Thomas Trapham was born in Maidstone. He probably came to Abingdon in about 1630 after marrying a member of the locally prominent Tesdale family, leaders of the Puritan faction in Abingdon. He was licensed by the University of Oxford to practise surgery in March 1633, and two months later was received into the Company of Barber-Surgeons in London. It was no doubt by way of self-advertisement that in 1634 he presented the school of anatomy at the university with a skeleton he had prepared himself.
When the Civil War broke out in 1642 he became surgeon to John Hampden’s regiment which recruited in Abingdon, and later transferred to that of Major-General Skippon. Surgery at the time was not seen as a highly skilled profession, but military surgery seems to have carried more prestige. Trapham fought in the disastrous Lostwithiel campaign in 1644, and, in the following year, at the victorious battle of Naseby. In 1649, it was he who prepared the executed Charles I for burial, making a comment that made him infamous in many quarters: ‘he had sewn on the goose’s head’. Later in the same year, the newly-purged university awarded honorary degrees to a number of distinguished soldiers; Trapham became a Bachelor of Physick. A doctorate would follow in 1658.
Trapham was Cromwell’s personal surgeon on his Irish and Scottish campaigns in 1649 and 1651, and at the decisive battle of Worcester in the latter year. When the fighting was over, he was appointed surgeon of the military hospital at the Savoy in London, responsible for an average of 350 patients. During 1658, with an English army fighting in Flanders, he set up reception facilities for the sick and wounded at the ports, and, no doubt as a private venture, sent over £200-worth of medical supplies.
At the same time, he was becoming a leading Abingdon citizen. In October 1648, John Tesdale became mayor and Trapham was made a principal burgess. He was active enough in the town, but his principal field of action was the county. During the controversial rule of Cromwell’s major-generals, Trapham was one of the county commissioners and a land-tax assessor under William Goffe. Yet always his deepest interest was in religious affairs. He was a strong and aggressive Presbyterian, an active member of the Commission of Ejectors, which was set up in 1654 with the task of rooting out unsatisfactory clergymen, and also a member of a committee which endeavoured to reorganise the Berkshire parishes so as to eliminate those seen as either too conservative or too radical and scatter their congregations. These activities aroused great opposition and few were successful.
Immediately after the Restoration in 1660, Trapham was dismissed from the Abingdon Corporation. He was notable by his absence from the ‘voluntary’ tax lists of 1660-1 when prosperous citizens competed to show their allegiance to the restored monarchy by the sums they offered to pay. He remained a Presbyterian, which was now illegal, and appears from time to time with his wife Elizabeth in the court records, paying fines for worshipping at clandestine assemblies. The Hearth Tax records of 1663 show him as living in a house with seven chimneys; there were very few in Abingdon, other than inns, that had so many. It may be that he accommodated patients on the premises. He died in December 1683, and in spite of his religious record was buried at St Helen’s.
Little is known of Trapham’s family, but he had a son, also Thomas, who became a physician, made his career in Jamaica, and wrote what was probably the first specialised treatise on tropical diseases.
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