Mr Newcomen’s Friend: Dr John Allen (1660-1741)

This article on Dr John Allen, full title ‘MR NEWCOMEN’S FRIEND: DR JOHN ALLEN (1660-1741) OF BRIDGWATER’, by Tony Woolrich, was first published in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archæology and Natural History Society, Volume 142, 1998, pages 261-270. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the society.


…A shadowy figure in this circle was John Allen, a doctor practising in Bridgwater, Somer­set. He was born in about 1660, but who his family were is not known and no details survive of his education and training, which probably occurred in a Scottish or Continental univer­sity since Oxford and Cambridge offered no training in medicine then. He first appears in the record in 1692 when he was admitted as an extra-licentiate of the College of Physicians of London. He eventually returned to Bridgwater and gained a considerable reputation. He distilled his experience in a book Synopsis Universae Medicinae Practicae, published in 1719. In this he printed a compendium of disease, noting the various treatments specified by the classical writers and adding more details from his own experience.

Allen’s publications and a few letters are almost the only source for his biography. He was a Whig, and his politics brought him into contact with John, Oldmixon, (1672-1742) Collector of Customs at Bridgwater, who had been given his sinecure as a reward for his journalism in the Whig and Hanoverian cause. They were active in Bridgwater and ran into trouble with the Mayor and Corporation —all Tories.

Allen and later Oldmixon were involved with the Duke of Chandos in his building schemes in the town, in particular the construction of what today is called Castle Street, with its fine terraces of red-brick houses, (fig 1) Allen was the purchaser of one of the first completed houses in Castle Street, (fig 2) He was also involved in helping Oldmixon in his research for his historical writings.

Allen was married to Frances, the only daughter of John Gilbert who was probably the who was elected as one of the MP’s for Bridgwater in 1700, and who died in 1731.  John Gilbert was also mayor of Bridgwater at various times in the late seventeenth century. John Allen’s wife died 29 December 1729, aged 53 and was buried in St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater.6 Little is known about their children, but his son, Benjamin, (d. 1791) was elected as one of Bridgwater’s MP’s in 1768 and 1774 and a grandson, Jeffreys Allen (d. 1844) was Bridgwater’s MP from 1787-90 and from 1796-1804, and was Receiver-General for Somer­set. A great-grandson, John Roy Allen (d 1884) was Recorder of Bridgwater early in the nineteenth century.7 John Allen died on 16th September 1741 and was buried in St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater on 29 September.