Needham, Walter (DNB00)

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NEEDHAM, WALTER (1631?–1691?), physician and anatomist, born about 1631, is described in the scholars' register of Trinity College, Cambridge, as ‘Salopensis,’ and it therefore seems probable that he was distantly connected with the Needhams of Shavington, a village on the Cheshire border of Shropshire. Educated as a queen's scholar at Westminster School, he was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1650, the senior Cambridge scholar for the year being John Dryden. Needham was admitted to Trinity College as a pensioner on 17 June 1650. Dryden did not enter till 2 Oct. In 1654 he graduated B.A., and on 25 July 1655 he was admitted a fellow of Queens' College. He seems to have resided in Cambridge until 1659, when he left the university to practise for a short time in Shropshire. In 1660 he was living in Oxford and attending the lectures of Willis, Millington, and his old schoolfellow Lower, who was his senior by a year. There he made Anthony à Wood's acquaintance, and associated with the men who shortly afterwards founded the Royal Society. Needham subsequently returned to Cambridge, and took the degree of doctor of physic from Queens' College on 5 July 1664. He was in December 1664 admitted an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians—a grade of fellows instituted in September 1664 at the suggestion of Sir Edward Alston, the president. On 4 Aug. 1667 his ‘Disquisitio anatomica de formato Fœtu’ was licensed to be printed; in this work he states that he was living a long way from London. He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society on 6 April 1671, and on 7 Nov. 1672 he was appointed physician to Sutton's Charity (the Charterhouse) in succession to Dr. Castle. In 1673 he read a paper before the Royal Society giving the results of some experiments he had made in conjunction with Mr. Sergeant-surgeon Wiseman on the value of Denis's newly discovered liquor for stopping arterial bleeding. In 1681 he was living in Great Queen Street, Broad Sanctuary; on 30 Jan. of that year Wood incorrectly recorded that Richard Allestree [q. v.] died there in his house. He was created a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians under the charter of James II, and was admitted on 12 April 1687. He died, Wood tells us, on 5 April 1691, and was buried obscurely in the church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, near London (Wood, Life and Times, Oxf. Hist. Soc. iii. 358). Executions were out against him to seize both body and goods.

Needham was held in high esteem by his contemporaries, and, according to Wood, had much practice.

His chief published work, apart from papers in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ was ‘Disquisitio anatomica de formato Fœtu,’ London, 1667, 8vo, dedicated to Robert Boyle, and published by Radulph Needham at the Bell in Little Britain. It was reprinted at Amsterdam in 1668, and was included by Clericus and Mangetus in their ‘Bibliotheca Anatomica,’ issued at Geneva in 1699, i. 687–723. The book treats of the structure and functions of the placenta or afterbirth in man and animals. It is written in excellent idiomatic Latin. Sydenham speaks of him in the dedicatory epistle of his ‘Observationes Medicæ’ to Dr. Mapletoft, an old Westminster boy, as ‘tam Medicæ Artis, quam rei literariæ decus et laus.’

[Wood's Life and Fasti; Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 472; additional facts kindly given to the writer by the president of Queens' College, Cambridge; by the librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge; and by Mr. A. Chune Fletcher, the present medical officer to the Charterhouse.]

D’A. P.