Aysgarth Doctors And Surgery-Down The Years

The Aysgarth Practice came into being round about 1860.
Previously the Doctor for the entire Wensleydale area was located at West Burton.
In the 1850s the practice was owned by a Dr. J.Irving from Scotland.
Before residing at West Burton he practiced at Grassington.

The 1851 census names John Irving as a surgeon, age 55 and living in West Burton, born in Kirkpatrick, Dumfriesshire

Dr. Irving was a heavy drinker and on several ocasions had been involved with the local police at West Burton for being drunk and disorderly.
It is said that Dr. John Irving was in fact the last person to be publicly humiliated in the village stocks for being found in a drunken stupor.

Matthew Willis MD Edinburgh






Matthew was born in Aysgarth on 1st January 1828. His parents were Matthew Willis of Low Gill and Alice Simpson of Aysgarth who had married at Aysgarth on 24th December 1823. Matthew senior was a grocer and draper in the village.

When the 1851 census was taken, Matthew was lodging at 34 Clerk Street in Edinburgh, the home of James Anderson a journeyman printer. He was described as a medical student. (Today this address appears to be a kebab house – not perhaps the most fitting memorial for a medical man.)

It is not clear when Matthew took up his duties in Aysgarth. It is known that in July 1857 he certified the death from typhoid fever of 66-year-old agricultural labourer John Pearson of Aysgarth. If there are any genealogists who possess copies of death certificates dated earlier than this on which Dr Willis’s name appears, we should be interested to hear from you.

Dr Willis died at the age of 43 after contracting Tuberculosis.
He collapsed while out riding and was taken home to his bed. He never got up again.

Stained glass window in Aysgarth Church dedicated to Dr. Matthew Willis

Taken from a plaque in St Andrews Parish Church Aysgarth

“Matthew Willis MD Died at Aysgarth
February 5th 1871 aged 43 years.

He was the first doctor to reside at Aysgarth and was an incredibly intelligent and gifted man much loved by all.

He was a skillful and distinguished member
of his profession and kind to all especially the poor.
His numerous friends in grateful remembrance
of his services have dedicated this window
as a token of esteem and tribute to his memory”

Part of an inscription on a gravestone in St Andrew’s churchyard reads

In beloved memory of Matthew Willis of Aysgarth who died June 2 1870 aged 69 years and of Alice his wife who died December 31 1845 aged 49 years also of their son Matthew Willis MD who died February 5 1871 aged 43 years

1871 Richard Laycock Routh

Matthew Willis was succeeded as Aysgarth doctor by Richard Laycock Routh who took up the post in 1871. Richard was 24 and the son of Richard Routh, the first headmaster of Sibford School in Oxfordshire, established in 1842 as a co-educational boarding school for the children of Quaker families. Like Matthew, Richard had strong local connections – his father was born in Aysgarth and in 1841 had been farming at Grange in Low Abbotside.

Richard left Aysgarth in 1873 and must have spent some time in Liverpool because it was there that he married Anne Swainson from West Burton in 1876. Anne was the daughter of Robert Swainson who, like his father before him, worked as a blacksmith in Aysgarth.

By 1881 Richard and Anne had moved to Richard’s home village of Sibford Ferris, where the 1881 census described him as Physician and Surgeon in General Practice. Also in the village was Richard’s father Richard who had only ceased to be headmaster of Sibford School the previous year. He was now a farmer of 163 acres employing 6 men and a boy. He died the following year.

Richard’s wife Anne died in 1894 aged 42. They do not appear to have had any children. Richard was still a local doctor in 1901 and in 1904 was appointed president of the Sibford Old Scholars Assocation.
Richard Routh died in 1917 aged 70

1871 census

  • PARKE Thomas M /Head/ W/ 59 /Surgeon /Yorks/ Askrigg
  • PARKE John/ son/ U/ 27/ Surgeons assist/ Yorks/ Askrigg
  • PARKE Elizabeth / dau/ U/ 25/ Housekeeper /Yorks /Askrigg
  • PARKE Anne /dau/ U /19/ housekeeper asist /Yorks/ Askrigg

1873 Dr. Alfred Baker M.R.C.S. L.R.C.P.

  • Dr Baker aged 24 is the Officer of Health for the Aysgarth Union Workhouse and resides in Askrigg.

When the 1871 census was taken Alfred Baker was staying at the residence of Dr Routh. He was described as a “visitor”.

When Dr Richard Laycock Routh at Aysgarth leaves, Dr Baker moves from the doctors house at Askrigg and takes over the Aysgarth practice.
Dr Baker thought Aysgarth rather than Askrigg would be the better location to run a rural practice from.



The doctors House at Askrigg

The house in the centre of the photograph next to the temperance hall, (now demolished and replaced by the village shop) was where doctor Baker first lived and practiced from.

In 1881, it was Dr Baker who had a “visitor”, James King from London, but the description of his occupation as Assistant Surgeon makes clear what his position was.

In the 1891 census, Richard Hugo from Cork was identified as Dr Baker’s medical assistant and ten years later it was 25-year-old Edward Hime from Sheffield who had this role.

  • In 1889 Dr Baker moved to a new house in Aysgarth with a doctor’s surgery
    attached built by Squire Tomlinson.
  • Dr. Baker dies in 1903 from dropsy aged 55 and Dr. Hime replaces him.

It is recorded that when on his death bed he was asked if he wanted the vicar.
In reply he said “No! I only deal with the head of the firm”

Dr Baker was hugely resposible for the erection of the village Institute at Aysgarth. Despite great opposition he fought for the Institute and gave fifty guineas towards the costs, practically all the money he had.

A plaque was placed in the entrance which said:
“In memory of Alfred Baker, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. Born February 18th 1848, died February 7th 1903, who resided at Aysgarth for upwards of thirty years. He was an active supporter of the movement for providing a new Reading Room in the village and a generous subscriber to the building fund. The balance of the money raised by public subscription to provide a suitable memorial to him was paid by the trustees towards the expenses of erecting this Institute.”

Taken from a plaque in St Andrews Parish Church Aysgarth.
In Memory of Alfred Baker M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. Surgeon, Major, 1st Vr B P W O Yorkshire Regiment.
Born 18th February 1848 and died 7th February 1903.
An honorable member of his profession and highly esteemed in the district.

This tablet was errected by his personal friends and by his brother officers.

Dr. Edward Hime 1903

Dr. Edward Maurice Hime M.B., Ch. B. Vict surgeon & medical officer & public vaccinator, Askrigg district, medical officer to the workhouse, Aysgarth Union, & medical officer of health to Aysgarth Rural District Council.

Not long after his arrival Dr. Hime bought out the practice at West Burton (1904).

Dr Dean Dunbar came in 1909

Just imagine a doctor today turning up on the doorstep looking like this! (Hardy breed).

Dr William Norman Pickles 1913

Dr Pickles arrives in Wensleydale. At this time, all three doctors lived in the house at Aysgarth that Dr. Baker had built.
None of the doctors was married.

Quite soon after arriving back in Wensleydale, Will Pickles is offered the chance to buy the Aysgarth practice with his partner Dean Dunbar.

Dr. Hime leaves Wensleydale and sells the practice at Aysgarth to Dr. Will Pickles and Dr Dean Dunbar for £3000.

In 1917 he married Gerturde Adelaide, daughter of Harry Tunstill, a wealthy mill owner from Burnley.

Dr William Pickles (1885 – 1969), was the first president of the Royal College of General Practitioners. He practised at Aysgarth for 53 years and wrote Epidemiology in a country practice.

Doctor Pickles from the Aysgarth surgery became the Medical Officer for Health at Bainbridge workhouse. He  remained in this position until the National Health Service Act came into being in 1948.

The Annual salary paid for this position in 1947 was £40 per annum.

Madge Blades dispenser extraordinaire

In 1925 Ralph Blade’s daughter Madge (who was born at the Mill farm in 1890), became dispenser to the Aysgarth practice and occupied a singularly important place in it for more than 40 years.








In the First World War she nursed as a V.A.D. in a Leeds hospital and would have dearly liked to continue nursing as a career. After the war however, family reasons compelled her to return to Aysgarth. Her desire to lead a useful and practical life was satisfied, at least to some extent, when she became dispenser to the practice.

Will was very thorough in training her, and in addition to teaching her meticulously about the nature of the remedies to be prescribed and their measurement, he took great trouble in showing her how to put the pleat in the white paper wrapper round the bottle and to apply sealing wax neatly.

Madge gradually assumed other duties besides dispensing. She would get out the panel cards on which the doctors recorded consultations, diagnoses and treatment, and later on she mastered the little telephone exchange that was set up in the dispensary.

The telephone system was quite a complicated arrangement as there were connections with Dr. Pickles’ house, with the other partners’ house, with Madge’s house and with the George and Dragon, where the locums always stayed. One of the first duties of a new locum was to master this instrument, and he often ended up by just learning how to telephone Madge.
Having pushed the right lever up and held another down, while turning the handle at the side, he breathed a sigh of relief as the flicker went down and Madge’s voice was heard speaking from her house down in the field a hundred-yards away. Yes, she would come up and get through to the hospital at Northallerton, or she would telephone theambulance, or she would inform the locum that the adrenalin was on the right-hand side of the third shelf down.

Whatever the question she was never at a loss. Like the computer she could store a mass of information, but unlike it, she could retrieve it flavoured with dry Yorkshire wit.

After her father died in 1938, she took over the task of keeping the accounts and collecting unpaid fees.

She walked, or took a bus where possible, up and down the dale as she never managed to learn to ride a bicycle.
She acquired in this way a most intimate knowledge of where the three thousand patients lived, their histories, their characters and their family relationships. This is no mean task in isolated villages where almost the whole community appears to be kith and kin.

Madge was also the organist at Aysgarth Parish Church for nearly 60 years.

Excerpts from Will Pickles of Wensleydale.

  • Does anyone out there have any photographs of Madge?

Many thanks to Elaine Ewbank of Marsett for the photograph.

Stan and Dr Will Pickles – A little Story by Stan Brook of West Burton

Dr. Will Pickles was the doctor from the Aysgarth surgery during
the Influenza Epidemic of 1933 

Stan and Topper









 ! was sat out on the flags in West Burton with my arm around my dog, Topper, when Dr Pickles pulled up in his car and said “Stanley, can you do a little job for me. Can you walk over to the surgery at Aysgarth and bring some medicines back. I said “yes I could” and away he went.

My mother said “when you go, go by the fields and see if you can find a rabbit in the walls”. That I did but I didn’t find a rabbit.

I got to the surgery and Madge the dispenser put all this medicine into a foot square box that had been used for carrying bottles. She took out all the compartments and filled it with medicines. She tied it all up with string and made a string handle for me

To get over the styles I put the boxes on the bottom flag, climbed over the style

and then hauled them through at the bottom. It wasn’t so much as I couldn’t lift them as that I was frightened in case I dropped them

I would sit down for a bit, have a talk to the dog and then carry on again.

I was a bit annoyed with the dog as he was usually a daddio at picking up rabbits in the wall backs but this time he didn’t catch anything.

The string had cut my hand even though Madge had wrapped the string with corrugated cardboard.

I met my father on his way home from work and he said “”where have you fetched that lot from Stanley”” I said “”the doctors”” and he said “”nivver””. He couldn’t believe I had carried them all that way.

This was in the 1930s when I was only 13 years old.

Most of my friends contracted the flu and respiratory complications but I was lucky and didn’t catch anything. Fortunately no one actually died during the outbreak. by Stan Brook (in a new window)

  Dr Pickles dispensary






  Dr. Pickles surgery










One of Dr. Pickles’ patients (Eleanor Scarr) as a young girl remembers him as a man who wore a ginger suit and wrote very carefully in a little note book.

Dr. Pickles died in 1969 at the grand age of 84 and is buried in Aysgarth churchyard
A plaque commemorating his life reads:
William Norman Pickles CBE MD
General Practitioner in the dale for over 50 years and and
epidemiologist of wide reknown.

  • Epidemiology in Country Practice by W.N. Pickles

Monumental Inscription Aysgarth Churchyard

William Norman Pickles born 6 March 1885 died 2 March 1969 for over 50 years a doctor in this dale and his wife Gertrude Adelaide born 26 June 1891 died 4 August 1969

John Jagger Pickles MB ChB born 11 December 1888 died 8 April 1944 for over 20 years in medical practice in this dale

(these appear to be in adjacent graves)

I know nothing about the latter but assume he is known of in your locality. William Norman Pickles and John Jagger Pickles were sons of John Jagger Pickles, a surgeon. They were born in Leeds.

1930 Dr. Dean Dunbar

He died in 1934 at the age of just 50.

Monumental Inscription Aysgarth Churchyard

To the dear memory of Dean Dunbar doctor in this parish for 25 years born May 1884 died January 1935 To the dear memory of Kathleen wife of Dean Dunbar born October 1889 died September 1939

There are also this brass plate in St Andrew’s church

Giving thanks to God for his devoted service to this dale from 1909 to 1934. This tablet is placed here in memory of Dean Dunbar MB BS Lond. by his friends

The inscriptions of gravestones and memorials in St Andrew’s were recorded by Evelyn Abraham of Carperby and Marian Kirby of Aysgarth and published by the Cleveland North Yorkshire and South Durham Family History Society

A Dr. Ord came to the practice in 1934 and stayed until 1945,,Does anyone have a photo of this man?

Dr JB Coltman joined the practice in 1947 after serving as a locum for three months.
Dr. Coltman married Dr.Katherine Coltman in June 1947 and she then joined the practice.

1966 Dr Coltman taken at High Hall Christmas Lunch

1980 Drs. Derek and Margaret Hoyle come to the practice at Aysgarth.
Derek visited High Hall Residential Home for Christmas lunch every year that he was practising at Aysgarth until his retirement in 1995.

The Opening of Aysgarth’s new Surgery in 1991

From left to right:
Lt. Humphrey & Caroline Thornton-Berry, Dr. Derek Hoyle then the two Dr. Coltmans. Dr. Bernard Coltman, and Dr. Kitty Coltman, 2nd Lt. Sir Christopher Booth and then at the very right Dr. Margaret Hoyle.

  • Who are the other people in the photograph?
  • many thanks to Evelyn A. for identification. Can you give me the
    first names of the Drs Coltman?

Thanks again Evelyn

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The Dales