Dr Alice Roughton; medic, peace campaigner, provider of sanctuary

[Updated to add]: The English language biography of Alice Roughton mentioned at the end of this blogpost has since been published – click here.

Some of you may have spotted Dr Alice Roughton’s letter to the Cambridge Daily News at the end of my previous blogpost on Rev’d Mervyn Stockwood of Great St Mary’s.

561108 Hungary appeal Mervyn Stockwood 1956

Both Rev’d Stockwood and Dr Roughton wrote to the Editor of the Cambridge Daily News on the back of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. It turns out that Dr Roughton was perhaps a more significant figure in Cambridge’s history than the city cares to remember. What’s really striking for me is that so far, the most detailed studies of Alice’s life are in Spanish – by Xavier Muñoz Puiggròs who wrote a biography in his native Spanish titled Alice’s.

For those of you who are fluent in Catalan, have a watch of the video here where the author talks about the life of Alice Roughton. (I’d love to get the biography translated into English, and for the interview to be subtitled – if anyone knows how to go about this!)

Hopkinsons, Braggs and Roughtons

There were three different and fairly prominent Alice Hopkinsons in Cambridge in the early 20th Century – or would have been if Alice, daughter of John Hopkinson the physicist had not died with her father, brother and sister in a mountaineering accident in 1898.

The other two Alice Hopkinsons were actually cousins. The Alice Hopkinson that went onto become Alice Roughton married Francis Roughton FRS. The couple were to live in Cambridge for most of their lives. The other Alice Hopkinson also married a scientist – Lawrence Bragg. Thus Alice Roughton’s cousin would become only the third woman to become Mayor of Cambridge – and the first to appear on film when she awarded the Freedom of the Borough to the Cambridgeshire Regiment following the return of the first and second battalions of the Regiment from their horrific wartime captivity following their capture in Britain’s worst military defeat in the Fall of Singapore in 1942. 784 men in the two regiments never returned home.

Cambridge Women heroes and housing associations

Cllr Dorthy Stevenson, Cllr Clara Rackham, Margaret Keynes (later Hill, CBE – of Hill Homes), and Dr Alice Roughton all were prominent figures in the founding of housing associations for the poor and those on low incomes. Florence Ada Keynes (Margaret’s mother), our second woman Mayor of Cambridge, along with founder of Save the Children, Eglantyne Jebb did a huge amount of groundwork that the housing associations were built in in the run up to WWI.

The housing association that Alice Roughton is associated with is Vincent House, London, which she founded in 1939. Her grandmother, Evelyn Hopkinson had established similar homes in Westminster a generation previous. The images below are from Vincent House History 2010.

190615 Alice Roughton Portrait in VincentHouseLondonCom

Above – Portrait of Dr Alice Roughton

190615 Alice Roughton Photo 1990 in VincentHouseLondonCom

Above – Dr Alice Roughton in 1990.

Alice the peace campaigner

It gives you a sense of the values that developed in Cambridge throughout the 20th Century – ones that still serve us well in our present one. Alice Roughton is one of those civic giants whose shoulders today’s campaigners stand on. Two other peace campaigners prominent in post-war Cambridge were Clara Rackham (who started her campaigning against the poor laws and for Votes for women, and finished them on CND marches against nuclear weapons), and Frida Stewart/Knight, who started off her campaigning for the working poor and against fascism, and ending them campaigning for peace and for the NHS. The was a group of activists that would meet regularly at Alice Roughton’s house at 9 Adams Road (next door to where Eglantyne Jebb lived during her Cambridge days), off Grange Road in West Cambridge. It was known as Newnham Against The Bomb, who included within its ranks many prominent figures in Cambridge, including Dorothy Needham, a supporter of many progressive causes. One young couple who would go to those meetings in the 1970s were Jane and late Stephen Hawking.

As an aside, you can see just how wide and varied the interests of Cambridge’s heroes were – and still are. I was fortunate to meet the late Professor Hawking just before he died, when he turned up by surprise to a talk on the history of Cambridge Railway Station being given by local historian Tony Kirby of Anglia Ruskin University as part of the Mill Road Winter Fair of a few years ago.

Alice the provider of sanctuary

One of the reasons I want to get hold of a translation of Houghton’s Spanish language biography is because there is so much detail that is missing from English language compilations and articles. One article by Isabel Usón & Claudia Millán, mainly about the scientific work of Alice’s husband Jack, describes as follows:

“Dr Alice Roughton was the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. in psychiatry in Cambridge. Not only did she study: she practised taking her commitment to an extreme. She was literally living with her patients, including psychotic cases or prospective convict teenagers, which she brought into her home. After World War II, she heard of the German physicists imprisoned in Farm Hall, near Cambridge. She contrived to reach an agreement whereby Hahn, Heisenberg and their colleagues would be fetched and brought to Cambridge every evening to participate in the academic life and dinner provided in high tables. Later on, she continued throwing her house open to refugees from every conflict, scholars, artists and stranded people from every nationality.” 

The scientists Werner Heisenberg and Otto Hahn, came to prominence again in 2003 when the transcripts of the conversations of the prisoners was published following declassification.

It could have been very different for Alice given the injuries she sustained in a glider crash in 1954.

540903 Alice Roughton Glider Crash.jpeg

But it looks like she made a full recovery given that she lived until 1995.

Can someone commission the translation of Dr Alice Roughton’s Spanish language biography by Xavier Muñoz Puiggròs? Because I think her full life story needs to be heard.







2 thoughts on “Dr Alice Roughton; medic, peace campaigner, provider of sanctuary

  1. The biography is now available in English: “The House of Alice Roughton: Cambridge Doctor, Humanist, Patron and Activist” (Sussex Academic Press/Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies-LSE, 2020).
    It was launched yesterday (5th March 2020) at a conference at Trinity College “Cambridge: City of Scholars, City of Refuge (1933-1945)” – a very interesting event at which the author spoke, as did Alice Roughton’s son, Geoffrey


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