Medical Establishments: The Dispensary

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Medical Establishments: The Dispensary', Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 513-516. British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Medical Establishments: The Dispensary", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 513-516. British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Medical Establishments: The Dispensary", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 513-516. British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,


In the beginning of April, 1777, Dr. Clark, in conjunction with Mr. Anderson, a respectable surgeon, proposed the establishment of a Dispensary; but the plan was opposed by the physicians to the Infirmary, until it was explained that the medical department was to be open to the whole of the resident faculty, when all opposition ceased, and the scheme was immediately carried into execution. A general meeting of the governors was held on September 29, 1777, John Baker, Esq. mayor, in the chair; when the regulations prepared for the government of the charity were confirmed. The Dispensary was opened on the 2d of October following. In November, 1785, the Duke of Northumberland was chosen patron of the institution.

The benevolent projectors of this excellent establishment not only proposed to give advice and medicine to that numerous class of sufferers whose cases excluded them from the Infirmary, but also to extend the limits of the healing art. Accordingly, Dr. Clark provided for keeping accurate journals of the patients admitted, and of their cases, by which the nature of prevailing epidemics might be ascertained, the history of diseases illustrated, and the success of the modes of treatment more accurately known. He also drew up, and distributed among the poor who received relief at the Dispensary, some very judicious rules for preventing the production and propagation of contagion; but this most important branch of the charity was left incomplete; no means of prevention were carried into the houses of the poor, nor was any board of health established for the purpose of enforcing the execution of the rules. This able physician, who for many years drew up the annual reports of the establishment, frequently and strongly stated the lamentable deficiency of its funds. Although 139 persons on an average died annually in Newcastle of the small-pox, yet a proposal made in 1779 for a general inoculation was abandoned solely on that account.

The Dispensary, during the first four years, was kept in apartments in an entry at the Foot of the Side, now occupied by Mr. Marley, cheesemonger. It was next kept in an entry in Pilgrim Street, below the Queen's Head Inn, for many years called the Dispensary Entry. But, in 1790, the governors purchased a lease for 50 years of St. John's Lodge, in the Low Friar Chare, from the Free Incorporated Company of Saddlers, which, including the fitting up, cost £626, 2s. 4d. This building consists of "a hall for the meetings of the governors, a shop and waiting room for patients, two consulting rooms for the physicians and surgeons, an electrical room, and lodgings for the apothecary and his assistant, with a small laboratory behind the building."

In 1786, the plan of a general inoculation, for preventing the great mortality occasioned by the small-pox, was revived and carried into execution. An additional department was also established in 1789, for recovering the lives of persons apparently dead from drowning or other causes; and very plain and useful instructions for attaining this humane object were prepared by the Medical Society. (fn. 1) To this branch the faculty in Newcastle, and the surgeons at Shields, Howdon-Pans, Winlaton, Swalwell, and Newburn, are medical assistants; but only few instances of recovery are recorded. The safety and efficacy of vaccination being fully established, it was judged an indispensable duty to adopt this invaluable discovery in the spring of 1801; since which time, to Michaelmas, 1826, there have been 20,385 patients inoculated, of which number 17,877 had the vaccine disease, and the remaining 2508 were not inspected, as they had not the gratitude to return for that purpose. During the last Dispensary year, 121 were inoculated, and the members of the faculty were accommodated with 378 packets of matter. The numbers inoculated appear, by the Dispensary lists, to have decreased during the last few years. (fn. 2)

Since the commencement of this charity, to Michaelmas, 1826, one hundred and thirteen thousand nine hundred and thirty-six patients have been admitted, of whom one hundred and eight thousand six hundred and twenty-six have been cured. From August 31, 1825, to August 31, 1826, there were (including 68 remaining on the books the preceding year), 4955 patients admitted, 4735 cured, 3 relieved, 12 irregular, 87 dead, and 118 remained on the books.

The limits fixed for visiting such home patients as are confined to their own houses are Shields road bridge, and the utmost extent of the town to the west, north, and south. Gateshead is included as a visiting district so long as its inhabitants subscribe thirty guineas annually to the charity. With respect to out patients, who are able to attend at the Dispensary, all the poor inhabitants of Newcastle and Gateshead are admitted, without any restrictions as to limits; and several resorting from a considerable distance are allowed the benefit of the charity whilst able to attend. Each patient is admitted by a printed letter (on which the physicians write their prescriptions), signed by a subscriber, and addressed to the house-apothecary. Each annual subscription commences on Michaelmas-day; and every subscriber of one guinea has the power of recommending five patients annually, and those who give larger sums in proportion. A subscription of two guineas annually, or a benefaction of ten guineas or upwards, entitles the donors to be governors of the charity. In slight casualties, the house-apothecary is empowered to give patients relief without delay, and to admit them without recommendation.

The following is a statement of the accounts of the Dispensary, for the 49th year, ending Michaelmas, 1826:—.

L. s. d. L. s. d. L. s. d. L. s. d.
Balance in the hands of the treasurer 421 4 1 Medicines 188 8 2
Annual subscriptions 455 10 2 Apothecary's salary 140 0 0
One year's dividend on 2000l. 3 per cent. consols 60 0 0 Apothecary's assistant 47 5 0
One year's interest on 2000l. at 4 per cent. 80 0 0 Lent the corporation 200 0 0
Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Atley's perpetual ann. 9 0 0 Incidental expenses 95 8 10 671 2 0
Donation from a gentleman, by the hands of William Boyd, Esq. 20 0 0 Balance in the hands of the treasurer 422 13 3
Do. from the same gentleman, by the hands of William Boyd, Esq. 20 0 0
Do. from Matthew Bell, Esq. M. P. 20 0 0
Do. from the Hon. H. T. Liddell, M. P. 5 0 0
Do. from Miss Jackson, Whitburn 2 0 0
Do. from Mr. William Birch 1 1 0
672 11 2
L 1093 15 3 L 1093 15 3

The establishment of the Dispensary, (fn. 3) for the above year, was as follows:—

Patron, His Grace the Duke of Northumberland. Presidents, The Right Honourable the Marquis of Bute; The Right Honourable Lord Ravensworth; Sir Matthew White Ridley, Bart. M. P.; Cuthbert Ellison, Esq. M. P.; George Baker, Esq.; George Forster, Esq. Mayor. Vice-presidents, Robert Ormston, Esq.; Rowland Burdon, Esq.; Ralph Atkinson, Esq.; Adam Askew, Esq. Treasurer, James Pybus, Esq. Secretary, Mr. Edmondston. Physicians, Dr. Ramsay; Dr. Headlam; Dr. Smith; Dr. Macwhirter; Dr. Bulman. Surgeon, Mr. Murray. Apothecary, Mr. Wilkie. Committee, Nathaniel Clayton, Esq.; Mr. George Currie; Mr. Cuthbert Liddell; Mr. Joseph Arundale; Thomas Shadforth, Esq.; W. S. Batson, Esq.; Rev. W. B. Smith; Rev. J. Collinson; George Doubleday, Esq.; A. Donkin, Esq.


  • 1. This society was established in Newcastle in the year 1787. In 1793, Dr. Ramsay called the attention of this society to the deplorable condition of the poor when afflicted with contagious fever; and Drs. Wood, Steavenson, and Ramsay, and Messrs. Horn, Anderson, Keenlyside, and Leighton, were appointed to confer with the governors of the Dispensary on the best means of combating this malady. But though the latter were cordial in support of the measure, the burthened state of their funds deterred them from giving it their sanction and support.
  • 2. This decrease may be attributed partly to that indifference commonly produced by the absence of danger, and partly to the recently increasing number of practitioners in this district, and who probably attend to this important branch of their profession. Mr. John Daglish, surgeon, on the Sandhill, has also, since the year 1815, vaccinated seven thousand and seventy-nine children and adults, and supplied the surgeons of this town and the neighbouring counties with four thousand six hundred and ninety-seven packets of fresh vaccine lymph, taken invariably, on the eighth day after vaccination, from the arms of healthy and robust children. There are twenty-eight surgeons in Newcastle and Gateshead; and, during the last year, twenty-seven of them were supplied by Mr. Daglish with the vaccine fluid, which affords strong evidence of their belief in its genuineness. He likewise, in numerous instances, sends a child under vaccination to the family surgeon of respectable people, or gives him a reference to the residence of the infant, in order that he may personally supply himself with fluid. Mr. Daglish keeps an accurate register of the children vaccinated, and gives a certificate when the pustules are finally examined. In 1825, he published "Practical Observations on Vaccine Inoculation," wherein he declares it as his fixed opinion, that when vaccination is properly performed, on the plan recommended by Mr. Brice, surgeon, Edinburgh, in a work published in 1809, and the constitution affected thereby, it will be found a safe, effectual, and complete security against small-pox infection. Mr. Paul Glenton, surgeon, Pilgrim Street, also vaccinates a great number of the children of the poor gratuitously (sometimes from twenty to thirty in a day), but keeps no register of cases. Yet, notwithstanding these facilities for obtaining the vaccine preventive, the number of deaths from small-pox in Newcastle and its immediate neighbourhood, from June 1,1824, to February 20, 1825, amounted to 200. During the same period, 1100 children and adults were afflicted with that loathsome and dangerous disease.
  • 3. J. R. Fenwick, M. D. now of Durham, was a zealous friend of this institution. The late Dr. Young, one of the physicians, was distinguished by the frankness and benevolence of his disposition, and the discrimination and decision he displayed in his practice. He was peculiarly fond of old English sports, and too much addicted to the enjoyments of the bottle, which shortened his useful life. Being a member of the Newcastle Independent Volunteers, he was buried with military honours. Dr. Pearson, another physician to this institution, also for some time gave advice to the poor gratis, in a house in the Painter Heugh, called "Pearson's Dispensary." Dr. Grieve, who died in 1800, was a gentleman of great and varied attainments, and particularly excelled in the science of music. He commenced life as a Presbyterian minister; but, on embracing the tenets of the Baptists, he resigned his pastoral charge, and entered upon the study of physic.
  • 4. Mr. Daglish was the pupil and successor of the late William Brumwell, surgeon, a man of singular simplicity and benevolence of character. Mr. D. in speaking of his respected master, says he was "a constant friend to, and warm advocate for vaccination; and who, for a period of nearly forty years, practised in Newcastle with success and credit; whose urbanity and kindness obtained for him the esteem of a numerous and respectable circle of friends, the affection of his servants, and the gratitude of the poor."