X Close

UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


Information on the UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


“Edmond Searle, lately deceased, was so famous at curing all sorts of Deafness” – the Searls of Pye Corner & their Rival, Graves Overton

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 23 March 2018

Last year while searching for something completely different, I came across the name Margaret Searl or Searle, around 1700, in Smithfield, London.  She has a brief mention in the excellent book by C.J.S. Thompson, The Quacks of Old London (Barnes and Noble, 1993).  She was the last of her family it seems, who had carried out a business near Pye Corner, which is where the Great Fire of London ended. What we can glean from advertisements of the time, on Bills that survive and in contemporary newspapers, is that her father Edmund or Edmond, together with his nephew we must assume, Samuel, set up in business from at least 1668, ‘curing deafness.’  The first record I have come across for Edmund, is his burial on the 7th of July, 1695, at St. Sepulchre’s Church, Holborn, which is opposite the Old Bailey.  His son, Samuel, was buried in the same church on the 17th of December, 1699.

Unfortunately for Samuel’s widow Margaret, who was I assume his cousin, a former servant or apprentice of Edmund’s, Graves Overton, gave out that Margaret was dead, and that he had the secret of the deafness cure [I reproduce the text with the orthography of the original] –

WHereas Mr. Edmond Searle, lately deceased, was so famous at curing all sorts of Deafness, this is therefore to Advertise all Persons that Graves Overton, his only Servant , lives at the Hand and Ear in Pye Corner, alias Gilt-spur-street, near Newgate, where he performs the same Cures by his Masters secret Method. There being now, none of his Masters Family living but himself, that performs the said Cure. (Friday the 1st. of March, 1700, Old Bailey Records)

Another advertisement says, “Graves Overton, who Cures Deafness and is the only Surviving Servant of Mr. Edmund Searle, who was famous in that art, lives at the Hand and Ear in Pye Corner, next Giltspur Street.” (May 29, 1701)

He must have had the first advertisement for a while in 1700, as a month before that, this riposte appeared in The Post Boy (Issue 753) refering to ‘The [Old Bailey] Sessions paper’ –

This ding-dong of rivalry must have gone on for a while.  Here is the text of one of Margaret’s bills which survive –

Margaret Searl, Wife to the late Samuel Searl, Famous for Relieving and Curing deafness, Depending on any External Obstruction Of the Organ of the Ear; Who had Practised This art above Thirty Eight Years past, and Communicated the Secret to me only, who Practis’d it with him, in his Life time, for many Years, after the same Way and Method. Still living in Pye-Corner, over-against the Golden Ball, by West-Smithfield, London; (though it is Reported that I was Dead, by some Pretenders to deceive the World) where I am ready, upon any Occasion of that Nature, to serve such as apply themselves to me: Being the Surviver of my Father Edmund Searl, and late Husband Samuel Searl. Whereas several Servants of my Father Edmund Searl, have put out Bills for Curing of deafness. This is to Certifie, That neither my Father, or Husband, ever Instructed, or Communicated this Secret to any of their Servants, or any Apprentice whatsoever. (1706, 18th Century Collections Online)

When Overton’s daughter Mary was baptised, on 17/12/1693-1694, he was living with his wife Rebecca on Snow Hill, just around the corner, and they were still there when his son John was born in 1696.  Overton had married Rebecca Walserd in Temple Church, on the 25th of November, 1692.  Overton died in 1704, and was buried at St. Sepulchre’s on the 4th of March.

Poor Margaret Searl – the quacks multiplied, as they tend to, and it seems Overton was not her only rival, for in The Post Boy for January 16th, 1701, we read (with spellings accurately rendered),

WHereas Graves Overton does put out Bil’s for Curing of Deafness; This is to certify all People, that Mr. Edmund Searl declared before his death, that he never did instruct him in that Art, especially being a Turn-over to him, nor any other of his Apprentices that were bound to him, if they would have given Two hundred Pounds down, as can be Attested by several Persons. Neither did Mr. Samuel Searl ever instruct Thomas Lamb, his Brother-in-Law in Curing of Deafness, nor any thing but a Barber’s Trade, nor any other Person but his Wife, who (being the Survivor of those two famous Men) lives still at the Old House in Pye-Corner, who practis’d with her late Husband Samuel Searl in his Life-time, and now does after the same Way and Method with good success.

From this then we learn the not surprising fact that the Searls (also sometimes ‘Serle’) were barbers, the trade with which surgeons in England had a close association for 200 years.  I wonder if he had any association with St. Bartholomew’s Hospital which is right opposite Pye Corner.  At any rate, it is perhaps unfair to call them quacks as their deafness ‘cures’ were probably harmless, while a doctor of the time was far more likely to kill you.

Margaret Searl[e] was buried in St. Sepulchre’s on the 29th of March, 1709/10, and what became of the ‘cure’ we can only guess!

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812; Reference Number: P69/SEP/A/001/MS07219/003

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), February 3, 1700 – February 6, 1700; Issue 753.

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), March 12, 1700 – March 14, 1700; Issue 769.

Post Man and the Historical Account (London, England), September 24, 1700 – September 26, 1700

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), January 14, 1701 – January 16, 1701; Issue 901.

Post Boy (1695) (London, England), May 27, 1701 – May 29, 1701; Issue 940

Title: Samuel Searl, famous for relieving and curing deafness, depending on any external obstruction of the organ of the ear; Date: 1680-1689 Reel position: Tract Supplement / E8:1[75]

Title: Margaret Searl, wife to the late Samuel Searl, famous for relieving and curing deafness, … Date: 1706 Reel position: Tract Supplement / E8:2[59]

Wilfred A. Streeter – an Osteopathic Aurist

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 14 March 2014

In the 1920s osteopathy began to be widely practised in the U.K. to the point that it came to the attention of the General Medical Council and the government.  Osteopathy began in the U.S.A. in 1874, and it relied on wealthy clients to grow.  In the article to which we link below, Jure Stojan discusses why in the 1920s there were moves to regulate osteopathy.

Osteopaths first attempted to achieve state regulation in the 1920s. In 1925, the British Osteopathic Association (BOA) sent a deputation to the Minister of Health. The House of Commons dropped the Regulation and Registration of Osteopathy Bill three times, in 1931, 1933, and 1934. The Bill was subsequently introduced in the Lords, where it had received a second reading before being referred to a Select Committee and finally withdrawn. After the collapse of the Osteopathy Bills—partially because of fierce opposition from the medical profession—osteopaths opted for self-regulation and established the General Council and Register of Osteopaths (GCRO). (Stojan p.2-3)

Stojan says that in the pre-war period osteopaths decided that “either they opted out of the market for alternative medicine (by obtaining statutory regulation) or they improved their position within it.”  He asks “Was statutory regulation really the desired outcome of this process?”

He argues that

When pre-war osteopaths decided not to advertise, they were signalling professionalism by following the example of other professions. An osteopathic book of the 1930s makes this connection obvious: ‘As in other respected professions, the qualified osteopath does not advertise. The results which he obtains advertise themselves.’

Wilfred Alberts Streeter, who wrote a book about osteopathy called The New Healing, used osteopathy to treat hearing problems.  I do not believe that there is any evidence to support this as a reasonable treatment and it seems that the G.M.C. agreed as we see in the cutting below.  That it comes from The Tatler is indicative of what Stojan says about their reliance on wealthy clients.

The well-known osteopathic aurist, whose achievements in curing deafness by manipulative operations are well known. Mr. Streeter’s practice is being seriously interfered with by a warning issued by the General Medical Council to doctors that they must not assist practitioners whom the council consider “unqualified.” Mr. Streeter has been employing a qualified doctor as an anaesthetist.

Regardless of the merits of osteopathy in treating back pain and the like, it is pretty clear that if he claimed to ‘cure’ deafness with it that he was a quack.




Stojan, Jure, Signalling and the quest for regulation in British complementary medicine

“A shirt of startling hue”: the Drouet “Institute” and Dr. Crippen

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 26 April 2013

Evan Yellon, resident in 1906 at Eton Wick and in 1910 in St.Albans, had made it his business to expose quacks who tried to con money from people with deafness or hearing problems with the lure of ‘cures’. Yellon was himself deaf, and he edited The Albion Magazine for the Deaf.

The Drouet ‘Institute’ was a quack institute, supposedly founded by a ‘Dr. Drouet’ in 1888, established at 72 Regent’s Park Rd.  Late 19th century newspapers had adverts for this place as well as ‘articles’ – presumably essentially some form of syndicated adverts purporting to be reportage – praising it –

To cure is more noble than to kill; to save is a grander work than to destroy. The lover of mankind dwells more gladly on the labours of Harvey, Sydenham, Boerhaave, Jenner, Bichat, Pasteur, and Koch than on the triumphs won on the field of Battle. The opening of the Drouet Institute in the North-west of London, as a branch of the great and famous establishment in Paris, brings before the people of England the name of one of these benefactors of the human race. (The Standard)

In the first, 1906 edition of his book Surdus in search of his hearing, Yellon describes a visit to test this quack institute – by this time established at 10 Marble Arch. He describes the secretary’s office –

Open upon the desk was a huge ledger, and standing by it was a pile of cards. Just above the ledger a number of labelled bottles were arranged in careless order; while over the fireplace was affixed a great frame containing a selection of letters thanking Drouet’s for wondrous – in fact, staggering – “cures.” All very artistic!

Yellon was taken to see “Dr. Cuppen” –

The carpet was fine, really fine, and the chairs were good specimens of modern Chippendale, and upholstered with refined regard to fitness […] A pair of tapestry curtains hid from my wandering eye a room adjoining that I was seated in.

The curtains are flung aside and a shortish man beckons him into the consulting room, which “was one better than the secretary’s office, and more than one below the waiting room; for that was a really nice drawing room, while by all the signs this was a quack’s den.” On the desk were a number of dirty instruments. The man before him was got up in a “fantastic fashion”.

His frock-coat was orthodox enough; but he wore with it a shirt of startling hue, adorning the front of which was a “diamond” as big as a marble; and the jaunty butterfly tie vied in hue with the shirt. His patent leather shoes were a trifle cracked, and his face a warning to all observant beholders. The flabby gills, the shifty eyes, and the man’s appearance generally, would effectually have prevented me from being taken in, even had all else failed to do so.

The “Doctor” proceeds to examine Yellon’s ears with a filthy specula – “He took altogether not five minutes to make an examination a famous aurist took twenty-five over; and without the least regard for nose and throat.” Back in the male secretary’s office (the first room) Yellon offers a ‘no cure no payment’ deal – having in the meantime been writing out some bill apparently, the secretary hastened upstairs with Yellon’s offer, and on returning wrote “charge you nothing” on the paper with red ink. Marvelling that anyone should be taken in by the “transparent fakery”, and smiling at “the secretary’s disgusted look when reading my offer to pay by results”, Yellon leaves.

The man behind the Drouet Institute in London was the fraudster J.H. Nicholson, who was sent to prison in 1902. The French doctor Drouet who lent his name to the enterprise, was an obscure G.P. in Paris who died of drink .

Henry Labouchère, that fascinating newspaper man and politician, campaigned against the ‘Institute’ in The Truth.  In a 1904 libel action Dakhyl v. Labouchere (Surdus 1906 p.8),

a great deal of light was thrown upon the “Drouet Institute”, and Lord Chief Justice Mathew described it as “a disgraceful institution carried on for unworthy objects by discreditable means.” Since then the fake has dropped out of sight, though an attempt was made to re-start the business under another name.

In the continuance (second volume rather than second edition) of his book Surdus (1910), Yellon describes his earlier visit to the Drouet Institute “on behalf of a journal with which I was then connected” – perhaps The Truth?  The “Doctor” who was “Dr. Cuppen” in 1906 now appears under his true name – Crippen.  Anyone who knows anything about English crime will be familiar with this name. He had also gone under the name Franckel, in New Oxford St. in 1908, selling a “Catarrh Tonic”, and had used his wife’s surname calling himself “Barron [sic] Mackamotzki”. That this was the same person as Cuppen (also Kupfinn) or Crippen, only emerged in 1910 after his arrest.
Surdus 001

As an addendum to the chapter Yellon says (Surdus 1910 p.11-12),

Just as this book was going to press the police discovered that a ghastly murder had apparently been committed at 39, Hilldrop Crescent, London, N.W., the private residence of “Dr.” Crippen. A human body seems to have been cut up and buried in quick-lime in the cellar. […] from what I saw of him he appeared to me about the last man I should expect to be guilty of any great crime. He simply belongs to the tribe of rat-men – the petty swindlers of afflicted people, and the first care of this tribe is to keep their own persons out of danger. Crippen had dissolute rogue written all over his face when I met him, but he did not seem to be the type of man to figure in a crime of passion. Still, no man can accurately forecast the trend of any one human character.

The Albion Magazine for the Deaf (vols 1-3 in the library) Vol 1 (6) p.103

“Dr” H.H. Crippen in the Albion 1910 Vol.3 Albion 1 001

The Standard (London, England), Tuesday, August 25, 1896; pg. 6; Issue 22512

Wellcome Library archives

Yellon, Evan, Surdus in search of his hearing, London  (1906 and 1910)