Plenty of private patients too
(back of case)
Many of the doctors and surgeons who worked at Peterborough Infirmary had got well-established private practices in the city. For many years, Dr Walker was in practice with his father and later with his son, Russell.
New practices were set up as the city grew. One of these was by Peterborough's first black doctor, Joseph Watson Commissioning (1832–94), who had a surgery in Millfield. He was born in Grenada, and lived in Peterborough from c1850 until his death.
Dr Thomas James Walker (1835–1916)
Walker was the surgeon at Peterborough Infirmary from 1862 to 1906. He was a leader in his field: a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, the first surgeon in Britain to remove a growth from the larynx, and one of the first provincial surgeons to remove an ovarian tumour. In 1894, he wrote that there was "an urgent necessity for a properly-constructed room to be set apart for the sole purpose of operations." He knew that a purpose-built operating theatre was the surest way to reduce the risk of infection.
Dr George Kirkwood (1852–1916)
Kirkwood was a tall, well-built Scotsman with a sharp sense of humour. When cross-examined by a barrister who suggested that the most skilful doctors were in London, he replied "I suppose those remarks would also apply to barristers." Kirkwood trained with Lord Lister at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before becoming an assistant surgeon at Peterborough in 1892, and full surgeon three years later. He brought Lister's surgical rigour and his latest antiseptic techniques to Peterborough.
Alfred Caleb Taylor (1860–1927)
Taylor was the dispenser of medicines at the Infirmary between 1888 and 1922. In 1896, he built one of the UK's first X-ray machines. In the early days, neither he nor anyone else knew the danger of X-rays. Taylor eventually died from radiation poisoning –from "the great sacrifice...made in connection with his pioneer work as an X-Ray operator."
New tools for surgery and diagnosis
At the beginning of the 19th century, doctors based their diagnoses on what they could see, and on what patients told them. New tools such as the stethoscope helped doctors investigate inside patients' bodies. They were able to make connections between outward symptoms and what was going on internally.
Doctors are men, nurses are women
Women began to enter the medical profession in the 1870s and '80s, but for most of the 19th century the medical roles of men and women were clearly defined: men were doctors or surgeons, women were nurses.
Until the Crimean War (1854–56), nursing was just another form of menial domestic work. Even the uniforms were similar. When the public heard about the work that Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole did with wounded soldiers, perceptions began to change. Hospitals started to think about training and suitability for the work. The selection criteria inevitably favoured the middle classes.
Highly valued work
The work of a nurse at Peterborough was valued but could be very hard. The rules were harsh, they had little time off and were not allowed to have a boyfriend. "Of Miss Sandon and her Nurses, it is my pleasing duty to speak, as I have done in past years, in terms of unqualified praise, for the kindness and sympathy they always show to those under their charge" –William Paley, Infirmary Physician, from his 1885 annual report.
War changes everything
The first woman surgeon at Peterborough Infirmary was Dr Jane Filshill. She was employed in 1914 as a last resort when no man could be found for the job. "Since the outbreak of the War it has been impossible to get a temporary House Surgeon, even at a salary...more than twice that previously attached to the appointment...It was therefore found necessary to elect a lady House Surgeon." Filshill was a rarity: only a handful of women qualified as doctors each year.
Matron's word is law
Evelyn Toms began training as a nurse at Peterborough Infirmary in 1925 when she was 17. She remembered working for the austere matron, Miss K Browne. Apparently her word was law.