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Dr John Ash, MD

Born in Coventry in 1722, John Ash matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, in 1740 where he proceeded to study medicine. In 1752, before he had taken his final MD, he set up practice in Birmingham, occupying one of the best houses in smart, new, Temple Row. Although a Tory, he relished the freedom of the expanding town and rapidly became its leading physician, acquiring patients among the increasingly prosperous middle class as well as the neighbouring aristocracy. By the end of 1765 he had developed and launched plans for a Birmingham General Hospital. Regarded both by himself and his friends as his greatest achievement, a view of the hospital and its plans are included in the great portrait of Ash painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1788. Interest in the hospital dwindled for a time as canal building absorbed the energies of Ash and his colleagues. When the hospital finally opened in 1779, Ash was appointed as one of the first honorary physicians.

Ash was one of the first Streets Commissioners in Birmingham - concerned with the cleanliness and lighting of the streets - and a Governor of King Edwards School. He built himself a very large house in Duddeston (then in open country, now in the Saltley district of Birmingham) but the economic climate was not good, which may have precipitated him into a depressive mental state. This caused him to leave Birmingham in 1785 for London. His estate was sold off and developed as Ashted, that name surviving to this day. After studying Newton and Euclid, he made some recovery from his illness and in 1787 became FRS, FRCP and FSA. He died at his home in Brompton, London in 1798 and was buried in Kensington Church.

Prepared by Dame Rachel Waterhouse DBE

Some additional notes from Emeritus Professor Douglas Brewer, Department of Pathology, University of Birmingham

On 4th November 1765, Ash placed an advertisement in Aris's Birmingham Gazette, the first sentence of which read "A General Hospital for the Relief of the Sick and the Lame, situated near the Town of Birmingham, is presumed would be greatly beneficial to the populous country about it, as well as that place." and announcing a meeting at the Swan Inn in Birmingham on 21st November to discuss the project and call for subscriptions and the appointment of Trustees. He himself contributed twenty guineas. There were very many delays and difficulties, ultimately solved in part by money raised from a Music Festival held in the town (which later became the Birmingham Music Festival).

In 1979 there was an Exhibition to celebrate the Bicentenary of the Hospital and in the programme for the Celebration there was reference to a letter written by Sir Joshua Reynolds to a Mr George Birch. The letter acknowledged the receipt of one hundred guineas, being the first half payment for the portrait of Ash which Reynolds was about to paint. (As the painting was in effect for a charitable purpose - it was to hang in the Boardroom of the Hospital - Reynolds agreed to reduce his fee).

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