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Frederick Augustus Chalk, Surgeon of Eythorne (Part 2). Eastry Union

Frederick Augustus Chalk took over from George Elgar the position of Medical Officer for Eythorne in the Eastry Union in April 1843. His salary was £16, the same as received by his predecessor, and poor remunaration for the post given that the Medical Officer needed to cover his own transport costs (horse and gig, plus stabling etc) and typicallly the cost of any drugs needed for treatment (Medical Officers usually had to pay for any drugs they prescribed).
The building of Eastry Union Workhouse commenced in 1835. It was based on the “courtyard” plan of Sir Francis Head (see attached) and was originally designed to hold 500 inmates. The dormitories are marked A on the plan and each is only 15 ft by 10 ft. The plan also has a note stating that space provided “should not exceed the dimensions of the cottage of the honest, hard working , independant labourer: well built substantial rooms being a luxury”. An infirmary wasn’t added until 1871.
Eastry Workhouse was the second largest Workhouse in the country and had the largest amount of parishes giving a union population of nearly 25,000 in the 1830s. Outside relief was available to the sick and elderly but assistance to the able-bodied was only available in the confines of the workhouse. Eastry was a place where ‘there was regular observance of routine, religious exercise, silence during meals, prompt obedience and separation of families, even of the same sex”. The regime was deliberately harsh and often cruel.
On entering the Workhouse, you would be put into a category and segregated into one of seven classes. These were,

    1. Aged or infirm men
    2. Able bodied men and youths above 13.
    3. Youths and boys above seven and under 13
    4. Aged or infirm women.
    5. Ablebodied women and girls above 16
    6. Girls above seven years old and under 16.
    7. Children under 7 years of age.

    Inmates only possessions were the uniform they wore and the bed they slept in.
    There were always tensions between the Guardians of the Eastry Union, wanting to save the ratepayers’ money, and the Medical Officers wanting to improve the medical care in the workhouse and the poor in the parish.
    On 25 September 1848, Frederick Chalk made a claim to the Eastry Union for £5 for attending Daniel Holliday who had broken his leg. Daniel Holliday was a member of the Barham Downs Medical Provident Society, an organisation whose members paid a fee for the cover of illness or accident. The society paid out for the illness or accident and paid a weekly income until recovery by the member. Therefore, the Guardians of the Eastry Union refused to pay, saying that the Barham Downs Medical Provident Society was liable for the fee and there had been no communications from Daniel Holliday with the Relieving Officer in his district requesting treatment. Frederick Chalk insisted on his claim for £5 and payment from the Union. On 7th November a letter was written on behalf of Daniel Holliday stating that he had stopped paying his subscription to the Barham Downs Medical Provident Society since July, so they would not pay out for his broken leg. Daniel Holliday’s mark signs the letter as a signature. This incident shows the lengths the Guardians would go to save £5, and although a lot of time was wasted on the claim, the Guardians did not pay, and Frederick Chalk remained out of pocket.
    The Barham Downs Medical Provident Society came into being on 1st October 1834 and was the creation of the Rev. Charles Oxenden, Hon. Canon of Canterbury. The object of Oxendens’ society was to enable the labouring classes to obtain in common with their richer neighbours the best medical advice that could be obtained locally. This was to be done by paying a small sum every quarter to the society, which, in return, would provide the medical man and assistance. A feature of the society, or club, was that members could choose any local medical man they wished, provided he lived within seven miles.
    The persons eligible for membership of the club were farm servants, journeymen apprentices, labourers, single women and widows, with their respective families, but no domestic servant receiving more than £8 yearly wages and no journeymen or labourers receiving 21s. weekly wages, or whose wages, with those of their children over 16 years old, amounted to over 28s. a week could join. The quarterly subscription varied according to occupation or condition from Is. to 6s., but midwifery was extra and was charged at 7s. 6d. per case.
    So successful was this new society that at the end of its first quarter it encompassed a district of 30 rural parishes and the number of benefitting members was 2,285. It is therefore entirely possible that residents of Eythorne were subscribers. The Marchioness of Conyngam (the last mistress of George IV, see image below) was an honorary member at the inception in 1834.
    Frederick Augustus Chalk was forced to retire from his position in 1867 due to ill health. This was due to tensions between the local community and the Union. He had a mental breakdown and tried to commit suicide on the 16 December 1866 following the death of his wife. He was sent to the Peckham Lunatic Asylum for a few weeks. This was a private asylum founded in about 1826 and by 1866 housed around 350 paupers and 50 private patients. Inspections by the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy over the years had repeatedly found deficiencies in the quantities of food supplied to the pauper inmates.
    In a letter to the Poor Law Board, the clerk of Eastry Union, John Rigden, states that “Frederick Chalk has since returned, and the sick poor he attends will not take his medicine, therefore the Board of Guardians have called upon the two medical officers (believed to be from Thanet) to continue their attendance on the poor in his district. The Board of Guardians will thank Your Honourable Board to instruct them how to act in this case”. The local community seems to have lost confidence in Frederick Chalk, so the Board of Guardians removed Frederick Chalk and advertise for a replacement due to the pressure from the local community. Publicly the Union praised Frederick Chalk’s contribution calling him ‘indefatigable’. Frederick Chalk gave 24 years of service. He seems to have continued his private practice after leaving the Eastry Union until his death in 1870.

    Vince Croud

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