Abel Rooker, surgeon in Darlaston (1787-1867) Part 1

Among the Darlaston Poor Law vouchers are detailed bills submitted by the surgeon Abel Rooker. Unlike those for parishes previously worked on, these give much more precise information on what Mr Rooker was supplying in terms of treatments and medicines. Surgeons from earlier parishes in the project generally were retained for a fixed half-yearly fee and then sought additional re-imbursement for lengthy involvements or unusual items. Mr Rooker does not appear to receive an agreed retainer until somewhat later (certainly by 1822).

When undertaking biographical research into individuals of interest who emerge from this project it is surprising where this leads. In the case of Abel Rooker this proved to involve 18th century developments in the non-conformist tradition that became Congregationalism and links between Walsall and Bridport in Dorset, an attempted murder in Lower Gornal and female chit-chat between Charlotte Bronte and her friend Ellen Nussey.

Abel Rooker was born in Walsall on 18 October 1787, the son of James and Mary Rooker and baptised in the independent chapel in Walsall on 20 Feb 1788. He developed his skills under the Walsall surgeon Francis Watkin Weaver, who paid apprentice tax for Abel on 26 January 1803, when Abel would have been 16 years old.  Abel went on to marry Susanna Brevitt, the daughter of a Darlaston butcher, Thomas Brevitt and his wife Sarah, by licence at Darlaston St Lawrence church on 9 May 1811. Even if Abel had retained his parents’ non-conformist views the marriage would have had to take place in an Anglican church in this period before civil registration was introduced in 1837. Susanna was only 20 years old when they married.

Abel and Susanna had 4 children (James Yates Rooker, Harriet Mary Rooker, William Yates Rooker and Susanna Rooker) before they produced a son Abel who died as a baby (he was buried on 1 September 1818). Sadly Susanna had already passed away on 23 June that year. It is distressing to realise that at the time that Abel was ministering to the medical needs of the Darlaston poor, his skills could not save his own wife and son. It is interesting that Abel sought letters of administration on his wife’s estate on 5 Sep 1818. At this period, a wife’s property was considered to belong automatically at marriage to her husband.

Abel married again in 1821, by licence, on 22 May at Handsworth. His bride was Frances Fletcher, a glass maker’s daughter from Wednesbury, with whom he had 6 children (Maria, William, Ann Alice, Abel, John and Thomas Fletcher).

Frances died on 5 October 1853 and again Abel sought letters of administration in order to deal with his wife’s estate.  He retired as surgeon on 1 Oct 1854 when his partnership with Thomas William was dissolved. Abel then moved to live in Lower Gornal and the 1861 census shows him living in Church Street with his unmarried daughter Ann Alice. He died in Lower Gornal on 18 April 1867 and two of his sons acted as executors of his will (probate granted at Lichfield on 13 June 1867).



Baptismal, marriage, death, apprenticeship, census and probate information accessed at Ancestry www.ancestry.co.uk/ and Find my Past www.findmypast.co.uk/

Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser, 4 October 1854


The Mystery Man – Thomas Woolgar

We don’t know a great deal about Thomas Woolgar, we don’t know exactly when or where he was born or when and where he died, but what we do know is that he was living somewhere in the village of East Hoathly in the county of Sussex during the year of our Lord 1775 when the surgeon Mr Nathaniel Paine amputated his leg.

At this time East Hoathly was a village of approximately 395 souls in the east of the county supported by a largely agricultural economy and the occasional patronage of the Pelham-Holles family from their estate at Halland.

There is not much detailed documentation about the effects on local families of failed harvests in 1773 and 1778 or the outbreak of Smallpox early in 1774 that led to the death of 12 persons buried in the Lewes parish of St John sub Castro, Lewes. But we do know that the proprietor of the small store in East Hoathly, Thomas Turner and his wife, who already had four healthy living children and a relatively comfortable lifestyle, suffered the deaths of three male children in 1774, 1775 and 1776.

It may be surmised that these were not the most healthy of times and for Thomas Woolgar to have survived life threatening surgery without any of the advantages of modern medicine and hygiene, is possibly not just due to the skill of the surgeon but an indication of his underlying robust constitution as well as the pre and post- operative care he was given. Some of the parish receipts identify Thomas as ‘Master’ Woolgar which suggests he also had youth on his side in making recovery from the operation.

It is documented that the parish shared the expenses of the amputation and Thomas’s subsequent care with the Lewes parish of St John sub Castro. This was an unusual arrangement since the costs of medical care usually fell on the patient’s parish of legal settlement. Perhaps the amputation was the result of an accident that occurred during Thomas’s employment in East Hoathly. Whatever the reason no clue was left in the parish records as to the reason for these shared expenses.

Thomas’s on-going care was undertaken in East Hoathly including subsequent dressings of the wound and medicines. He was also provided with wine and ‘liquor’– no doubt to help with pain relief. The aptly named surgeon Mr Paine, who also lived in the village, checked on Thomas’s progress and dressed the wound on at least one occasion.

Amputation. T. Rowlandson 1793. Wellcome Library no. 11636i

Exactly when the operation took place is not recorded but the surgeon’s itemised bill , including the professional fee of three Guineas for the amputation itself, medicines, treatments, indicates that 13 April 1775 was the likely date.

Where Thomas was living in the village is not clear but interestingly parish relief appears to have been available to Thomas from an earlier date. On 7 January 1775 he received a generous quantity of ‘liquer’ from Thomas Turner’s general store and 2 ‘rollers’ – bandages  often used to immobilise injured body parts e.g. sprains, torn muscles; a sponge and ‘rags’ which were probably strips of cloth which could also be used for binding an injured limb. From then on there was a regular  supply of fuel , food , drink and household items  for Thomas that comprehensively addressed his personal care needs suggestive of a man who had precipitously become unable to provide for himself and had quite possibly suffered a serious injury to a limb which required significant pain relief.

Throughout January, February and March he is supplied with the ingredients of a high protein diet including some of the more expensive cuts of mutton, beef, veal, butter, sugar, oatmeal, rice, nuts, cheese, condiments. Vegetables, eggs and milk would no doubt have been available to him from the village farms.

Thomas’ hygiene appears to have been an ongoing priority and he is provided with copious supplies of soap and candles. It is not however until April 13 that there is a clear indication that surgery has been undertaken and dressings, medicines and treatment are all billed by the surgeon. At this point Thomas Turner provides Thomas Woolgar with a rented bedpan and candlestick and the quantity of candles is increased, no doubt to ensure there is enough light to properly wash and dress Thomas’ wound.

On 19 April James Marchant is paid 4 shillings for having shaved Thomas on eight occasions. The last Overseers’ receipt paid on behalf of Thomas is dated 21 April 1775 and is for the attendance and services provided by the surgeon, Mr Nathaniel Paine.

Financially the parish supported Thomas throughout these first three months of 1775 providing cash, goods and services, costing a total of £28.2s. At today’s prices this approximates to £4,600 suggesting that East Hoathly was a parish with a settled community who could afford to take its responsibilities for relief of the poor quite seriously and in Thomas’ case they did not stint.[1]

Thomas Woolgar then, sadly, disappears from the records as mysteriously as he arrived. His name is not unequivocally identified in the parish registers of East Hoathly or St John sub-Castro as having been born, baptised, married, or buried.

Only our imagination and a tiny bit of circumstantial evidence can help us at this point.

  • Being optimistic and assuming that Thomas made continued recovery, there is record of a Thomas Woolgar being apprenticed to a Mr John Cave, Mercer in the nearby village of Fletching in 1777.

However, I can’t imagine that a young man who had suffered a catastrophic injury, in all likelihood whilst working the land, would recover sufficiently in two years to enter the rather ‘genteel’ trade in fine cloth, silks and linens and there is no record of him having any claim to residence in Fletching.

  • In the parish registers of St. John sub Castro there is entry of a Thomas Woolgar and his wife Alice having two children, Charlotte born 22 March 1757 and Charles born 16 October 1758, who were both baptised at the church by a Mr Lepla on 6 May 1759. If this Thomas Woolgar is our mystery man, and assuming he was about twenty-five years old when his daughter was born, he would have been about forty-three years old in 1775 when the accident, or infection that necessitated his leg being amputated had occurred.

I think it unlikely this is our Thomas. I can’t think what he might have been doing living in East Hoathly, separated from his wife and children at age 43 and probably working the land when he suffered the serious accident eventually necessitating amputation of his leg. Additionally, there is no mention of parish support to his family.

  • There is an entry of a burial at the Church of St. John sub-Castro on 16 August 1786 “Woolgar Poorman” If this is our Thomas he has survived a further 11 years after surgery. Of the three mentions, this seems the most possible. However, lots of questions arise .What could have happened to Thomas in the intervening eleven years; if he continued to need support, who gave that; where did he live; if this is our Thomas why is the entry in just his family name when the parish had previously shared the costs for his care and would have known him as Thomas.

I personally am very unsure that any of these mentions relate to the circumstances for our Thomas.

Perhaps he will have to remain our Mystery Man. Written and researched by Jean Irvin

[1] calculator derived from CPI of Office of National Statistics

George Graham. Surgeon, Brampton. 1783-1847


George Graham was a surgeon in Brampton. During his working life he encountered both the poor and the non-poor. His name appears on voucher PR60/21/13/5 which relates predominantly to child deliveries with fees ranging from 15s to £1.5s. As one item on the bill relates to the Workhouse it is assumed that the mothers were poor.[1] The mothers are referred to by the prefix ‘Miss’ and a surname. One is simply referred to as ‘a pauper in Brampton’. Excepting a Miss Robb or Ross and the pauper however, it is possible to determine who some of those concerned are.

Cumbria Archives Service, PR60/21/13/5, Brampton Overseers’ Voucher, Dr Graham, 22 Mar. 1816

Four have been identified: Robert, illegitimate son of Margaret Dobson 11 March 1814, Forrest Head. Ann, illegitimate daughter of Ann Atkinson, spinster, 5 May 1815, Brampton; George, illegitimate son of Sarah Taylor, weaver, 5 November 1815 Brampton; and Margaret, illegitimate daughter of Margaret Wallace, 12 January 1816, Brampton.

From parish registers, four have been identified: Robert, illegitimate son of Margaret Dobson, 11 March 1814, Forrest Head; Ann, illegitimate daughter of Ann Atkinson, spinster, 5 May 1815, Brampton; George, illegitimate son of Sarah Taylor, weaver, 5 November 1815, Brampton; and Margaret, illegitimate daughter of Margaret Wallace, 12 January 1816, Brampton.[2]

Other vouchers bearing Dr Graham’s name are for medication but it is not clear who they are for. Medicines include, Cream Tartar 4d, Cordial Mixture 3s, Diuretic Mixture 3s, Bronchial Mixture 3s, Opening Powder 6d, and Tonic Powders 5s. Although the precise ingredients are not stipulated, Dr T J Graham’s Modern Domestic Medicine (1837) may give some idea as to the ingredients used.[3]

Dr Graham was born at Bankhead, Canonbie, Dumfriesshire on 15 October 1783 in the Esk Basin. This was once known as the ‘Debatable Land’ between England and Scotland where the Graham, Armstrong, Bell and Elliot families administered the law. George Graham had five siblings: three sisters Sarah (1777-1862), Janet (1778-1841) Margaret or Peggy (1786-1836), and brothers William (1781- 1849) and John (1789- 1838). Sarah married farmer Richard Johnstone (1773-1873) and Janet also married a farmer, John Hope (1779 -1866). [4] George’s parents Peter Graham (1740-1825) and Ann Nichol (1747-1831) left the farm at Bankhead around 1790 and moved the short distance to Cubbyhill near Longtown.[5] George became a Surgeon, John became a silk mercer in London, and William took over the farm.

Dr Graham gained his Surgical Diploma in Edinburgh and began practice initially in Longtown Cumberland aged 23. His name is amongst those balloted for the Militia but he did not serve, a substitute took his place[6]

Working Life
Dr Graham began practice in Brampton in 1811. His name can be found in the 1829 trade directory at Market Place. [7] He was one of three surgeons in Brampton; the others being T. Gilbanks, H. Dobson and W. Fleming. In 1834 he was joined by an assistant William Armstrong (1812-1886), also born in Canonbie. Dr Graham purchased a property in Market Place in the centre of Brampton for £400 in 1836 and began a Doctors’ Partnership with Dr Armstrong in 1839. [8] They can be both found on the 1841 Census at Front Street, Brampton. They were joined in the practice by John Graham(1820-1893) George Graham’s nephew, one of his brother William’s 12 children. John Graham continued in the practice till 1861 when he sold up to leave for London along with his wife.[9] William Armstrong continued to be involved in Brampton affairs, becoming Justice of the Peace for Cumberland and Chairman of the Brampton Poor Relief Fund in 1878. He died at Garden Terrace, Brampton, 5 August 1886.[10]


Brampton Stocks, 2019

Some of Dr Graham’s work involved the administration of justice. Local newspapers give an insight into what is hoped were the less common events in his working life. In 1836 he ordered the release of a Jwhonnie Steeson (sic) from his punishment in the stocks Market Place, Brampton. The event was recalled by local poet Peter Burn (1831- 1902).[11] In 1841 at the trial of Jane Hogg and her mother Mary Hogg for the murder of Jane’s newborn child, Dr Graham gave evidence. Jane and Mary Hogg were both found guilty but the death sentence was commuted. The Jury asked for leniency for Jane. Lord Chief Justice Denman said of her mother Mary if I were perfectly convinced that she had destroyed the child for the purpose of saving the expense of keeping it … I should have no choice but to leave her to the executioner’. [12] He felt that all the facts were not known. Jane was given a life sentence, Mary was transported on 2 May 1842 to Van Diemen’s Land never to return.[13]

All three doctors were together two years before Dr George Graham’s death at the celebration of the Earl of Carlisle’s birthday at the Howard Arms, Brampton.[14]

Doctor Graham’s death is reported in the Carlisle Patriot, 2 July 1847:At Brampton on the 26th ult George Graham Esq surgeon aged 63 much respected by a wide circle of acquaintances‘. [15] He was buried at Lanercost, two miles from Brampton.[16]

This is a work in progress and subject to change with new research

[1] Cumbria Archives, PR60/21/13/5, Brampton Overseers’ Vouchers, 22 March 1816
[2] Cumbria Archives, PR60/7, Brampton, St Martin’s Parish. Register of Baptisms, 1813-1835
[3] Thomas J. Graham, Modern Domestic Medicine. A popular treatise illustrating the symptoms, causes and distinction and correct treatment of the diseases incident to the human frame; embracing the modern improvement in medicine (7th edn., 1837), https;// books.google.co.uk, accessed 14 Mar. 2019.
[4] www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, accessed 14 Mar. 2019.
[5] Dumfries and Galloway Family History Society, Canonbie Parish Church Monumental Inscriptions (2006).
6] Cumbria Archives, Q/MIL. Militia Liable Books, 1690-1831, (1806-1812)
[7] W. Parson and W. White. Directory and Gazetteer Cumberland and Westmorland (1829).
[8] Cumbria Archives, DCART/B/2/19/2, Deeds and Probates re: Clarke’s property in Market Street[Place] purchased by George Graham Surgeon of Brampton (B1); Carlisle Patriot, 10 November 1838; Carlisle Journal, 12 April 1843; Carlisle Patriot, 13 August 1856
[9] Carlisle Journal, 11 January 1861
[10] Carlisle Journal, 10 August 1886
[11] Carlisle Journal, 20 January 1893
[12] Carlisle Journal, 7 August 1841
[13] www. convictrecords.com.au, accessed 14 Mar. 2019.
[14] Carlisle Journal 20, September 1845
[15] Carlisle Patriot, 2 July 1847
[16] Cumbria Archives, Carlisle, PR 121/9, Lanercost, St Mary Magdalene Parish Burial Register, 1813-1870

Senna and Prunes for Dame Trill

When parishes agreed to meet the costs of medicines for the parish poor, they might require medical practitioners to submit an itemised bill for the raw materials, procedures and travel involved in delivering treatment.  Many of the items were commonly known to contemporaries, but are less familiar to us: therefore when writers abbreviated entries for repeated supplies, they stored up a problem for twenty-first century readers.  It is notoriously difficult (and perhaps unwise) to try to decipher the abbreviated Latin prescriptions of physicians.  It is a little easier to understand the medical interventions involved when the original language was English, and/or the substances remain part of formal or informal treatments.

Eighteenth-century woman perched on public convenience.
National Portrait Gallery. ‘National Conveniences’, James Gillray, 1796. NPG D13021.

Dame Trill from East Hoathly had a problem we can recognise – she was constipated.  We do not know the background to her story; she may have suffered a dietary deficiency of roughage or, if struggling with piles, she might have found relief in additional stool softener.  Whatever the cause, the problem was stubborn.  The parish bought senna and prunes for Dame Trill repeatedly 1770-4, usually at a cost of six and a half pence per treatment.  Raisins were sometimes offered as an alternative to prunes.

Other treatments issued to the sick poor were more general.  The purpose of diuretic balsam is made clear in the name, in that it was designed to remedy the retention of urine, but the specific diagnosis is less easy to divine.  Medicines for the poor at this date still relied on humoural understandings of the body for their rationale.  Humoural medicine construed ill health as the imbalance of humours or fluids within the body.  The four humours of blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile had a unique blend or balance for each individual, and the restoration of health demanded the removal of any humour that was overly prevalent.  For this reason vomits, purges, diuretics and bleeding were among the most frequently used medicines throughout the eighteenth century.

In addition to generic remedies there was a willingness by parishes to pay for the equivalent of brand-name medicines, known at the time as patent medicines.  Widow Cane of East Hoathly was given Hooper’s Pills in 1773.  The patent for this medicine was first issued in 1743  and was one of the most successful and long-lasting products of its type, being sold well into the twentieth century in England and elsewhere.  It pledged to tackle female ‘irregularities’ and so was assumed by some customers to be a viable solution to an unwanted pregnancy.  It is important to say, though, that we don’t automatically suppose that this was the purpose of the parish in buying the pills for Widow Cane!  This medicine also offered to treat stomach problems, hysteria, and menstrual concerns: perhaps Widow Cane was menopausal?

Lists of medicines and treatments for the parish poor have presented a problem to historians thus far: how are we to use them, if we cannot work out the ingredients of items listed simply as pills, powders or mixtures, and if the recipients are not always obvious?  This is one of the problems this project is hoping to address.  Do get in touch with the project team if you have any ideas about how we might use these intriguing vouchers to ask historical questions.