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Ipswich Icons: We owe a debt to diligence of Doctor George

28 January, 2018 - 19:00
It is a fitting tribute to Doctor George Elliston, surgeon and Medical Officer of Health, that the clinic in Elm Street was named in his honour. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

It is a fitting tribute to Doctor George Elliston, surgeon and Medical Officer of Health, that the clinic in Elm Street was named in his honour. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

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Last week I promised to look at Elliston House, the former Elm Street Clinic, and explore why it is so named.

An 1820 engraving of the entrance of Guy's Hospital, London, by James Elmes and William Woolnoth. George Elliston became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians there.An 1820 engraving of the entrance of Guy's Hospital, London, by James Elmes and William Woolnoth. George Elliston became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians there.

It hasn’t been a straightforward task, as several generations of the Elliston family were involved in the medical profession in Ipswich.

The first member of the dynasty we encounter is William Elliston (1814-1874), who entered a career in medicine (as his father had before him) by becoming an apprentice with a local GP.

John Denny was the doctor, a family friend and renowned as a medical practitioner, possibly because of his philanthropic generosity in taking in perhaps two apprentices every year.

His surgery was in an alley off the Cornhill that became known as Denny’s Passage, today the Thoroughfare.

Bit of an unfortunate state, in terms of the signage honouring Dr George Sampson Elliston. Picture: STEVEN RUSSELLBit of an unfortunate state, in terms of the signage honouring Dr George Sampson Elliston. Picture: STEVEN RUSSELL

These young men were initiated into the practical mysteries of the medical craft, staying with the practice for perhaps three or four years.

They fetched water from the town conduit, washed bottles and medical equipment, learned dispensing and sorted bandages and dressings.

William Elliston thus learnt the rudiments of the medical profession with John Denny before moving on to basic training at Guy’s in London, well equipped to take full advantage of the serious work of the hospital.

Once William had qualified, he returned to Ipswich and set up his own GP practice at the Manor House, 22 St Peter’s Street.

This was one of a number of properties in St Peter’s Street demolished at the start of the 20th century to make the road wide enough for trams.

William had a large family, which included his two oldest sons: William Albert Elliston (born 1840) and George Sampson Elliston (born 1844).

It is the second son, named after his uncle George Green Sampson, who is the focus of this article. Both brothers were educated at Ipswich School and apprenticed with that uncle, Doctor George Green Sampson, before going on to Guy’s Hospital, where they became Licentiates of the Royal College of Physicians (LRCP).

William Albert returned to Ipswich in some haste. His father had become ill and as the oldest son he took over the practice.

George studied for an extra year to gain higher qualifications, whereupon he became House Surgeon at the Royal Free London (1866).

In 1867 he was offered, and accepted, a post at the East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital in Anglesea Road.

As the only resident medical officer he treated all the severe accident cases and all too frequently the tetanus which resulted from their injuries.

Both George and his brother William Albert extensively researched and wrote about the antiseptic requirements of the operating theatre and the hospital ward.

In January, 1874, George Sampson Elliston accepted the newly created position of Medical Officer of Health for Ipswich, a post brought about by the Public Health Act of 1872.

Not only was he the first MOH for Ipswich but he was also MOH to the port. He prepared his first report on the public health of Ipswich in 1873, followed by his annual reports as MOH from 1874 until 1906.

In the early 1870s Ipswich had literally hundreds of cesspits and open sewers. It was George’s ambition to replace them with an extended underground drainage system and he worked tirelessly towards this end.

His brother, who had been elected a member of the borough council, debated endlessly about the merits of dry closets rather than water closets.

Dry closets (earth or ash) don’t discharge into a sewer, thus saving the council capital expenditure, but they do need emptying – manure for the garden or local arable farm. As the medical officer of health for Ipswich, George had been using rooms in Elm Street as his office (4-6, Quill Court). When George retired and Arthur Pringle took over as MOH it was decided to have a purpose-built “clinic” and associated offices, and these were built, following the end of the First World War, adjacent to Quill Court, on the site of a chapel previously used by the Plymouth Brethren. Elliston House (12, Elm Street) was known to most Ipswich citizens born in the 20th Century as the Elm Street Clinic, home to the school dentist, otologist, and the place to go for rudimentary eye tests and national health spectacles.

It is a fitting tribute to Doctor George Elliston, surgeon and Medical Officer of Health, that the clinic was named in his honour.

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