Practice History

In Sickness and In Health

The story of the Charles Hicks Practice

A young Charles Hicks
Roman Gate Opening 1994
Michael Foster Sr
About

In the entrance lobby at the Roman Gate surgery in Godmanchester is a painting by Roy Larcombe. It shows on one side the previous surgery at Old Court Hall, and on the other side the new Roman Gate surgery before the recent extension. At the centre of the painting is this plaque:

Key questions

That date of 1821 when Jonah Wilson established his surgery in Huntingdon, raised several questions which this new book from the Patients’ Forum of the Hicks Group Practice in 2024 seeks to answer:

  • How did staff at the Charles Hicks Practice cope during the COVID pandemic and what challenges remain today?
  • What other sicknesses and diseases have impacted on the residents of Huntingdon and Godmanchester over the years? What caused them, and how were they treated?
  • Who was Charles Hicks and who else has provided local medical and public health support since Jonah Wilson opened his original surgery?
  • What other local medical provision has there been over the years through home visits, chemists, surgeries, hospitals, and in the gaol and the workhouse?
  • What major medical and public health advances have taken place over the course of the period and what has been their impact locally?

Transactions of a Huntingdonshire Medical Society

The research about each successive generation of medical practitioners from 1821 to the present day was made possible by the discovery of a manuscript in Huntingdon Library archives.  This book, called ‘Transactions’, is a rare surviving transcript of the meetings of the Huntingdonshire Medical Society between 1793 and 1803. For many poorly qualified rural surgeons and apothecaries, such as those near Huntingdon and Godmanchester, the Medical Societies at the beginning of the 19th century represented a way of sharing notes and experiences of patient treatments that proved successful, or otherwise.

Although Jonah Wilson was never a member of the Medical Society, Transactions was passed to successive local medical practitioners following him in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each recipient was recognised by their peers as the most senior and expert as the emerging medical profession became established in the community.

Transactions provided the research outline for this project, along with the framed certificates of doctors’ qualifications from the 19th century displayed at the Roman Gate surgery, along with other items from the Charles Hicks archives.  Together, these enable us to identify past medical practitioners and the dates they were working in Huntingdon and Godmanchester as the Hicks Group Practice was established.

Each practitioner now forms the basis of a chapter of our book as ‘men of their time’ dealing with injuries, ailments and sickness in the local population. They used medical equipment and surgical techniques as they were being developed. They worked with local institutions providing medical and public health support up to and including, the foundation of the NHS.  A final chapter brings us up to the present day.

Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Quotations
Title pages
Dedication
Acknowledgements and permissions
Abbreviations

Foreword

Introduction
Explains the background to the project                                                                     

Chapter 1Early medical practitioners (1793 -1803)
Looks at early medical provision in Huntingdonshire, diseases and social class and the different types of medical practitioner.

Chapter 2Jonah Wilson (1809 -1848)
Establishing a practice in Huntingdon, Wilson’s role in the Dispensary and the Gaol. First attempts to treat smallpox.

Chapter 3Michael Foster (1833-1876)
The cholera epidemic of 1832 and the first Public Health Act. Dr Foster’s role in foundation of the Huntingdon County Hospital and developing a professional medical practice in the town.

Chapter 4Herbert Lucas (1863-1919)
The workhouse and the asylum. Dr Lucas’ success in a competitive local medical market. Development of surgery techniques and hygiene at the County Hospital. First local Medical Office of Health in 1894 and foundation of the surgery at Bosworth House in 1903.

Chapter 5Charles Hicks (1910-1948)
Arrival in Huntingdon, home birth experience and joining Dr Lucas in 1911. Impact of the National Insurance Act of that year and role at the County Hospital. Working with Red Cross nurses during WW1 and the challenge of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Role of a solo GP in founding the ‘Charles Hicks Practice’. Public health improvements and a new partnership with Dr Connan. Medical advances and a changing GP practice, his WW2 role and retirement in 1948.

Chapter 6Nelson Hicks (1948-1973)
Taking over from his father and the start of the NHS. Early memories of Bosworth House from patients and home birth experiences. Other doctors in Godmanchester, new ailments and new treatments. New staff, including Dr Rushton and the surgery move to Temple Close in 1969. Retirement and continued role at Huntingdon racecourse.

Chapter 7Jim Rushton (1965-1995)

Dr Rushton’s role in establishing the Temple Close Practice and early staff stories. New doctors at the Practice and in the town. Expanding provision to the Ermine Street surgery in 1987 and introducing computers. Population growth and the opening of the Old Court Hall surgery in Godmanchester in 1982. Hinchingbrooke Hospital opening in 1983 and further doctors, nursing and support staff joining the Practice. First female GP appointed at the Practice in 1975. New medical practices open in Huntingdon and Ermine Street surgery expanded in 1992.

Chapter 8 – Up to the present day (1995-2024)
Roman Gate surgery opens in Godmanchester in 1994. New staff, more clinics and more services offered to patients. Changes to GP contracts and first salaried doctors from 2002. Performance payments introduced together with quality inspections by 2013. Patients Forum founded in 2009 led by Sandy Ferrelly. New staff support roles such as Nursing Practitioners and healthcare Assistants introduced. Continued expansion at Roman Gate surgery in 2020 as local population increases, coping with COVID and looking to the future.

Appendix 1Timelines
All major medical and public health acts from 1815, key medical practitioners, significant breakthroughs, advances in local provision and key doctors in the Charles Hicks story.

Appendix 2Women and Healthcare
The often-overlooked herbalists, midwives, matrons, nurses and healthcare assistants, female doctors, support staff and wives in our story.

Appendix 3One patient’s story
One local patient – Danny Reid

References
Index of Names
General Index

Foreword
ken-3
The Foreword is written by Dr Ken Sneath, recently retired lecturer in local history at the Institute of Continuing Education, the University of Cambridge.
Ken has written three book on the history of Godmanchester; ‘Godmanchester: A celebration of 800 years’, ‘Thirsty Godmanchester’ and ‘Godmanchester on the Move’

Foreword

I am delighted to be asked to contribute the foreword to this excellent book by Roger Merritt. The story of healthcare in Godmanchester and Huntingdon had very humble beginnings 200 years ago and the medical advances in the intervening centuries would have astounded those early pioneers.  

Roger is the current Chairman of the Patients’ Forum, and he has developed a keen interest in the history of healthcare in this area.   With energy and commitment, he has charted the enormous strides in treatment in the face of threats to health, which have included the epidemics of smallpox, cholera, ‘Spanish Flu’ and most recently COVID.  Using a multitude of sources he has uncovered the lives of the doctors, nurses and others who have served this area. He has also revealed them as human beings. Who knew that Dr Nelson Hicks used his own childhood teddy bear to help his youngest patients identify where they were hurting?

A number of volumes on Godmanchester’s fascinating history have been produced since the turn of the century, from Tim Malim and Michael Green on the town’s archaeology, my books on Godmanchester’s 800-year history including its church, the pubs and its transport and Roger Leivers on the Second World War.  But none of us have attempted a history of healthcare. Roger has admirably filled this yawning gap in our knowledge, and I have no hesitation in commending it to the people of the town.

Dr Ken Sneath
Darwin College
University of Cambridge

Comments

A selection of comments from readers of the text is below:

Roger has filled a yawning gap in our knowledge on the history of healthcare in our community. Using a multitude of sources he has uncovered the lives of the doctors, nurses and others who have served this area. He has also revealed them as human beings.” Dr Ken Sneath, Darwin College, University of Cambridge.

“A magnificent effort which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I am aware of only one other practice which can trace its history as far back as this.” Dr Mike Muncaster, Independent Lecturer on the History of Medicine.

“A very interesting read and a lovely insight into the history of the practice. Something for future generations to refer to.” Elish Millard, vice-chair of the Patients’ Forum.

“In medicine we learn the most from patient narratives, their stories. Here we have the doctors’ stories illuminating and humanising General Practice in our community.” Dr Alex Connan.

“A great read, with a whole lot of historical facts that build the story of ‘medical’ Huntingdon and Godmanchester.” Richard Pumphrey, Patients’ Forum.

“A fascinating history of the practice over the past 200 years.” Dr Richard Weyell, retired GP with the Charles Hicks Practice.”

“Roger has produced a well-researched and fascinating history of our local medical practice, full of interesting social history and details of the lives of those involved. I am glad to be living today and not 200 years ago when comparing medical provision then and now! We have much to be thankful for.” Dorne Burdett, local resident.

“A thoroughly researched and engaging account of the development of GP services in Godmanchester and Huntingdon with anecdotes that make the actors come alive. I learned a lot and enjoyed reading it. I am sure it will be appreciated by many.” Dr Martin Becker, retired consultant paediatrician, Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

“A fascinating read. It was lovely to read the history of the surgery and the GPs.” Irena Hall, receptionist at the Charles Hicks Practice.

“Amazing how little the early doctors had to treat patients. Surgery with very little anaesthetic and few medicines. No wonder they had to rely so heavily on opiates!” Rosemary Smith, Patients’ Forum.

“Roger’s excellent research on the history and development of the surgeries of Huntingdon and Godmanchester is a fascinating narration of the medical history of our region and a welcome nod to our memories of the wonderful doctors, nurses and surgery staff who have selflessly given their time, knowledge and at times friendship over the years. For 47 years, they have looked after and cared for us during the day and in the middle of the night. It is a pleasure to be reminded of all of them. It is also very interesting to see the development of medicine and care, as time has passed. Thank you, Roger, for a good read, for refreshing my memory and reminding me of how lucky we are to have such a dedicated medical team taking care of us.” Macha Pumphrey, Patients’ Forum.

Interview

An interview with the author, Roger Merritt, is not yet recorded

Contact
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In Sickness and in Health’ is published by the Patients’ Forum of the Hicks Group Practice.

The price is £10 per copy

All Proceeds go towards additional resources and new equipment for patients at the Hicks Group surgeries in Godmanchester and Huntingdon.

To enquire or purchase your copy, please email: [email protected]