A History of Healthcare in Wickford and South Woodham Ferrers.

The story of health care in SWF is fascinating. We read in Lilli Mint’s recent account about Dr Ingold coming out to her one snowy Christmas Day, as she suspected premature labour, and asking Mr Lloyd Rankin, the Obs and Gynae Consultant at St John’s Hospital to visit Lilli at home,¬† to decide how best to manage the case. Audrey Holden’s account, which follows, mentions that Dr Robert Frew, would come back from his practice in Wickford two or three times in a single day to see a patient he was worried about. They were made of strong stuff back then!

Audrey points out that in the pre-NHS days patients had to pay to see a doctor, but says there was a certain amount of ‘Robin Hood` going on here, in that the rich were asked to pay more in order that the poor could receive treatment free of charge.

In the early 1900s, Dr Marshall from Wickford was the medic who was most frequently sent for to attend patients here in South Woodham. In an emergency a friend or relative would be sent on horseback to Wickford to ask the doctor to call, or a telegram could be sent from the Post Office which was adjacent to the Railway Station, or, if the patient was able, he could travel by train to the surgery in Wickford.

Dr. Marshall visited his patients on horse back, at that time there were no cars, and horse was by far the most suitable mode of transport on the unmade roads, and often crossing fields to isolated cottages.

The roads in South Woodham were only cart tracks once you were off the Wickford Road and Hullbridge Road. In winter the side roads were a sea of mud and water and in summer when the roads were dry they were so rugged and uneven that they were impassable to a vehicle. It was not until the 1960s when major development commenced that the roads were  gradually made up to the present standard .

In 1919 Dr.Robert Frew took over the practice from D.Marshall who retired. Dr. Frew`s first mode of transport was a motorbike rising to a car in later years as the road from Wickford became more accessible. However as all the side roads were still unmade this facilitated the need for Dr. Frew to make sure he carried his wellington boots in his car boot, as it was impossible to drive along them. The Doctor parked his car at the beginning of the road, donned his wellington boots and proceeded on foot to minister to his patient’s needs. It would be quite a familiar sight around midday to see Dr. Frew eating his lunch in his car as there were no cafes where he could buy refreshments.

Frequently messages would be left at houses of patients to request a visit, which might mean the Doctor retracing his steps along the muddy lane he had just negotiated. It was not unusual for Dr.Frew to travel out from Wickford two or three times a day to visit a sick patient he was anxious about.

In the 1920s it was thought necessary to hold a surgery in the village of Woodham Ferrers for the benefit of local patients. This was held in various private houses where the kitchen was made for the Doctor’s consultations. It may not have been very private but much more convenient than a train journey into Wickford.

Prescriptions were dispensed in Wickford and brought down to the surgery the next day by the Doctor on his rounds. In an emergency prescriptions could be collected from the nearest chemist in Wickford High Street

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  • Where was Doctor Frew’s surgery? I still have the scar from when he stitched together my left wrist after I accidentally cut it making a sheep’s parsley whistle in about 1953-4.

    [See information here]

    By robert Howard (04/04/2020)

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