Dr Stuart Fraser has lived in Highfields from 1946, the year he was born.
This is a tape made by Dr Stuart Fraser, General Practitioner, working from 56 Highfields Street, Highfields, Leicester. Made primarily for the purposes of the 'Highfields Oral History' project being organised by the Leicestershire and Leicester Councils' Library Services.
I have made an earlier tape with regard to my own personal experiences as a child living in Highfields. This tape has been made from a combination of sources of my own experiences of living in Highfields, my experience of working in Highfields as a General Practitioner from January 1972, and from my study of medical history nationally, and local medical history issues.
I haven't got any reference books or points in front of me, this is entirely made from memory. For the purposes of this, I have identified the Highfields area as that area lying to the east of the city of Leicester, marked out by the Midland Railway line to the west, the London Road to the south west, the Humberstone Road to the north, and Mere Road running from Humberstone Road through to London Road; Mere Road being, of course, the old parish boundary of -
St Margaret's Parish. Spinney Hill Park, Park Vale Road and the other areas, all being the northern part of the old Parish of Evington, based on the moated site, formally in Moat Road.
First the built environment. The Highfields area represents literally the high field area of the city, as I said in St Margaret's Parish; and the buildings now standing in it started in about 1840 literally to the present day, and include at least 2 to 3 major re-developments;
1 the devastation of the Charnwood Street area and the rebuilding into the Charnwood estate in the 1970s
2 the demolition of the St Peters Estate and the rebuilding in the 1960s, and the second demolition in a smaller way, and the rebuilding in the 1980s.
For an area such as Highfields, it is difficult to consider health in isolation from the general overall facilities of the city and town of Leicester. When considering health in historical context, one needs to look at the health provisions as organised from the mid-19th century until 1911, from 1911 to 1946, and from 1946 to the present day. These divisions are primarily because in the mid-Victorian era, there was no systematic health provision, and the National Insurance Act came into being in 1911 and was the English government's beginnings at the form of a health service as we now being to recognise it. During the period 1911 to 1946, the Local Government Act of 1929 where sick provision by poor laws was handed over to local authorities; nurses became registered in 1919, midwives having become being registered by the Midwives Act of 1902; there were further consolidations of health provision provided by the Insurance Act and health measures taken by the Public Health Officers which culminated in the White Paper on a National Health Service in 1944 and the National Health Service Act in 1946.
To revert to the earlier period when there was no systematic health provision, tangible evidence of health provision in the Highfields area would of course be seen in the Workhouse the Union Workhouse which was built in about 1844. This was the union of all Leicestershire the Leicester City parishes twelve in all I think and provided provision for all those poor, able bodies and sick people from that date. It must have been quite a daunting reminder to the people of the locality seeing this large building surrounded by brick walls, and knowing that if they fell upon hard times through no misfortune of their own maybe, or through ill-health, that that was where they would end up. The sick were provided for, the sick poor were provided for in this building until 1903 and entry of course had many implications for people, and many families were brought up with the threat of the workhouse hanging over them.
Other tangible evidence of sick provision in the early years in the Highfields area as I have said primarily by self help the Wise Women only a search of the town's directories would indicate where they lived; where herbalists lived; where midwives might have lived. There was a District Nursing Service set up in Leicester. Its main office was, I think, in the New Walk. It was set up as a charity in the late 1860s which is quite early for a District Nursing Service. This again, would primarily have been charity run and organised by the better off middle classes. Families with salaried and employed trained nurses working in the district and access would have probably only been obtained as a charity.
There were, of course, the Public Medical Officer of Health, who made provisions for the sick. Public health issues in the city these again were mostly covered with infectious diseases and were in other parts of the town. Highfields having been a relatively healthy area, although if one looks at the maps of the 1890s in the Ministry of Health's reports, it shows heavy concentrations of Scarlet Fever in the streets of Highfields, but infact they are far less dense than those in other area around Wharf Street or North Bridge area.
The other medical charity that patients could receive care from was the Dispensary. This was originally founded in the 1830s as a charity, which meant that you would have to find a benefactor to give you a charity ticket to get access to this type of medical care. However, in the 1860s it became a Provident Dispensary which meant that people could become members of it by payment of a penny a week and then could make use of the Provident Dispensary Services. Again they were based in the city centre, in Bond Street and this is where most people would have had to have gone to consult a doctor, but as the city grew, and the facilities at Bond Street were overgrown, the Dispensary started opening up branches around the city, and there were at least four or five branches in the Highfields area. These were usually ordinary houses or shop type houses where the prescriptions were dispensed. There was one in Spinney Hill Road, Garendon Street, and St Peters Road. The one in Guthlaxton Street has been knocked down. However, as the popularity of this dispensary system worked and improved, the dispensary opened its own branches, and the one in Green Lane Road had enough facilities for two doctors, so the patients could consult and receive their medicine there. Otherwise, people had to go to their doctor, see him in his own premises, and then take the prescription down to the dispensary branch to get their medicine.
There were, of course, many other private sick clubs set out and about, often depending on the place of works. The Midland Railway would have run a sick club. But often these relied on the doctors providing care in their own premises, and the club would then pay the doctors for any attendance upon their members.
The remainder of medical care would have been entirely on a private basis, for whatever people could have organised.
From 1911 to 1946. There was now provision for the poorer working class men, where they received medical attention if their income was below a certain level. However, there was no provision for their wives, for maternity care or for their children and this is where the Provident Dispensary came into its own. Members could continue to pay money into these organisations, and that would provide medical cover for them. In Leicester, the Provident Dispensary turned itself into the Public Medical Service, and with the other sick clubs in Leicester provided something like cover for a third of the population of the city.
The Poor Law, in the form of Hillcrest of the Union Workhouse of course, the sick provision was handed over to the local authority in the 1920s, the Crown Hills Infirmary became the General Hospital, and the workhouse then provided care for those frailer and often elderly sick people.
Hillcrest, as it was known, was used up until the 1970s as a hospital when it was eventually closed and demolished, and is now the site of the Moat Boys' School. I think there could be many memories of Hillcrest and the Union Workhouse hidden in some older peoples' memories and thoughts, but of course I think they may stay locked there due to the implications of the poor law and all its provisions.
Another respect of health care that started developing at the turn of the century, and was boosted by the first war, was the provision of nursing homes for sick people, for maternity care, and even for operations and surgery. There were nursing homes in Severn Street and Tichborne Street, purpose built buildings, and there were small properties licensed for maternity with 2 or 4 beds, scattered throughout the Highfields area. These had to be licensed every year by the Medical Officer of Health and some of the Medical Officer of Health's reports list the addresses of the properties that were so licensed.
I have had discussions with an elderly surgeon of the city, who, when first appointed as a young resident to the Infirmary in the early 1920s tells me how he came to assist a surgeon at one of these private nursing homes in the Severn Street or Tichborne Street area, and he describes how they operated in a room with a coal fire in the corner to keep them warm. The surgeon kept his overcoat in the room and took it off to operate, rolled up his sleeves, and once the operation was finished, the assistant plus the porter carried the still unconscious patient on a chair downstairs and back into one of the rooms where the patient was allowed to recover, and then would be subsequently nursed until he was considered fit to go home.
As I have mentioned before in my other tape, my own mother was delivered in one of these nursing homes in the Highfields area. Unfortunately that building was destroyed in the bombing of Highfields and is no more. The other hospital where operations were carried out has been demolished. I know this for a fact although I have recorded it on a photograph which I've got somewhere.
With the coming of the NHS in 1946, a system of primary care was instituted covering all people. Provision of district nurses, midwives, the pattern of care in the Highfields area would have been that the doctors' surgeries were based on the old 19th century buildings which they occupied. The PMS system, the dispensary system was closed down and the sites were obviously sold off. Nurses covering the area would again have lived in their own houses and certainly midwives covered sort of localities. During the 1960s there was development and re-siting of some surgeries, as the older properties in Charnwood and St Peter's Estate were knocked down, and the doctors' surgeries had to be re-sited. And this was the era of the health centres being built of which there were two in the locality. Here the doctors moved into buildings provided for by the Health Authority to provide health care.
These health centres would also act as centres for district nurses and health visitors. Midwives continued to be based in the big hospitals such as the General Hospital and the Royal Infirmary.
If we look back at tangible physical evidence of health care in the Highfields area, there are the remnants of the workhouse or the 'Spike'. There are the registered nursing homes, if they can be identified, of nurses, midwives and health visitors there is no really tangible evidence at all. And again, there are one or two provident dispensary public medical service sites that may be in evidence. Then there are also probably some of the larger houses that may have been occupied by doctors, where they have obvious office surgery type accommodation tacked onto them.
The only other sites that may have anything related to health or social security issues in the Highfields area are of course the two Alms Houses which were built in the Victorian time. One is in Evington Street I think, and has recently been restored and provides accommodation for four accommodation units. I'm not at all certain who now owns this charity, if it is still a charity building or whether it's been sold off. The other building is the Consanguinatarium in Earl Howe Street which was re-sited from Southgate Street, and is a charity that makes provision for the descendants of Johnson, the well known 18th century Leicestershire architect. These are probably the earliest tangible evidence of some provision for the elderly or the retired, and some form of protected environment.
To revert to the people of the Highfields area, I would say that they tended to escape from any major epidemic illnesses as it was on a high area, free from the crowded medieval site of the city and the frequent flooding from the Soar and the Mausey, as I believe the brook was called down on East Park Road. It would have been well known amongst people of the city to avoid buying houses in that sort of an area as they tended to be damp accommodation and subject to frequent flooding.
There is scattered evidence from old Medical Officer of Health returns and reports of infant ill health in certain of the works, and one can see the maps of the Medical Officer of Health plotting out the epidemics of Scarlet Fever, Typhoid and Smallpox in those years. Infact they seem to show that the Highfields area fared better than Wharf Street or North Gate. Northfields of course wasn't built at that time.
The 1930s and 1940s, again I would see a Highfields area being probably rather unspectacular with regard to any particular problems.
After the second world war, I would have thought that the Highfields area would have suffered in as many areas from having a population of people in boarding accommodation and lodgings, displaced people from Europe settling there. Some of the illnesses like Tuberculosis might have been more common.
A lot of home midwifery would have been carried out of course, as half the deliveries in the city of Leicester were carried out at home or in nursing homes until the 1960s when the new maternity unit was built.
During the 1960s, Highfields became a very cosmopolitan area, with arrivals from the Caribbean and then subsequently Africa, Bangladesh and India, so that the imported diseases like Malaria and the tropical diseases would become more frequently seen, although they were not a major problem. But it became a very heavily populated area with many young families and a somewhat mobile population so that the social issues of this very mixed population would present additional challenges to the health provision of the city.
No detailed community study has been made of an area such as Highfields in great detail, and I'm not aware of any area like the size of Highfields in a city like Leicester having been studied. However, I would have thought that it would be a very interesting topic to try to unravel. A lot of the information would have to come from the memories of people who have lived through the era because so much of the official documentation has been destroyed, and so much now of the buildings that used to be on the sites have been radically altered or demolished. So I think to get a true picture of the health issues through the years, one needs to talk to the elderly people who lived in the area during those years, and that with the combination of knowledge as to what was supposedly happening with the public health and the structure of health care provision at the relevant era one could then construct a picture as to how health care was provided, where people went for their health care, what it cost, what problems they found with it, with both good nurses and bad nurses, good doctors and bad doctors, to get a true reflection and picture of the area.
I realise that looking through this tape, it is very short and I have probably skipped over many topics and issues that would be well worth while teasing out and discussing and describing in more detail. However, it might be of use to give some sort of a framework as to what has happened. As a final piece I will probably tack on the history of my own practice which was based in Highfields.
It started in 1874, with the arrival of a doctor from Northern Ireland. He came to live in Upper Kent Street with his wife who he had recently married from Derbyshire. He established a practice, he had club patients from the Midland Railway and involved himself part-time as an assistant Medical Officer of Health in the city. He quickly moved to a house on Melbourne Street, which had a small surgery entrance at the back, and practised there from 1876 until the 1887. He then sold this part of his practice to a young doctor from Scotland, and he moved himself up to the London Road where he tried to establish a consulting practice.
The young doctor from Scotland continued to practice in Melbourne Street from 1887, primarily taking fee-paying patients or club patients, and also working as a dispensary doctor. In 1900 he took on a young partner, a Leicester man, called Dr Payne. They continued to practice in partnership, and moved their premises from Melbourne Street, to 56 Melbourne Street. After the first world war, when both had been too old to have seen time in the services but had provided medical care at the Base Hospital, they advertised and brought in a young doctor from Scotland as their new partner. He came to live in 1920 at 56 Melbourne Street. This doctor continued to practice from that address until he retired in the 1960s. The other doctors left the partnership or died and Dr Todd practiced from 56 Melbourne Street from 1920 until 1964. In 1946 he took on his son-in-law in practice with him.
With the growth of the city, the practice opened branches on Evington Drive to accommodate the growing population in the way of roads in the 1930s, and subsequently in the Thurnby Lodge/Netherhall area in the 1950s and 1960s because of the population moving out to that area, and for 20 or 30 years worked from 2 branches and the main surgery at Melbourne Street. This practice is now concentrated on one practice premises on the Scraptoft Lane, and one in the Melbourne Street area. Many of the patients who live in the Thurnby Lodge and Netherhall area remember their childhood in the Highfields area, and were re-housed when the new estates were built at that time.
Some of the Highfields residents of course might have been re-housed in other areas of the city, but there are many memories of Highfields in the Netherhall and Thurnby Lodge area that I am aware of.