John Allen (c1660-1741) was a Bridgwater physician, whose early life is not known. Born about 1660, he was admitted an extra licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians on 13 September 1692. He was well known for his book Synopsis Universae medicinie practicae….. (1719). It was a catalogue of diseases with their symptoms and prescriptions. It went through three Latin editions, and was translated into English, French and German.
Allen was a Whig and his politics brought him into contact with John Oldmixon (1672-1742), journalist and Collector of Customs at Bridgwater. They ran foul of the Tory Mayor and Corporation during the ‘High Church and Ormonde’ troubles and were hauled before the magistrates to give evidence against local people accused of taking part. Allan and Oldmixon were later involved with the Duke of Chandos in his building schemes, and Allen bought one of the first houses to be built in Castle Street. Oldmixon was appointed the Duke’s local agent for the industrial activities he financed in the town, and Allen was involved as well.
Allen was interested in astronomy and mechanical engineering. He published a pamphlet in 1730 – Specimina ichnographica describing various of his inventions,(Patent No 513 of 1729). These were a steam-engine boiler where the furnace was contained in the boiler body, instead of being beneath it; propelling a ship by water jets below it by the force of gunpowder, and adapting a similar idea for pumping water from mines; drying malt in a kiln by the circulation of hot-water.
Allen was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and admitted 26 October 1732, and over the next few years sent them a series of communications on topics such as the design of wooden bridges, gunnery, and a ship’s log.
Allen mentioned being a friend of Thomas Newcomen, the inventor of the steam engine. How this link came about is not certain, but members of Newcomen’s family lived at Chard and Taunton. It is probably significant that Edward Elliott the Baptist minister at Bridgwater (1694-1704) later was part of the Committee that bought Newcomen’s patent and marketed the engine in Britain and Europe. This was composed of London merchants and leading Baptists, and he was the first treasurer and acted as managing director.
Another link is that the Duke of Chandos was a Governor of the York Buildings Waterworks in London, and had as his Chaplain the Revd J.T. Desaguliers FRS (1683-1744), Demonstrator to the Royal Society, and member of the Newcomen circle. It is clear from Allen’s writings that he was very familiar with the construction of the engine at York Buildings.
Allen was married to Frances Gilbert, the only daughter of John Gilbert. He was probably the man elected MP for Bridgwater in 1700, and who died in 1731. Allen’s wife died in 1729, and with her he had at least a son, Benjamin, d 1791. elected MP for the town in 1768 and 1774. His grandson Jeffreys, d1844, was MP 1787-90 and 1796-1804. later Mayor and Recorder. A great-grandson, John Roy, d 1884, was Recorder of Bridgwater in 1841.
John Allen died 16 September 1741 and was buried in Saint Mary’s church.
Caledonian Mercury 2 June 1730
His Majesty has been pleated to grant his Letters patent to JOHN ALLEN, M. D. of Bridgwater, (Author of the Synopsis Medicina) for three ingenious Inventions of his, viz. The Navigating a Ship in Calm, The Improvement of the Engine for raising Water by Fire, and a new Method for drying Malt. The Doctor has since printed these useful Disquisitions. in a treatise intituled, Specimina Ichnographica, which be has presented to his Majefty, and was graciously received.
A. P. Woolrich, ‘Mr Newcomen’s Friend: Dr John Allen (1660-1741) of Bridgwater’, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History, 1998, pp 271-270
ODNB J. F. Payne, Allen, rev. Anita McConnell, article Allen, John (1660? -1741), 2004.
Alan Smith, ‘Steam and the City: The Committee of Proprietors of the Invention for Raising Water by Fire, 1715-1735’, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, vol 49, 1977-78, pp 5-20
Alan Smith, ‘Edward Elliott: Fire Engine Proprietor’, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, vol 50, 1978-79, p230
Alan Smith, ‘ ‘Engines moved by fire and water’ The contribution of Fellows of the Royal Society to the development of steam power, 1665-1733′, Transcations of the Newcomen Society, vol 66, 1994-95, pp1-25
A P Woolrich 26 January 2011