Dr Josephine Lomax-Simpson or ‘The Doc’ as she was fondly known, was driven throughout her career by a strong belief in the importance of ‘continuity of care’. She was well known for keeping in contact with many of the young people she worked with throughout their lives, and for opening up her personal home to them at their time of need. She was also a vocal advocate for large group therapy for young mothers and young homeless men, especially those with personality disorders.
‘In the last three years 60 mothers have at a point of crisis found a home, thus avoiding their children being taken from the mother. Some have stayed for six months to a year. Focal points include a family Sunday lunch and a therapeutic group meeting on a Monday evening. The mothers each have their own room, cook and care for the children, and share general cleaning jobs…’
Messenger House Trust Christmas Appeal, 1973 (Ref. MESSENGER/12/20)
Lomax-Simpson was born into a family of progressives. Her grandfather had been involved with the design of Port Sunlight in Merseyside and both her parents were committed social reformers. She began her career in 1952 as a registrar in child psychiatry at the Child Guidance Centre in London after completing her studies at the University of Aberdeen.
Lomax-Simpson dedicated her life to her work, often holding multiple post at different organisations. Between 1953 and 1967 she worked as a psychiatrist at the LCC children’s home Hartfield House where she helped train students from the nearby Froebel College.
As a psychotherapist at Holloway prison Lomax-Simpson developed her experience of working in groups before extending this interest at the Marlborough day hospital in 1963 where she worked with Dr Joshua Bierer on therapeutic communities for children. Her personal letters illustrate her close friendships with highly influential practitioners including Clare and Donald Winnicott, Barbara Dockar-Drysdale, Dr Marjorie Franklin, Leila Rendell, David Wills and many other instigators of progressive and therapeutic communities.
Messenger House and Hutchinson Settlement
‘In 1973 the aim to befriend single young men deprived in childhood of normal family life became a reality when 5 young men moved into the house…This venture is running smoothly and proving that independence creates pride and responsibility. The house was bought with donations…which is being repaid by the young men.’
Messenger House Trust Christmas Appeal 1973 (Ref: MESSENGER/9/4)
Lomax-Simpson’s on-going concern for the young patients she had treated whilst a psychiatrist for fourteen years with the Greater London Council, led her to open her own home in Wimbledon from 1963 to a multitude of young people who needed shelter and support. Then in 1970 she used her inheritance to purchase a house in Malcolm Road, Wimbledon, and created the Messenger House Trust to provide accommodation for single young mothers and their babies to help them establish bonding in a stable environment prior to being re-housed in society.
The first house was named Messenger House in memory of Lomax-Simpson’s mother. During the next seventeen years the project grew from having a single house to having at one time nine houses. Over 400 young people – including not only single young parents but also young men needing support and a home were welcomed into the organisation. Within this forum the basics of a therapeutic community developed as young people took the opportunity of developing their social skills and their confidence among their peer group and the local community.
In 1977 the Hutchinson Settlement was founded by Lomax-Simpson as a ‘sister trust’ for students who needed accommodation and were also interested in the Messenger House Project. During the next nine years, over seventy-five young people who were training in the professions – including doctors, teachers and social workers became an integral part of this community.
Through both these ventures, it is easy to see the two driving factors in all that Lomax-Simpson looked to achieve through her work. Firstly, a continuity of concern which Lomax-Simpson actively practiced throughout her life. Secondly, a recognition of the importance of social networks where people not only live and work together in the community, but also have the capacity to talk to each other and experience a true ‘sense of belonging’.
We are very fortunate to have a rich and varied collection of records relating to the work of Dr Josephine Lomax-Simpson in the PET Archives.
Lomax-Simpson’s personal archive includes her professional correspondence, personal letters and draft publications, talks and research papers. There are records of her own interests such as Hutchinson Settlement and Messenger House Trust as well as organisations to which she was affiliated including Hartfield House. Correspondence with key connections such as her colleague, Audrey Beaton and friend, Donald Winnicott are well represented in the archive. Through the study of these records the researcher can build a strong sense of Lomax-Simpson’s aims and interests as well as the social context in which she worked. Her personal writings offer a unique perspective on her career allowing us to explore and rediscover all the factors that influenced her incredible career.
Alongside these personal papers, we also hold the official Messenger House Trust Archive. This is a fantastic collection of minutes, reports, correspondence and case files that together build an comprehensive picture of how the Trust functioned, its aims and objectives and importantly the people it supported.
We are also incredibly fortunate to have Lomax-Simpson describe her work in her own words in two interviews recorded with the Planned Environment Therapy Trust. The interviews are available in-full for free via our online catalogue: TCVOICES/8 and TCVOICES/9.
We are very happy to provide collection lists and further details of the Lomax-Simpson Archive and the Messenger House Archive on request.
Debra Doggett, Archivist.
The Planned Environment Therapy Archives and Special Collections at the Mulberry Bush are a free, unique public resource. We preserve and make accessible the histories of therapeutic living and learning in the UK and around the world.