MOUNT VERNON Hospital was founded by a man who made his fortune in Africa’s gold and diamond mines.

The promise of adventure and wealth drew young men to the furthest reaches of the Empire at the turn of the 19th Century, including 19 year-old Charles Dunell Rudd, who became fabulously rich.

Rudd travelled abroad hoping the warm climate would help him avoid the same fate as his mother, who died of tuberculosis.

He arrived in 1865 and worked in a succession of clerical jobs before finding modest success as a trader, insurance dealer and diamond merchant.

It was a less-than-glittering start to his career and he suffered various mishaps, including a failed business venture, a stolen consignment of diamonds and near death from fever.

South Africa’s burgeoning mining trade provided the opportunity he was looking for and the realisation there was money to be made, above as well as below ground.

Rudd teamed up with fellow Englishman Cecil Rhodes and began supplying the mining community with pumping equipment, corrugated iron sheeting, wire and luxuries, like beer and ice cream.

It was tough, dirty work, but demand for materials was insatiable as miners realised the fabulous wealth that lay beneath their feet.

The money began pouring in and the partners invested their profits in buying up and working mining claims.

They quickly become rich and in 1880 formed the world-famous De Beers Mining Company.

Their wealth snowballed and a further concession led to the creation of the Gold Fields of South Africa Ltd, which London’s Stock Exchange later rated as the most valuable company in the world.

Rudd was a private man but gained unwanted notoriety as the architect of the infamous Rudd Concession.

The concession convinced the King of Matabeleland to sign away the entire mining rights of his lands in exchange for a consignment of 1,000 rifles, a gunboat and monthly stipend of £100.

The king unsuccessfully tried to have the concession overturned, saying he had been deliberately misled - a fact acknowledged by a clergyman present at the negotiations.

Rudd maintained he had acted honourably, but it did little appease the king, who had his own adviser in the negotiations executed.

However, personal tragedy came back to haunt Rudd when his wife died of TB, the same condition that his claimed his mother’s live.

He left South Africa six years later and returned to Britain where he lived on a country estate in Scotland.

The multi-millionaire turned his hand to philanthropy in later years and donated £200,000 to build Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood, which opened in 1904 The hospital was for the exclusive treatment of TB and offered hope to patients too poor to travel abroad to expensive sanatoriums.

No-one knew what sparked Rudd’s generosity, but the death of his mother and first wife must have played a role in the decision.

Mount Vernon was later recognized as one of the most progressive treatment centres in Europe, advocating plenty of fresh air and exercise as part of patients’ recovery.

Rudd died in 1916 of blood poisoning, but two generations later his grandson would strike gold of a different kind when he won the 400m in the 1920 Olympic Games.