Physicians, philanthropists and the poor

Steel and cutlery works were a prominent feature in the Brightside area of Sheffield and consequently the health of the local population was influenced by these industries. As the local GP it was inevitable that Innes Smith would treat patients who were employed by the nearby works. As well as working as a casualty surgeon to the steel firm Vickers Sons and Maxim Ltd., he acted as a medical referee, assessing employees’ physical fitness to work.

Ambulance ShieldHe instigated the Sheffield Works Ambulance Movement for Sheffield industries, enabling injured workers to be transferred immediately to hospital. He organised first-aid stations in the larger steel works in the city. Knowledge and skills in first aid were vital in an industrial environment so regular practice and participation in individual and inter-works competitions such as the Edgar Allen Ambulance Shield Competition was encouraged.

Innes Smith was concerned about the welfare of workers, and was involved in many charitable causes such as the Royal Medical Foundation of Epsom College. He became president of the West Riding Medical Charitable Society which was set up in 1828 the main aims of which were to help doctors who could not continue to practice due to ill health or disability, and to assist the families of deceased medical men.

The Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress (1905-09) was a body set up by the government to examine whether the Poor Law system should be changed. The committee produced two conflicting reports: the Majority Report and the Minority Report. Although the recommendations of the reports were not implemented, the Minority Report did set out the vision which eventually led to the modern welfare state. It challenged the view that poverty was a voluntary condition and the moral fault of the individual, and argued that the poor should be treated as equal citizens.

Innes Smith gave evidence to the committee as an official witness in 1907. His evidence showed his knowledge and understanding of ‘men’s sick clubs’ which were a forerunner to health insurance:

"In times of good trade they make many members, and again in bad times they make few, and many, a great many, drop out because they cannot keep up the payments. Many men of fifty whom I have known are in no proper clubs because of this."

Evidence of Dr. R. W. Innes Smith, Surgeon for Messrs. Vickers, Maxim & Co., Ltd.
Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress. Report of
the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress
. 1909.
[Cd. 4499]
IV, 43126-43245.

The Foundling Hospital was set up by sea captain Thomas Coram in 1741 as a refuge for abandoned children in London. Initially there was public opposition to the idea because it was considered to encourage immoral behaviour and prostitution. But on 17 October 1739 the King signed a Royal Charter and the first children were admitted on 25 March 1741.

The Foundling Hospital eventually caught the public imagination and became London's most popular charity. Artist William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel were supporters of the charity. At this time Britain had no public places for artists to exhibit their works and the Foundling Hospital provided that space. In effect it was the first contemporary gallery of British art.

Thousands of children's lives have been saved over the years. Today it is known as the children's charity Coram. The charity offers practical and emotional help to vulnerable children, young people and their families, it runs an adoption agency, and visits UK schools offering health, drug and alcohol education.

Thomas Coram

'The history and objects of the Foundling Hospital : with a memoir of the founder' by John Brownlow. 3rd ed. London : Printed by C. Jaques, 30, Kenton Street, Brunswick Square, 1865.

John Fothergill (1712-1780) was a physician and naturalist. He was born at Carr End, near Bainbridge in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. In 1728 he was apprenticed to an apothecary in Bradford and in 1736 obtained an MD degree from Edinburgh University. He settled in London where he had a large practice. As well as his medical work, Fothergill studied botany, and he was a Quaker preacher. In 1779 he co-founded Ackworth School in Pontefract, Yorkshire.

Fothergill was involved in many causes to help the poor and oppressed. He regularly refused fees from his patients, supported the abolition of the slave trade and campaigned for prison reform. He advocated bathing for everyone by encouraging the building of public bathing houses. He often gave money to the poor, and even attempted to improve their diet by purchasing fish at wholesale prices and selling it at a slight loss.

John Fothergill

'Memoirs of John Fothergill, M.D. &c.' by John Coakley Lettsom. The fourth edition. London : Printed for C. Dilly, 1786.

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