Item of the Month: ‘Business Head of the Future’

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By | From the Collections

Recently re-discovered in a corner of the storage rooms was a modest, thin volume that revealed the economic hope of the future in earlier times, when faith was placed in one man. It was none other than David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who became Prime Minister. But on what basis did the author have such confidence in him? It was quite simply that he had a large head which bulged in the right places. If I tell you that it was written by Brighton’s brightest phrenologist, J Millott Severn, this might help explain why it came to be and why the shape of the Chancellor’s skull was significant.

The enterprising ‘bump reader’ had measured Lloyd George’s head some ten years earlier and concluded that the it had physically grown, reflecting the internal growth of his remarkable mental powers. Shrewdly, Severn was making the most of his celebrity clients to bolster his own reputation.

Severn was typical of those self-made phrenologists first emerging during the Victorian era when the popularity of this practise was at its height. The descendent of Derbyshire Quakers, he is celebrated by locals as a favourite son of Codnor, after achieving some success and a decent living from his self-promotion. Having toured extensively around Britain, Severn’s autobiography gives an intriguing insight of vernacular life up and down the country, often going behind the closed doors of private homes. (In one such domicile, he is alarmed to see the offspring with a learning disorder chained to a wall and he is asked to give a pronouncement on the severity of the condition.)

Flying in the face of accepted medical knowledge Severn is insistent that his tape measure proved an adult’s cranium could expand. I wonder if Lloyd George’s luxurious locks of later years could possibly have added something along the way. As any phrenologist will tell you, size does matter and the bigger the better. For a look into the original world of phrenology you can browse the original Phrenological Journal here in the Library or see any of our 659 holdings on phrenology.

Below are some examples of phrenological readings of past celebrities; Charles Dickens (ref : L0067697) and Robert Peel (ref: L0007584) from Wellcome Images:

The analysis of Charles Dickens is from Mary O. Stanton’s Encyclopaedia of face and form reading. For a more detailed explanation of the less flattering image of Peel see our catalogue record.

Danny Rees

Danny Rees

Hi, I am Danny Rees, an Engagement Officer for the Wellcome Library, one of my interests is the human face; its physiognomy, expressions and ideas about what constitutes beauty. When not at work I enjoy the Kent countryside and consider radio to be one of the best things in life.

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