Thomas Thomson 1776-1853

Thomas Thomson

Thomas Thomson was a medical doctor and military physician. He became a Deputy, then rose to an Inspector General of Hospitals in 1830. He was also ‘Physician Extraordinaire’ to the Duke of York.

Dr Thomas Thomson lived at Belvedere, on what we currently call the “cinema site” (For anyone not familiar with Tunbridge Wells, this is on the corner of Church Road and Mount Pleasant Road. The cinema was knocked down several years ago and there is an empty space surrounded by billboards). This is directly opposite Trinity Cemetery.

Tunbridge Wells Civic Society published an article about Thomas in one of their newsletters in 2016. Details are shown below. David Bushell described Thomas’s life before and after coming to Tunbridge Wells.


His original title was: ‘Dr Thomas Thomson of Belvedere, Tunbridge Wells (1776 – 1853): an outline of his life, including extracts from his commonplace notebook’

Thomas Thomson had a successful career as a military physician. He served against Napoleon in the West Indies and the Peninsula, and against the United States at the battle of New Orleans.

After this he came to Tunbridge Wells, where he lived in Belvedere House, today the site of the former cinema, and practiced his profession here for many years.

He was born in Kent in 1776, but little is known of his early life and parentage. At 21 he was an Assistant Surgeon at Chatham Barracks, and in 1800 became Surgeon to the 25th Foot (the Sussex Regiment).

His uncle (and future father in-law), Frederick Thomson, was a naval surgeon, but Thomas did not obtain formal medical qualifications until 1816 – a doctorate from the University of Paris. In 1810 while serving in the West Indies he was made Deputy Inspector of (military) Hospitals.

He was promoted to Brevet (acting) Inspector of Hospitals in 1825, though by this time he had been retired on half pay for some years. With his final promotion to Inspector of Hospitals in 1830 came full retirement from army service.

Thomson kept a commonplace book and diary, now lodged with the Wellcome Library. While entries are intermittent and mostly record scientific observations, they do provide a small window into his thoughts and activities.

Post War life in London

After the war Thomson practised as a physician in London. He lived at 62 Conduit St in the West End. In 1817 he married his cousin, Louisa Thomson. Their only child – Arthur Dyott Thomson – was baptised in 1821 at St George’s, Hanover Square.

Arthur was not a robust child yet graduated from Oxford and was called to The Bar though he did not practice. He wrote a number of religious books.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, lived at 12 Pembridge Villas in Kensington. Thomson’s commonplace book records the death – in January 1820 – of his mother: a few minutes before Midnight my respected mother expired after a fortnight’s confinement to bed – advising which she suffered little pain – her resignation was most perfect – “sic mihi contingat mori”.

Belvedere, Tunbridge Wells

Belvedere stood on the former cinema site in Church Road, Tunbridge Wells, opposite Holy Trinity Church. The extensive grounds included today’s Lonsdale and Clanricarde Gardens. It is not clear exactly when Thomas Thomson acquired Belvedere, but it must have been by 1824 as papers of John Ward (builder of the new Calverley estate) note that Thomson refused to sell Belvedere to Ward. Thomson was also a member of the 1824 committee setting up the new parish of Holy Trinity, donating £50 to the building fund. Also in 1824, he bought one and a half acres on the north side of Jordan’s Lane (now Church Road), eventually being the site of Trinity Church and the Priory Houses*.

Belvedere was known as “Dr Thomson’s house” and people only started to refer to it as Belvedere from 1851. The estate was originally known as Little Mount Pleasant.

Thomas’s Diaries

Later travels in England and Europe Thomson recorded travels in England and Europe in the proceeding decades: 1831 – left Tunbridge Wells on 9th May; left London on 14th July on a tour to the Isle of Wight; arrived Brighton on 5th August and placed Arthur at Mr Allpie’s school; 24th September left Brighton and took possession of 34 Halfmoon Street (Mayfair) on 29th. 1832 – left Tunbridge Wells June 19th for Oxford; 23rd, left Kensington and arrived at Oxford without the sympathy of religious or political connection a residence is most irksome after a certain time. Thomson then travelled to Leamington, Warwick Castle and Kenilworth. 25 July – left Malvern and arrived at Cheltenham; 28th at Oxford; 29th London; August 2nd Tunbridge Wells; 3rd placed Arthur at Mr Allpie’s; 9th took possession of No 1 Priory (Tunbridge Wells). 1834 – Thomson holidayed in Italy, recording visits to Genoa, Pisa, Lucia, Tuscany, Siena and Rome. He then set down this advice for men/ husbands: Keep on good terms with wife, stomach and conscience.

Ticehurst Lunatic Asylum

Apart from practising as a family doctor, Thomson served for ten years as the Visiting Physician to the Ticehurst Private (Lunatic) Asylum, following the resignation of Thomas Mayo in 1836. Ticehurst was an institution for the wealthy (today’s Priory Hospital is situated on part of the old Asylum’s grounds). His appointment was not without rival. The visiting justices had to decide between Thomson and the much younger Dr John Bramston Wilmot. The justices concluded that though an old man might not be wiser than a young one, an old physician might have the most experience so Dr Thomson was elected. When he himself resigned ten years later, Dr Wilmot was elected in his place.

Death and Burial

On 26 April 1844 Thomson records the death of his wife: lost my beloved Louisa who was interred on 3rd May. 5th May left home for Bath and returned on the 10th accompanied by Arthur from Piccadilly.

Louisa was buried across the road from her Tunbridge Wells home, in Holy Trinity churchyard.

As for Thomas, the following year he became seriously ill, as he recorded: 29th October – a serious and sudden attack of illness which confined me for some weeks but now which by the blessing of God I have recovered and I believe with improved constitution. The commonplace book then falls silent until recording what was probably his final illness: 16th August 1852 – was attacked in this morning with a similar affliction to that of October 29th 1845, nearly seven years since.

Thomson died of heart disease on 4 August 1853, with a funeral service and burial at Holy Trinity.

Arthur inherited all his father’s personal effects and assets except the real estate which was held in trust by the executors for his, and any heir’s, benefit.

The Will also granted small bequests to a number of female Thomson relatives, including Eliza Thomson and Amelia Dingley, daughters of his uncle Frederick. They lived in Tunbridge Wells, at No. 1, Priory, Church Road. The 1861 census records Amelia as a widow aged 61: she had previously married Captain William Augustus Dingley RA. Her sister, Eliza Thomson, was four years older.

Belvedere after the death of Thomas Thomson Arthur and Elizabeth Thomson lived in Belvedere after Thomas’ death, until 1865 when Elizabeth died, aged 55. She was buried in Trinity, the officiating minister being Edward Hoare.

The Tunbridge Wells Gazette (22 December) noted that she was ‘deeply lamented by all who knew her’. Arthur then left Tunbridge Wells to settle in his London home, 12 Pembridge Villas. He died in London in October 1892 but was buried with his wife and parents back in Holy Trinity. There is a memorial stone to the family in one of the upper meeting rooms. Their bodies were interred in the graveyard attaching to the church (recorded as in rows 30 and 33). In his Will, Arthur left his personal assets to his housekeeper and her family, any real estate reverting to the Thomson family.

His father’s medical qualification certificates and official appointment documents were auctioned by Sotheby’s in June 1908 for £13.50 and are now in the archives of the Wellcome Library, alongside his commonplace notebook and diary.

Subsequent occupiers of Belvedere were also doctors. By 1901 the site had been acquired by Dr Francis Bisshopp after which he proceeded to have the house demolished and a new one built – Parham House – itself dismantled (and rebuilt as Frant End, now 142 Forest Road, Tunbridge Wells) to make way for the new Ritz cinema which was opened in December 1934.”

Memorial at Trinity

In one of the upper rooms in Trinity Church there is a memorial plaque to Thomas, Louisa and Elizabeth Thomson

The memorial reads “Louisa THOMSON, died 26th April 1844, Thomas THOMSON, MD of Belvedere, Tunbridge Wells, Inspector General of Hospitals, husband of the above, died 4th August 1853, also Elizabeth, wife of Arthur Dyott THOMSON, of Belvedere, died 16th December 1865″


Thomas, Louisa, Elizabeth and Arthur Thomson are all buried in the same grave in the churchyard.

North face

North face – Sacred to the memory of Louisa/wife of Thomas THOMSON Esq. M.D./of Tunbridge Wells/who died after a long & painful illness/April 26th 1844/also of the above/Thomas THOMSON. Esq. M. D./Inspector General of Hospitals/who died August 4th 1853

South face

South face – Sacred to the memory of/Elizabeth/wife of Arthur THOMSON ESQ./of Belvedere /died December(–)/WHOLE LINE MISSING/Also of——-/who died —-/aged 71. Although the words are not visible on the gravestone we know what they say from Arthur’s probate record and other searches. Elizabeth died in December 1865 and Arthur Dyott Thomson died 2 December 1892.

Grave Location

Family Crest

The Thomson family crest is shown on three houses facing the Town Hall called Dyott Terrace. This is just around the corner from the cemetery.

Tunbridge Wells Water

Thomas wrote a book about the medicinal properties of the water of Tunbridge Wells. It’s stored at the Wellcome Trust and can be accessed here.