It’s a great danger when writing of bygone days to compare customer service unfavourably with today’s standards — whether shop, cinema or coal merchant.
Mrs Anne Martin, formerly of Factory Farm, Borstal, but now in New Zealand, recalls one profession in Rochester where customer care was paramount — from a family of doctors living in Watts Avenue.
“The Duguids’ surgery was near the Maidstone Road end of Watts Avenue. There were three Scottish doctors there, two brothers and a sister, Dr William, Dr Ian, and Dr Anne. Another Duguid brother, Dr Nigel, had a surgery elsewhere, in Strood, I think,” she writes.
“Dr William was a chain smoker and even examined his patients while puffing on a ciggie. Nobody minded in those days. Dr Anne delivered me at Factory Farm in 1939 and they named me after her.
“Dr William used to trundle down to Factory Farm in his old car to minister to my gran when she got her pleurisy every winter. The doctors did their own dispensing and the bottles of medicine would be lined up on the mantelpiece in the waiting room to be collected — red for chests, white for stomachs and brown for … whatever. It must have been quite unusual to have so many doctors in one family.”
These, of course, were the days before the National Health Service — when you paid the doctors direct, rather than through taxes. With this came a personal service that can sometimes now be absent as hard-pressed GPs struggle to deal with a nation of hypochondriacs in a health service brimming with bureaucrats and low on medical staff.
“Things were more ‘human’ then,” Mrs Martin adds. “And tranquil. When one of the doctors came into the waiting room and said “Next please!” there would be a quiet little conference as to who was next.
“I don’t recall anyone ever getting ratty or trying to jump the queue, even when all the seats were occupied and patients had to line up in the corridor. These days there would no doubt be the occasional punch-up. And the bottles of medicine lined up on the waiting-room mantelpiece would probably be nicked within the hour!”
Mrs Martin paints a remarkable portrait of life in that waiting room … and not only with her fine words.
Shortly after this website was launched, Mrs Martin emailed: “I suddenly remembered a sketch I did in 1955 of the Duguid waiting room. In those days I often took a sketch book with me to fill in the time whenever there was likely to be any waiting.
“It’s not Augustus John but, I suppose, a sort of primitive record. The object on the table, on the right, was, I think a collecting box for a charity — you put a coin on the tray and the figure, possibly a dog, deposited it in the box.”
Wonderful, Mrs Martin. Here it is.
Bottles of coloured medicine waiting on the mantelpiece
Mrs Martin’s reminiscences prompted two other nostalgic outings. Mrs Margaret Clarke, of Beresford Avenue, Rochester, writes: “They were a wonderful team. Doctors William, Anne and Ian resided there and their younger brother, Nigel, lived in Strood. I do remember their father, a doctor too but retired. How proud he must have been of his family!
“They took up residence in the 1930s, following Dr Palmer, who delivered me at Cornwall Road, Rochester, in 1920. They were all so dedicated to their profession and worked endlessly every day to care for their patients. In those days, appointments were not made — you just went to the surgery and waited your turn to be seen by your doctor.
“You sat in the waiting room nearest to the surgery of the GP you wished to see. After their surgery, which often was about 8pm, they went out on their home visits: their call-outs could be after midnight but they went and considered it all part of their duty to do so.
“They did their own dispensing and you called back, either later that day or the next, to collect from their mantelpiece in the waiting room. It was mainly bottles of medicine — very few tablets were prescribed in those days.”
Such charming professionalism worked with patients. Mrs Clarke goes on: “I had such confidence in them and always felt better for having seen one of them, usually Dr William, with whom I was registered, although sometimes Dr Anne if it was a special female problems. She was a lovely lady.”
The Duguids cared in other ways, too. “I lived in the Delce area in the 1930s and 1940s and moved to my present address in 1950, when Dr William was still my doctor,” Mrs Clarke writes. “I had two sons and when they were young, just before Christmas, I would sort out a few old toys from their cupboards. Dr William would call to pick them up to deliver them to some parents in the area. They were just something for the children for whom Father Christmas was unable to visit.
“There were several families in the Delce area in the 1950s who had great problems in making ends meet and Dr William received great joy in giving something to a needy family. He was the eldest and died in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Dr Anne retired and moved from the area; Dr Ian died of cancer; Dr Nigel continued in his surgery in Strood but I have no definite news of the latter years.
“They were such a wonderful family who were loved and revered by so many people who knew them and for whom they served. I, for one, will never forget them.”
A retriever and a cigarette
Like Mrs Martin, Mrs Ethel Lamb recalls an aspect of Dr William that would be frowned upon now. “They were a caring family of doctors and I am very privileged to have been one of their patients,” she writes. “In fact, my first son was named after Dr Ian.
“Dr William always had a cigarette alight whether in his consulting room or visiting you at home, says Mrs Lamb, of Maidstone Road, Rochester. They always wore nice white coats and were very caring and thoughtful. Dr Ann would have her lovely golden retriever sitting by her in the consulting room, but now it’s no pets and no smoking.”