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Medical History Walk Notes

1. Back of Storey / Former site of Dr. David Campbell’s house

This was the site of Dr. Campbells house and early dispensary. Note entrance to Castle and former Shrigley and Hunt workshop on Castle Hill Dr. David Campbell. First notable physician in Lancaster. Born in Poole, Dorset 1749, qualified in Edinburgh ? why Lancaster. Stayed all his life Notable for being a prime mover in establishing the Lancaster Dispensary in 1781 and the Lancaster Medical Book club , one of England’s oldest medical societies, in 1823. Site of dispensary – this moved to Castle Hill in 1785 and Campbell worked there until 1805. Also in 1785, he published a  treatise on typhus – preferred generous quantities of wine as treatment rather than the more common treatment of bloodletting. Wrote this after treating 500 people for typhus in early 1780’s and also 180 people at Backbarrow cotton mill.

? did he purchase the Coade stone plaque.


2. Walk across towards Castle gateway

Introduce Castle – for over 800 years up to 2011 was site of county gaol and still site of courtrooms. Castle was location for the twice yearly county assize courts for hundreds of years.

1598 – Black assizes – Judge Francis Beaumont and Serjeant Edward Drewe died after contracting gaol fever after officiating in the assize court. Miasma theory – bad smells – pungent flowers placed in court.  Regular outbreaks of gaol fever also occurred in the prison. Gaol fever is typhus.

The Castle prison was the location of the first infirmary ( 2 rooms ) established around 1780 following visits by prison reformer John Howard. Also separate provision was made for prisoners with mental health disease who were described as ‘unruly lunaticks’.


First employed role for  a medical practitioner in Lancaster was that of the Castle  surgeon . In 1820 a young Lancastrian called Richard Owen was apprenticed to the Castle surgeon’s partner. One of his duties was to undertake post-mortem examinations of prisoners that died in the Castle. Owen developed an interest in Anatomy during his apprenticeship and there is a notorious story that he stole a prisoner’s head from the Castle after a post mortem. The story states that he dropped the head and it rolled down the hill into a house – I believe that house was at the bottom of Castle Grove. Owen was fortunate he wasn’t discovered.

The 1820s was the height of the bodysnatching period and a number of bodysnatchers were put on trial here in Lancaster. In 1828 a surgeon from Warrington and his apprentice were put on trial for stealing the body of a young lady from a graveyard in Warrington. The surgeon was acquitted but the apprentice was found guilty and was fined.

Look across to the former Shrigley and Hunt works on Castle Hill. Stained glass experts. The stained glass windows that we will see later at the Infirmary were produced here.


3. 19, Castle Hill ( building with blue plaque ) Site of Lancaster Dispensary 1785 – 1833

This building ( now an estate agents ) was the centre of medical activity in Lancaster for almost 50 years and was the precursor to all the more recent hospitals. There was a paid resident apothecary who could prescribe and dispense medicines and physician and surgeons who received no salary but could charge patients for certain services. For somebody to get treatment they had to get a subscriber’s ticket ( show photo ). The subscribers provided funds to the dispensary and received a number of tickets in return. I don’t think there were inpatient beds but operations and deliveries took place here.  Thomas Howitt jr. was born here.


4. Judges’ Lodgings museum, Chruch St.

This building, built around 1625, is one of the oldest in Lancaster. From the 1630’s it housed visiting judges and served this purpose for over 300 years. It is now a museum of childhood and furniture and well worth a visit.

When the judge replaced his white wig with a black one it meant the death sentence was about to be announced. This happened to a part-time  surgeon called James Case, from Prescot, who was in my opinion wrongly convicted of forging a £1 note and was hanged in 1799. He was one of the last 3 convicts to be hanged on the hill on the outskirts of Lancaster, now Williamson park. Those convicts sentenced to death would have to walk past the judges lodgings in chains behind a horse and cart that carried their coffin. We are now going to walk part of the route James Case would have walked to the gallows. Please take care crossing the roads here.


5. Leonradsgate junction with A6.

At the other end of St. Leonards gate, a small leprosy hospital or leprosarium was established around 1190 ( the building no longer exists ). We know very little about this hospital but there were a large number of medieval leprosaria and many were named after St. Leonard who was the patron saint of prisoners and had special powers of healing. This hospital was open for about 300 years.  Leprosy was a biblical disease and disease was considered a consequence of sinful behaviour in the middle ages so leprosaria were often run by priories and the main feature of treatment would be rest and prayer and contemplation.


6. Moor Lane / Junction with Friar St.

Point out Golden Lion pub – this is the same public house that James Case and the other convicts would have received a last drink in in 1799 before the walk up Moor Lane to the gallows. There are different accounts of what  happened to James at the execution site. One account stated that he tried to survive being hanged by putting a smoker’s pipe in his throat and having holes drilled in his coffin –  but he didn’t succeed.


7. Friar St. 

Birthplace of William Turner ( plaque ), neurosurgeon and Edinburgh Professor of Anatomy.

Perhaps most famous for his anatomy textbook and anatomical charts which was one of the ways students could learn anatomy apart from dissecting.

8. Dalton square

One of 2 GP surgeries in Dalton square in the 1930s. At this time many GPs worked singlehandedly from their own house and here Dr Buck Ruxton lived with his wife and children but also devoted 3 or 4 rooms for his GP surgery.

In 1935, the dismembered pieces of 2 bodies were discovered in a ravine near Moffat in Scotland. They were wrapped in newspaper and clothing which gave some clues about where they were from. Using new forensic techniques, the bodies were pieced together and identified as being Mrs Ruxton and their housemaid Mary Rogerson. Dr Ruxton was convicted and hanged in Manchester. By coincidence, it was another Edinburgh Professor of Anatomy that helped to convict him.


9. Sulyard St. / junction with Bulk Road – point out location of ‘House of Recovery’

In 1815, not long after the battle of waterloo, some of the medical staff from the Dispensary arranged a public meeting to try to build support for a new infectious disease hospital. The result was Lancaster’s first modern hospital : the tiny ‘House of Recovery’, a 5 bed house situated on the very outskirts of Lancaster. There was a live-in matron called Mrs Brown. Medical staff from the dispensary visited each day and arranged admissions. Treatment was mostly with rest and wine. The House of Recovery had another role : it identified houses that needed whitewashing / limewashing. This is the only known image of the House of Recovery.

Ironically, it was the Cholera epidemic of 1831/32 that lead to the closure of the first House of Recovery. It was realised that it was too small and larger premises were needed and it closed in 1832. The building was later demolished but it was located somewhere at the far side of this car park.

10. Dalton Sq. – old GP surgery.

Mention Morecambe Bay Medical Journal ( now online ) article written by John Chippendale – retired GP

Started as a solo practice by Dr James Aitken, who was the public vaccinator for Lancaster and the physician to the workhouse. This building became the practice headquarters in 1929 when there were 3 GP’s Drs Aitken, Millar and Mowat.


11. Victoria memorial, Dalton Sq.

This memorial features a lot of men from the Victorian era including 3 surgeons: Joseph Lister, William Turner and Richard Owen, the last 2 born in Lancaster. This memorial is dominated by men and the Victorian period was a man’s world – the first woman to qualify in medicine was Elizabeth Garret Anderson in 1865.


12. Thurnham St. – Site of Richard Owen birthplace

Point out noticeboard Near here on Thurnham St. are the birthplace of Richard Owen, the most famous surgeon from Lancaster, and also the location of the first Lancaster Infirmary. There is an information board which is placed at the site of Owen’s demolished birthplace. Owen was born in 1804 and after his apprenticeship in Lancaster he finished his training in Edinburgh and London. He considered a surgical career but his true love was anatomy and especially comparative anatomy. He coined the term dinosaur and was famous for his ability to accurately recreate the whole skeleton of an extinct animal from just a few of it’s bones or teeth

In 1843 and 1844 Owen returned to Lancaster to write a report on the sanitation of his home town for the Royal Commission on the Health of Towns and his report helped to stimulate improvements in public health.


13. Thurnham St. – Site of Thurnham St Hospital (1832 – 1894)

Show photo of building in 19th C. Building purchased in 1832, formerly Lord Fauconberg’s house. It combined the functions of the former Dispensary and the House of Recovery so it was called ‘The Lancaster Dispensary and House of Recovery’. Infectious cases were admitted through a separate entrance to the dispensary. The hospital had wards, a resident apothecary  and also a resident house surgeon. The first Consultant surgeon was appointed in 1832, Christopher Johnson who was also then mayor of Lancaster.

The first operation under GA took place here in February 1847 just 2 months after the first one in England which was also an amputation. The patient, a Robert Newby, had white swelling of the knee caused by tuberculous arthritis. An abover knee amputation was performed by Thomas Howitt Jr. ( see photos ) and was reported in the local newspaper the Lancaster Gazette. The operation went well and Mr Newby  said afterwards that he had felt no pain at all but that he had heard Mr Howitt sawing through the bone. The same year Mr Howitt also became mayor of Lancaster.

The plaque on the front of the building says Owen House but I’m not aware of any link between this building and Richard Owen. The plaque is located where the Coade stone plaque would have been.

In 1881,  the hospital was renamed the Lancaster Infirmary. This followed the opening of a new Infectious disease hospital, the Luneside Hospital near the river Lune.

We’re now going to head up to our final destination: the Royal Lancaster Infirmary  ( go along George St / Penny St. to RLI )


14. Royal Lancaster Infirmary – Original A&E Dept. ( Now part of Unit 1 )

Served as A&E for Lancaster from 1894 until the opening of the Centenary building in 1996. After 1996 it became the oncology unit and then recently , partly due to the pandemic, it became the orthopaedic outpatient department treating fractures and injuries again.


15. Main entrance to Med Unit 1

See photos of medical officers from 1897 Note the  Coade Stone plaque depicting the good Samaritan ( above main entrance door ) , Shrigley and Hunt stained glass windows and donation boards in entranceway.

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