after Elliott & Fry.

In the British Medical Journal 1106 June 26 1926, Sir James Dulidas-Grant writes: “Among the many tributes which have been paid to the great work of Sir Frederick Mott, nothing is more sincere than that due to him for a work which was begun by him at the Maudsley Hospital for ex-soldiers. He expressed himself as follows: (Genetics 1.1 Page 83 5/28/2012)

“I am convinced, by experience, that all encouragement is due to those who undertake this work of speech re-education, and teaching of choral and part-singing to disabled soldiers, for it will prove a material aid to their recovery and earlier return to useful occupations in civil life.”

Hundreds of ex-soldiers whose mental balance and joy in life has been restored by the training given by the Vocal Therapy Society owe to Sir Frederick Mott a deep debt of gratitude.”


This page was written by Alison Bailey.


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