Above: The Doctor’s Window at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, which depicts the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15).
Before the National Health Service (NHS) was introduced in Britain in 1948 many people could not afford to go and see a doctor, as a retired doctor, Margaret Hoyle explained:
“You didn’t get the ‘walking wounded’ and there was no preventative medicine then or early diagnosis. People would treat themselves with herbal medicines as long as they could – and medical attention would probably be out of the reach of many because they had to pay a fee.”
That would certainly have been the situation that Dr Matthew Willis (left) would have found in the 1860s when he became the first doctor to live in Aysgarth. He was born in Aysgarth as his father had a grocery and drapery shop in the village. He qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh.
Dr Willis became known for being kind to the poor but sadly he died of tuberculosis in February 1871. His patients wanted to ensure he wasn’t forgotten and so paid for the stained glass window at St Andrew’s which has become known as the “Doctor’s Window”.
There are now plaques near that window in memory of three other doctors who had been based at Aysgarth. These include Dr William (Will) Pickles who became famous after the publication in 1939 of his book Epidemiology in a Country Practice.
Mrs Hoyle said: “The causes of infectious diseases were still being discovered. He was in a unique position at that time because the dales folk were then fairly circumscribed. If someone came in (from outside the dale) it was noticed. So if there was an epidemic he could pinpoint when it came in and the incubation period.” His careful statistical studies were written up by his wife Gertrude (Gerty) the daughter of the wealthy Burnley mill owner, Harry Tunstill, who owned Thornton Lodge at Thornton Rust.
Dr Pickles joined the Aysgarth practice in 1913 but was away for two years when he was serving as a surgeon with the Royal Navy. He died in 1969. Doctors Derek and Margaret Hoyle ran the practice from 1979 until they retired in 1995.
I interviewed Mrs Hoyle in 2009 when we were preparing for the Heritage Event at St Andrew’s.