Health Services in Bolton

The February issue of The Little Piecer, issue No 93 had an article about the epidemics of infectious diseases that affected the population of Bolton during the 19th century causing many deaths. It posed the question what could be done to help people afflicted by these deadly diseases in the days before our modern medicines and health services. Sadly the answer was not much; they just died. How fortunate we are now to have our Health & Social Services, even with their shortcomings. Maybe it will be of interest to look at some of the history of our health services.

The epidemics of the 19th century were overcome not so much by medicines as by public health measures such as the provision of water supplies, drains, sewers and rubbish disposal and better housing. Dr Samuel Chadwick, 1809-1876 was an advocate of better public health; he scorned those who opposed sanitary reform but fled to the seaside when an epidemic came. He considered the cellar dwellings injurious to health and public morals and campaigned for their removal. Among his many benefactions were an orphanage in the Haulgh, houses near Heywood Park, money for a museum in Queens Park and for a children’s ward in Bolton Royal Infirmary. The Orphanage, Museum and Bolton Royal Infirmary are no longer with us, but his statue on Victoria Square and a ward in the new Royal Bolton Hospital bearing his name serves to remind us of him. Dr James Dorrian was another 19th century philanthropist; he came to Bolton from Ireland in 1853 and was known as the ‘Poor Man’s Doctor’. He saw hundreds of people, no one was turned away, and often the treatment was free as was food if this was required.

Bolton Dispensary & Infirmary, 1813-1883, was the first centre for medical treatment, but not until 1938 did it take in patients and then only emergencies. Infectious diseases were treated at home and in times of epidemics temporary accommodation was arranged. As now money was a problem, eventually there was space for 60 beds but not enough money to fill them; in 1873 only 25 beds were in use. However, plans were made and money obtained for the Bolton Royal Infirmary at Chorley New Road. Its doors opened in 1873 with beds for 84 patients; when it closed in 1996 they had increased to 224 beds. As we know Bolton Royal Infirmary transferred to the former Bolton District General Hospital in 1996 which after extensions became the Royal Bolton Hospital. Bolton District General Hospital, better known as Townleys was a development from the Fishpool Institution or Workhouse. Fishpool opened in 1861 for the care of poor people and paupers. The building, which is still with us, is used by Royal Bolton Hospital as wards ‘L’ & ‘M’. Townleys Hospital seems to have started in 1910 with wards A & B and the hospital was completed in 1913. During WWI it was used for wounded soldiers. As many as 620 were cared for with tents in the grounds for a further 60. In 1919 150 beds were made available for use by the people of Bolton; these relieved the load on the Bolton Royal Infirmary. In 1936 Townleys had 500 patients and the Fishpool Institution 433 inmates. Even in recent times some older people felt a stigma still attached to being treated in the former workhouse. During 1948 Fishpool was used for chronic sick, while the elderly fit were moved to homes at Watermillock and Smithills Hall. These facilities no longer exist and I assume elderly fit are treated in the community and the sick in hospital or nursing homes.

What were the facilities outside the hospitals and nursing homes for health care? Halliwell had the usual local doctors, chemists, dentists and midwifes. Attached tables show those on Halliwell Road during the period 1899-1932. Herbalists and temperance bars are also shown in the table. People often used herbs to treat themselves. These were kept in dark green tins with the name in gold letters. Patent medicines were also used for self treatment, names remembered are Fennings little lung healers and cooling powders, Aspirins or Aspro for headaches and other pains, Cephos and Seidlitz Powders and Andrew’s Liver Salts. There was cod liver oil in liquid or capsules or mixed with malt to make it more palatable. Angiers Emulsion. Parish’s Chemical Food an iron tonic usually taken through a glass tube to protect one’s teeth. Gargles for sore throats. How many of these products remain I don’t know. Now it’s all tablets, the bottles made up by the doctor or chemist seem a thing of the past, they had about 4 different coloured liquids, white for stomachs, red and green for tonics, brown for coughs and if you got a nasty brown one you were really bad. Embrocation, smelling of turpentine or Winter Green, people on the bus could tell with the smell what you had been using. Poultices made of bread, linseed or patent pastes were applied hot to the chest or other affected part, they made you jump but usually worked.

How things have changed now when you visit the chemist, it’s full of cosmetics and tablets, you name it, they sell it. Contraceptives sit next to the cough sweets, not hidden from view as they used to be. Doctors no longer mix bottles of medicine in a cubbyhole behind the consulting room. At the chemists you could pass the time away while your bottle was being mixed reading the labels on the bottles displayed, Magnesia and Cascara and others were familiar. At some herb shops they sold poppy heads which I believe were boiled to extract some opium. I also understand there are no poison books to sign these days. They don’t sell things like arsenic, the favourite poison used by the poisoners of old. Probably easy to detect these days with all the DNA testing.

Our modern drugs have controlled the scourges of the past. TB was not controlled until the 1940’s when the BCG vaccine became available, until then treatment was fresh air and sunlight in sanatoriums. We had Wilkinson’s on Belmont Road, the home of Thos. Wilkinson who donated it to the town in 1908 with £50,000 for its upkeep. Improvements in lung surgery and X-Ray diagnosis took place in the 1940’s.

Some will remember the mobile X-Ray units used for chest screening which played an important role in eliminating TB. Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria were also prevalent at the turn of the century. An isolation hospital was built in 1883 at Hulton Lane to treat these diseases. It still exists but is now used as a hospital for the elderly.

The use of vaccinations long used in the treatment of smallpox seems to have eradicated the disease worldwide. The two world wars caused much loss of life but they speeded up the development of the treatment of wounds and blood transfusions. Immunisation is now used to successfully treat the infectious diseases of childhood. Our N.H.S. now provides free treatment to most people but it was only in 1913 that the National Insurance Act provided free treatment for workers only. Initially it covered 12 million workers; by 1938 it covered nearly 20 million workers including youths of 14 to 16 years of age. The scheme provided a free general practitioner service and sick benefits paid through approved societies such as Trade Unions and Benefit Clubs. Generally only workers obtained free treatment. Worker’s families had to pay for private treatment or take out insurance. The National Insurance Act did not cover workers for spectacles, eye tests or dental treatment or maternity care. Only when the N.H.S. Act of 1948 came in were these covered.

Much has been achieved in the past 1½ centuries in health care and still we advance. We cannot afford to be complacent especially in the field of Public Health. Maybe before the end of this century everyone will live to 100 and that will cause even greater problems.

Below are listsd the various practitioners who operated on Halliwell Road, together with the approximate year and house number.

By H. Jones

200156Hunt & Marsden
1899 to 1901172Mrs Waterhouse
1927 to 1932279Mrs Leece
1916 to 1932500Mrs Openshaw
1930’sBennetts LaneMrs Craig.
Herbalist Shops
1899 to 1901227Barret
191650North Herb Dealer
1916446Edge Herbalist
1922 to 193246Hardy’s Herb Shop &
Temperance Bars
1932458Yate’s Temperance Bar
1916 to 1932214Howard’s Temperance Bar
1899205Murphy & Waterson
1927205Ratcliffe & Waterson
1932205Saunders & Childer
(Dr Hanson died in 1964 and Dr Keltie took the practice to 577.)
1922184Morton & Bowers
1927360Bowers & Berry
2001275N. Berry (DentalTechnician)