One popular and long-running television program of the 1960s was Doctor Finlay’s Casebook – a story about a Scottish country doctor of the 1920s. It developed a following because it presented an image of doctors that we could still identify with – the family doctor.
The rather good-looking house at the bottom of Green Lane (now two houses) was built by the Stony Stratford architect, Edwin Swinfen Harris. (Harris was very active in the area in the late Victorian period and deserves a separate article when I get round to writing it.)
The railway company had built a house and surgery for the company doctor/surgeon in 1844 as one of six villas beside the canal. For various reasons – not least the relative isolation of The Firs – the LNWR decided to build a new house and surgery at this location. In the fashion of the day the house was named after trees. (The remaining four villas were named The Firs, Yew Tree House, The Hawthorns and The Limes, and the large houses beside the tennis courts were called The Beeches and Yiewsley.)
The house was first occupied by Dr. Harvey and when I was a boy by the husband and wife team of Doctors Eric and Marjorie Fildes. Dr. Eric Fildes was our “family doctor” as they were called in those days. In fact, being a family doctor and thus looking after all generations of the family was part of the effectiveness of diagnosis in those days largely free of medical technology. When Dr. Fildes came to visit me as a boy in the 1940s when I contracted one or another of the prevalent illnesses (yes Doctors did make house calls) he would park his black car outside the door, come upstairs to my bedroom, place a thermometer under my tongue and, while that was registering, place a cold stethoscope on my chest. Having made his diagnosis he would give my mother some instructions and scribble out a prescription. And that was basically it. After a few days I recovered with more bed rest and regular spoonfuls of medicine.
The Elms was a little more isolated than it is today. There were grounds extending to Moon Street of more than one acre surrounding the house. The surgery entrance was on the right. This door led to a waiting room where people sat until called into the surgery, a smaller room at the back. There may have been another room behind this for more detailed patient examination, but I never saw it.
I don’t know when the term “general Practitioner” (GP) came into use, but in the 40s and 50s we routinely referred to our doctors as “family doctors”. There was good sense in this. If the doctor knew the family then he would have a good basis of knowledge upon which to diagnose illness. There were few tests. The only pieces of diagnostic machinery that doctors carried were the thermometer and the stethoscope.
Our family doctor was Dr. W.E. (Eric) Fildes. He had attended on my grandparents, my parents and ourselves as children so he had three generations of knowledge to work with. He and his wife Marjorie (also a medical practitioner) ran the practice at The Elms at the bottom of Green Lane. I think their son Peter later came into the practice upon qualification. Dr Fildes appeared in the Doctor Finlay mode – tweedily dressed, moustache, soft brown hat, a black pre-war saloon car and carrying his black bag.
House calls were a part of life. When I was ill with some childhood disease prior to 1950, Dr Fildes would arrive in his car sometime in the late morning or afternoon and once his reassuring presence was ushered into my bedroom you knew that recovery was at hand. The routine was to take my temperature, read it, and flick the mercury back with a couple of shakes of the hand. His stethoscope was then produced from the bag and its cold plate placed upon my chest. After a few questions of my mother he would make his recommendations and scribble a prescription on his pad for my mother to take to the chemist.
There were two other medical practices in Wolverton – Dr Delahunty at “Yiewsley” on Western Road opposite the tennis courts, and Doctor, Lawrence, Douglas, Witheridge and Brown. The latter was a Stony Stratford practice with a Wolverton surgery on the Stratford Road. I think before the war this latter practice was headed by Dr Habgood who lived at Wolverton House and then Calverton House. His son John rose to some eminence in the Church of England, becoming Archbishop of York.
As I mentioned before, the Fildes were a husband and wife team, although I am not sure that I ever met or even saw Dr Marjorie Fildes. She must have had her patients and her husband his.
Surgery hours were usually conducted at the end of the afternoon, probably between 4 and 6. This would allow the “walking ill” so see the doctor. Surgery was conducted on a first come first served basis – there were no appointments.
After 1948 the National Health Service came into being. All the existing doctors and hospitals remained and carried on as normal – the only difference initially was that the state paid doctors directly rather than the patient. I was too young to know what my parents paid for doctor’s visits, but I have since heard that it was about 10/- , not an inconsiderable sum of money.