Review Number 81 – January 2018

Dr William Hooper Short

When Dr Walton Kent died in 1862 his medical practice in Walsham le Willows was initially passed to Dr Hugh Spencer Hughes. Dr Hughes stayed for two years before he married and moved to Bromley in Kent.  In 1864 the medical care of the village was taken over by Dr William Lugar Mumford.  He continued to live at The Beeches but only stayed until 1868 when he sold the practice to Dr William Hooper Short.

William Hooper Short was born in Southampton in 1840. The son of an ironmonger he studied medicine and by the age of 21 in 1861 he was ‘Acting House Surgeon’ at the Charing Cross Hospital in London. His studies continued and he completed his professional qualifications under the Scottish medical training system in 1867. These qualifications subsequently read as follows:

“LRCP Edinburgh and LM (1867), LFPS Glasgow and LM (1867), LSA Charing Cross (1867)”[1]. “

After 1859 The Double Qualification in Medicine and Surgery was established between the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. In addition to this joint qualification, with the accompanying licenses to practise Medicine, Dr Short also took the licentiate examinations of the London Society of Apothecaries as a dispensing doctor at Charing Cross Hospital.

Following qualification Dr Short also contributed to The Lancet (1868) his views “On the Marshall Hall Method(of resuscitation). No doubt with a view to establishing his medical career in East Anglia, and in the spirit of ‘Continuing Professional Development’ he became a founding member of the ‘Norwich Medico-Chirurgical Society’ established on 2nd July 1867 – it still exists today. This was founded at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital under the distinguished chairmanship of Dr Peter Eade[2].  Monthly meetings were specifically held at full moon, apparently to enable members to return home in safety by moonlight. At that time Dr Short was working temporarily at Bungay, Suffolk, with a Dr Adams before moving to Walsham Le Willows.  He was called as witness to a coroner’s investigation of the death of an infant in Bungay whose death he had certified as due to starvation [3]. By early 1868 he was working in Walsham prior to taking over the practice from Dr Mumford:

“WALSHAM-LE-WILLOWS – A sad accident occurred here on Saturday last, in which George Pollard, coachman to Mr. H.I.Wilkinson sustained serious, though it is hoped not fatal, injury. A party of gentlemen were engaged in destroying rats at Mr. Wilkinson’s off barn, some being on one side of a faggot fence and some the other. A gun was fired at a rat running on the rail in the middle of the faggot fence, whilst Pollard stood quite opposite, but unobserved by Mr Dennis, who fired the shot. A few shots struck Pollard in the head, rendering him insensible. He was taken home and promptly attended by Drs Mumford and Short. He is going on as favourably as could be expected.”

NORWICH MERCURY Saturday 18th January 1868

In the same edition the newspaper reported Dr Short’s appearance in more cheerful social circumstances and in which he would subsequently find himself many times:

WALSHAM-LE-WILLOWS:   Readings, with music, were given on Friday evening at the Institute. The large room was well filled, and the programme was carried out in an exceedingly able manner, to the marked satisfaction of the audience, and several encores were demanded and obligingly answered. The musical portion of the programme included ‘The Troubadour’ and ‘Maritana’, pianoforte solos, well executed by Miss Young, and songs by Dr. Short, Mr W. Foster, and the Rev. Gambier Greene. The readings and readers were ‘The Sexton’s Hero’ the Rev. T. E. Wilkinson, ‘The Tea Party’ from ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, and the ‘Bell-ringer’ by the Rev. Gambier Greene, ‘Trial Scene’ from ‘Pickwick’ Mr. W. Foster; and a ‘Curtain Lecture’, by Dr. Short”.

NORWICH MERCURY Saturday 18th January 1868

Two months later Dr Short got married[4]. His bride was Sarah Elizabeth (“Bessie”) Everett. She was the daughter of the late John Everett, a farmer from East Harling in Norfolk, where the marriage took place on 12th March. This may well account for his attraction to practise medicine in East Anglia. The ceremony was conducted by the Rev. T.E. Wilkinson from Walsham, a fellow performer in the earlier concert – and a future bishop of Zululand. It transpired that Mrs Short had the benefit of a substantial inheritance from her late father and this was used to assist significantly in the purchase of the Walsham medical practice from Dr Mumford.

By now Dr Short was a full participant in the social life of the village. A month after his marriage a further ‘Entertainment’ took place at the Public Hall. While the first half consisted of songs and instrumental music the second half was devoted entirely to Dr Short with an ‘Illustrated lecture on the qualities of Air, considered chemically both in relation to Combustion and Respiration’[5]. The whole evening was considered a great success according to accounts of the time [6]. This was followed a month later by another such concert, in aid of the Life Boat Fund, in which Dr Short took full part together with his friend Dr Adams from Bungay. The evening was again reported as widely enjoyed[7]. Dr Short opened proceedings with a reading from ‘Dr Marigold’s Prescriptions’ a recently published ‘Christmas Story’ by Charles Dickens. He subsequently sang the patriotic English ballad ‘The Red Cross Banner’ and as an encore the equally uplifting – and appropriate – ‘Man the Lifeboat’. Later in the programme his concluding song, helpfully described as “comic” was ‘The Irish Schoolmaster’ and at the end of the evening he was called upon to bring proceedings to a close by singing ‘God Save the Queen’.

Poster Courtesy of Peter Nunn

It is likely that the sheet music and readings for these entertainment evenings, which were a frequent feature of the Institute and Public Hall in Walsham, were purchased locally:

BURY AND NORWICH POST Tuesday 9th June 1868

Away from medicine Dr Short played cricket for the Walsham Cricket Club. He tended to bat well down the order. In the match on 30th June 1868 against Norton (which Norton won) he scored four runs in the first innings and eight in the second.  In July the annual Walsham Cricket Club “Married v. Single” match was played mid-week and Dr Short batting at number 6 for the “Marrieds” scored two runs and later seven more. The “Singles” won by one run. In later years he would become treasurer of the club and ‘Captain of the teams when at play’.

The flavour of that long distant summer can perhaps be caught in the report on the “First Cottagers’ Fruit and Vegetable Show” held on Friday 4th September 1868[8]

…”in a meadow adjoining the boys’ school under the auspices of Misses Martineau and Wilkinson and assisted by the Rev. Octavius Wilkinson of Hinderclay. The whole village seemed animated with one desire to make the show worthy of the place thus there was an attractive and abundant display. Among the contributors was an immense cucumber grown by Dr. Short and a dish of black outdoor grapes grown by Mr. Proctor. Mr. Jaggard’s Observatory Hive attracted a lot of admirers, as did his two supers (quite a work of art) in which he had caused the bees to form one comb into a perfect cross and another into a star. The beauty of the show was greatly enhanced by the contributions of flowers in various forms. Among them the word Welcome in scarlet geraniums on a white leaf background by Miss Martineau, a cross of pure white dahlias in a bed of scarlet geraniums by Mrs. Short and a model parterre by Mrs. Young. Among the winners was James Germany for his carrots and potatoes and George Frost for apples and cucumber. George Bird had the best collection of wild flowers gathered by children. The village brass band headed by John Stevens greatly enlivened the proceedings. On distributing the prizes the Rev. Wilkinson urged all cottagers to improve their gardens in the coming year. He remarked that the cultivation of the garden elevated the character, showed a superior mind and often betokened a well-cared for home and a prospering family

Webmaster note: The Walsham le Willows Horticultural Show is still going strong and has exhibited every year since this inaugural day in 1868 apart from a break for wars and that for the Coronavirus outbreak of 2020

At Christmas that year the Shorts celebrated the birth of their son William Llewellyn who was baptised on 21st March 1869. He would be their only child. He was initially educated at a boarding school in Aldeburgh and would later have a successful career as a mechanical engineer.[9]

The work of a village doctor inevitably involved its share of tragedy. In June of 1868 Dr Short gave evidence at the coroner’s inquest[10] on the sudden death of John Borley, woodman, whose body was discovered at Major Wilson’s plantation at Langham. Death was recorded as due to natural causes. Later in November of that year he gave evidence before the same coroner on the local death of a six month old child from ‘Lack of Nourishment’.[11]

At an inquest in October 1873[12] he had given his evidence on the death of one of a group of farm workers chaff-cutting. In the dialect of the court report they were innocently “dapping” each other (gentle face slapping) and “nannicking about” (playing the fool) when an accidental fall resulted in a fractured spine and subsequent death.

In another incident in April 1875 three men were engaged in muck spreading on the farm of George Newson. Because it was unpleasant work Mr Newsom gave them to drink, at their request, a strong mixture of rum and beer, by the pint, but the accounts of their subsequent stupefaction are graphic[13]. Thomas Davey was particularly badly affected.  

“He was dragged and carried home, and was quite insensible to touch or sight for two or three days when he recovered consciousness, but owing to the extreme congestion of all the organs, he was not able to rally, notwithstanding the unremitting attention of Dr. Short, and his friend, Dr. Weddell”.

The deceased left a widow and 9 children under the age of 14.

In 1875 another inquest took place on the death of John King, a noted and respected local solicitor who was discovered dead in the pond in his garden. Dr Short deposed that he had known the deceased for several years, and said that he had for some time noticed that his mind was becoming enfeebled as well his body, and that he had been very palsied of late; the jury returned an open verdict of “Found drowned”.[14]

Later that year a further dreadful incident was reported in fairly judgemental terms.

“WATTISFIELD – Caution to boys- On Thursday week a lad named Arthur Filby, about eight years of age, got his foot entangled in the horse-power of a chaff cutter on the farm premises of Mr Watson……………….Dr Short was summoned from Walsham-Le Willows, and pending his arrival, the boy received most kindly attention at Mr Watson’s house. The boy was removed to the Memorial Cottage Hospital, established by Lord Henniker, at Thornham, and there it was found necessary to amputate the limb, which was effected by Dr Short, Dr Miller, and Mr G Barnes, of Eye, and Dr Pearse of Botesdale, at ten o’clock the same night. The boy is progressing favourably. He had been repeatedly warned not to go near the machinery on the day on which the accident occurred, and no blame can be attached to anyone but himself. The boy’s father has emigrated to Yorkshire, and his mother who has been left in the village with a large family, has only just recovered from weakness and illness caused by a broken arm.”

IPSWICH JOURNAL Saturday 29th May 1875

But undoubtedly the most traumatic incident of that period, with which Dr Short, like many others, was involved, would have been the infamous explosion at the Prentice gun-cotton works at Stowmarket. Located on the River Gipping in the centre of the town the site was developed for the production of this highly unstable explosive, to be then transported for use elsewhere, by water. The accident on 18th August 1871, which was not without precedent, destroyed most of the factory and caused much local damage throughout the town centre. Of the 130 people employed there some 24 lost their lives and over 70 were badly injured in what was described as “the most serious calamity to have happened in the Eastern Counties”[15]. All local medical resources did what they could.

“….a large number of persons volunteered great service assisting to remove heaps of the debris and to recover the bodies of the dead and the wounded; the  latter, as fast they got out, removed to their respective homes, and there attended Messrs. Freeman, Harper, Sheridan, and Pearson, the medical gentlemen of the town, who were assisted by the following gentlemen summoned by telegraph to their aid :—Mr. G. Sampson (Mayor of Ipswich), Dr. A. H. Bartlet, Dr. J. H. Bartlet, Dr. Drummond, and Mr. H. G. Moore, of Ipswich, and Mr. Beck and Mr. Cooper, of Needham Market. Dr. W. H. Short, of Walsham-le-Willows, and Mr. Muriel, of Hadleigh, arrived subsequently, and Dr. Macnab and Mr. F. W. Clarke, of Bury, also arrived in the course of Saturday, and tendered their assistance”.

In today’s world of ‘Health and Safety Regulations’ it may seem strange that no blame was assigned in the subsequent Inquiry and that the factory was rebuilt and continued to produce high-explosives until after the First World War. The site then became part of the ICI Paints Division.

Day to day life went on. In 1872 Dr Short’s appointment was announced as Assistant-Surgeon of the 13th Suffolk Rifle Volunteer Corps[16]. Such appointments while not onerous were a useful additional source of income for country doctors throughout the 19th century[17]. At some point he was also elected captain of the Walsham Fire Brigade and energetically led their fire-fighting efforts according to various reports on local outbreaks of ‘incendiarism’.

In his further additional role as Medical Officer and Public Vaccinator to the Walsham Division of the Stow Union he was intimately involved in the application of the Poor Laws to the impoverished and destitute of the parish. In February 1876 he led a wide-ranging and detailed discussion of such matters at a meeting of the prestigious Ixworth Farmers Club. He made various suggestions as to how matters could be improved based on detailed and comparative analysis – not least on the rates of pay for Medical Officers! The whole subject of provision for the poor was obviously a matter on which opinions widely differed but they were fiercely held, while the links between illness and pauperism continued to be significant.

1870 marked the passing of the Education Act and by 1880 there would be compulsory elementary education for all up to the age of 13, although the development of literacy among the labouring classes was not universally welcomed. It was very much a period of self-help and educational development. In 1876 Dr Short took part in the organisation and running of a series of ‘Spelling Bees’ in the village. These competitions, held in the Literary Institute were immensely popular not only with Walsham residents but with those from surrounding villages and beyond, and with adults and children alike. At a subsequent meeting of the members of the Institute Dr Short was unanimously elected a permanent member of the committee[18].

To be concluded……

Joseph McCann
November 2017


[2] The Society’s website quotes Eade’s inaugural address – no doubt still pertinent: “This is an age of medical change. He who would not be thrown out must keep well in the race; the pace is so rapid that leeway can scarcely be recovered. In spite of being engaged in the active busy pursuits of daily practice, time must be found to learn the ever new facts of medical science”.
[4]MORNING POST Wednesday 18th March 1868
[5] It was less than 100 years since Rutherford and Priestley were credited with the discovery and naming of Nitrogen and Oxygen
[6] IPSWICH JOURNAL Sat 3rd April 1868
[7] IPSWICH JOURNAL Saturday 6th June 1868
[8] IPSWICH JOURNAL 8th September 1868
[9] Died 22 Nov 1953 Ayrshire, Scotland
[10] BURY AND NORWICH POST 9th June 1868
[11] BURY FREE PRESS Sat 28th November 1868
[12] NORWICH MERCURY Sat 18 Oct 1873
[13] IPSWICH JOURNAL Saturday 24th April 1875
[14] NORFOLK CHRONICLE Saturday 16th January 1875
[15] NORFOLK CHRONICLE Saturday 19h August 1871
[16] LONDON GAZETTE June 4th 1872
17] IRVING, Sally: Surgeons and Apothecaries in Suffolk: 1750-1830, U.E.A.(2011)
[18] BURY AND NORWICH POST Tuesday 2nd May 1876

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