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Dr Duncan and the Coronation of Edward VII

Dr William Duncan, LRCP&S, LM Edin. (Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Licentiate in Medicine, Edinburgh – licentiate being an advanced academic qualification) was a physician and surgeon, medical officer and public vaccinator for the Eythorne district of the Eastry Union and medical officer for the Shepherdswell District of the Dover Union. He held these positions from about 1900 to the middle of 1903. For the majority, if not all of this time, he lived at West End House, Eythorne. He may also have undertaken non-Dover Union work in the Shepherdswell area.
Dr Duncan seems to have been active in the community, being the “popular” Lodge Surgeon of the “prosperous Eythorne Lodge” (Freemasons), who met at the Crown Inn (e.g. 10th May 1901), the secretary of the Eythorne District Nursing Society, who held their first annual meeting at The Crown Inn (March 1902, with the Earl of Guilford presiding), and was a lecturer and examiner for the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, Dover Division, in 1902 and 1903.
In March 1901 he was in dispute with the Dover Union complaining that Mr Pain, the relieving Officer, had not given a pauper Maltine (a malt extract). He had ordered cod liver oil and Maltine and the officer had given the oil but withheld the Maltine. Mr Pain put in a letter explaining the case. He pointed out that the case originally came from Lydden and the family had from time to time had heavy relief, 10s a week at one point and now 7s a week. “It was the doctor’s duty to recommend what the patient should have and it was the relieving officer who had to decide as to the ability of the pauper to procure the things themselves. He supplied the cod liver oil but the man had been buying Maltine before, and so he considered that he was able (had the means) to obtain that”. “Mr Woodland asked if a relieving officer could refuse to give what the medical officer had requested? The Clerk said he could do so, but it was generally wisest to give what the doctor ordered. Mr Bradley said was he glad that Pain had been able to put such a satisfactory complexion on the case, and thought that it would have been better if the doctor had seen Mr Pain on the subject before writing to the Board”.
In July of the same year (1901), Dr Duncan was involved in the inquest regarding the death of Mr Stephen Philpott of Shepherdswell (reported 5th July 1901). “Mr William Duncan, Surgeon, Eythorne stated he was called to the deceased before death. He was suffering from shock, the result of a fall, in his garden at his residence, Church Hill House, Shepherdswell, on Saturday morning (29th June)”. He had a slight scalp wound at the back of his head. Mr Philpott Senior was in his 89th year and latterly suffered from weakness of the heart and an attack of syncope (fainting or passing out) was undoubtedly the cause of his fall. The witness (Dr Duncan) had attended him once before for about a month ago also for a fall. Mr Stephen Philpott was born in the New Forest of Hampshire in 1812 and came to Dover in the early forties. Prior to the opening of the South Eastern Railway, he drove the stage coach between London and Dover and was probably the last of the old stage coach drivers. The London-Dover mail coach (the coach in winter being illustrated in a contemporary painting by Henry Thomas Alken, below) is mentioned by Charles Dickens in “ A Tale of Two Cities” (in the first book) published 1859*. Mr Philpott had the honour of driving the first coach at the funeral of the Duke Wellington. When “the railway superseded that method of conveyance”, he drove the mail coach between London and Herne Bay. For many years he was the proprietor of the well known (at that time) George and Royal Oak Hotels. The latter was the main stage coach station in Dover.

The Coronation of Edward VII and Alexandra, as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and British Dominions and as Emperor and Empress of India, was planned to take place on Thursday 26thJune 1902, at Westminster Abbey. A meeting to plan the celebrations at Eythorne took place on the 23rd May. (Occupations and places of residents of the attendees, in italics and in brackets below, have been taken from Kelly’s Directory of Kent 1903).
“The Coronation at Eythorne, how it is to be celebrated. Last night a largely attended meeting was held in the schoolroom at Eythorne (on Sandwich Road and built in 1891) to consider how the Coronation should be celebrated. The chair was taken by Mr Shedden (Capt. Graham Eden Shedden, Elvington Court) and amongst those present the Rector, the Rev Basil Burrows, Mr H. Amos (Henry T Amos, Parish Clerk,Corn dealer, Baker and Confectioner), Dr Duncan, the Rev W. Burnett (Baptist, at the Chapel from 1899), Messrs Church (George Church, The Retreat), Birch (Samuel Birch, Langdown House), Moody (Ernest Arthur Moody, Boot Maker), Wyborn (Morton Frederick Wyborn, registrar of Births , deaths and marriages for Eythorne sub-district, Eastry Union and assistant overseer, resigned 12th September 1902, Woodbine House? Also a farmer along with brother Arthur, Green and Monkton Court Farms), Bromley (Mrs Bromley, Church Hill House), W. Rigden (Grocer and Draper), West (George West, Upper Street), Hampshire (Leonard Richard Hampshire, Grocer and Draper and deputy registrar of births and deaths, Post Office) and Camburn (Allen Camburn, Insurance Agent).
“Those at the meeting thought it was very important they should have a general holiday. People in the country wanted more holidays. In towns there were a large number but in the country they were very few and far between. The chairman (Mr Shedden) said he understood the proposal was that they should give an entertainment to the aged poor and children. Dr Duncan said he did not think it was confined to that. If it were he should make a contra motion.”
The Chairman asked Dr Duncan if he had anything to suggest as to what kind of entertainment should be given. “Dr Duncan said he did not see why it should be limited to children and old people. His idea was that everyone in the place should sit down to a dinner together and that there should be no distinction between personage and position and thought everybody should consider themselves equally included to honour the King. As far as the expense was concerned the population of Eythorne was 420 and the cost ought not to exceed £21. If they could not raise the amount by voluntary subscriptions, a threepenny rate would cover it”. Mr Amos, the Chairman of the Parish Council explained that they had decided that they did not want a rate levied to meet the expense. By the end of the meeting £14 had been subscribed somewhat short of target. Dr Duncan’s position here seems to differ with that of many other parishes who did indeed limit the meal part of the celebrations to only the poor and young (see cartoon of London Poor having Dinner). By 6th of June the arrangements were proceeding well and the minimum sum required already received (in fact they had raised £25).

It was reported on the 20th June 1902 that the Coronation celebrations would commence with the Coronation Service in the church, sports would take place in the park in the afternoon and a meat tea would be set out in the Riding Hall, Waldershare Park. A bonfire would conclude the day’s proceedings. A special prize was to be given for the best decorated house. “Meat tea” now more usually referred to as “high tea” is an evening meal, sometimes associated with the “working” class but in reality enjoyed by all social classes, in particular after sports matches, especially cricket. It is typically eaten between 5 and 7pm. High tea typically consists of a savoury dish (either something hot, or cold cuts of meat such as ham salad), followed by cakes and bread, butter and jam.
Unfortunately, the ceremony was postponed at very short notice (Tuesday 24th June) because the King had been taken ill. (In many parishes the Coronation celebrations went ahead in June anyway e.g. St Margarets-at-Cliffe as it was considered too late in the day to stop them). He was diagnosed with appendicitis. The disease was then generally not treated operatively. It carried a high mortality rate, but developments in anaesthesia and antisepsis in the preceding 50 years made life-saving surgery possible. Sir Frederick Treves, with the support of Lord Lister, performed a then-radical operation of draining the infected abscess through a small incision (through a 4 1⁄2-inch thickness of belly fat and abdomen wall, Edward VII was not a thin man). Two weeks later, it was announced that he was out of danger. The operation was carried out on a table in the music room at Buckingham Palace. Hence, in the event, the Coronation of Edward VII and Alexandra took place at Westminster Abbey, London, on 9th August 1902.
On the revised Coronation day (reported 15th August) the Eythorne celebrations took place. “The Coronation Day was fully observed in this pretty village, everything having been postponed from June 26th“. There was a “choral celebration of the Holy Eucharist at 9.30am, following the lines of the Form recommended for use, with sermon by the rector, which was attended by a large congregation. The choir rendered the music very accurately under Miss Burton’s good guidance at the organ.”
The meat tea was held in the Riding School and was “well managed by the Food Committee under Mr Amos, about 400 sitting down. A bonfire was lighted about 8.30 by Dr Duncan and blazed brightly for miles around. Several houses were illuminated during the evening. Mr and Mrs Graham Shedden most kindly gave souvenir books and cards and to children in the school and parish under 14 years and above the age of babies, and Messrs Hampshire and Rigden gave prizes for sports”. The sports committee judged the best decorated houses between 12.00am and 1.00pm and the winners of prizes were Mr G Hussey, Mrs Harvey (The Priory), Mr Keeler (St Albans) and Mr Walter Pierce while 5 other were highly commended and five commended. The sports, which were held “by the kindness of the Earl of Guilford in Waldershare park”, began at 3pm and were resumed after tea, only one event being abandoned for want of light. The most successful athletes were Messrs Clements, Files and G. Merryfield, Miss Belsey, Mrs W. Pierce, C&A. Stokes, E. Lloyd, E. Harris, T. Williams, A. Gammon and M. Wyborn.
Instead of having a Coronation Fete for the Waldershare tenants, Lord Guilford gave gifts of money to a large number of them (22nd August 1902).
Earlier in the year, and reported Saturday 14th June 1902, Dr Duncan had written to the Dover Union asking for re-election as Medical Officer for Shepherdswell district. One of the Guardians, presumably new to the post, “expressed surprise that a medical man should write and apply for a position that was not vacant, it was not etiquette”. The chairman explained that Dr Duncan did not live in the district and therefore imperative for him to make a fresh application every year. The re-appointment of Dr Duncan was carried unanimously.
For reasons unknown, Dr Duncan of Eythorne wrote tendering his resignation as medical officer for the Eythorne District and to the Dover Board of Guardians resigning his appointment as one of the district poor law medical officers (for Shepherdswell) in the last week of July 1903. In the case of the Eythorne District position, he was replaced as medical officer by Mr G.C. Winchester in August 1903.
Although we don’t know why he resigned, we do know where he ended up, as he belatedly wrote to the Dover Board of Guardians asking for a testimonial from Guernsey in late June 1904.
*Opening lines to “A Tale of Two Cities” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.

Vince Croud

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