The Hunterian Medical School was founded in 1769 by William Hunter (1718-1783) at his home on Great Windmill Street in the Soho region of London. William and his younger brother John (1728-1793) were Scottish pioneers of medicine and surgery, and were enthusiastic collectors of paintings and scientific instruments, much of which is now exhibited at the Hunterian Museum near Glasgow, Scotland.
William Hunter was born in 1718 in Long Calderwood, East Kilbride, near Glasgow, Scotland. He first attended Glasgow University and then studied medicine at Edinburgh. In 1741 he settled in London, taught anatomy and surgery, and made a special study of the lymphatics and the gravid uterus (i.e., with a developing egg). In 1769 he moved to 16, Great Windmill Street, where he created a museum and the Hunterian School of Medicine.
By 1836 when John Snow arrived in London, the metropolitan area housed 21 schools that offered courses and experience in surgery and medicine. To become a a surgeon-apothecary, Snow needed to fulfill the licensing requirements of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Society of Apothecaries. The Hunterian School of Medicine was well-known for having dedicated instructors, including John Epps who also was involved in the temperance movement. Finally, the school was the lowest priced among institutions that offered courses necessary for surgeon and apothecary licensure. Being of poor background, the cost likely influenced his decision.
When John Snow attended the Hunterian Medical School in 1836-37, courses were given daily either in six month sessions (chemistry and medical jurisprudence) or three month sessions (anatomy and physiology, practical anatomy and demonstrations, surgery, medicine, and botany). The cost of each course varied from 2-5 pounds ($400-1,000 in 1999 US dollars). More likely John Snow paid 34 pounds ($6,800 in 1999 US dollars) which allowed him to attend all lectures required by the Hunterian Medical School, and any lectures on midwifery that were conducted in the neighborhood near the school.
The Hunterian Medical School remained active until 1839 when it finally closed its doors after 70 years of existence. The premises have now been demolished, and on its site stands the Lyric Theater (on Great Windmill Street between Archer Street and Shaftesbury Avenue in the Soho region of London).
At the rear portion of the Lyric Theater, a plaque was erected in 1952 that reminds visitors of Dr. William Hunter and his home and museum, but not his medical school, nor his distant connection via his institution to Dr. John Snow.
The Lancet 1: 14-15, 1837/38.
Sakula A. J Medical Biography 3: 160, 1995.
Vinten-Johansen P et al. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow, 2003.