'Father of Wickford' - Dr. Frew

An extract from 'Wickford Life', 1998.

In 1998 the five doctor partnership that had been at Franklins Way since 1970 moved to a purpose-built surgery on the Wick.  The new building was called after a doctor who had founded the practice in 1919 – Dr. Robert Frew.  He had achieved a lifetime of good work, both medical and social, which moved the town sufficiently to make this permanent memorial to him – the Robert Frew Medical Centre.

Robert Frew was born in Galston, Ayrshire in 1886.  Awarded a Carnegie grant to study, he left school in 1902 when he became a pupil with a civil engineering firm.  Deciding that engineering would be too desk-bound as a career, the young Robert then paid his own way through medical training, and graduated in April 1914, gaining the Arnott prize in physics in 1911, and a medal for clinical surgery in 1914.  He then served in France with the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War. He saw service in a casualty clearing station as an anaesthetist using chloroform and would still tell of the terrible conditions that he worked in years later.

It was there that he met his wife Mary, a nurse, marrying in November 1915.

Although offered the chance to work as an anaesthetist in a London hospital, Dr. Frew chose to become a G.P., buying the Wickford practice from Dr. Mathieson.  He started work in a small shed behind Lynton House, the upper windows of which are still visable above The Halifax in the High Street.  In those days the surgery was lit with paraffin lamps, the glass of which had to be cleaned each morning.

Two years later he moved to Ladybrow, the surgery again being behind the house.  It was there that Dr. Robert Frew practised for the rest of his working life, later joined by his two sons, Thomas and James, and later still in 1958 by Dr. Ronald Anderson.

The life of a village G.P. was very different back in the beginning of the twentieth century.  Antibiotics were yet to be generally available and all births were at home.  Antenatal care was non-existent.  But these were exciting years in the history of medicine.  One of the few benefits of the two wars was the hugh leaps forward in clinical and surgical methods, and the use of drugs.  The immunisation programs protecting against tuberculosis, diphtheria and whooping cough were introduced, and the use of antibiotics came into force.

Dr. Frew was well ensconced in Wickford once the 2nd World War broke out.  His assistant was called up, and the doctor was left running the surgery alone.  In those days all prescriptions had to be made up manually, and although already in his fifties, he would often be up until three in the morning making up prescriptions!  As medical officer he trained the local Red Cross brigade, of which Mrs. Frew was Commandant.  The brigade had to be on call 24 hours a day to assist casualties on occasions such as when the Pratt family of Swan Lane were killed in a bombing raid.

He was a real family G.P.  He had time for people and is remembered with great affection by patients and those who worked with him alike.   Many older people in the town remember the kindness the doctor showed to people in impoverished situations, and often he would not take his fee, or would reduce it.  As commandant of the Red Cross Mrs. Frew was able to give practical help to families that her husband was best able to judge needed it.  Mrs. Frew also set up the first baby clinics in the town with volunteer helpers, before the days of National Health.

At the height of his working life Dr. Frew had patients as far away as Bicknacre and West Fambridge.  He had two branch surgeries in Woodham, one in a pub and the other in the front room belonging to a Mrs. Johnson, the station porter’s wife.

In the early days Dr. Frew would travel to his further flung patients by motor bike, and once took a prescription to Battlesbridge by foot, walking along the river.

Always busy, he was elected to Wickford Parish Council.  He was a manager of Wickford county school, president of the Wickford branch of the British Legion, honorary life member of the British Red Cross and a member of the Runwell Hospital management committee.  He was Past Master of the Wickford masonic lodge in 1924, and secretary for some years.  He was an enthusiastic and respected Mason.

Dr. Robert Frew died in 1969, aged 83.

As the memorial plaque in the door-way of the Robert Frew medical centre says, ‘Physician and friend to this community’.

See more Here.

In memory of Dr. Robert Frew.

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  • Dr Frew was family doctor to the Sawards. [I]? was born at Shotgate in 1936.
    (John Hawes [See comment below]: Any relation to Reg Hawes, the plumber who lived in Bruce Grove?

    By Kenneth Saward (10/05/2022)
  • James wondered why his surgery (with his father Robert supposedly working next door) was taking so long, then he looked out the window and saw Pop pushing a wheelbarrow down the garden. He did like a bonfire.
    I never once heard Pop (as we called my grandfather) talk of the war. Conversations we should have had 50 years ago.

    By Dr Patrick Frew (20/02/2022)
  • Tommy and Jimmy Frew had the most elegant top quality saloon cars in which to do their rounds, Tommy had a large black one and Jimmy used a grey one of most unusual design at the back. I can still in my mind see the car going along by the Swan pub and up Swan Lane. I left Wickford in 1954, over 60 years ago.

    By Lorraine Taylor (30/09/2017)
  • My mum, Winnie Horsfall had a great regard for Dr Frew, she lived in Wickford in the late 30s, having 4 children. 

    By Rosi Jefferies (13/12/2015)
  • I remember Dr Frew. I was taken to see him in about 1953. He stitched up a cut on my left wrist. I had cut a piece of sheep’s parsley with a razor blade to make a whistle, stupidly laying in across my arm!!

    By gigant (06/07/2015)
  • The mention of Dr Campbell brings back memories. He used to leave your prescription or the odd bottle of medicine in a box with a glass door, by the entrance, think of that today!

    By B0b croot (07/05/2014)
  • My Nan (Edith Billinge) came to Wickford in the 30s. She knew him and his sons James and Thomas when they were in short trousers! I remember “Ladybrow”, it should never have been demolished, but councils in their infinite wisdom! Doctor James and Doctor Thomas looked after me as a child until I came to Australia. They also, along with Doctor Anderson, used to do house calls to first my Grandad, till he passed away at home) then my Nan. They were wonderful Doctors. They knew us all as it was just a village when my family first came there, along with my great grandparents the Furlongs, who all lived in Shotgate. We all thought the world of them. It’s a shame doctors are not more like them today….or maybe it was simpler times back then.

    By Judy Dey(embrey) (18/06/2013)
  • I have to thank Doctor Robert Frew for still being alive today almost 63 years after my birth. My mother was enduring a lengthy three day labour at home. Doctor Frew intervened and took control from the midwife. Apparently I was twisted up somehow and would not have survived, I still have marks on my arm and shoulder today but at least I’m here. So grateful was my mother and father, my middle name is Robert.

    By John Hawes (16/05/2013)
  • He was a great doctor. My wife and sons were patients of his. The other great doctor was Dr.Campbell who also visited homes on the south side of Wickford, out as far as Pitsea, the villages of Vange, Basildon and possibly Laindon. The surgery hours were from 8 till 10.30, then to Pitsea, fitting in home visits as and when.

    By BOBCROOT (14/05/2013)

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