ID: DHG_001 / Simon Eagle

TitleHugh Green, 19th Century West Mersea Doctor and Surgeon
AbstractHugh Green, 19th Century West Mersea Doctor and Surgeon 1823-1895

Hugh Green was the second of four children born to William Green and Charlotte Emily Green (née Cooper) of Coddenham Hall, Boxford, Suffolk.

William Green was a freehold farmer of just over 200 acres so relatively well off. Charlotte was the fifth child of sixteen, her parents being Thomas Cooper and Susanna Cooper (née Salmon) who had freehold and tenanted farms in Langenhoe including Langenhoe Hall, and Polstead, the latter some 3 miles from Boxford so it was very likely the Coopers' and Greens' had mixed in the same social circles although the Coopers actually lived at Langenhoe Hall, having married at St Mary's Church Langenhoe in 1818.

Langenhoe St Mary's Church - demolished 1962

St Mary's Church and the neighbouring Langenhoe Hall, were to feature regularly in Hugh Green's life.

Although Hugh came from a multi generation farming family, he was not to follow the family tradition. Indeed, only his younger brother Thomas Cooper Green was later to become a farmer, while Hugh's elder brother William Green was to enter the church, and become the Vicar and Head of the Vicarage School at St James's Church Little Clacton. William was Vicar at St James's for fifty years.

Born in 1823, the 1841 Census listed Hugh as a medical student of Robert Grouse MD at Northgate Street, Bilstone (now Bildeston) in Suffolk. Hugh was just eighteen!

In the early 19th Century, entry into the medical profession was often achieved by one's parents making a significant financial advance to a tutor doctor. At this time there were over 30,000, primarily men, purporting to practice some form of medicine but by 1856 when the British Medical Association was first established, only 10,220 persons were listed in the Medical Directory and of those just 4% had a medical degree from an English University. It is not known if Hugh attended University, but he qualified both as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons England (MRCSE) and Licence of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA) in 1847. Both qualifications involved an examination, but any course work was significantly shorter than today and most initial learning was through reading with little if any patient contact.

Transmission of diseases was largely mis-understood to be as a result of either inheritance or individual lifestyle (intemperance), further affected by climate or location. So, patients might be advised to have a "change of air", to the coast for example. A limited range of medication was employed, but more likely the body was cleared of "impurities" by the use of laxatives, or bloodletting by cutting, or the use of leeches. Failing these remedies there was always the use of prayer.

One in four babies died at birth, and smallpox, scarlet fever and measles were listed among the main causes of illness. Cholera was shortly to become epidemic in many British cities but less so in the country.

The 1851 Census finds the 28-year-old Hugh now listed as GP Assistant to Robert Grouse and still in Bilstone. In the next village of Great Bricete, Anne Bawtree is listed as a private teacher to the children of George Mumford a farmer of 483 acres at Great Bricete Hall. It seems most likely that Hugh will have attended the Mumford family, and perhaps it was here that he met the 23-year-old. However, this might not necessarily be his only acquaintance with Anne.

Anne's aunt, Hester Bawtree had married George Frederick Cooper in 1827 (brother of Hugh's mother), and by 1851 they were living at Langenhoe Hall, George's father having died in 1838. George and Hester remained childless, and often entertained the Bawtree children. Surely Hugh would have visited Langenhoe Hall as a child, it being the Coopers' ancestral home?

So it was that on 14th April 1853 aged thirty, that Hugh married Anne Bawtree at Langenhoe Church. Perhaps the wedding reception was held at the Hall. Unfortunately, Hugh's father had died earlier that year and Coddenham Hall had been sold by auction, although his mother remained as the tenant farmer.

I have been unable to trace when Hugh first started to practice in West Mersea. Did he move in 1853 or later? It is known that he joined the Colchester Medical Society in October 1857 so we might assume that he was at least practicing in Mersea by then, and the first Medical Directory of 1859 list Hugh in West Mersea.

It seems likely that Hugh joined the Practice of John Sargeant Norman MD of Well House, West Mersea. John Norman was married to Amelia Cooper (Hugh's mother's sister), although Amelia had died in 1846. Norman was still practicing in 1851 with his son, Sergeant John Cooper Norman aged 16 as his medical apprentice. His son was perhaps too young to take over the practice and the family connections provided Hugh with the perfect opportunity. When John Norman died in 1860, he was by then already living in Colchester. His son Sergeant did indeed qualify as a doctor in 1855 aged just 21, and became a surgeon in London.

The 1861 Census sees Hugh listed as GP and Surgeon and living at Well House West Mersea. Curiously the enumerator of the Census record describes the area covered as being the Colchester Road from the sea to Pete Tye. This would suggest that Well House is on the mainland and not Mersea Island. Maps of both the period, and today, show Well House Farm on Mersea Island.

Research by Mersea Museum records that Strood House was built in 1860 on Colchester Road on the mainland. Was Strood House built for Hugh Green or did he purchase this substantial property later? By 1861 Hugh must have been of substantial means, employing two servants as well as a groom. He was probably splitting his time between West Mersea and the Colchester Hospital where he was a surgeon. His younger brother Thomas Cooper Green was by now also farming at Crouch House which neighboured Langenhoe Hall. I will return to this connection later.

Meanwhile Hugh's younger sister Amelia married William J Wood in Boxford in 1859. William was also a Doctor and they moved to Middlesex.

Hugh must have been held in high regard by his peers for in 1863 he was elected President of the Colchester Medical Society.

In November 1865 it was reported in the Essex Standard that Mr Green had attended the home of Joseph Digby, the Peldon Miller. His 15-year-old servant Clara Mason was found to be seriously ill. Hugh suspected cyanide poising but she died the following day. The subsequent enquiry established that a pot including cyanide had been left on the stove by Mr Digby, but inadvertently had been used, possibly by Clara, to boil the beans. Some family members had also become unwell, but fortunately had eaten fewer of the beans, put off by their appearance after cooking!

In April 1869 Hugh was called to look for his uncle. George F. Cooper aged 71, had not returned to collect his horse left with a Peldon resident, before George went for a walk alone. Hugh found him drowned in six feet of water near a sluice gate. It was known that George had been depressed having had to move out of Langenhoe Hall following a rent increase. A place he had lived in "for all of his life". It was clear from the evidence that he had fallen from the sluice, but it was decided it was an accident, perhaps because "suicide" was not the act of a "gentleman"?

The 1871 Census confirms that Hugh is now living at Strood Villa. Sarah Lizzie aged 26 is his cook, Emma Bacon aged 19 a servant and 24-year-old Thomas Jacobs his groom. Well House is now occupied by Charles Worts a surgeon and his wife. Charles had trained at his father's practice in East Hill Colchester but was later to move to Fordham to practice.

Unfortunately, Hugh's wife Anne died in January 1872 aged just 43. They had no children.

At this point I need to introduce the Matson family. Mary Bawtree married William Matson a farmer from St Osyth. Mary was the elder sister of Hester Bawtree who as mentioned earlier married George F Cooper of Langenhoe Hall, and also sister to Smith Howard Bawtree, whose daughter Anne had married Hugh Green.

Mary had 13 children between 1825 - 1846, with 10 living beyond childhood. Mary died in 1852 with her youngest just six years of age, and so it was left to the eldest daughter Hester at the age of 21 to maintain the household while her father worked the farm. All the Matson siblings were frequent visitors to their Aunt, Hester Cooper at Langenhoe Hall.

It was Hester Matson's elder sister Georgina who earlier in 1848 had married Hugh's brother William, Vicar of Little Clacton, and in January 1857 her younger sister Cecelia Matson aged 22 married Hugh's younger brother Thomas Cooper Green at St Mary's Church Langenhoe.

So it was that the Matson girls were already well known to Hugh, and just months after the death of Anne, Hugh at the age of 50 married the third sister, Hester Elizabeth Matson (aged 42) at St Peter and St Paul's Church St Osyth in October 1873.

It might be implied that Hugh married Hester as a matter of convenience, perhaps with a view that she run his household, but this seems unlikely, as Hester was held in great affection, for in writing his will just four years later, and in subsequent codicils, Hugh planned to leave his estate in its entirety in trust to Hester. In keeping with most wills of the period, there was a proviso that the estate went to his two brothers and sister should Hester remarry, but even in such an eventuality, Hester was still to receive an annual annuity of £100.

In July 1876 Hugh purchased at auction one tenement and a cottage plus 31 acres for £2,250, being part of the estate of Well House Farm. The farmhouse and 168 acres were auctioned as a separate lot and were purchased by J.R. Cock. Later in the August Hugh purchased at auction for £160, three tenements and gardens at Pete Tye, let at £13 per annum to Henry Eagle being part of Crouch End Farm.

It may be that Hugh was planning to rent out the acreage and or properties to Henry Eagle, his neighbour and farmer of Pete Hall, as Henry also attended the earlier auction. Hugh and Henry were involved together on many local committees as well as Henry being one of the two trustees named in Hugh's will.

Both were on the founding committee of the Mersea Horticultural Society in September 1876 and the first annual show was held at West Hall Barn and the adjoining pasture field in the October, under the management of Hugh. The show was so successful that it continues to this day. Just four years later the Rev. Musselwhite in raising the toast was to refer to Hugh Green as "The father of the society".

In September 1878 Hugh purchased the freehold of New Hall Farm, Little Wigborough, including the double cottage, stables and outbuildings plus 137 acres from Isaac Green for the sum of £3400. (note: A direct family link between Hugh and Isaac has yet to be established).

Also, in 1878 Hugh was elected the first Chairman of the "Tollesbury and Mersea Native Oyster Fishery Company Ltd". He had been involved in many of the discussions leading up to the formation of this company, no doubt helping to bring together the dredgermen of Tollesbury and Mersea. Hugh was often active in purchasing oyster brood stock, and lending his own money when the paid-up capital was insufficient. By all accounts the early annual shareholder meetings were vocal affairs, the dredgermen not always agreeing with the actions of the Committee. It is known that Hugh was still Chairman in 1881. The Company still exists to this day.

1879 saw Hugh elected to serve a second term as President of the Colchester Medical Society.

In November 1882 the Essex Standard reported on the re-opening of St Peters and St Paul's Church in West Mersea following an extensive internal restoration. The works were under the control of the Vicar, the Rev. Musselwhite and the two Churchwardens Hugh Green and Henry Eagle. Churchwardens were heavily involved in Church finances. The next year in April 1883 the Church turret clock was installed and while it was dedicated to the former surgeon of West Mersea J.S. Norman, it was paid for by Hugh Green, not only Norman's successor but also his nephew. Hugh was Churchwarden for very many years although I have yet to establish quite how long.

The 22nd April 1884 witnessed possibly one of the most powerful earthquakes in British history with an epicentre around Abberton, Peldon and Wivenhoe, at 9.15am. A report in the Essex Standard described Strood Villa "literally split from end to end - there is not a sound wall either inside or outside standing, all the windows in the house are smashed, the cap stone to the porch at the entrance is down as also are the chimneys, one stack falling on to Mr Green's consulting room, completely demolishing the latter. Mr Green who fortunately had left the consulting room a few minutes before, was in the surgery adjoining at the time, and here bottles from the shelves falling upon and around him, perfectly smothered him with their contents". No one was injured though the article goes on to say no rooms throughout the house with the exception of the kitchen were inhabitable. There were also reports of serious cracking to the outside walls and the possibility that the house would have to be demolished. Certainly, the picture taken shortly after the event evidences substantial damage to the chimneys and the loss of ground floor window panes. However, Hugh was to continue living at Strood Villa.

Strood Villa taken shortly after the earthquake 1884

Some 4 years later at the age of 65 Hugh was made honorary member of the Colchester Medical Society in 1888. I am not certain whether this event marked the end of Hugh practicing as a GP. The 1891 Census saw Hugh still living at Strood Villa, but now with just the one servant Alice Batterham aged 19. There was no groom, suggesting Hugh did not have the need for a horse, unless his groom now lived in one of the properties bought by auction earlier. It is noted that George Hewitt GP aged 27 was living at "Strood House" a neighbouring property, so perhaps Mr Hewitt had effectively taken over the practice.

In December 1889 a public meeting was held at the National Schoolroom in West Mersea where it was proposed "that it is the opinion of this meeting that it is highly desirable to endeavour to procure a railway communication to this Island". The motion was seconded by Hugh and carried unanimously. Hugh spoke up on the importance of establishing a railway station on the Island and together with five other residents formed a "committee". While in 1901 landowners received advance notice of the possible building of a light railway from Colchester to West Mersea, for whatever reason the scheme did not proceed, despite one road in West Mersea actually being named "Station Road" (since renamed). Hugh clearly saw a future in railways having shares in both British and Indian railways.

The 1891 Census also saw Hugh's brother Thomas now living as a retired farmer at Langenhoe Hall, which was now a house of multiple occupancy. Among the family members was his 18-year-old daughter Maud Green. In December 1904 Maud was to marry Alexander Eagle (only child of Henry Eagle of Pete Hall, and my grandfather).

It is most likely that Maud met Alexander when the Green's socialised with the Eagles but Hugh would not live to celebrate his niece's wedding as he died on 11th September 1895 aged 73.

While Strood House was sold the following August, the Trustees of Hugh's estate placed for auction in July 1897 Waldegrave's and Decoy Farms a total of 145 acres on Mersea, Rouse's Farm Great Wigborough (44 acres) and New Hall Farm in Little Wigborough (137 acres). In addition a "valuable oyster laying in Salcot Creek off Mersea Island" was to be auctioned. No dwelling houses were included and the lands were likely farmed by tenants. While New Hall Farm had been purchased in 1878, the date for the other land purchases is not known, but clearly Hugh had not totally abandoned his farming roots. Hugh left an estate worth £4,664 equivalent to say £620,000 today (2020). Essex Record Office Reference D/DHt T483

James Wentworth Day the author of many countryside books wrote of Hugh Green:

"A fine old country medico, he always rode about on a great sixteen-hand horse, dressed in a full-bottomed coat with a beaver hat on his head. He knew every fisherman, farmer, and wildfowler for miles. He bought their babies in to the world, saw their parents out of it and never dunned any man for his bill. His fees were counted in half-crowns, and his charity was abounding.

When this grand old sportsman, who hunted and shot to the last finally went to heaven there was a sale of his effects and the quantity of wines, gin, brandy and rum found in his cellar was a matter for praise and thanksgiving".

It was certainly the case that Hugh bought my Grandfather Alexander Eagle in to this world, and also signed the death certificate of my Great Grandfather Henry Eagle.

Hugh's widow Hester moved to Colchester where she boarded "living on own means" in Queen Street Colchester before dying in 1905 aged 77.

Simon Eagle January 2021
I am indebted to the meticulous research over many years of my sister Ann Lynch in establishing the genealogy of the Green, Cooper, Bawtree and Matson families let alone that of Eagle.
Elaine Barker of Mersea Museum also kindly provided details of the purchase of New Hall Farm

Read More:
Pyefleet House, Strood Close and Strood Villa
Conveyance of New Hall Farm Little Wigborough 1878

AuthorSimon Eagle
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 Chime Climb. Walter Hawkins has been winding the clock in the tower of West Mersea Parish Church for 23 years.
 The clock was made by John Bennett of Cheapside, London, and put into the church in 1882.
 Newspaper cutting, undated but the back of it has Golden Wedding announcements around 23 April 1985.  PAT_SPP_021
ImageID:   PAT_SPP_021
Title: Chime Climb. Walter Hawkins has been winding the clock in the tower of West Mersea Parish Church for 23 years.
The clock was made by John Bennett of Cheapside, London, and put into the church in 1882.
Newspaper cutting, undated but the back of it has Golden Wedding announcements around 23 April 1985.
Date:c23 April 1985
Source:Mersea Museum / Pat Kirby