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Theodora Ursula Gillett Griffith-Williams
Memories of a Doctor's daughter

Courtesy of
Dr Adrian Hodge©

Theodora, or 'Theo' as she was known, was born in Mattishall on Tuesday, July 29th 1924, the only child of Dr Arthur Griffith-Williams and Dorothy Isobel nee Gillett. Her father (also born in Mattishall) inherited the Mattishall Medical Practice in 1917 following his father's (Dr William Henry Griffith-Williams) sudden death.

Other than BMD & Census records we had very little background information in regards to Theo's grandfather and father, each of whom had worked faithfully as our village family doctors for a combined total of about 63 years. Dr William arrived in Mattishall about 1886, shortly after his recent marriage to Emily Marian Wigg (he needed a job). After several years of service Dr William died suddenly in 1917. His only son, Arthur Griffith-Williams, who had himself recently qualified as a doctor was given permanent leave from the First-World-War frontline in France to fill much urgent space left by his father's demise - Dr Arthur went on to practice medicine in Mattishall for a further 32 years until his retirement in 1949.

This lack of information changed in 1987 when Doctor Adrian Hodge, who had joined the Mattishall practice in 1980 wanted to get more background history of the practice. He therefore contacted Theo to see if she would be willing to share her memories and stories. - This resulted in two wonderful letters which give quite an insight on their early lives and the relationship they had with their patients - Our thanks to Dr Hodge for sharing them with us - hope you find them interesting -

Letter - one

Dear Dr Hodge
I was interested to receive your letter, I find local history very fascinating, so will tell you what I know about the Mattishall practice. Firstly, I must point out, that sadly I never knew my grandfather, he died at the age of 57 in 1917 and I was not born till 1924. Granny (nee Emily Wigg of Dereham) lived with us at South Green House till her death in 1930 – As a bride my grandfather had taught her to do all the dispensing, dressing, bookkeeping and bills etc, and she continued doing this for my father until 3 days before her death of heart disease. Tho’ only 6 when she died I have always felt I knew her remarkably well!

Emily Griffith-Williams nee Wig
Courtesy of
Dr Adrian Hodge©

I was always told that Dr Thorne, Parson Woodford’s friend and medical advisor lived in Several House, south of the church, but a few year ago I went to a Parson Woodford’s gathering at Mattishall and chatted briefly with the Knight’s. They told me there was no mention of Dr Thorne in the deeds of Several House. On the other-hand do names of owners not tenants appear in the old title deeds so I feel uncertain about this.

Dr Thorne died in 1820, I have heard my father mention his successor but I forget the name and don’t think anything very interesting was known about him – Dr Taylor appears in the 1840s he built my former home, South Green House, and laid out the garden. Attached to this early Victorian house is a medieval stone archway leading to the garden – This was built by Dr Taylor, who with his gardener named Jarrett, set out in the horse and cart to Brickstone Priory, where they helped themselves to stones from the ruins. They also built a fernery with the ancient flints.

Theo outside South Green House, Mattishall about 1929
Courtesy of
Dr Adrian Hodge©

Meanwhile in the 1860’s or 70’s my Great Grandfather, Wright Wigg of Avenue House, Dereham (demolished now, I think, for road improvements) sold his house and land and with his wife and 10 children went to farm in Wales. First near Newcastle Emlyn and later to Llangrannog on the coast. Grandfather Williams lived in the next village Penbryn where his father was parson. In 1886 now qualified in medicine at Durham University he borrowed £10 and married Emily Wigg – he needed a job.

His wife was aware of all that was going on in the Dereham neighbourhood. A family of Wigg cousins were still living at Mowles Manor to the east of Dereham – At Mattishall, Dr Taylor was elderly and considered out of date. My Grandparents rented' May House' along the Dereham Road and my grandfather put up his plate! – This I think was a rather unethical thing but done by doctors who could not buy a practice.

Many patients changed over to the new young doctor, and soon Dr Taylor told him that as he had taken so many he might as well have the rest – Mt father was born at May House in 1887 but soon the family moved to the Vicarage which they rented from wealthy Cannon Hunter, who lived at the Hall – There was plenty of room for a surgery at the vicarage. After the death of Dr Taylor my grandfather bought South Green House and there we remained until 1949.

As illustrations of what medical practice was like at the turn of the 19th century, I was told that grandfather had successfully removed appendices by candlelight and nearly one hundred years later I don’t tell fastidious people the story of my dining-room table! The landlord of the Three Horse Shoes at Welborne died suddenly and a post-mortem was necessary – Then and there, grandfather had him lifted onto a large oak gate-legged table and got on with the job. That part was straightforward, but on returning to the pub a few weeks later this fine table was standing out in the yard in pouring rain. Grandfather felt concerned realizing the family would never be able to bear the sight of it again, so he gave them some money, told them to go and buy themselves a new table, and had the gate-legged table taken home.

My father was educated at Haileybury, and sent to Trinity College Cambridge for the preliminary part of his medical studies, then he went to the London Hospital. After the civilised world of Cambridge, life at Whitechapel was tough. At first he lived at Pentonville Prison, where an uncle was Chaplin. Whenever a hanging took place everyone sank into a state of deep gloom and despondency – In due course he got digs elsewhere. Some of the streets in that extremely poor area of London were rough and dangerous – The Medical students learnt a lot of their obstetrics by delivering babies in the home, they had to go out in pairs – Once my father for, some reason on his own, was called rather too early to a Jewish household. They locked him up in the house and he was only allowed out when the baby finally arrived safely. Only the most dedicated and determined of the nurses survived their course. Even accommodation was short so at times night nurses had to get into the beds vacated by the day staff.

At Mattishall, grandfather had his own midwife, Nurse Ford, he paid her salary and provided her home, the small cottage at the bottom of the garden. She was still there when I was a little girl. On completing his training at London, my father had two to three posts at the Norfolk & Norwich hospital including casualty officer and house surgeon to Sir Hamilton Ashley Ballance a renowned Norwich surgeon of his day. For his first job his salary was £50 per annum plus his keep. The practice would not have supported two doctors in those days, but before my father could decide on his next step in his career the 1914-18 war broke out and he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was soon posted to France and Belgium.

In 1917 my grandfather died suddenly – Granny tried to notify her son, but heard nothing. It describes the horror and utter chaos of the Western Front that one day my father was glancing at a 3 weeks old newspaper and there read of his own father’s death. He was allowed permanent leave till the end of the war to come home and run the practice.

There was a Royal Flying Corps airfield just outside Mattishall on the East Tuddenham road (More Information can be found HERE) and he became Medical Officer to them and in comparison to the grim conditions in France he began to enjoy life again, sometimes getting a chance to go flying with the pilots. After the war he was still uncertain about continuing in general practice but his mother persuaded him to stay. He met my mother Dorothy Gillett of Halvergate in 1921 and they were married at Colton Church in 1922. I was working as a radiotherapy radiographer at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital from 1962-80. I remember many referrals from the Mattishall doctors, but after Dr Thompson the names did not mean much to me.

Arthur Griffith-Williams and Dorothy Gillett
Tuesday, February 22nd 1921 - their wedding day

Courtesy of
Dr Adrian Hodge©

Letter - two

Dear Dr Hodge
To return to some childhood recollections of my life in the Mattishall practice, Granny was still living with us, doing the dispensing and bookkeeping, until he death in 1930. She had her own bedroom and sitting-room where she entertained her friends and relations, but everyone ate together. She and Mother made a pact not to interfere in each other’s departments, the surgery and running the house! My parents always said that never again were they to enjoy such peace of mind when going out as they knew she would take the appropriate action. I don’t know when Dereham first had an ambulance, but I always remember one kept at J. J. Wrights garage. Later on the Dereham doctors did some standing in for my father and there were locums for holidays.

Nurse Ford was still living in the cottage at the bottom of the garden. I remember her coming in to nurse Granny in her brief final illness. Her salary was paid by my father, who also supplied her with a pony and trap. Drama occurred once or twice when a rather bad tempered pony called Tommy bolted with her in the cart! She came to no harm but retired in the early thirties. The first Mattishall district nurse, whom I remember, was nurse Norah Smith, who later became Mrs A.J. Farrow – she was followed by nurse Grimes – they got on their bikes to do their rounds!

The surgery was strictly out of bounds to me as a small child - TB and other infections and ‘spotty’ diseases were rife, I remember kids with blotchy faces from impetigo, and ringworm was a horror. My Mother’s sister had married Alfred Kidner who farmed at Colton, one of my cousins rolling under a barbwire fence got a trivial scratch on her head from which she caught ringworm, gave it to her brother, and they both lost all their hair, I was not allowed near them for ages. Every morning after surgery the windows were opened wide, and the maid washed over the floor with red carbolic soap. Occasionally when all was quiet in the middle of the afternoon, I would, with little friends, tip-toe into the surgery and have a look round for the sake of something exiting and a bit naughty to do. The outside door was always left open and dispensed medicines left on a window sill for patients to help themselves, no worries about burglars or drug addicts in those days. The poison cupboard was always kept locked.

I had a nanny as a little girl, her names was Dorothy Smith, and she married Harry Wake, son of our gardener and they lived a Weston. Sadly, when I was working at the Norfolk & Norwich hospital in the 1960’s she was one of our patients and she died of breast cancer. I don’t know if her husband is still around, she had two daughters Gwen and Isabel (I don’t know their married names) and a son who I think are still living in the neighbourhood.

Dorothy Smith and Theo
about 1931

Henry Wake
Courtesy of
Dr Adrian Hodge©


My father also employed a chauffeur, Harry Eastell, he was a very skilled mechanic and driver, if my father was feeling very weary after night calls he liked to be driven. His practical job was to keep the two cars fit to be on the road. For many years there was no garage nearer then J.J. Wrights of Dereham, and the cars only went in occasionally for major jobs. The only tarmac roads were the present A47 and what was called the Turnpike (Norwich Road) thru Mattishall to Honingham, all other roads were rough stones and soil and punctures occurred frequently. Many tramps passed through Mattishall, a day’s walk was from Gressenhall Workhouse to Bowthorpe, now the site of the West Norwich Hospital – In the middle of the day they were supplied with bread and cheese in Frank Norton’s shop on the north side of the church. I think this was a contract he took on and part of “the system.” For a bed and a meal at the workhouse the tramps were expected to do vegetable gardening and other work, and many of them were constantly walking the length and breadth of the country in this manner.

We had no electricity until the middle thirties. My mother spent about an hour each morning “doing the lamps” a job she preferred to do herself and not leave the responsibility to the young maids. It was such a catastrophe if ever an unattended lamp smoked and absolutely everything in the room was covered with sticky lamp-black! The downstairs rooms all had lamps, but we went up to bed with candles. Water came from a well and my father periodically used to take samples into Norwich to be analysed at Lincolne Sulton’s (not sure if name is correct) at Redwell Street. Ours was always OK but in cases when it wasn’t I think the only answer was boiling! Until we had an electric pump, it took Horace Wake about an hour each morning to pump the water with a hand-pump and my mother was always on at everybody to be economical with their bath water! In addition to gardening he used once a week, to drive in the pony and trap to Elsing to a Mrs Clarke, with the whole family washing in a large wicker basket.

All the drugs and dressings used to periodically arrive at Thuxton station, and he used to go and collect these as well, in the pony and cart. The garden was always most beautifully kept, Harry Eastall used to help as well when he had spare time left over from the cars, Incidentally I think his daughters, Ruby Eastell and Beryl Earl are still living in Mattishall. I haven’t got a good photo of him, although enclosed one of Horace Lake.

My father was a very good chess player but as there was no-one of his calibre nearby, games went on by a post-card per day with friends farther away – He also made a wireless in the early thirties. We had this until we got a normal set when we had electricity installed in the thirties. I remember listening to King George the V’s Christmas broadcast and Oxford and Cambridge boat-races although rather crackly, and my mother’s delight when she finally got rid of all the dusty trailing wires and accumulators full of sulphuric acid, which occasionally got upset, from the corner of the drawing-room. After that my father made a reflecting telescope, grinding the mirror himself from two circular blocks of glass – This was a great success. Very good for the moon and planets and splitting some double-stars.

When war broke out life became pretty hectic. In addition to all his ordinary work my father became Medical Officer at the RAF bomb dump in Hockering woods, which resulted in a lot of extra work. There always seemed to be problems about getting enough petrol. The supplementary ration was barely adequate for such a rural practice and he was always worrying about running short.

I left Norwich High School in 1943 and joining the WRNS, spending the next two years in that hot spot, Dover, which could not have added to my parents peace of mind – We also had no idea whether my uncle imprisoned in Changi goal in Singapore and my cousin working on the notorious Thai railway were alive or dead, although in fact both survived these experiences.

As a result of this over work and general stress my father became gravely ill (heart and pneumonia) in the spring of 1945. I was given compassionate leave for about two months and came home to help my mother. With such a shortage of doctors it was impossible to get a locum immediately.

We got rid of the bomb dump forever back to an RAF MO – Dr Darcy of Shipdham was absolutely marvellous, doing the Mattishall surgery after his own and most of the other work too. He introduced us to a retired doctor from Chertsey, Dr Hanham who took over till my father had recovered and then came every year till my father retired in 1949.

Just after the war we obtained almost archaeological evidence of one of Dr Taylors interests! – I had just come out of the W.R.N.S. and my cousin Gerald Kidner home from Thailand was staying with us. I think when coal was so strictly rationed he must have felt cold in our house after the torrid jungle, and his mind after 3½ years after cutting down trees to build the bridges for that railway, was still orientated towards wood and trees. There were shrubberies round our lawns containing lumps and mounds thickly covered with ivy and the odd bit of wood sticking out here and there, always ignored until now – We began by pulling out a few bit of rotting wood to cut up for the fire. Underneath we found more and more, there were, rustic seats, arches, pergolas and criss-cross trellises. All of this was rotten and soft and easy to cut up, and in a week or so we produced an enormous supply of wood, which lasted us the rest of that winter and the next exceptionally snowy on of 1946’47. Designing the Victorian garden for his new house must have been one of Dr Taylor’s hobbies, perhaps doing it himself, or maybe a professional man of the 19th century, I don’t know.

My father decided to retire in 1949 and Dr Thompson, who had been MOH in that neighbourhood for a few years, took over the practice – I had qualified as a radiographer in 1948, and spent the next year at home. The dispenser – bookkeeper had just left so I did that job for a year. My mother and I used to go out in the afternoons looking at houses, only to get my father to inspect those that had possibilities. We thought this would do for a bit and here I still remain – My father died in 1958 and my mother in 1972.

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