Either Watch The Video Above, Follow The Map Below
Or Read The Blog Post Below
View A Virtual History Tour Of William Banting Map in full screen here!
If you haven’t heard of William Banting before he is quite possibly the great grand father of low carbohydrate diets, with the great great grand father being Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. In his professional career Banting and his sons were appointed as undertakers to the royal household in London during the 1800’s, conducting the funerals of King George III to Queen Victoria. Up until the age of 65 Banting was obese at 202lbs and 5’5″ giving him a BMI of 33, noting that he could not stop to tie his shoes and that he walked down stairs backwards to save his ankles. After trying every method of the day, from Turkish baths to low living as they called eating in moderation back then, to reduce his weight he found that none decreased his corpulence. In August 1862 Banting’s sight started to fail and his hearing became impaired so he consulted with an eminent aural surgeon in London named Mr. William Harvey F.R.C.S. (Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons). Harvey advised him to follow a dietary system where the only rules were to abstain from bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes, which in Banting’s words had been the main (and, I thought, innocent) elements of my subsistence, or at all events they had for many years been adopted freely. According to Mr. Harvey they contain starch and saccharine matter, tending to create fat, and should be avoided altogether. After adopting this advice Banting lost 50 lbs in weight and 13 inches in bulk in just over a year and said “I have not felt better in health than now for the last twenty-six years.”
After this enlightening experience Banting went about writing a pamphlet called Letter On Corpulence, Addressed To The Public, which was sold all over the world and even his last name Banting entered the English language meaning to slim by avoiding eating sugar, starch and fat. If you wish to read the pamphlet there is an embedded copy at the bottom of this page. Today Banting is referenced to in many a diet book, from Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes in 2010 to Eat Fat And Grow Slim by Dr. Richard Mackarness in 1958. As well as books referencing Banting there are plenty of blogs out there that have written extensively about him and what happened, most notably by the late Dr. Barry Groves on www.Second-Opinions.co.uk. For me though as I live in London instead of just reading the Letter On Corpulence and doing a regular review I decided to actually go on a history hunt visiting the places that Banting lived, worked and visited William Harvey. Providing you with what I call A Virtual History Tour Of William Banting and if you ever visit London it’s a nice day out where you can see all the usual sights along with these. As mentioned above you can either carry on reading the blog post, watch the video at the top or follow the map starting from the most north easterly place maker near Oxford Street.
I decided to start my journey where Banting started his journey into the world of health at Mr William Harvey’s office at 2 Soho Square. As mentioned before Mr. William Harvey F.R.C.S. (Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons) was William Banting’s medical adviser who was initially consulted because his hearing was becoming impaired, which Harvey thought was purely down to his corpulence. Harvey deduced the dietary system he advised Banting after attending lectures on diabetes management by the infamous Claude Bernard in Paris. Harvey wrote in his book On Corpulence In Relation To Disease, With Some Remarks On Diet published in 1872 after Banting’s pamphlet “It had long been well-known that a purely animal diet greatly assisted in checking the secretion of diabetic urine, and it seemed to follow, as a matter of course, that the total abstinence from saccharine and farinaceous matter must drain the liver of this excess amount of glucose, and thus arrest in a similar proportion the diabetic tendency. Reflecting on this chain of argument, and knowing too that a saccharine and farinaceous diet is used to fatten certain animals, and that in diabetes the whole of the fat of the body rapidly disappears, it occurred to me that excessive obesity might be allied to diabetes as to its cause, and that if a purely animal diet was useful in the latter disease, a combination of animal food with such vegetable matters as contained neither sugar nor starch, might serve to arrest this undue formation of fat.” A rather incredible insight into the thinking of the day which is for some reason up for debate as to whether a low carb diet can benefit those who are type 2 diabetic, obese or both. 2 Soho Square is currently a vacant house that is worth about £4,000,000 and interestingly there is a weight loss clinic 2 buildings down from his old office at present offering fast results for a healthy trim body in just 30 minutes. I very much doubt if Mr. Harvey would have ever offered such a thing.
After a leisurely stroll through Soho and Leicester Square next on my tour was 45-46 St. Martin’s Lane, where the Letter On Corpulence was actually printed as opposed to their offices at 59 Pall Mall. Harrison & Sons were one of the main printers in London, printing postal stamps, bank notes and The London Gazette from 1765-1910. The building today has changed some what into a 5 star hotel and a large gym. As for Harrison & Sons, they were acquired by De La Rue in 1997 and are now defunct. Walking to 59 Pall Mall is a delight as you can walk down The Mall, the main road leading to Buckingham Palace. 59 Pall Mall were their offices where they would have discussed contracts and business. Very handy as Banting literally worked round the corner on St. James’s Street. 59 Pall Mall is now Quebec House, the London office of the Government of the Province of Quebec.
Next up and as I said literally around the corner was 27 St. James’s Street, where the Banting family conducted their funeral and upholstery business. 27 St. James’s Street is now part of The Economist Plaza, owned by The Economist newspaper, which is a set of 1960’s style buildings after the original Victorian houses, Banting’s included, were bombed in World War 2. Notably the original 27 St. James’s Street was right next door to Boodle’s, one of the most prestigious private member’s clubs in London. I did enquire to see if Banting was a member but unfortunately he was not. I also enquired with several other private member’s clubs that are still in existence today from Banting’s day, but it was to no avail as he was not a member of any of the club’s local to his offices.
When doing the initial research on Banting I thought that he lived at 27. St James’s Street, but after some digging around in the British Newspaper Archive it was clear that this was just the family business place of work, as in one article in 1852 you could buy tickets for the Duke of Wellington’s funeral from there. When they moved to No. 4 The Terrace exactly is unclear but I found out that in the 1841 census the family lived on Craven Street near Charing Cross, the bottom right place marker on the map, with their 7 children, Thomas, Mary, Charlotte, Amelia, William, Sophia and Harriet. In the 1851 census they lived at The Terrace with 5 of their children 2 of which, Thomas and Mary, had married and moved else where.
Another thing that required some detective work was where The Terrace in Kensington actually was. As if you Google it, it’s no longer in existence. Thanks to TheHuntHouse.com though I managed to find out that The Terrace changed to or was absorbed by Porchester Gardens on 24th October 1879. I also managed to find maps of how it was in the 1800’s at www.Old-Maps.co.uk, which you can see on the right in the map from 1872.
Unfortunately as the street name changed so did the numbering of the houses, making it unclear as to which house is actually Banting’s at this stage. Back in Banting’s day there used to be 9 houses in The Terrace but from some where between 1896-1916 the 3 most westerly houses disappeared. More than likely during the building of the Whiteley’s shopping centre in 1911, which today takes up the majority of the street. There still are a row of 6 houses there, which undoubtedly used to be The Terrance. From the maps it is unclear at this time which way the order of the houses went, east to west or west to east. The most common way house numbers are allocated in the UK is in a clockwise fashion, meaning that the most likely way The Terrace was numbered was from west to east and so the Banting’s house was probably the fourth from the left. However, even if they were numbered the other way it would be the first house from the right, being the fourth in the row of the original 9. More research is needed to ascertain which it is exactly, as when it comes to light which house was Banting’s we will be able to apply for a plaque from English Heritage to be put up in is honour on the house, which we will be doing for William Harvey at 2 Soho Square as well. On a side note there were bombings in this area during World War 2 but from www.BombSight.org they narrowly missed the 6 houses, keeping them all intact.
Finally, we come to the end of the tour at Banting’s grave in Brompton Cemetery, Kensington. It took us 2 hours to find his grave thanks to a photo from www.FindAGrave.com, otherwise it would have literally been looking for a needle in a haystack. The grave stone is engraved saying…
In memory of Mary Ann wife of William Banting of Kensington who died October 21st 1862 aged 69 years
Also of Amelia daughter of the above who died May 31st 1864 aged 39 years
Also of William Banting husband and father of the above who died March 16th 1878 in his 82nd year
If you wish to visit the grave yourself you can use the map at the top to find the grave’s location with in about 10 metres of it. Also, if you visit the cemetery you can find maps of the graveyard at either entrances and you’ll find Banting’s in section M. Brompton Cemetery is a really nice graveyard, however morbid that sounds, and well worth a walk around after if you have the time. If you ever visit London this is a great way to not only see places related to William Banting but also a great way to visit the usual sights such as Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Earls Court.
Finally, if you’d like to read Banting’s original Letter On Corpulence you can use the embedded eBook below from www.Archive.org and for further editions including reviews from Blackwoods Magazine and remarks by William Harvey please click here. It’s been an exciting journey going through old records and maps, but the journey isn’t quite over yet as the Letter On Corpulence is no longer in copyright and can be distributed for free, so with that in mind I will be creating an audio book of the letter on our YouTube channel and on our podcast over the coming weeks completely for free so be sure to subscribe to both by clicking on the links! If you enjoyed this please let us know below or if you have any additional information on William Banting please get in touch 🙂
Letter On Corpulence By William Banting, Third Edition