Medical Training in the 1700 and 1800s in England

In a new book that I am currently writing, I am researching several men who claim to be practising as doctors. One of those men, born in 1793 in Lincolnshire, England, claimed to have been apprenticed to an established medical man in a nearby town in 1807. He went on to practise medicine and act as a druggist and apothecary for several years after he trained both in Lincolnshire and in London. Yet, the Apothecaries Company in Blackfriars, London has no trace of him. So how did he train, or was merely working with an established doctor enough?  But when I checked on the training of his supervisor, no record was found at the Apothecaries.  So this led me into inquiring what were the processes of training back prior to 1800. It seemed unlikely that he would have directly become a surgeon by undertaking a study for a MRCS in London. Surely he would some other experience first.  So I looked at a register of medical men in the 1700s called: Eighteenth Century Medics (subscriptions,  licences, apprenticeships) by PJ and RV Wallis (1988) [Project for Historical Bibliography, Newcastle upon Tyne]. Here I found the supervisor listed but the method of his training was not given. I also read a couple of books on barber-surgeons in the 1700s.

From all this, it seems that for many years,  medicos trained by decree of religious orders (see the Lambeth Palace lists), or by permission of a local town council, through the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as by barber surgeons and apothecaries. Of course, by 1800, the training of surgeons was well and truly separated from barbers. So the next step I will be following is to search the records of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians.

This is a lot of work just to find out if one’s main character in a book was medically trained or not , or did he just demonstrate a good bedside manner and have a useful knowledge of herbal remedies?

In my recently-published book: Two Squatters, the lives of George Playne and Daniel Jennings , of course, George was a doctor, qualifying first as an apothecary in a hospital in 1821, and going on to take a MRCS at the Royal College of Surgeons. But these older men, I am researching now, bring in a need to reconsider the simple path taken by George to become qualified. In any case , one feels a little sorry for them all – no antibiotics, no anaesthetics, and before Pasteur’s time.  Still the pursuit of facts makes writing non-fiction so very rewarding. I will let you know when I succeed.

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2 thoughts on “Medical Training in the 1700 and 1800s in England

  1. Martin – The GSV Writers no doubt will look forward to dissecting this new work when you get it written up. It would be interesting to compare the development of other professions – legal, engineering, architects, barbers, etc at the same time. Were medicos ahead of the pack?

  2. Thanks Bill for the comment. The answer is that I don’t know how legal, engineering and architect professions were trained and qualified. Maybe other bloggers do. Anyway, I will keep an eye out from now on in my reading.

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