A casual remark by an 83-year-old patient of Newmarket’s Rookery Medical Centre has led one of its GPs to undercover 300 years of the town’s medical history.
Dr Paul Saban’s ‘journey of discovery’ began when his patient mentioned she had been with the practice since birth. She remembered a Dr Norman Gray, caring for her when she was a child, emphasising the Norman; this was because there had been several Dr Grays in the practice, all from the same family.
Dr Saban’s interest was shared by Rookery practice receptionist Liz Winsor, who found the Gray family on the 1911 census, in Lushington House in Newmarket High Street, next door to Alton House, which was home to the surgery until 1974. More research revealed the surgery was in Lushington House by 1862 and stayed until 1925. But that was just the start of the story.
Dr Saban was to discover the Rookery practice could trace its origins back to well before the NHS, antibiotics, or even the medical register, to a time when most medical practitioners were surgeon-apothecaries who did not have any medical qualifications.
These forerunners of modern GPs, knew how to prepare various strange remedies (as apothecaries) and they practised primitive surgery, before anaesthetics or antiseptics. They learned their craft by serving apprenticeships to other surgeon-apothecaries and were often referred to as ‘the surgeon’, which is how today’s surgeries came to be named.
As well as using census records, newspaper archives and medical sources, and receiving help from medical and local historians, Dr Saban also made contact with the Grays’ descendants, and the descendants of a Peck family, who ran the practice over 150 years ago, and who had emigrated to Australia in the 1850s. He uncovered a chain of medical practitioners stretching back to 1716.
Among the earliest was surgeon William Sandiver who was very involved with the racing community, carrying out his visits riding an old mare from which several successful racehorses were bred. There were two William Sandivers practising in Newmarket, father then son, and there are memorials to both inside St Mary’s church, a stone’s throw from the imposing house where they lived in St Mary’s Square, which still bears their name today.
Sandiver junior was the local medical attendant to the Prince Regent, and treated him using blood letting, the earliest recorded medical procedure Dr Saban found in his history in 1786.
After Sandiver died in 1813, another strangely named medic, Woodward Mudd, arrived in town to take on his patients and was soon joined in partnership by Robert James Peck.
Mudd and Peck’s location in Newmarket between 1813 and 1841 is not known. However, the 1841 census shows that Robert Peck lived between the former Crown and Waggon and Horses pubs, presumably in what is now Mentmore House.
While Woodward Mudd died in 1818, aged only 34, the Pecks continued to run the practice until 1858. Their later location was very likely the building on the junction of the High Street and The Avenue, later named Cardigan Lodge after Lady Cardigan, but then believed to have been known as 3 Park Terrace.
By late 1857, William Henry Day, who just a few years earlier had been an assistant surgeon at the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War, arrived to work in partnership with Floyd Peck. Peck later emigrated to Australia and by 1862 Day had moved to Lushington House. He went on to become quite eminent in medical circles, and is still regarded as one of the founding fathers of paediatric neurology, publishing several academic papers while practising in Newmarket.
When William Day left Newmarket in around 1867, he was succeeded at Lushington House by Frederick Clement Gray, the patriarch of a medical dynasty whose three generations were to run the practice for around 90 years. Initially leasing the property he eventually bought it in 1875.
Frederick Clement Gray died in 1888 but the practice was continued by his son, Clement Frederick Gray. Clement retired in the mid 1920s, but by then his two sons had joined him in partnership, Gilbert Gray (in 1910) and Norman Gray (in 1915). Norman was the senior medical officer at Newmarket race meetings, a role he continued after his retirement right up until 1969. His brother Gilbert Gray, suspicious of the proposed National Health Service retired early in the mid 1940s to farm sheep on the Isle of Mull. Their grandfather, Frederick, had been the driving force behind trying to get a cottage hospital set up in the town in the 1860s and 70s, a link the Rookery recently revived providing medical cover for the town hospital’s Rosemary ward.
Clement Gray died aged 96 in 1943. A report in the Newmarket Journal gave some indication of the esteem in which he had been held locally. It announced his passing with “a profound and sincere regret, a regret which will be fully shared by everyone in Newmarket and district.”
After Clement’s retirement, the practice had started to take on partners from outside of the family including the long serving Dr James ‘Jimmy’ McNeill who was to practise in the town until 1980 working from the Rookery premises from 1974.
A few years before his arrival the surgery had moved to Alton House which had been built by the Grays on a plot of land neighbouring Lushington House and named after Frederick’s birthplace in Hampshire.
Researching Newmarket’s medical history, Dr Saban said he found the most inspiring character to be Clement Gray, referred to as ‘old doctor Gray’ by the few patients who still remembered him. The Newmarket Journal said of him in 1943: “No-one has greater opportunities of serving his fellows than a doctor and no medical man ever made fuller use of those opportunities than Dr Clement Frederick Gray,
“Of him, it can truly be said that ‘he went about doing good,’ and his life and example were potent influences for good.”
A poster detailing Dr Saban’s research is now on display in the Rookery Medical Centre and can be viewed on