Dr. John Langdon Down and Normansfield


By Professor O Conor Ward

This is a story about a creative medical pioneer and entrepreneur. John Langdon Down over the years showed perseverance and determination and with the help of friends and family elevated himself from his humble beginnings. Firstly he trained as a pharmacologist and then went on to medical training to qualify as a doctor. After being medical superintendent of Earlswood for ten years, he went on to develop his own private institution / community for people with a learning disability.

Dr Down believed passionately that people with learning disabilities had real potential. He realised that they were different from other patients with mental health problems. He set about creating an environment in which his patients could be educated and develop to the best of their abilities. He gave them dignity by caring for them bringing them into his family home at Normansfield.

The condition we now refer to as ‘Down’s syndrome’ was formally attributed to Dr Down in the 1960’s by the World Health Organisation but it is only in recent times that the real story of John Langdon Down has been told.

The beautiful Theatre wing at Normansfield was commissioned by Dr Down and his wife Mary for religious worship and entertainment. It is now safe in the hands of the Langdon Down Centre. Prof O Conor Ward played a major part in the acquisition and restoration project at Normansfield. He has spent many years researching and archiving the work of this great Victorian Physician.