My little jaunt to the ‘smoke’ for this week’s London Shoes website publication was short and sweet, but it touched on a subject matter that relates to someone who has been voted as being one of the top 5 ‘Brits’ of all time – all because of the impact his particular achievement has had on the health of mankind throughout the entire planet.
My blog this week focusses on London’s association with a man whose work possibly provided the most important changes ever to modern medicine……Alexander Fleming !!!
Alexander Fleming was born on 6th August 1881, in rural Darvel, Ayrshire-Scotland, where his father was a farmer.
In 1895 and at the age of 13, Fleming made the massive life-changing move down to London, to live with his eldest brother John – and to continue his basic education at the Regent Street Polytechnic.
When Alexander Fleming was 20 he inherited some money from an uncle, and his brother (who was already a physician) suggested that he might want to try following the same career path – and so in 1903, the young Alexander enrolled at ‘St Mary’s Hospital Medical School’ in Paddington, London.
He soon became St Mary’s ‘star’ pupil, qualifying with a BSc degree distinction in 1906.
Fleming really wanted to be a surgeon, but when a temporary position in the laboratories of the ‘Inoculation Department’ at St. Mary’s Hospital came up, his peers convinced him that he should go for the role as maybe, his future may lay in the ‘new’ field of bacteriology – where revolutionary ideas of vaccine treatment were being looked at as potentially being a new approach to medical treatment.
When WW1 broke out in 1914, Fleming was commissioned to the Royal Army Medical Corps, stationed in a makeshift military hospital based in Boulogne – where his prime role was to work on bacterial infections, to see if there were more effective ways in treating the infected wounds of soldiers serving on the front-line in France – many of whom died of ‘sepsis’.
During the treatment of soldiers on the front-line, Alexander Fleming continually highlighted to his medical superiors the fact that the use of strong antiseptics on wounds was actually doing more harm than good, because although antiseptic may help in the treatment of surface flesh wounds – it did not have any impact of the infections that were building up underneath these wounds – infections which more often than not, were fatal.
After WW1, Fleming returned back to St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and was soon promoted to assistant director of the Inoculation Department, where he continued his research into proving that there were better ways of treating bad bacterial infections rather than just smothering them in antiseptics.
In 1921, Fleming discovered that ‘lysozyme’, an enzyme created naturally in body fluids such as tears, saliva and nasal mucus, had its own mild antiseptic effect.
The story goes that this discovery came about one day when Fleming had a head cold and runny nose – and some of his nasal mucus had dripped onto a testing plate of bacteria that he was working on. Apparently, when he came back into work the next day, he noticed that the bacteria on the plate had started to dissolve – and thus proving Fleming’s long standing theories on how the human body itself can fight infections.
Fleming’s theories on an alternative way of treating bacterial infections were now starting to be taken seriously – which helped with the funding of further research.
By 1928 Alexander Fleming was now the well-respected top man in the field of bacterial research, and was promoted to Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital. In September of that year, whist researching, Fleming discovered that a ‘plate’ of bacteria that he was working on, had been contaminated by a fungus – and within a short space of time, this fungus had the effect of making the bacteria completely disappear!!!
Fleming gave the activity of the fungus on bacteria, the working title of ‘mould juice’…….but we now all know it as the universally known anti-biotic “Penicillin”!!!
So – following years of dedication and research, Fleming was now able to prove to the world that this ‘penicillin’ had significant clinical potential, both as an antiseptic and more importantly as an injectable antibiotic – and thus the antibiotic revolution began.
Fleming’s discoveries were then taken to the next level by other scientists, to ensure that ‘penicillin’ could be refined and manufactured for distribution.
Penicillin was used throughout WW2 and beyond, as the major treatment for injuries and infection – thus saving thousands upon thousands of lives the world over.
> In 1944 Alexander Fleming was knighted by George VI
> In 1945, Sir Alexander Fleming was recognised for his achievements, when he was awarded the “Nobel Prize for Physiology & Medicine”.
When being interviewed about his ground-breaking historic discovery of penicillin – Fleming gave this memorable response, which summed him up as a person – when he said:-
“One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did”.
In 1955 Fleming died of a heart attack at his home in Danvers Street, London – and is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Today, the following landmarks commemorate Sir Alexander Fleming’s place in world history:-
> A statue of Fleming in Madrid, Spain – that was paid for by bull-fighter matadors, simply because of the reduction of deaths in the bullring, due to penicillin.
> Flemingovo Square in Prague
> The Fleming School in Sofia, Bulgaria
> A statue of Fleming stands in Votanikos Square in Athens, Greece
> Fleming Court – a block of flats in Paddington
> St. James church Paddington displays a magnificent stained glass window portraying Sir Alexander Fleming
> An asteroid called “91006 Fleming”, within the Asteroid Belt, is named after Alexander Fleming.
So – before heading back off home, I popped into the “Victoria” pub – just a couple of minutes’ walk from Paddington Station.
The ‘Victoria’ is today a Grade II listed building which dates back to 1837.
Legend has it that the pub first opened on the day of Queen Victoria’s appointment to the throne on 20th June 1837 – and when she formally opened the rebuilt Paddington Station she apparently popped in to the pub for a royal ‘cheeky’ one.
A decade later it is said that Charles Dickens wrote a big chunk of his novel ‘Our Mutual Friend’ in the pub.
Decor and furnishings from those times can still be found in the pub.
Whilst on the Paddington Station concourse, I took the opportunity to seek out a certain little fella from darkest Peru.
Hope you find the photos of these London ‘Fleming’ landmarks interesting.