Dr Ernest BERKLEY

One of our more colourful GPs in the 1930s was Dr Berkley. His two sons, Nigel and Roger, having read “We Had Everything …” came separately to talk about the father they remembered.

Ernest Albert Rochester Berkley, was born on 24 June 1903. To sum him up, both brothers would agree that he was “a fairly exotic character”.

He had studied at Guys Hospital and it was while he was there that he met his future wife, Sylvia Beryl Mary Crowley, who came from a good Quaker family. After qualifying as a GP and as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1931, his first job was as a GP at Liskeard in Cornwall. However, neither of the brothers are sure how their father came to work in Leigh in 1933. It might have been that he knew Beaufort Fraser. Perhaps “Beau” had been at Guys with him.

Dr Berkley and Sylvia’s first son, Nigel, was born in Cornwall in 1933. Roger was born in Leigh in 1937 and Beau Fraser was his godfather, “although I don’t remember ever meeting him: my mother used to speak of him in hushed tones; and whenever I asked about him, she would never say anything.”

Dr Berkley did not build Applegarth as it says in “We Had Everything …”. “He would never have had the money anyway. But it was built as a doctor’s house in 1933 before the family arrived in Leigh, complete with the surgery round the side, perhaps by Dr Frank Fraser maybe with Beaufort”.

Dr Berkley loved uniforms. “We Had Everything …” mentions how he joined the Leigh Fire Brigade, initially under Herbert Russell, and how he had a silver helmet when everyone else had a brass one. This was typical of him. He was also keen on the cricket club and became Captain. He never went hunting and did not join in with any of the local shoots.

“We Had Everything …” also mentions that people remembered him in a white Rolls Royce. The brothers differ on this. Roger was initially fairly sure that the car was not his. “He probably borrowed it from Beau who did have a Rolls or maybe the people you talked with were really thinking of Beaufort”. However, Nigel, does have an indistinct childhood memory of the car and has recently found a photograph which shows part of a long white open car outside Applegarth with the family sitting on the running board.

On the medical side, Nigel has a number of memories of how his father’s practice worked. There were regular surgery hours. Sometimes people booked in advance but more often they trooped down the drive and wanted to be seen. If it was an emergency, people would ring up – “Mother seemed always to have to answer the phone all her life” – or, because lots of people did not have phones in those days, someone would rush round and ask the Doctor to come quickly. Because Dr Berkley was a surgeon as well as a GP, he was able to deal with broken arms or legs or quite serious injuries himself. And he always went to births with the local midwife. He would normally drive to emergency calls in his grey Flying Standard 8 with a hood and a Union Jack emblem on the front.

If an injury was really serious, patients would be sent to the Kent & Sussex Hospital which had just been built. The ambulances in those days had a big silver bell on the front but there were not many of them and they were not on call on a full-time basis. Patients normally had to get to hospital under their own steam.

Doctors prescribed their own medicines and Dr Berkley kept own remedies in the surgery. He did not like paperwork – neither did his wife – and patients were expected to pay as they left. Only occasionally was a brace of pheasants or a rabbit offered as payment – although presents of this type including elderflower or other types of country wine did arrive at Christmas. There was also a Doctor’s Fund where villagers paid in a weekly amount. Neither brother can definitely remember who organized it but think it could have been the Vicar, Mr Sealy, or his wife: it was certainly not their mother or father. There was also the Village Nurse to help with minor problems, although in the main most households were meant to deal with minor ailments themselves – using medicines such as Vick or Germoline or Friar’s Balsam.

Dr Berkley had enrolled in the Territorial Army and the day after War was declared he was off. Not much was heard of his army experiences, but it was clear that he “had had a good war”. He spent time in North Africa and was in charge of a field hospital including one just behind the lines at Alamain; he went to Iraq, then India and Burma.

He returned to Leigh in April 1945 to discuss the possibility of rejoining the practice with Dr Stanley Davidson who had taken over the practice during the war. But he had been offered another job with the Army and became a Medical Registrar at the Millbank Hospital.

In the summer of 1948 the whole family moved to Great Whitley in Worcestershire. By then Dr Berkley was a GP again. The NHS had just started. He only once talked about his salary to his sons. He had been against the whole idea of the NHS – like the BMA. But he said he was now getting £2,000 a year which was considered a very good salary. To celebrate he went off to town and ordered four suits at £50 each. The new NHS had another great advantage – certainly as far as Dr Berkley was concerned. GPs did not have to send out bills or collect the money – which could be difficult on some occasions.

In August 1968 Dr Berkley had a stroke, which left him semi-paralyzed down the right side and with a calliper on his right leg. He was ill for eleven years before he died in July 1979.

Parish Magazine Articles: Jan/Feb 2008: by Nigel and Roger Berkley (edited by Chris Rowley)

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