The following was written in 2007: however, subsequently more information has been found about our Leigh doctors and is available on request (editor)
In the mid-19th century, when this article about doctors in Leigh begins, a visit to the local doctor would normally only be undertaken when it was an emergency or after home cures or proprietary medicines had failed. The wife, mother or grandmother in the family would have had various herbal remedies passed down. In any case, a visit to the doctor cost money which could be difficult to afford for a working class or poor agricultural family, unless they had taken out the weekly doctor’s insurance.
The first Leigh doctor with whom we are concerned is Dr Charles Gregory, born in 1806 in Henfield in Sussex. The 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses show him living in Leigh Street or The Street (ie The High Street) and, although no house name is given, The Limes (now called Chilling House) seems his likely home and practice HQ. He is called Surgeon and General Practitioner LSA. His family consisted of a wife, Martha, one year younger than him and from Edenbridge – and a son, Charles Foster Gregory who had been born in Leigh in 1833. The son also became a doctor (MRSC and LSA) and lived with his parents and probably worked alongside his father. In both the 1851 and 1861 censuses, there was only one live-in servant girl, Harriott Jenner, aged 20 in 1851 and Caroline Walter aged 23 in 1861, but there would certainly have been other servants who lived in the village. So the two Dr Gregorys were certainly the village doctors for a minimum of 30 years between the early 1830s and the mid-1860s, and probably longer.
By the 1871 Census, Dr Croft Symons (and family) were living and presumably practising in an unnamed house in The Street, Leigh, again probably The Limes. However, by the 1881 Census, they had moved, so it seems likely that Dr Symons practised in Leigh at the most from 1869-1880, probably taking over from the two Dr Gregorys towards the end of the 1860s and possibly being succeeded by Dr Walter Hardin some time in the 1870s.
Dr Walter Hardin was born in 1839 in Woolwich. He married in Portsea, aged 35, some time between April and June 1874 but his wife died young and Dr Hardin was a widower when he lived and practised in Leigh. In the 1881 Census Dr Hardin was living at The Limes, The Street, Leigh with one servant Eliza Young, who had been born in Sevenoaks. Dr Hardin died in Chichester aged only 49 in early 1888, having practised as a doctor in Leigh probably for five to ten years until the early 1880s.
We now come to the doctors of whom there are first-hand memories. Dr Frank Fraser was born on 6 February in 1857 at Portsmouth. He came to Park House in 1881 to replace Dr Hardin and became one of its leading figures. By 1901, when the Leigh United Charities was formed, he was put on the Committee and became its Chairman because – as the Parish Council said – he knew everyone in the Parish. “We Had Everything …” covers what were clearly his numerous good qualities and wise counsels. His middle-class paying patients entered via the main drive and the front door and were seen in the sitting room. Patients who were on a penny a week insurance entered via the arched gate, near Porcupine House and went to the back door. However, everyone who has talked about him remembers his universal kindness, albeit hidden behind a demeanour which did not look upon with sympathy those he thought might be malingering or fussing.
Beau (Beaufort) Fraser, Frank Fraser’s second son, probably qualified as a doctor just before the First World War. He joined his father’s practice in Leigh at some stage between the Wars and was much respected as well as being admired for his dashing ways. He was said to visit some of his patients on horseback in full hunting pink and even to conduct some of his surgeries dressed for the hunt in order to make it clear to his patients he wished the consultation to be brief. He was said to have caught his spurs and fallen on the rather narrow staircase of a patient’s house next to the village shop in Hildenborough. He married an extremely rich Scottish heiress from the D C Thomson publishing family in Dundee (The Beano and The Dandy, etc) and the couple bought the Mountains Estate in Hildenborough – probably in the 1920s. There were a number of children. He had his surgery at Mountains where – as with his father – his private patients were seen in the sitting room and ‘ordinary’ or ‘panel patients’ were seen in the servants quarters.
However, in 1937 Beau Fraser ran off with his children’s nanny, and whether coincidentally or not, his father decided to retire and a few years later he moved to Devon, having served as Leigh doctor for over 48 years – clearly a marvellous man.
Parish Magazine Articles: Jan/Feb 2007: by Chris Rowley