You are in [Themes] [Medicine in Hungerford] [19th Century and Medical Nepotism]

By the beginning of the 19th century, the status of surgeons and apothecaries had risen substantially, and their work had become increasingly medical.

The origins of the College of Surgeons can be traced back to the time of Henry VIII, when, in 1540, a union was formed between the Fellowship of Surgeons and the Company of Barbers to become the Company of Barber-Surgeons.

An uneasy partnership persisted through the 16th and 17th centuries, and by the 18th century across Europe there was arise of private anatomy schools, an academic basis for surgical practice, the number and importance of surgeons increased, and there was a firm desire for independent professional recognition.

The difficult relationship between the barbers and surgeons is well illustrated in the above cartoon. In 1745 the surgeons split from the Company of Barber-Surgeons to form an independent Company of Surgeons. They gained a Royal Charter in 1800, and became the Royal College of Surgeons of London (England). Surgical training had improved, and surgeons took the examination for membership in the Royal College of Surgeons (M.R.C.S.) after a combination of apprenticeship and hospital training.

The following prescription for treatment for St Vitus's Dance (original reproduced in Photo Gallery) was found amongst papers at the surgery:

St Vitus's Dance Receipt:

Halfpenny Worth of Senna Leaves, 1/2 Pennyworth of Jolop, 1/2oz of Syrup of Ginger.
Pour 1/2 Pint of Boiling Water over Senna Leaves and Jolop.
Let it Stand covered till morning then add the Ginger.

Take one tablespoonfull fasting in the morning.
One oz of tincture of Iron. Take 10 drops three times a day after Meals. One egg well beaten every Morning.

Follow these instructions very carefully.

Photo Gallery:

battle barbers-surgeons
battle barbers-surgeons

The Battle of the Barbers and Surgeons – 18th century caricature

Rx St Vitus Dance-01
Rx St Vitus Dance-01

Prescription for treatment for St Vitus's Dance

Rx St Vitus Dance-02
Rx St Vitus Dance-02

Prescription for treatment for St Vitus's Dance

107 hs
107 hs

107 High Street, family home of the Majors


Graffiti on the boundary wall at 107 High Street


Kennet House, 19 High Street, home of the Barkers.

- The Battle of the Barbers and Surgeons – 18th century caricature.

- Prescription for treatment for St Vitus's Dance.

- 107 High Street, family home of the Majors.

- Graffiti on the boundary wall at 107 High Street.

- Kennet House, 19 High Street, home of the Barkers.

The 1815 Apothecaries Act:

In 1815, the Apothecaries Act gave legal recognition to the right of apothecaries in Britain to give medical advice as well as to supply drugs. The Act made it compulsory for apothecaries to undergo a five year apprenticeship and to take courses in anatomy, physiology, the practice of medicine, and materia medica (what we would now call pharmacology). It also established a qualifying examination, the Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (L.S.A.).

It soon became customary for practitioners to take the double qualification (L.S.A. and M.R.C.S.) and, when an examination in midwifery was added, the graduate was qualified to practice medicine, surgery, and midwifery. It was at the beginning of the 19th century that the term "general practitioner" first began to be used in this country (although it had appeared in America rather earlier), being found in an article in the medical journal 'The Lancet".

Returning to Hungerford itself, we find that two families emerge, who were to provide the entire medical care for the town for nearly one hundred years. Each of them, the Majors and the Barkers, was to provide three generations of doctors.

This situation is not that uncommon in medicine. There are plenty of other examples of this type of medical nepotism (!), perhaps the finest example of all being that of Marlborough, just a few miles west of Hungerford.

In Marlborough, just one family, the Maurice family, has provided the town with no less than six generations of doctors, spanning the period from 1792 up to the present day, for which they earn a well deserved mention in the Guinness Book of Records.

For the sake of clarity, we shall study each family in turn, rather than merge them for the sake of keeping to a strict chronological order. We will start with the Major family.

The Major family:

THOMAS MAJOR (1771-1843):

Thomas was born in 1771, and he qualified as a Member of the Society of Apothecaries. He was a surgeon in the Royal Navy for eight years, and served on the "Swiftsure" which was at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Due to his bad health, he retired from the Navy, and settled in Hungerford as a medical practitioner. (It is unclear what brought him to Hungerford).

He married (27.12.1802) Sarah Pearce (1774-1836), daughter of John Pearce of Standen Hussey, and they lived throughout the period we are considering at the fine Georgian house, number 107 High Street, which appears to been acquired the house from Sarah's family. The 1807 Commoner's List shows Major at 107 High Street.

Thomas and Sarah Major had seven children: Thomas (1803); Harry Hopkins Pearce (1806); Stephen John Pearce (1807); Sarah (1809); William (13.10.1810); Marianne (or Mary Anne) (born 1812, but died 4.1.1813); and Clara (1818).

In 1805 the Vestry Book records that Thomas Major was appointed "apothecary and man-midwife". Women were "at liberty to choose a woman midwife, being allowed 5s only out of the surgeon's salary".

Thomas Major was Constable of Hungerford in 1812, and clearly he enjoyed his tenure of office, because he was again Constable for the two years 1824-25.

The eldest son Thomas (born 1803) went on to become an attorney in the town, and is described as living in the High Street in the 1844 edition of Pigot's Directory.

The third son Stephen Major married Lavinia, and farmed at Sanham Green. They had three children: Henry Mungo (4.11.1846); Thomas (1843); and Sarah (1845).

The second eldest son in the family, Harry Hopkins Pearce, born ?August 1806, followed his father's footsteps, and studied medicine. In due course he was to take over the family practice in the town.

Sarah Major died 18.11.1836, aged 62 years. Her memorial is in St. Lawrence's Church. Thomas continued to practice well into the 1840's, when he himself was aged more than 65 years. The census of 1841 describes him as "surgeon", living at 107.

The 1844 Pigot's Directory records the fact that the practice was, at least for some time, "Major & Son", Surgeons.

Thomas Major died on 1st July 1845, at the age of 72 years. He was buried in St. Lawrence's churchyard, and his memorial is in the church. He had practiced medicine in Hungerford for more than 42 years - a fine record in itself. More than this though, his offspring were to continue to serve the town for a further 50 or so more years.


Harry Hopkins Pearce Major was born in ?August 1806. His parents had lived in 107 High Street for most of their life, and Harry, as the second eldest of seven children would no doubt have enjoyed a fairly comfortable childhood. We know that his elder brother Thomas studied law, and that his younger brother Stephen became a farmer locally. But it was Harry who was to follow his father's profession, and study medicine.

In the 1851 Census return we read that Harry's qualifications were M.C.S. and Master & Licentiate of the Apothecary's Hall.

He married Maria (born 1809), and came to live in Little Church Lane. They had seven children (like his parents): Harry Pike (1836); Maryanne (1839); William (1841); Emma (1843); Napolean Birdee (1845); Rosa (1847); and Kate (1849).

The baptism registers for these children show that they moved from Church Lane to the High Street sometime between June 1843 (when Emma was christened), and September 1847 (when it was Rosa's turn).

Certainly, we know from the 1844 Pigot's Directory that at the age of 35 years Harry was practising with his father in 1844, just before his father's death in January 1845.

As yet it is unclear just when Harry died, but the census return of 1861 shows that his widow Maria was living in 107 with their eldest son Harry Pike, who was then aged 24 years, and was already taking over his fathers work. If Harry had died in 1860 he would have been 54 years.

HARRY PIKE MAJOR (1836-c.1914):

Harry Pike Major was born in 1836, the eldest son of Harry Hopkins Pearce and Maria Major. It seems that his father became ill soon after Harry Pike qualified, and he came back to the family home and ran the practice from 1860, when he was only 24 years old. The census of 1861 shows him at 107 High Street, and describes him as "General Practitioner".

Harry Pike Major was a remarkable man, with a wide range of interests both inside and outside the practice of medicine. He became Medical Officer of the Workhouse in 1862, and in December 1876 he was called in on the discovery of the bodies of the policemen who were murdered by poachers at Folly crossroads. He performed the post-mortems, and gave expert evidence at the trial.

He was Public Vaccinator, Constable in 1877, Magistrate in 1903, County Councillor and Chairman of the Parish Council.

He had a large family of sons and daughters, and practised up to the early 1903. For more on his story click here.

An interesting piece of carefully carved (with serifs!) graffiti shows "H.P.M. 1888". There is no problem with him having carved his initials on his own boundary wall, but it is very intriguing that apparently he did so in 1888, when he was aged 52 years!

The Barker family:

We return now to the beginning of the 19th century to follow the story of the second family practice in the town, that of the Barker family. Research into this family has been doubly difficult because at least three generations of Barkers were called Richard!

RICHARD BARKER (c.1785-c.1855):

The first member of this family to practice medicine in Hungerford was Richard Barker, who was born c.1785. So far we know little of Richard Barkers origins, or upbringing, but we do know that on 12th January 1809 he married Anne Hemstead of Kintbury.

Richard and Anne Barker lived initially at 104 High Street, then at College House, 130 High Street, but later settled at Kennet House on the corner of High Street and Church Street. This was the property which became associated with the Barker family practice.

Richard Barker was Constable of Hungerford both in 1814 and again in 1820. Richard and Anne Barker had eight children: Richard Hemstead (11.12.1809); William Henry (15.6.1811, who later drowned in the canal on 9.2.1838); Harriett (12.8.1812); Eliza (1815); Ann (1815); Charles Eli (1817); Mary Hemstead (1818); and Martha Frances (1822).

Richard Barker was one of several local people who were appointed under Act of Parliament to raise £4,500 by Annuities, Loans, Rates and Assessments for the rebuilding of St. Lawrence's Church in 1811. The eventual rebuilding work was carried out between 1814 and 1816.

The entry in the baptism register for Eliza's christening in 1815 notes that her father was "Surgeon and Apothecary", and living in the High Street. It was his eldest son, Richard Hemstead Barker, who was eventually to study medicine and join him in partnership in Hungerford. The Post Office Directory of 1847 has an entry "Richard Barker and Son, - Surgeon, High Street". The Commoners List of the same year shows he was living at 104 High Street, although we know that he lived in College House, 130 High Street during the later years.

He died in c.1855 at the age of ?70 years, and his grave is in St. Lawrence's church.


Richard Hemstead Barker was born on 11th December 1809. He qualified both with the M.R.C.S. and with L.S.A., and soon joined his father in practice. The 1841 census return shows that the 31 year old Richard Hemstead was a surgeon, and was living at College House, 130 High Street. There are, of course, no common rights attached to this properly.

In the mid 1830's he married Elizabeth Ann, and they had eight children: Anne Frances (1838); Susannah Elizabeth (1839); William Lavington (1842); Elizabeth Alice (1844); Edith Augusta (1845); Richard Henry (1847); Edward (1849, died soon after birth); and Charles Hemstead (1857 - when his mother was aged 45 years!).

Richard Hemstead Barker and his family lived at Kennet House, 19 High Street. This property has Common Rights, and he was soon elected to the office of Constable of Hungerford, which he held for the two years 1851-52. Kennet House was going to be a doctor's house for the next 70 years or so. He owned other property in the town, including 26 High Street.

In 1864, the Billings Directory mentions that he was surgeon to the Union Workhouse, although it is not yet clear just when he took on this post.

He was also Surgeon to the Hungerford Troop of First Berkshire Regiment of Yeomanry (later to be called "Royal Berkshire Yeomanry Cavalry"). (See Berkshire Yeomanry)

He died in his mid 60's, sometime between 1871 (when his name appears in the census), and 1881 (when his widow only appears), leaving his widow Elizabeth (who was two years younger than him) and their son, the third Richard, who succeeded him in the practice.


Richard Henry Barker was the third in the family line of Barkers who were doctors in Hungerford. He was born in 1847, and was brought up in Kennet House.

He qualified in medicine at St. Andrews University where he achieved the MD, and MRCS Eng.

Richard Henry Barker never married, and was looked after by a housekeeper with the delightful name of Miss Locket. (Incidentally, Miss Locket moved to Kennet View after Dr. Barker's death, with Miss Edith Wells. The bungalow that used to stand adjacent to the Police Station in Park Street was built in the garden of Kennet View for Miss Wells after Miss Locket's death).

His garden, extending west alongside the railway was superb. There was a high brick wall running along Church Street, but there was an excellent view of it to be obtained from the railway, and it was said that many local people chose to sit on the south side of the carriage when travelling west from Hungerford so that they could view Dr. Barker's garden!

In the garden was a large stable in which was kept his "dog- cart". His driver Mr. New lived in a cottage over the stable. He had a particular interest in obstetrics, and often was called upon to visit for midwifery a long way from the town. Mention has been made that he sometimes used to stay as far away as Fosbury until the babe was safely delivered.

The magnificent property of Kennet House not only entitled him to Common Rights of the Town & Manor, but it also attracted Common Rights in Sanden Fee in respect of a tenement in Church Street which had previously been removed. His sister owned 'The Orchard", on the marsh.

Clearly he was a keen fisherman - in E.L. Davis book 'The story of a Fishery" there are several mentions of Dr. Barker's name in connection with various disputes.

This then is the situation at the end of the 19th century, with Dr Harry Pike Major and his family in 107 High Street, and Dr. Henry Barker running his practice from Kennet House, a little further down the High Street, on the opposite side.

See also:

Medicine in Hungerford:

- The Early Days - from the 13th century

- The Start of Organised Medicine - from 1550 to c1830

- The 19th Century and Medical Nepotism

- The Early 1900s

- District Nursing

- The First World War

- Between the Wars

- The Second World War

- The Coming of the N.H.S.

- The 1950s

- The Healthcare Team

- Local Hospitals (including more distant ones used by Hungerford residents)

- For more on the Major family (and many connections with other Hungerford families, see