At the end of the 19th century, there were two family practices in Hungerford, one run by Dr. Richard Barker (in Kennet House) , the other by Dr. Harry Pike Major (at 107 High Street).
In 1898, Dr. Barker, who was aged 51 years, decided to reduce his workload somewhat, and advertised for an assistant. It might not be too cynical to note of Dr. Barker's absorbing interest in fishing at the time! The new young doctor who joined the practice was Dr. Blake James.
Dr Blake James:
Dr. Robert Blake James was a single man aged 29 years when he came to Hungerford in 1898. He was born in 1869, and qualified in medicine at Birmingham, gaining MRCS Eng, LRCP Eng. After qualification he went as ships doctor for a year, travelling extensively to the Far East, including Hong Kong and China.
In c.1903 he married Margaret Clara Waldron, the daughter of a very wealthy family from Eastridge near Ramsbury, who had extensive financial involvement with Argentina. They lived in a house on the south side of Church Street (about 60 yards from the Town Hall - steps up to the garden), which was very convenient for the surgery. Their first child, a son named Eric, was born at this house in 1904, and their first daughter, named Nora, in 1907.
In these early days in practice, Dr. Blake James, who incidentally was nicknamed "Seamus", used to do his home visits on a bicycle, even as far as Rivar Hill, Shalbourne! At night, however, he was allowed the use of Dr. Barker's carriage, and his coachman.
In 1904 he became a full partner in the practice, and by way of celebration he splashed out on a splendid new car - a 1904 Benz Parsifal two-seater, which is shown below in two differing liveries.
The May 1903 edition of the Parish magazine includes a discussion on the availability of local hospitals. It states that "Ordinary cases are sent to the local Hospitals at Reading, Savernake and Newbury; cases requiring serious operations to the London Hospitals; those of defective sight to teh Oxford Eye Hospital and to reading; Consumptives to the National Hospital for Consumption at Ventnor, and patients recovering from illness, or who are in a weak and state of health, to the admiral Convalescent Homes at Bournemouth, Bexhill-on-Sea and Weston-Super-Mare.
The 1907 Kelly's Directory was the first to include telephone numbers. The number for Dr Barker was 7, and this, of course, was the predecessor of the main surgery number still in use in 2006. The original single figure numbers were later preceded by 250, so that it became 25O7, in 1983? by the figure 8, and in 1990 by 6 thus making 682507.
As a postscript to this interesting little list, it should be noted that the telephone exchange was open for only certain times during the day. The advertised times were as follows:
Weekdays: 5.15am until 9.45pm
Sundays: 5.15am - 7.00am;
8.00am - 10.15am;
12.30pm - 1.30pm;
5.45pm - 8.15pm.
There are vaccination records dating from the early 1900's, and Dr. James writing first appears here in September 1908. Other references show that many of the doctors were at one stage or other Public Vaccinators. Dr. Major was in 1903, as well as Dr. Dickson in the same year.
In 1910 Dr. Barker retired (aged 63 years), but continued to live at Kennet House after his retirement. He became a trustee of the Town & Manor in 1920. He died soon after, when he was aged 75 years.
When Dr Barker retired, Dr. Blake James needed to find new premises for the practice, and he took a lease on a property just across the High Street - Manor House (which was owned at the time by the South Berkshire Brewery), where he lived and had his surgery.
- 1902-3 Benz Parsifal (BW)
- 1904 Benz Parsifal two-seater
- 1902-3 Benz Parsifal
Hungerford's 1907 Telephone Directory
1 Call Office
2 Adnams J. & Son, Corn merchants, High Street
3 Alexander Bros, Coal, Corn, & Hay Merchants, H/S
4 Alexander T.W., Grocer, High Street
5 Allrights, Universal Stores
6 Astley, H.D.'O.W., Solicitor, Bridge Villa
7 Barker, R.H., M.D., Physician & Surgeon
8 Barnard F. Fishmonger, 17 Market Place
9 Blyth A.W., Templeton
12 Bear Hotel, Posting, Livery Stables
10 Cottrell & Co., Engineers, Eddington Iron Works
11 Gibbons H. & Son,Motor Engineers, Kennet Iron Works
20 Hillsdon H. & Co, Motor Eng'rs, Eddington Iron Wks
18 Hutchins S & Co, Butchers, High Street
19 Platt G., The Priory
13 Police, Police Station
14 Portal E. R., J. P., Eddington House
23 Shepherd E.P., Hungerford Park
15 South Berks Brewery
16 Taylor W.G., Chemist, Bridge Street
17 Walmesley H.J., J. P., Inglewood House
22* Wren G. Ironmonger
When Dr Barker retired in 1910, Dr. James was joined in the partnership by a young doctor from London, Dr. Thomas Gordon Starkey-Smith. Dr Starkey-Smith was born in 1880, and had qualified at St. Thomas' Hospital in London with MD, BS Lond, MRCS, LRCP. Initially he lived in The Laurels in Eddington, and later [by 1920] moved to Manor House.
The practice (at Manor House) became Drs James and Starkey-Smith.
Dr. James was a man with a quiet and retiring nature. Shortly before the first World War (on the last day of 1913 in fact) he retired from the practice, possibly at his wife's wish, as he was only aged about 45 years at the time. Dr. Starkey-Smith was left to carry on the practice single handed again, as it used to be. The James' moved away from Hungerford for a while, and lived at Littlehampton. However, he was soon to return!
We now return to the other family practice, run by Dr. Harry Pike Major, who had lived and practised in 107 High Street since 1861. He retired in 1903, and although he did not pass the practice on to any of his sons, he did manage to hand it on to a distant relative. In fact, the practice was bought by Dr. Walter Dickson, whose brother-in-law (a Mr. Cookson) had married one of Dr. Major's daughters. No doubt this entitled him to a special consideration when it came to buying the practice!
Walter Dickson had qualified in Medicine at Edinburgh with MB, CM (Edin). He took up residence and created a surgery in Faringdon House, 128 High Street, which he rented from Mr. Astley, and lived there with his wife, but they had no children. He was a tall bald-headed man, who is said to have run an "exclusive practice". Another story has it that he drove a funny little car of undisclosed make, at about 5mph!
As soon as he came to Hungerford (1903 Kelly Directory) he was appointed Medical Officer, and Public Vaccinator to the district. He was well liked as a doctor, but he never lost his strong Scottish accent. It always caused amusement when asked if the patients could have anything to eat, the invariable reply would be "A wee drop of Scotch broth would be a good thing"!
This brings our story up to the beginning of the First World War, then, with Dr. Starkey-Smith at Manor House, and Dr. Dickson only seven doors down the street at Faringdon House.
Medicine in Hungerford:
- The Early Days - from the 13th century
- The Start of Organised Medicine - from 1550 to c1830
- Local Hospitals (including more distant ones used by Hungerford residents)