Early Twentieth Century
Tonbridge is shaped like a dumb-bell, with the bridge over the Medway at the waist. The great expansion of the town and the rise in population in late Victorian years called for increased medical attention. Many were workmen who lived in cottages at the south of the town, then mean, but now mostly gentrified. The wealthier lived mainly at the north end.
To have the poor as patients, when they could not afford telephones, one partner had to live in the south of the town. This house, 42 Pembury Road, was to be continually lived in by a Partner at the Practice until Dr Forsyth retired in 1987, having been lived in by three of his predecessors. There are two bells outside the front door. One is marked Day and the other Night, the latter still rings only in the main bedroom.
In 1908 the practice grew to three partners. Gerald Lanstbury Bunting qualified MB (Batchelor of Medicine) from the Westminster Hospital in 1903 and proceeded to MD in 1906.
It is said that straw was put on the road outside patient’s houses at his request to quieten the noise from horses and so give the patient more rest.
He served as a temporary captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the 1914 –18 war. In later years, he was chauffeured round the town by Fred Sturt in a four seater French de Dion Bouton. He lived at Warders and retired in 1936. His wife gave birth by Caesarean Section on the kitchen table. This room has become a consulting room, currently used by one of the Registrars in the Practice (the last room in the Ground floor corridor on the right hand side). The surgery performed there these days is considerably less heroic.
We do not know his reaction to the Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act of 1911 with its compulsory worker’s contribution and employer’s deduction from wages of two pence a week. However it did lead to each doctor having a list of patients for whom he cared, ‘the panel’, and the introduction of the small brown envelopes in which clinical notes are still stored in the twenty-first century. The practice was still at 115 High Street, where it had been since Gorham lived and worked there. It was a conveniently placed Georgian house in the middle of the town, but with cramped facilities. The private patients used the front door and the panel patients had to go round the back. The junior partner lived above the surgery.
The old house was sold in 1920 and turned into the Carlton Café and Bakery. The new premises were only five houses up the High Street, on the first floor above Lloyd’s Bank. There were three consulting rooms, none of which had running water, and a small office for the secretary, and one receptionist. Two waiting rooms, one for private patients and the other for those ‘on the panel’, completed the accommodation.
The dispenser worked in a small room making up the prescriptions for private patients only, which were delivered to their homes by a handyman, John Sibbey, who spent his whole working life with the practice.
In 1920 Ashley Ernest Herman joined Newton and Bunting. He was trained at Cambridge (B Ch 1911) and the London Hospital. In 1919 he was awarded an OBE for his work as Surgeon Lieutenant in World War 1. He underwent extensive surgical training culminating in a FRCS (Ed) in 1920.
He actively used his surgical skills. As an example, in 1936 he undertook 20 operations on private patients that covered the gamut of surgery, acute and planned. Among other operations, he performed an open reduction of a fractured humerus, removed a gall bladder, a malignant ovarian cyst, and a carcinoma of the breast, did five hysterectomies and a spate of appendices and tonsils. In other years he performed Caesarean sections, fashioned colostomies, and removed a traumatically damaged kidney.
Cedric Tuckett was destined to be a surgeon. He did his preclinical training at Cambridge and then took the University Scholarship and Cheselden Medal at St. Thomas’. He proceeded to FRCS 1928 and M Chir (Master of Surgery) in 1930. He then worked as a junior resident there before being appointed Resident Assistant Surgeon. This was a post that usually led on to a consultant surgical career. However he joined the practice in 1932 and was soon appointed honorary consultant to the Kent and Sussex Hospital. He worked both as a general practitioner and surgeon until the advent of the National Health Service.
John Lawrence Howland Easton joined the practice in 1936. He always had the leanings of a physician. Having qualified from Kings College Hospital in 1928, and after five junior medical jobs there he proceeded MRCP in 1930, before going into general practice in Broadstairs. He was a consultant physician to the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells while still in the practice at the same time that Tuckett was a consultant surgeon. Although this gave a great deal of prestige to the practice, it did regularly take them away from the Tonbridge patients.
Easton left in 1945 to be the first consultant physician at Bedford. There he was met with hostility. He was an outsider, still, in spite of his qualifications basically a general practitioner up graded to consultant status. It was felt that he was intruding into the local medical establishment that had no need of him. In addition, the hospital itself was not happy. There were two wings, each with its own matron. The two ladies did not speak to each other. These problems highlight some of the many difficulties of the reorganisation of the profession with the advent of the NHS. In the relative leisure of the pre-war days, the partners would meet their wives for mid morning coffee at Aplins, a café across the road from the surgery. But in 1939 leisure became a thing of the past. The younger partners left for the forces, while Herman and Dewey looked after the practice by themselves. Tuckett left the RAMC at the end of the war as a lieutenant colonel, having served in Europe at D-Day and later in India. He was awarded an MBE for his war work.