VET’S DIARY: You just can’t keep them out of Northumberland

I have always considered it a privilege to live and work in such a stunning area among warm and friendly people, writes David Young.

Northumberland has a draw and over the years many of our vets left the area to study, beginning careers in other parts of the country, only to be drawn back to the area.

Gerald Curry was the first Northumbrian to return to his roots after working in Yorkshire but, in 1966, Alan Clark (originally from Ashington) and Peter Malone (Newcastle) arrived at Wagonway Road as assistants to Muir and Curry. Alan became a partner in 1969 and Peter in 1972.

Both were heavily involved with farm work and Alan developed a keen interest in the breeding of pedigree cattle. Alan retired in 1994 and Peter in 1995.

At this time, the veterinary profession was changing with advances being made in the care and treatment of domestic pets and an increase in ownership of pleasure and competition horses. This led to an increase in the demand for veterinary services, hence an expansion in the size of veterinary practices.

The Northumbrian connection continued when I returned to Alnwick in 1978, having worked for two years in Staffordshire, and I became a partner in 1983 on Bobbie Muir’s retirement.

A Scottish flavour returned when John Macfarlane joined straight from university in 1984, becoming a partner in 1988, followed by Colin Munro in 1991 when the practice was renamed The Aln Veterinary Group.

Colin, another Ayrshireman, had been a lecturer in obstetrics and reproduction at both Glasgow and Edinburgh Veterinary Schools and following his marriage to Lesley Barwise, who joined in 1986, they made significant advancements in the equine side of the practice. Colin retired in 2005 and Lesley became one of the equine directors.

On Peter Malone’s retirement another North East lad, Graeme Thirlwell from Newcastle, joined the practice following periods of work in Botswana and with MAFF. Graeme was a genial and popular vet and it was a great tragedy that he was killed in a paragliding accident in 2003.

Joe Henry joined Aln Vets in 1998 and, following a spell in New Zealand, he too returned and became a partner in 2005.

Rosie and Dick Thompson, from Newcastle and Cambo respectively, bought Mac’s practice on his retirement in 1988. Both had been working in the Midlands before returning to the North East. Dick retired from the practice in 2009 but Rosie remains as one of our equine directors.

Andrew Sawyer joined in 1989 then Dominic Plumley, straight from university in 1995.

The Hampden Veterinary Centre was then involved with two mergers, firstly with Paul Freeman from Rothbury (originally from Whitley Bay) and then Ewing and Gidlow in Wooler to form the Northumbria Veterinary Partnership when Steve Carragher became a partner.

Each merger and acquisition took place in order to provide a more specialised service to the client, both within normal working hours and also out-of-hours. Many practices do not offer a full 24-hour 365-days-per-year service and rely on an external provider for their out-of-hours cover. However, we feel it is important to look after our own clients and their animals 24/7.

This was a major factor in the decision of both practices to merge in 2007 to form the Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group as it was becoming more difficult to recruit mixed practitioners to cover all aspects of veterinary care during the day and out-of-hours.

The draw to Northumberland has become stronger for our recent graduates, with many returning after qualifying or after a short period working elsewhere. Some have ‘dragged’ a spouse back with them and some spouses, like Steve Carragher and Edward Chinn, are now directors.

This week everything is turning full circle when we have Bobbie Muir’s granddaughter Mollie coming from Oxford for a week’s work experience. Whether she will follow in her grandfather’s footsteps, only time will tell!

I hope you have enjoyed this potted history of veterinary services in Alnwick and district. Apologies for any inaccuracies or omissions, but it has not been possible to provide any in-depth information due to lack of space.

I would like to acknowledge help from Bobbie Muir who, many years ago, gave me the early history of Muir & Curry MRCVS as well as Anthony Barnett and Gordon Macphearson for information about Mac’s practice.