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George Elgar – Eythorne and the Workhouse

Eastry was part of a Gilbert Union, formed under Gilbert’s Act of 1782, which provided a variety of powers including the operation of a workhouse for the elderly, infirm and children. A Gilbert Union Workhouse was intended to be a source of care not deterrent. Following the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the old system of the parish providing relief to the poor was ended and it became the responsibility of the newly formed Unions. Eastry Union was overseen by a board of 27 Guardians in number, representing 26 constituent parishes (Ash had two guardians) including Eythorne and Tilmanstone and of course Eastry.
Eastry Poor Law Union officially came into existence on 27th April 1835. A new building was erected in 1835-6 to the West of the existing workhouse in Mill Lane (see image). It could house about 500 inmates. The infirm, old, insane, sick and able were placed together in an institution with the aim of discouraging the able-bodied from seeking support from the public authorities. The new workhouses were not designed with any facilities for sick people. Any infirmaries that evolved had basic amenities. This included cheap beds, few blankets, no water, no cupboards and no chairs.
The Master and Matron of the workhouse and the Guardians were not required to have any qualifications, but they had the last say on what happened in the workhouse. Poor Law Unions were obliged to employ one or more Medical Officers to minister to the Union sick and poor both inside and outside the workhouse. In contrast to the Master, Mistress and Guardians, the Medical Officer was required to be properly qualified (and these qualifications stipulated in the law. see image).
George Elgar is recorded as being the Eythorne Medical Officer working for the Eastry Union. He was appointed in 1836 (the previous Eythorne Doctor, John Jeken Kennet died suddenly in 1832), at the very inception of Eastry Union. George Elgar obtained his MRCS (Member of Royal College of Surgeons) in 1828 and his LSA (Licentiate Society of Apothecaries London) in 1832. George’s age isn’t known but if we assume he got his MRCS at the earliest age possible (22) he would have been born in 1806 or earlier. He left the employ of the Eastry Union in 1843 after 7 years tenure and the reason given for him leaving was that he had “moved away”. His replacement in Eythorne was Frederick Augustus Chalk who will be the subject of a separate document.
The salary of a Medical Officer depended on the population of the medical district, so the rural communities with few villages paid low wages. Eythorne has a small community so George Elgar was paid only sixteen pounds a year as the Eastry Union Medical Officer for Eythorne. The medical districts with larger populations with towns like Deal, with a population of 6,688, paid sixty-two pounds per year and Sandwich, with a population of 6,906, paid fifty pounds in 1842. A salary of £16 per year would not have been enough for George Elgar to live on (especially as he needed to cover the cost of his own transport (horse and gig, plus stabling etc) and any drugs needed for any treatment (medical officers usually had to pay for any drugs they prescribed) and he would have needed the income from private practice in Eythorne to live on. Almost all Medical Officers used the Poor Law post as a pathway to a profitable private practice or to dissuade competition from entering their patch and not as a source of sole income. Some Medical Officers worked for two Unions to increase earnings (such as Frederick Harvey Sankey who worked for Eastry and Bridge Unions giving him a combined income of sixty three pounds)
The duties of a workhouse Medical Officer were laid down by the 1842 Medical Orders. The duties state that the Medical Officer had to examine every case of admission of a pauper to the workhouse, classify the sick, perform surgical operations, report defects in sanitary arrangements in the building, keep up his paperwork (report books) and compile annual lists of the sick. In practice, the Medical Officer may have little time to do the paperwork after treating the many patients in his care.
There were tensions between the Guardians, wanting to save the ratepayers’ money, and the Medical Officers wanting to improve the medical care in the workhouse. Attached is a Letter from Frederick Harvey Sankey (born in Eythorne, 3rd August 1803), Medical Officer for Wingham (son of William Sankey, Surgeon of Eythorne from around 1792 to 1803) detailing a struggle by the Medical Officers to get fair compensation from the Union for treatment of a cholera and diarrhoea outbreak. The letter was published in the “Association Medical Journal” (which became the British Medical Journal in 1857).
Information on George’s private practice activities are absent. After he left Eythorne, however, it would seem he moved to Ash and set up a partnership with John Sladden (MRCS and LSA both 1834) who was the Eastry Union Medical Officer for Ash from 1842 (aged 33) until his death in 1870 (26 years in the Union).
It was announced in January 1858, that the “Partnership between John Sladden and George Elgar, both of the parish of Ash next Sandwich and carrying on business of surgeons and appothecaries” was to be dissolved. At first sight it looks as if the partnership had just run its course. Later in the year (August 1858), however, a notice requesting that “Creditors of the Estate of George Elgar, an insolvent, who filed petion for protection in the County Court of Kent at Sandwich, 1st May 1858” contact the solictors dealing with the insolvency (who was John Mourilyhan, Solictor, Sandwich and also Paris). Therefore it may be that the partnership dissolved because of George Elgar’s financial position.
It would appear, as reported in late December1857, that John Sladden alone handled the debts, incoming or outgoing, that existed when the partnership was wound up, which officially occurred in June 1858, presumably due to George Elgar being insolvent. The legal document for this being signed by Sladden, Elgar and Mourilyan. John Sladden sold his practice in 28/12/1869 and died in 1870. His premises were in Ash Street in Ash and an auction of goods from this address included an “Active and useful horse”. John Sladden’s son, Julius, was later to marry John Mourilyan’s daughter Eugénie Narcisse and he became Sir Julius Sladden upon being knighted on 5/2/1926.

Vince Croud

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