An outline of the rise and fall of the puritan  Sydenham family of Wynford Eagle during and after the English Civil War. Including a brief biography of England's premier physician, Dr. Thomas Sydenham

The Sydenham family had owned and lived on the estate at Wynford Eagle near Maiden Newton for well over 100 years by the time William Sydenham married Mary Jeffery, the daughter of John Jeffery of Catherston in 1611. William himself, having inherited the estate at about the age of fourteen on his grandfathers death in 1607, his own father having died before he was one year old. In this quiet rural backwater William and Mary were to have ten children, and must have taken great pride in their five sons who reached manhood.

parliamentary soldierThe quiet country life of the Sydenhams was however about to be shattered. In 1642 the English Civil War broke out. As a prominent puritan family all six of the male Sydenhams took up arms on the side of Parliament. William becoming a captain in the Parliamentary army.

The eldest son, William junior became a Colonel where is best known action was as the parliamentary commander during the battles for Weymouth and and Melcome Regis. Colonel William Sydenham, M.P. for Melcombe, later became the Governor of the Isle of Wight. And a contemporary wrote of him, 'He was one of the most brilliant men of the day and had a paramount influence in the councils of the Parliaments only second to that of Oliver Cromwell' . At the Restoration, he was put on a list naming him as one of the twelve most dangerous men in the Kingdom , but by then his health was fading , and he died at home in Wynford Eagle Manor in 1661 , aged 46 . He was nursed to the end by his younger brother Thomas, of whom more later, by then an eminent physician

The remaining three brothers all gave thier lives for the cause. Francis while serving under his brother William at Weymouith


parliamentary soldierMary Sydenham however was to know nothing of the fate of her family, for she was the first member to give her life for the Parliamentary cause. In August 1644, Dorchester was being successfully held for Parliament against a Royalist attack, with three of the Sydenham brothers believed to have been involved in the defence. At some time during or shortly after this event a group of Royalist soldiers went to Wynford Eagle, and there Mary Sydenham was killed by a Major Williams. We shall probably never know why, how or exactly when the event happened, history tending to be writtem by the winning side, but we do know that the Sydenhams were to have their revenge

On the 30th November 1644. Francis was at Poole with his men, when a large Royalist force of 300 cavalry led by Sir Lewis Dyve appeared outside of the towns' wall. They did not attack, but contented themselves with hurling insults at the soldiers of the Poole garrison. It was then that Francis saw a Major Williams amongst the hecklers, the very man who had murdered his mother three months earlier at Wynford Eagle Manor. Incensed, Francis Sydenham and sixty of his men rode out of Poole and headed straight for the cavaliers, who turned and fled. Francis chased them all the way to Dorchester (24 miles) and once there turned to his men and cried ' Give the dragoons no quarter and stick close to me, for I shall now avenge my mothers' innocent blood or die in this place'. He then spurred his horse on and charged headlong into the terrified Royalists, fighting his way with grim determination towards Major Williams, whom he shot dead, and whose body fell under his horse.


The most famous of the Sydenham's was Thomas. Born in 1624 he had attended Oxford University for less than a year before volunteering for duty in Cromwell's cavalry to fight the Royalists. It was four strife-filled years before he returned to his university studies which culminated in a bachelor's degree in medicine in 1646

London then beckoned him; and for four busy decades - which witnessed the Restoration, the Great Fire of London and the Great Bubonic Plague - Sydenham conducted a flourishing practice based upon the novel thought that "the art of medicine was to be properly learned only from its practice."

Thomas SydenhamIn the course of these years his prolific writings included the first clinical descriptions of scarlet fever, pleurisy, chorea minor, hysteria and particularly the disease with which he was personally afflicted: gout. His writings established him eventually as the greatest student of the natural evolution of illnesses and his meticulous descriptions were models of expository clarity for future generations of clinicians. Despite his reputation as the father of bedside clinical medicine, Sydenham was neither a scholar nor an experimentalist. He deplored any references to the medical classics, regarding them as withered remnants of fanciful dogma. All of his writings were initially in English and only then translated to Latin. Nor did he have much respect for basic sciences, regarding them as irrelevancies. He was, for example, a contemporary of William Harvey, but never saw fit to meet with the great physiologist

A colleague, Dr John Browne described him as , 'the prince of practical medicine, whose character is as beautiful and as genuinely English as his name' . He died, after a distinguished career, at his house in Pall Mall on the 29th December 1689 , aged 65 . He is buried in St James Churchyard, Piccadilly. A memorial stone dedicated to Thomas can be found halfway up the staircase of St James Church, Pall Mall. It was put there by the now defunct 'Sydenham Society’.

During his lifetime, the man who is now called the English Hippocrates, had not been accorded a single hospital staff appointment, was never chosen to grace any medical school faculty, and was not accorded fellowships either to the Royal College of Physicians or the Royal Society. Such was the blindness of seventeenth century English medicine. In possible expiation, there is now a grand marble bust of Thomas Sydenham enhancing the front lobby of the Royal College of Physicians. It faces the side windows, however, so that his unblinking gaze neither embarrasses nor causes the current Fellows to fidget as they enter.


Meanwhile back at Wynford Eagle in 1661 Thomases nephew William at the age of 21 had inherited the estate upon his grandfathers death, a few months after that of his father. William's inheritance had been greatly reduced as much of the family wealth had been expended during the Civil War. However the following year, 1662 he married Martha Michel of nearby Kingston Russell and they had a family of two sons and two daughters.

By the early 1690's William Sydenham, despite having achieved high office like his father before him, (as Squire of the Body to William III), was deeply in debt and both his sons had died. William appears to have begun mortgaging the Wynford Estates from 1690 onwards and maybe as early as 1684

In July of 1699 a female known only as Ann, (of whom we will hear more of later), came to live at Wynford Eagle, described as a distant relative, a companion, and a servant to Martha Sydenham, William's wife. It was in that same year that William came up with the idea of a lottery to ease his financial problems. Although a private lottery it was to follow the same principles as the state lotteries common at that time.

The lottery was to be held in public at the Mercer's Hall in London, and supervised by independent Trustees and Cashiers. The actual drawing of the tickets and prizes was carried out by Blue-Boat boys from Christ's Hospital. Two hudred thousand tickets at five shillings (25p) each were to be issued for purchase. If all were sold a sum of £50,000 would be raised, from which £4,000 would be deducted for overheads. A total of 13,584 prizes were to be awarded, to the value of £20,000 leaving William Sydenham with a profit of about £26,000 with which to end his days.

Wynford HouseThe lottery was known as a land lottery due to the nature of the main prizes, which were parts of the Wynford Eagle estate. Winners could take the cash equivalent or the annual income from the land. The principle prize being the manor house itself. Prior to the draw, William was required to deposit with the Trustees sufficient deeds, etc. to cover the prizes. This is were Sydenham's fraud appears to have started rather than with the draw itself. There is no evidence that the Trustees ever received the deeds, or that it was ever publicly disclosed that there were long outstanding mortgages on the property at the time of the Lottery. In March 1706, over five years after the lottery William Sydenham had still not conveyed the property to either the prizewinner or the mortgagees, and it was for this that he was sent to prison along with his eventual beneficiares, his two daughters.

At the time of the draw however far more attention was paid to the winner of the principle prize. None other than Ann Michel, the same woman who had come to live at Wynford in 1699. Contempory accounts suggested that William had arranged for Ann to win the prize and then for a consideration to return it to him. The whole situation however appears to be very murky, at some time Ann married Williams brother in-law Doyly Michel. At the time the public were led to believe that this occurred immediately after winning the prize, although there is no documentary evidence for this. In turn Doyly's other brother in-law was one Henry Bromfield, the priciple mortgagee of the Wynford estates. Two of the other smaller mortgages were also named Michel, but there relationship is unknown. To further complicate matters one of the trustees of the lottery was listed as Robert Michel.

Although the whole affair came to be known as Sydenham's fraud, William was never charged with that offense, only with failing to convey the main prize. Other prize winners appeared to have recieved there dues. Was there some chicanery on the part of the Michels, there would appear to be an awful lot of them involved. Due to its very public nature there would appear to have been little chance of rigging the draw itself, so was it just that William didn't like the idea of the family estate being won by Ann Michel, a poor relation. We may never know.

It is probably no coincidence that private lotteries were abolished in England in 1709, with state lotteries following in 1826. Not to be re-legalised until 1994.

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