Part 5 Village Life and Work

A Village Doctor


In 1957 I joined Drs. Rupert Barrington and Peter Dagger immediately after the death of Ben Sunderland, who had practised from Haverhill since 1918.

So what was it like in Thurlow then? We had a village surgery “next to The Cock”, in the stables of Lavender Cottage. You climbed an outside wooden staircase to enter a waiting room, and beyond was a large consulting room with couch, chairs, desk and glass-fronted “dispensary cupboards”. It was open three times a week and was run very efficiently by Viv Cook (Atherton “that was”). Viv had started to work for Dr. Ben in her early teens and cycled to and from Haverhill. Later the estate, wanting the house, moved us to the village hall and built a “secure” drugs cupboard in the corner. As they said, we were losing personal accommodation and gaining a loo. Viv stayed with us and only gave up because of illness shortly before she died.

We had a superb old school district nurse in Nurse Buck. In our country area there were two other memorable nurses ­ Nurse Kaye in Kedington and Nurse Charles in Birdbrook. Their midwifery was an education and I often wondered who was more scared of Nurse Buck, the young mums or myself.

In the early days we dispensed our own medicines, not so many tablets then and patients didn’t have much faith in them. We used stock mixtures or made up individually prescribed medicines ourselves. Linctuses and brown bottles for cough, white bottles for indigestion, gentian infusions and red or yellow syrups for tonics ­ very popular. The best tonics were prescribed with a small quantity of gin and seemed to work rather better than vitamins for debility after illness!

At first telephones were few, cars were not generally owned, and Cambridge and Newmarket seemed a long way to go. Haverhill on Fridays ­ market day ­ was the usual trip. We had surgeries in Haverhill twice on Saturday and Sunday morning until 1958. I was told by an elderly lady in the village that she had never been further than Haverhill because she said she “never had cause to go”.

But things changed fast. It was exciting bringing modern medicine into the community, sometimes with a few surprises. I had one middle-aged patient in the village with pneumonia. So daily visits, Nurse, linctus and poultice for dry cough, later brown mixture for loose cough, beef stew and fluids and the latest strongest antibiotic. At the end of a week he was better and his chest almost completely clear. I thought that would have taken 12­14 days in the past. I said, “you’ve finished your antibiotics”. “Yes”, he replied, “We’m finished they botics”. “We?” I said. “Yup I gave ’em to the wife, she’s better at swollerin ’em than me”. When I could stop laughing I told him that if he ever told a living soul I’d have him off my list.

As the years passed, there were more young families in the village but no more confinements at home. Patients became less fearful of hospitals and more used to out-patient visits. The ‘pill for all ills’ age had arrived and the remarkable advances in technology were here. People read about treatments in the unofficial medical textbooks of the daily press and they wanted to discuss them with their doctor.

You still have a village surgery. It would be nice to see it lasting into the new century and I am sure it still has a useful function.

Dr. Donald Burton