In May 1837, Morpeth Town Council, then not much more than a year old, resolved to subscribe two guineas a year to the Dispensary, “the mayor to have the disposal of the tickets”.
If you were poor and sick, you had to seek out a subscriber and ask for a ticket. You took it to the Dispensary and were treated by the House Surgeon, unless he or she referred you to one of the voluntary doctors.
After 1915, however, the Dispensary could no longer afford its own doctor so patients went to one or other of the local GPs, presenting their ticket directly.
The late Jim Mackay told me about the Dispensary as it was in the 1930s and 40s.
“I remember,” he said, “when I was just a little laddie, people would come into the shop early in the morning. We used to open at 8am and somebody would come in.
“They would be poor people, ordinary working people, and they would ask my father for a chitty for the Dispensary. He would ask some pertinent questions, who was it? Oh yes, Mrs So and So, down the yard. He knew them all, and what's the matter with her? Maybe she had a pain on her chest or something, and he would write out a chitty.”
Committee meetings were still held in the Board Room, as well as the annual and other special meetings. Records and books of account were kept there, and the resident Housekeeper, Mrs Nicholson, looked after the building.
Mrs Nicholson died in March 1940 after 42 years’ service. At its April meeting, the Committee resolved to send a letter of condolence to the family, and that "Miss Nicholson be appointed Housekeeper in her mother’s place”.
Payments to GPs in 1940 were the same as they had been since 1927. Three local doctors received £30 for the quarter for 84 dispensary tickets returned. Miss Nicholson’s wages were £1 16s (she also got free accommodation), and 8/- to James Pape, the chimney sweep.
Donations were received of £1 10s from the Morpeth Carol Society, and £1 14s from the Good Friday services.
The Dispensary had been registered with the Charity Commission not long before, and this month the Committee approved the re-investment of almost £1,000 in 3½ per cent War Loan “on completion of the transfer of the Trust securities to the Official Trustees for Charitable Funds”.
The Hon. Secretary, Mr J.R. Mitchell, was a busy man. On April 15 he had a letter from the Rev Albert Bayly, of Kings Avenue, asking for help for two sad cases.
A poor woman with varicose veins needed elastic stockings: “Would the provision of these come within the scope of the Dispensary? If not can you suggest any other source through which she could obtain them?”
The other case was: “Family on the means test. A boy of 16 years ill. He had not been employed long enough to receive health benefit and the mother came for help to get things like Sanatogen, fruit and eggs. Very often this kind of thing is as much needed as medicines in the stricter sense.”
Three weeks later, Mr Jackson, of Brumell and Sample’s, wrote enclosing forms for the transfer of investments to the Official Trustees: £1,178 in LNER four per cent First Preference Stock, £1,178 in LNER four per cent Second Guaranteed Stock, and £650 in 3½ per cent War Stock.
“The remaining stocks,” Mr Jackson adds, “which were in the late Mr Schofield’s name, I am having transferred by his executors.”
The case of the War Stock shows how necessary this was. It was held in the name of Mr Mitchell, with the Rev Canon John Davies, Mr F.E. Schofield chemist, and Mr T. Matheson nurseryman — all of whom were dead.
On July 10 Mr Jackson sent a dividend warrant for 12/4 in respect of a holding in the 2½ per cent Consols from Mrs Grey Turner. The efficient Mr Jackson adds that there were two other holdings in the same stock, and wonders if the dividend might have gone directly to the bank.
The bedroom and sitting room, formerly the House Surgeon’s, had fallen vacant. It was now let to Miss Carey, sister-in-law to the late Dr McDowall, Medical Officer at the County Asylum, at a rent of 15/- a week. Some work was needed before she could move in to alter the fireplace, enamel the bath and provide a new carpet.
In the 19th century, the main source of income was subscriptions from the gentry and professionals. But in 1940 the subscriptions only came to £49 10s.
The Sunday Cinema Fund had given £14, Swinney’s workmen £17 2s 2d, the Linden Guild Fete (per the Misses Adamson of Linden Hall) £15, Morpeth Bowling Club (men) 10/-, and women £1 1s, Morpeth Carol Society £1 10s, St James’s Church £1, St George’s Presbyterian Church 15/6, and the United Free Church Services £3 4s 2d.
Surgeons’ fees for the year came to £120, drug accounts to £110 7s, and coal, light, rates, repairs, etc. to £41 18s 11d.
Moving the report, Mr E.C. Jackson, the Town Clerk, said: “Without doubt the continued good health of the town was due to the improved housing conditions of the working people and their removal to higher ground. In addition to this, the provision of open spaces round the houses had made a great difference to the children as well as the adults.”
In 1942, even more donations came in from social events: £4 3s 3d from a social run by the National Fire Service; £6 7s 6d from one run by Mrs Leighton; £10 from the ARP dance; 12/6 from a domino handicap at the Hope and Anchor; £25 from the Salvage Campaign; £8 5s 6d from a whist drive and dance run by the British Legion Women’s Branch, and £4 from the Special Constables.
At the AGM in February 1947, Mr Mitchell reported that 870 prescriptions had been issued in 1946, compared with 983 in 1945.
The LNER shares that the Dispensary held were preference stock. Although the railways were loss-makers, the dividend on preference stock was always paid, and four per cent was a good rate. They were nationalised on January 1, 1948, and at the AGM in February Mr Jackson reported that it had “greatly affected its income”. The new British Transport stock did not pay anything like so well.
Things went like this until July 5, 1948, when the National Health Service began. Suddenly, the Dispensary was no longer needed.
Acknowledgements: The artefacts belonging to Morpeth Dispensary are preserved at the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn. They were photographed by kind permission of the Trustees of Dispensary.
The Early Christian Landscape of the Wansbeck Valley, 48 pages, illustrated, is now on sale at Morpeth TIC, Newgate News and T&G Allan.