In 1911 Henry Wellcome was at the height of his powers. Burroughs-Wellcome & Co. was trading at a healthy profit and had overtaken Allen & Hanbury’s to become the UK’s leading pharmaceutical firm, with its manufacturing base at Dartford.
The Wellcome Physiological Research Laboratories in Brockwell Park under the directorship of Henry Dale had developed into a high class research institute. The Wellcome Chemical Research Laboratories in Holborn under Frederick Power had established an academic reputation, in addition to its role as an essential R & D base for the company.
Finally Wellcome now felt that he had accumulated sufficient artefacts to consider opening his museum to a select public. Only one aspect of his life clouded the picture of success, his estrangement from his wife, with whom he had recently agreed a legal separation.
It was in that year that this artist’s impression of a new Wellcome factory was drawn. With its stately principal office block adorned with Union and American flags and topped by the prancing figure of a unicorn – the recently acquired company logo – this would have been the centrepiece of Wellcomeville, the ideal company village where Wellcome would reign as paternalistic overlord of all he surveyed – works, laboratories, supervisors’ villas and workers’ cottages, sports fields and parks, perhaps even a museum. The inspiration, evident even in the name, was Bourneville, Cadbury’s model village in Birmingham.
Whether any exact site for the possible construction of Wellcomeville was identified, or even whether the vision of Wellcomeville was ever much more than a fantasy, is unclear. Henry Wellcome did eventually succeed in uniting much of his empire under one roof, that of the Wellcome Research Institution, now the Wellcome Building, in Euston Road.
Perhaps relocation to a greenfield site would have been a step too far for Wellcome, who spent a lifetime trying to establish his academic and scientific credentials with the medical establishment. Bloomsbury was clearly a much better base from which to demonstrate that he was more than just a pedlar of drugs.
Author: Dr Richard Aspin is head of Research and Scholarship at the Wellcome Library.