Morpathia: House surgeon at Dispensary in Morpeth became a social animal

Morpeth Dispensary was a free local health service for poor people. It was founded in 1817, 130 years before the NHS.

By Roger Hawkins
Monday, 7th March 2022, 5:41 pm
Updated Monday, 7th March 2022, 5:41 pm
Belfry, Morpeth Clock Tower.
Belfry, Morpeth Clock Tower.

It is easy to believe that the Dispensary doctors led grim lives – seeing so much poverty and disease, as well as occasional horrifying accidents. But this was not the case.

Frederick Barrow, who became house surgeon in 1873, is a case in point.

He was unusual in being an out-and-out southerner, born near Berkeley Square in London in 1852 and brought up there. He trained at King’s College and Hospital in London and qualified in 1873, when he was 21.

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Commemorative lamp given by Mr Robert Donkin.

He must have been born lucky. He quickly got a temporary position as locum at Morpeth Dispensary, standing in for Dr Skrimshire who had left to go into private practice.

He was short-listed for the permanent post and Ald. Hood (after whom Hood Street is named) moved that Mr Barrow be appointed – he was well qualified “and had been very kind and attentive to the patients while acting here as house surgeon”.

So he had a permanent position only months after he qualified.

Dr Barrow was a social animal. The Masonic Hall in Copper Chare was opened in December 1875, with a ball under the patronage of the Earl and Countess Percy. Upwards of 70 people were present, including Mr F. Barrow.

The Jubilee Hall incorporated the Mechanics’ Institute.

In February, there was a Spelling Bee in the Town Hall, with proceeds to the Dispensary. The Mayor, aldermen, councillors and other gentlemen donated the prizes, and £7 7s was raised for the charity.

In one of the intervals, Dr Barrow sang a duet with Miss Kirkup called The Manly Heart.

In May, the Morpeth Society of Change Ringers rang a complete peal in Bob minor, 720 changes. “This,” said the Morpeth Herald, “is the first time a complete peal has been rung on the Morpeth bells, as far as is known.”

The ringer on the treble bell was Dr Barrow. He was again in action in October, when they rang a complete peal of grandsire doubles.

Rothbury Church.

House surgeons were only appointed for three years and although Dr Barrow was allowed an extension, he was still looking out for a new position. It came at the end of 1876.

On December 23, the Herald reported that: “On Monday, Mr F. Barrow, house surgeon to Morpeth Dispensary, was elected surgeon to Rothbury Union.

During the time Mr Barrow has been in Morpeth, he has won the goodwill of his patients, and of everyone with whom he has come into contact.”

He entered into the convivial society of Rothbury as easily as he did that of Morpeth.

In December 1878, when the auctioneers Messrs Donkin entertained the patrons of Rothbury Auction Mart to a dinner at the Queen’s Head Hotel in Rothbury, Dr Barrow was amongst the guests.

Soon after, in January 1879, he was one of the entertainers at a concert given by the Rothbury Mechanics’ Institute in the Assembly Room of the Railway Hotel.

In 1884, he was on the committee making arrangements for a presentation to the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visit to Cragside.

He was involved in the installation of a fine peal of eight bells in Rothbury church tower and in 1899, when the Morpeth Bellringers visited Rothbury to play the church bells there, Dr Barrow rang with them.

In 1885, he bought a large stone-built house in Rothbury High Street, called Heathery. It had three sitting rooms, five bedrooms, a two-stall stable and a walled garden well stocked with fruit trees.

This might suggest a large family, but he never married. He did, however, come from a large family, of whom at least seven, including himself, survived into their 70s or beyond.

The other six remained in London and predeceased him, but in 1939, when his address was Ogle House, also in High Street, a lady who was perhaps a niece, Kate Barrow Wilson, was also living there.

In 1937, the Herald published the following appreciation on his 85th birthday.

“For 58 years, Dr Barrow was medical officer to the Rothbury Rural District Council and acted in a similar capacity to the old Rothbury Urban Council ... Dr Barrow went to Rothbury in 1877, and through all those years has taken an active interest in the affairs of the town and ... has played a prominent part in the life of Coquetdale.

“He is the oldest member of the parish church choir ... As conductor of the Rothbury Changeringers’ Association he was a hard-working teacher of ringing from 1893 to 1930.

“He has been a church warden for more than 20 years (and) an active helper in affairs of the Mechanics’ Institute and Jubilee Hall.

“Since it was a gift of Miss C.S. Dawson, of Rothbury, Dr Barrow has acted as president and honorary secretary of the Rothbury Cottage Hospital, and has also been honorary secretary of the Women’s Sick Club.”

He died on January 31, 1948. The Morpeth team of change-ringers rang changes and hymn tunes in his memory, including Rock of Ages, Shrewsbury, and Blest are the Pure in Heart.

The Origins of Morpeth, £7, and The Early Christian Landscape of the Wansbeck Valley, £6, both copiously illustrated, are available at the Old Herald Office and Newgate News.