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AFTER KATE                                                                 FERDINAND RICHARD HOLMES MERRICK/MEYRICK

LONDON 1918-1940

In 1919, just after Kate had finally left with the children in tow, Ferdinand was still at Sylvan Hall, Brighton.  The next Medical Directory reference I have is 1923, and now he is in London at 48 Ennismore Gardens, a rather beautiful square in London’s Knightsbridge, tucked in between Kensington and Brompton Roads, just a stone’s throw away from the Albert Hall and Hyde Park.  He remained here until at least 1927.  Like most London squares the centre has a lovely garden, and is surrounded by large late Georgian terrace houses - they were actually built in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Kate, herself, of course, was now in London, on the other side of Hyde Park in Soho and Mayfair, so maybe he moved to London to be near her.  In spite of there being no further mention of him in her memoir, maybe they met occasionally, and maybe he did see his children from time to time.  

Fortunately, or not - depending on how you look at it, we can deduce a little about his practice from a court case in 1925, (he was 55) in which he sued one of his patients for non-payment of fees, only to have the patient (actually the patient’s father), counter-sue for malpractice.  The Times archive has the full account of the trial which contains details about how the practice operated.

I will come to the Dyson case itself in a moment, but from the trial account,  we can glean that Ferdinand owned - or more likely, leased - the entire house.  Central London properties are rarely owned outright - they more likely have very long leases - 100 years or so.  ”His residence in Ennismore Gardens was a five-storey house, and was chiefly a home for slight mental cases such as nervous disorders.  It was furnished very well indeed ...  His cases came from all the leading specialists of Wimpole Street and Harley Street.”  It is described as his home, throughout the case, so obviously Ferdinand lived there too.  He charged around 15 guineas per week (£472, AUD$1,007 in today’s money)  for the board and lodging of the patients, not an inconsiderable sum, but then I guess he had to provide food and staff and pay the rent.    At the time of the case there were said to be five female and three male patients in residence, with a minimum of four female nurses.   They were mostly mild cases of neurasthenia, with just one other certified insane patient.  He must have gone though, because I think Ferdinand was only allowed to have one certified patient at a time, and Herbert Dyson was certified.  Anyway 8 times $1000 is $8000, so a weekly income of that size must have provided for a pretty comfortable lifestyle you would think.  It’s certainly one of the best parts of London.

During the case, which was tried by the Lord Chief Justice himself, and a jury, various accusations were made of Ferdinand.

     •       That the patient’s parents had been shown a superior apartment on the 2nd floor where he was to live, but that he had been moved to a much inferior attic room very shortly after his arrival

     •       The patient was given unnecessary injections of a sedative, just to keep him quiet

     •       The patient was restrained on his bed with straps

     •       He was locked in his room and rarely allowed out

     •       The patient received very little treatment at all

     •       The food provided was poor and inusfficient

     •       The doctor was often drunk - there was also reference to a drink driving conviction in 1916 in support of this allegation

     •       He had made ‘improper’ advances to his nurses

     •       In summary the patient’s condition had deteriorated and the doctor was incompetent

There were witnesses for and against, and really, in the end, I think it must have come down to Ferdinand’s word against that of his client and two of his nurses.  Other nurses and doctors seemed to refute the claims that were made, or justified them (the injections and restraint) anyway.  So far I have not paid for the articles describing the close of the case and the verdict, but watch this space.

Whether the verdict was in Ferdinand’s favour or not, it can’t have done his reputation much good.  In this sort of situation, any publicity is bad publicity you would think.  He was still at the same address in 1925 though, so presumably he was still able to carry on his practice, with no great ill effect from the court case.  So maybe he had supporters in high places.  I wonder if there was any connection in the public eye with his wife - as she was in and out of prison at the same time.  It isn’t mentioned in The Times.  It must have been a really difficult time for the children living down all the bad publicity from their parents alleged misdeeds.

I think it is all rather sad - it is highly possible that Ferdinand got drunk occasionally, and then made passes at his staff - he must have been rather lonely.  He never remarried - well he and Kate never divorced, though whether this was deliberate or not I do not know.  And the case does not mention any ‘significant other’ or even occasional women visitors.  You would think that his accusers would have brought something like this up to support their case.   If there was any remote suggestion of illicit intimacy or intimacies it would have supported their allegations of sexual misconduct.

By 1931, at the age of 61, he had moved to 59 Kensington Court, in Kensington, just a bit further along Hyde Park, and another sort of square.  The buildings here look to be a bit younger - more Victorian than Georgian, but impressive nevertheless, though possibly a little smaller.  The picture at right is a Google street view of number 59.  He is still listed in the Medical Directory, so presumably still practicing.  The premises are certainly large enough to assume that he carried on the same sort of business as he had at Ennismore Gardens and he was here for at least four years, probably longer.

In 1933 his wife, Kate Nason died.  She was a notorious public figure by now, and so he would have been well aware of her death.  Indeed an article in the gossipy The Daily Sketch has recently come to light courtesy of the Canadian Merricks (thank you), which states that they reconciled on her deathbed.  Here is some of what he is quoted as saying:  “Though I had not seen her for years and had never been inside one of her clubs, when my children told me how ill she was and asked me to go and see her, I felt I must do so.  There was no ill-feeling on my part, and I wanted to show her that there was not.”  Shortly after his visit she died.  And he did attend her funeral.

In the same article Ferdinand spoke about their estrangement which, he claimed, stemmed from his disapproval of the night clubs.  “There were so many rows about it that eventually for the sake of peache and quietness I gave in.”  He also defended Kate’s claims that he never supported her financially.  “There was never any occasion or necessity for my wife to take up the night club business, but she had a wish to go and nothing I could say would alter her determination.  I was making plenty of money, and there was no need for her to do work of any sort, but time after time she expressed her wish to start a night club.  There is no truth in the statement that she had to run these clubs to make money for our children’s education.  That is absolutely untrue.  I paid for their education, except towards the end when I found that she was making so much money that I stopped the allowance I had until then made to her, for herself and the children.  

You see there was no divorce or legal separation, but there was so much trouble over this night club business that I left the children with my wife for the sake of peace.  I still remained their legal guardian, however, and could have taken them right away had I wanted.

How could I as a doctor, very successful in my profession, do anything less than disapprove very strongly of my wife running these night clubs, involving as they did these everlasting cases in courts and going to prison?”

So I guess we are left to choose between Kate and Ferdinand’s versions - most likely as Ferdinand describes a fundamental disagreement over what Kate wanted to do, although there is probably a bit of glossing over of what really happened by both of them.  For Ferdinand, who by now had had his own court problems, it was now all over though.

The last few years of Ferdinand’s life appear to have been spent at the Junior United Services Club in Charles II Street, London - between Regent St., Haymarket and Pall Mall.  I am a little confused though.  This address is from the Medical Directory.  I had at first assumed that it was a residential address and that Ferdinand spent his last years in a gentleman’s club.  However, at least in its earlier incarnation, the Club was exclusively for soldiers from the best regiments, and I am pretty sure that Ferdinand never served in any regiment.  Maybe the club had relaxed its entry requirements by then.  Maybe one of his soldier brothers (I think he had two), got him in.  Or maybe he simply worked here as a consultant - treating doddery old soldiers still suffering from shell-shock, whilst he lived elsewhere - maybe still at Kensington Court.

Until I get Ferdinand’s death certificate I shall be unable to say whether he lived here or not or what he died of.  So I guess this is next on my list of certificates to acquire.  Suffice to say that some time in 1940 Ferdinand died at the age of 71 - a respectable age for the time.

My general impression is of a rather sad and lonely life.  Clever enough, but not brilliant, dashing and probably a charmer in his youth.  But somewhere along the line disillusion may have set in, even though he obviously had a comfortable enough life-style.  Did he become dissatisfied with his chosen career, or with his marriage, or both?  He hardly seems to have lived in penury, and I have found no records of bankruptcy or bad debts.   Ultimately a tantalising enigma and yet another example of why we should have asked our parents lots more questions about their parents than we did.

Ennismore Gardens



You can find lots of stuff in the Times online archive, though you will have to pay to see it now (fair enough) - I found my articles during a free trial.

A 1920s Punch cartoon of a doctor, his nurse and patient.

The High Court of Justice, where the trial was held

Viscount Hewart, the Lord Chief Justice of the time and originator of the phrase, “Not only must justice be done, but it must be seen to be done.”

59 Kensington Court

The Junior United Services Club and  its main staircase.