History of the practice

The Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic (ESVC) dates back to 1813 when Joseph Sewell MRCVS, an equine vet and his son Frederick moved their business to Elizabeth Street and called it ‘The Infirmary for Horses and Dogs’.

Two more generations of Sewells followed, Alfred Sewell MRCVS, a recognised authority on how to control rabies in dogs and his son Louis Sewell MRCVS an expert on distemper. In 1901, the first non-Sewell, Frederick Cousens MRCVS, founder of the ‘French Bulldog Club of England’, joined the business and shortly after, the Veterinary Infirmary became one of the first in the world to have its own x-ray facilities. ESVC provided pro bono veterinary care to both ‘Battersea Dogs Home’ and ‘Our Dumb Friends League’, now the ‘Blue Cross’.

In the 1930s Denys Danby MRCVS joined the practice. He developed an anaesthetic mask for dogs, used by vets for the next 30 years. Judith Iffey MRCVS purchased the business in 1960. In 1980 Keith Butt, Andrew Carmichael, Bruce Fogle and Michael Gordon acquired the surgery and Elizabeth Street became the first clinic in Europe to offer 24 hour staffed emergency care for animals.


The Sewell family start the ‘Veterinary Infirmary‘

The Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic (ESVC) has a long, distinguished history and may be the oldest, continuously operating veterinary facility, in the United Kingdom.

In the 1870s, the Elizabeth Street vet, Alfred Sewell, provided veterinary services free of charge to ‘Battersea Dogs Home’. In 1905 when ‘Our Dumb Friends League’ (which later became the ‘Blue Cross’) was founded, both Alfred Sewell and his partner, Frederick Cousens extended their pro bono services to the charity.

French Bulldogs are Britain’s second most popular breed. We see lots of ‘Frenchies’. They have great personalities, but because of their squashed (brachycephalic) faces they have long soft palates that interfere with breathing. And regrettably, most that are seen here at Elizabeth Street have thin, tight nostrils rather than round ones. That makes breathing even more difficult! It means that many, if not most modern French Bulldogs, need corrective surgery, preferably before they are two years old, to breath normally. 

Vets here at the Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic were amongst the first in the UK to use x-rays diagnostically.

We know that there have been ‘Canine Nurses’ working at Elizabeth Street for over 100 years. Elizabeth Street patients also benefited from the skills of ‘live-in canine nurses’ at ‘The Distemper Hospital’ near Harrods, on Monpelier Place, South Kensington. 

In 1935 Denys Danby, acquired the Elizabeth Street veterinary practice and continued to call is ‘Sewell & Cousens’, the names of the previous owners. The year before, Danby had married Doris Dickens who was Charles Dickens’ great-grand-daughter, an event covered by newspapers in the UK and abroad. This picture is of a press clipping from Muncie, Indiana.

Distemper was the most common, fatal, infectious disease in dogs when the present veterinary partners in the Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic started their professional careers in the 1960s. Today, thanks to effective vaccines, the disease is rare in the UK but regrettably still common in other parts of eastern and southern Europe. 

Alfred Sewell started writing medical articles before he turned to books. In 1891, he wrote the first ever article on ear disease in the dog, published in The Veterinary Journal

Over the last 200 years we have treated the pets of many famous people. Elizabeth Street vets have travelled abroad to treat the dogs of the Russian czar and German Kaiser, but most of the pets treated lived locally. Downing Street cats have been frequent visitors to Elizabeth Street but one dog in particular, Caesar, stands out as our most illustrious patient.

There is no rabies in the UK today but there was in the past. In 1885 in London, a rabies epidemic reached epidemic proportions. That year, 80 cases were seen at Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic. The epidemic was brought under control through measures recommended by veterinary surgeon, Alfred Sewell. 

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