PROFESSOR OF SURGERY, NEWCASTLE INFIRMARY
Situated in the Consecrated/West Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.
Frederick Page was born in Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, the only son of Dr. Frederick Page, who was the surgeon to the Portsmouth, Portsea and Gosport Hospital, and Ann Matilda Bloss. Frederick had three sisters, Ellen, Elizabeth and Ada.
Professor Page’s obituary in the British Medical Journal states that “the future Professor of Surgery at Newcastle was educated at the University of Edinburgh and, for a time, held office in the Colonial Hospital, Perth, Western Australia before being appointed house surgeon to the old Newcastle Infirmary in 1870. Professor Page became associated with a Mr. Septimus Raine, the surgeon to the North-Eastern Railway Company, whose jurisdiction extended from Berwick to Yorkshire and, as result, he was frequently brought into public notice. On his appointment a few years later to be surgeon to the Newcastle Infirmary, he found the opportunities he had been waiting for and it was in the operating theatres that he was seen to greatest advantage. As well as being a skilful and quick surgeon, particularly in relation to amputations, he was a successful teacher, both in the wards of the Infirmary and in the College of Medicine”.
On the death of Professor George Yeoman Heath, Page was appointed joint professor of surgery along with a Professor Arnison.
In 1888, the University of Durham conferred upon him the degree of M.A. and subsequently the honorary degree of D.C.L. For a period, he acted as examiner in surgery in Edinburgh University, was a consulting surgeon to several of the hospitals in Newcastle, was a J.P. for the city and county of Newcastle and for several years vice-chairman of the local Licensing Committee.
Page’s obituary in the Newcastle Daily Chronicle, dated Friday, July 4th, 1919, states that “he belonged to a generation of able men who laboured beneficently for their local medical and surgical charities, and he was probably a survivor of the period that knew the late Sir George Hare Philipson, Dr. Gibb and Dr. Embleton when they were young. In addition to his work at the Fleming Memorial Hospital, the deceased surgeon willingly gave his skill in a consultative capacity to the Northumberland and Durham Eye Infirmary and the Knight Memorial Hospital in Blyth”.
Professor Page married Margaret Graham in 1876; they had three children; one son, Colonel Cuthbert Page, who served in the Royal Artillery in the Ashanti War, 1900, and in the South African War, 1901-2. He was A.D.C. to the Governor of St Helena in 1903, rising to the rank of Captain by 1911. He also served in the Great War, 1914-19 (Lieut.-Col., R.G.A.; C.M.G.; D.S.O., and in 1916 was mentioned 3 times in despatches, receiving the Italian Croce di Guerra – the Italian silver medal for Military Valour. Cuthbert died 6th November, 1919, of injuries received on service. Frederick and Margaret also had two daughters, Clare Margaret Ursula and Dorothy Helen Agatha.
The 1881 Census records the Page family as living at 23, Ellison Place, Newcastle. Interestingly, the 1891 Census records that the Page’s were living at 1, Saville Place, Newcastle and that on the occasion of the Census taking place, a certain Dr. William Baigent, was a visitor!! I wonder if it was our chap….. this needs further exploration, for sure.
In a great book I picked up at Barter Books, entitled, ‘Newcastle School of Medicine 1834 – 1984: sesquicentennial scrapbook,’ there is a copy of an article written by Professor Page, where he compares the Royal Infirmary of 1870 with the 1900 version. Some of the descriptions are well worth retelling here:
“On the east side of the building, close up to the Infirmary wall, for some years the Hoppings were held, and for the after part of the days and for the greater part of the nights during which the vulgar shows and noisy shuggy-shoes were in evidence, the noise was deafening. Many a poor mangled wretch as he tossed upon his bed, restless and in pain, seeking sleep in vain, roundly rated the authorities who so thoughtlessly allowed the cruel nuisance to continue.”
As a retired Nurse, his observations on Nursing at the time are very interesting!!
“In the Infirmary, many of the nurses were of the Gamp order – some of them could not read or write – and neither their sobriety, cleanliness nor morality were above suspicion. No uniform was worn and there are members of the honorary staff, still, I dare say, who can remember a dirty, ignorant but kind old woman who had charge of Nos. 7 and 8 Wards, some of the brightest in the house. I can see her now with her dress tucked up into some slit behind, her frowsy stuff petticoats exposed – her ungartered grey worsted stockings wrinkled on her legs, and her down-at-heels slippers, waddling from one bed to another with a huge linseed meal poultice to be kindly and gently applied to a suppurating stump.” What a vision, bless her.
New innovations proved to be a bit tricky for nurses….“the clinical thermometer was only then just coming into use and no nurse was ever trusted to take temperatures, the doing of which was far from general.”
A few of these observations could still be valid today: “the Matron in those days was not a trained nurse – she was clever, most anxious to do her duty – but harassed by over work and quite unnecessary worry. She had to supervise the nurses and their duty, the domestic servants and the porters. There were far too few nurses and most of them were incompetent. They were underpaid and the accommodation provided for them was scandalous, of such a nature that it would have been impossible to secure the services of a better class of women.”
I love this bit – “there was one character who used to be on night duty – a little dried up apple-faced old woman, who easily lost her presence of mind. A compound fracture requiring amputation came into one of the side wards during the night, and it was her duty to get things in order. She became confused, lost her head and finally could not be found. It was ascertained she had crawled under the bed, whence she was with some difficulty persuaded to return to duty.”
And, finally…. ”Relatives and friends visited the patients on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and it was the duty of the porter to search each visitor in the lodge on entering and leaving the Infirmary. On entering to prevent whisky being introduced, on leaving to see that Infirmary property was not being stolen. Every visiting day numerous bottles of whisky were impounded, but some always escaped search and reached patients. The women who scrubbed the floor lived outside and they too were searched on entering and leaving. It was no uncommon thing for these women to bring in whisky and to steal linen and food from the Institution.”
Professor Page died on the 3rd July, 1919 at his then residence, 20 Victoria Square, Newcastle and was buried on 5th July, 1919. The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, dated 7th July 1919, reported that “prior to the interment, a well attended service was held at Jesmond Parish Church, conducted by the Vicar, the Rev. G.D. Oakley, who also conducted the service at the graveside. The gathering was thoroughly representative of the circle in which the deceased professor had moved, and included members of the medical profession, of the magisterial bench, and of public bodies. There was a number of floral tributes. The body was encased in an elm shell, with an outer coffin of oak, bearing brass mountings, and the breast plate bore the following inscription “Frederick Page, J.P., M.D., D.C.L. Died 3rd July 1919. Aged 79 years.”
Page’s wife, Margaret, had predeceased her husband and his youngest daughter, Dorothy, had died suddenly in Australia a few months before Frederick died. His son, Colonel Cuthbert Page, was unable to attend his Father’s funeral due to his deteriorating condition as a result of his war related injuries and Clare was enroute from her home which, like Dorothy, was also in Australia, so she also missed the funeral. How tragic… indeed, the BMJ recorded that “a halo of sadness encircled the passing of Mr. Page, for of his relations, only his sister was with him”.