Vet John hangs up his stethoscope

Staff at the current Robson and Prescott veterinary practice in Morpeth, including John Prescott, far right,  and Sam Prescott, centre.
Staff at the current Robson and Prescott veterinary practice in Morpeth, including John Prescott, far right, and Sam Prescott, centre.

FROM cats and horses to lizards and parrots — a Morpeth vet has treated hundreds of animals for more than 40 years.

And he has seen his practice develop from the back room of a house to employ more than 50 people, with a potential move to a new site at Whorral Bank next year.

Now John Prescott is stepping down from his full-time role to keep a promise he made to retire a year after his 65th birthday.

But he will have plenty to keep him occupied at his farm in Longhorsley as he has one of the largest collections of exotic animals around and a prize-winning flock of sheep.

Mr Prescott started working at the Brown, Robson & Turner practice in the mid-1960s during his holidays while he was studying at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

He joined full-time in December 1967 and became a Partner three years later.

“It was very James Herriot stuff in those days,” said the 66-year-old.

“We were working in a back room of Geoff Brown’s house, The Retreat, along with a branch surgery in Ashington and we treated a lot of farm animals — when I joined there were 120 to 130 dairy farms registered with the practice.

“One Sunday a month I went down the pits to examine the pit ponies who would spend their whole lives down there until they retired.

“When you were on call, you had to be in reach of a telephone and with no mobiles in those days you couldn’t go away anywhere or even to the back garden. But despite the long hours I was happy because I was doing the job I loved.”

In 1982, when Geoff Brown retired, the business became Robson & Prescott and it moved to the present surgery in Staithes Lane.

Branches in Bedlington and Blyth had been established and shortly after the move in Morpeth, one was opened in Seaton Delaval.

With increasing numbers of people keeping companion pets such as cats and dogs, it became a mixed practice.

It is also well known in the region for treating reptiles, birds and zoo animals, which was developed through Mr Prescott and wife Shelagh having their own exotic collection.

“My interest in these animals built up a reputation by word of mouth and as well as customers coming along with them, I took referrals from other practices,” he said.

“On our farm we have camels, wallabies, llamas, emus, ornamental pheasants, tortoises, parrots and macaws among others, so there’s enough to keep me going when I’m not at the practice.

“We also have a flock of rare breed Wensleydale sheep which has been and continues to be very successful in competition.”

The Morpeth branch, known as The Veterinary Centre, was extended in 1999 and an equine unit in Clifton was opened three years ago.

Mr Prescott remembers being unable to get to The Retreat when the Cotting Burn flooded in 1968 and in September 2008 he was in the thick of the action when the Staithes Lane premises were hit during the town’s worst flood on record.

A one-eyed dog, an owl parrot, tortoises and snapping turtles were among the animals which had to be rescued.

Castle Morpeth Council allowed staff to work from portable cabins for nine months while the building was refurbished.

Now the practice could be moving as it has submitted a planning application for new premises at Northumberland County Council’s former salt depot in Whorral Bank.

The proposed new surgery would be more than twice the size of the present one, housing a farm animal and equine wing, as well as larger facilities for small animals. There would also be extensive parking for cars, wagons and horseboxes.

With Mr Prescott retiring from the partnership to become a part-time consultant, the remaining partners — Jane Barwick-Nesbit, Sally Booth and his son Sam Prescott — will form a new company, Robson and Prescott Ltd.

They will be joined by Chris Green, who has been a vet at the practice for seven years, as a co-director.

John said: “I didn’t want to go on the weekend and night rota any more and I always said I would step down a year after my 65th birthday.

“The vets working here are very enthusiastic and highly skilled and if the new premises are approved they will be the jewel in the crown.”

Sam said: “There’s not many cases which come in that my dad hasn’t seen before so although we are going to miss him a lot, his extensive knowledge will be very valuable to us as a consultant.

“The potential new facilities are absolutely superb and we would be able to provide state-of-the-art small, equine and large animal facilities all on one site.”