William Blower, Surgeon
by Linda Ayres
William Blower was born in 1802 at Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire, and was the son of Mary (1772-1835) and Samuel Blower (1777-1844).Samuel ran his own business as a lace dealer. From a young age William enjoyed the outdoors and developed a passion for natural science. After he left school William went on to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital, London. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and he gained his License of Apothecaries. In 1824 he graduated as a surgeon. Two years later he moved to 7 Mill Street, Bedford, where he set up a large private practice.
Help for the agricultural labourers
On the 21st September 1835 the Poor Law Union made changes by grouping the parishes into unions. The board of guardians appointed William the medical officer as well as the registrar of births and deaths for Bedford and the Kempston District of the Bedford Union.
In 1839 William sent the following report to her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department:
“At Wootton (near Bedford) the labourers are numerous, and before passing the Poor Law Amendment Act the greater part of them were dependent for support upon the poor-rates. The land was enclosed and undrained, employment was scanty, and wages were very low. The water was very bad, the inhabitants being principally supplied from pits dug near their houses, and filled by rain in winter, which in the summer, and particularly in dry seasons – were almost emptied, by use of evaporation – leaving only muddy fluid covered with green scum, and loaded with aquatic animals and plants. Sporadic typhus prevailed extensively in the summer and autumn, and ague in the winter and spring.
“Since the introduction of the New Poor Law and the enclosure of the land, considerable draining has been affected; employment has been more plentiful, and wages higher, and many of the labourers have allotments of ground. Typhus has been rapidly diminishing, and this year (1839) there was no case until November, and then only two. This must principally be attributed to the improved state of the parish, and partly, perhaps this year, to the wetness of the season, which have kept the water-pits nearly full, so that conditions favourable to the generation of malaria have not existed.
“A few have been dug lately, and good water has been obtained, and there is every probability if the water-pits are filled up, and more wells dug and draining completed, the sporadic typhus and ague, which have long infested this village, and occasioned so much distress and expense, might be entirely eradicated. A respectable farmer informed me that, in the neighbouring parish of Houghton a few years ago his was the only family that used the well water, and almost the only one who escaped ague.”
In his role as medical officer William made visits to the houses in the union. If he found unhealthy housing conditions, he would make a report and inform the magistrates. The magistrates would then demand that the owners clean and repair their houses within seven days. If the owners refused, the board of guardians would carry out the work at the owner’s expense.
William was well-liked among the agriculture labourers. He campaigned for their better living conditions and in 1842 in his role as an Improvement Commissioner for Bedford, he published the following report of the conditions he found:L
“Throughout the whole of this district, there is a great want of superior cottage accommodation. Most of the residences of the labourers are thickly inhabited, and many of them are damp, low, cold, smoky, and comfortless. These circumstances cause the inmates to be sickly in the winter season, but I have not observed them to generate typhus, a prevailing form of disease being principally catarrhal; such as colds, coughs, inflammation of the eyes, dysentery and rheumatism. However, when any contagious or epidemic malaria occurs, the cases are generally more numerous.”
The fight against smallpox
Smallpox was a contagious disease that killed millions of people worldwide every year. Some parents refused to allow their child to have the vaccine, because they believed it violated their personal liberty. The vaccine involved lymph taken from the blister of a person vaccinated a week earlier and then scratched onto the skin of a child.
In 1841 the general school committee sent a report to the Bedford Charity recommending that no child can go to any of the schools if they have not had smallpox, or not been vaccinated.
In 1848 the guardians appointed William the public vaccinator for the Bedford Union. The guardians made the vaccination against smallpox compulsory for all children under the age of 3 months. As a punishment for those parents who refused to have their children vaccinated, they served one month in prison.
The 1853 Vaccination Act required that all infants who were born after the 1st August 1853 must have the smallpox vaccine during their first three months of life. Parents received a fine if they refused to have their children vaccinated. The use of the vaccine remained controversial even after the vaccine had been shown to reduce the number of smallpox deaths.
Theft from William Blower’s coach house
James Croft lived at Great Barford. In 1844 he served time in Bedford County Gaol for stealing eight tame rabbits, the property of Joseph Hillyard. In 1846 he stole a coat valued at two shillings and two gloves valued at six pennies from the coach house attached to William’s house in Mill Street. The coat belonged to William Brooks who worked for William. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to ten years’ transportation.
The marriage of William Blower to Caroline Walton Coleman
William and Caroline were married on the 21st September 1848 at All Saints Church, Hastings. Their two witnesses were Caroline’s sister, Henrietta Matilda Coleman and her brother-in-law James Wyatt who was the founder of the Bedfordshire Times. William and James Wyatt were also firm friends.
Caroline was born in 1826 at Bedford, and was one of the four children of Joseph Coleman and Mary (née Banks).
Their eldest daughter, Augusta Sophia Lavinia was born in 1822 at Bedford. Augusta married James Wyatt on the 9th January 1843 at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford. Their only son, Joseph was born in 1824. Sadly, he died in 1825 and his burial took place on the 27th June in St. Paul’s churchyard, Bedford. Their youngest daughter, Henrietta Matilda Coleman was born in 1829 at Bedford. Henrietta frequently contributed verses to James Wyatt’s newspaper under the name of Dorcas. On the 5th March 1859 The Bedford Times published her poem titled “The Messenger”. Henrietta never married. She died aged 46 years on the 5th January 1875 at St. Peter’s Green. Her burial took place in the Wyatt enclosure at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Section G9.45
The early life of Mary Coleman (née Banks)
Mary was born on the 22nd May 1798 at Buckden, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, and was the daughter of Thomas Banks, a farmer. Joseph and Mary ran a grocery shop at 71 High Street, which stood at the corner of Mill Street. On the 9th November 1830 Joseph died aged 32 years. His burial took place in St. Paul’s Churchyard, Bedford.
The marriage of Mary Coleman to John Ambrose Walton
On the 2nd November 1837 Mary married John at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford. John was from a farming background. He was the son of Mary and William Augustus Walton who was a farmer at Ecton Lodge, Ecton, Northamptonshire.
It appears that John had been close friends with Joseph and Mary for many years. Mary and Joseph named their eldest daughter Augusta which is the female equivalent of Augustus, the middle name of John’s father. They also chose the middle name of Walton for their daughter Caroline.
A month before they were married John acquired the grocery firm of Messrs. Robinson and Son who had traded in the High Street, for nearly fifty years. John carried on the firm as a grocer, tea dealer, tallow chandler and cheese factor.
In the early hours of the 2nd October 1838 John and his apprentice, James Turner and Henry Mayle, a grocer of St John’s Street, loaded their cart with cheese. They left Bedford to go to the cheese fair at Baldock, Hertfordshire. They travelled on Henry Mayle’s four wheeled cart, drawn by John’s horse. They had overtaken a wagon near the weighbridge, about two and a half miles from Baldock, when the accident happened. It seems that something had startled the horse causing the three men to fall from the cart. The horse with the cart continued to run at a terrifying speed along the road.
People rushed to help the three men. They found John lay lying in the middle of the road with a serious injury below his left ear. Henry Mayle and James Turner lay at the side of the road unconscious. John was carried to the Weighing House at Radwell, where he died forty five minute later. Henry Mayle and James Turner, although badly bruised and grazed, did recover from their injuries. As soon as Henry Mayle had recovered, he returned to Bedford to break the sad news to Mary that John had died. Several people attempted to stop the horse. The horse stopped about two miles away at Hitchin Street, Baldock, without much damage to the cart.
John’s burial took place on the 9th October 1838 in the grave next to that of his friend, Joseph Coleman in St. Paul’s Churchyard. John and Joseph’s gravestones are identical.
Mary continued to run her grocery shop at 71 High Street. In 1839 Mary was the victim of a shoplifter. John Moore, aged 17 years, stole two drums of figs. The magistrates sentenced him to 15 years’ transportation. It was not John Moore’s first offence. In 1837 he had stolen a pair of shoes. On the 31st July 1839 John Moore travelled with 335 other convicts from England on the ship Barossa. They arrived on the 8th December 1839 at New South Wales, Australia.
The marriage of Mary Walton to William Williams
Mary married her third husband William Williams on the 24th August 1847 at the parish Church of St. Marylebone, Middlesex. Mary’s daughter, Caroline was one of the witnesses. William was born on the 9th February 1797 at Culmington, Shropshire, and was the son of Thomas Williams, a farmer. Before his marriage William lived with the Jeweller, John Bull and his family at 49 High Street, Bedford. After their marriage they lived at 6 Harpur Place, Bedford.
William was in partnership with John Sanders. Their firm at 59 High Street, Bedford, was known as Sanders and Williams, iron founders and ironmongers. They invented and manufactured many farm implements such as the wrought iron plough with wheels, a scarifier, and horse rake. They had 25 men working for them.
John Sanders died aged 45 years in 1847 at his home in Kimbolton Road. His burial took place in St. Peter’s Churchyard, Bedford. William carried on running the firm for a few years. At the Great Exhibition held at Crystal Palace in 1851 William won a medal for his light and heavy harrows. In 1857 he sold the firm to his manager, Edward Page who had served his apprenticeship with Sanders and Williams.
William became a Borough Magistrate, Councillor, Alderman and he was Mayor of Bedford in 1851 and 1852. He spent much of his time in the development of Foster Hill Road Cemetery. He was the first elected President of the Burial Board.
William died on the 9th January 1868 aged 71 at his home 6 Harpur Place. His burial took place in the Wyatt enclosure at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Section G9.54. Mary died on the 9th January 1884. Her burial took place next to William. G9.64.
Asiatic cholera breaks out in Bedford
One of William Blower’s main concerns was in the causes of the cholera outbreaks and the prevention of the disease.
The first epidemic appeared in Bedford town on the 4th October 1832. The areas which suffered most were Newnham Street and Waterloo, in the parish of St. Cuthbert, Lurke Lane, in the parish of St. Peter, Haines Street, Danes Street, All Hallows Lane, in the parish of St. Paul. To stop the spread of Asiatic cholera, pitch barrels were set on fire to fumigate the infected streets. No fresh cases occurred in Newnham Street. It is thought that the number of cases of illness must have been upwards of six hundred. There were thirty one deaths. The epidemic came to an end a few weeks later on the 20th November.
In 1849 William was one of the two Medical Officers appointed when cholera broke out in Bedford. The town had escaped cholera until the 25th September 1849 with the first outbreak of cholera in Gravel Lane. Gravel Lane was a damp, and a confined part of the town, with high walls, bad drainage, and neglect on part of the residents who were in the habit of throwing their slops out of their doors into the street, instead of taking them to the drain grates. The houses were back to back, without ventilation. The pump was against a privy (toilet) and within one meter of the same pump were three privies and a dung hole. The well was two meters only from the pump.
There were eighteen houses in Gravel Lane that belonged to the chemist Charles Frederic Palgrave who died in 1854. He was the Mayor of Bedford, in 1849 and 1850. He lived above his chemist shop 19-21 High Street. Seven of the houses had cholera and eighteen people died. There were also many cases of diarrhoea.
The Board of Health reported that from the 21st September to the 18th of November 1849 there were 872 cases of diarrhoea and 69 cases of cholera in the town. The number of deaths from cholera was 35 and 7 deaths from diarrhoea. At that time no one knew the cause of cholera. Some thought that poisonous gasses in the air spread cholera. In Well Street (now known as Midland Road) tar barrels were set on fire in an effort to ‘purify the air’.
Dr. John Snow the well-known obstetrician did not agree that polluted air caused cholera. He believed that water contaminated by sewage was the cause of cholera. In August of 1854 in Soho, a suburb of London, a severe outbreak of cholera occurred. After examination, and plotting cases of cholera on a map of the area, Dr. Snow was able to pinpoint a water pump in Broad Street (now known as Broadwick Street) as the cause of the disease. He had the handle of the water pump removed, and his action brought the epidemic under control.
William Blower and James Wyatt campaign to clean up the streets of Bedford
William and James talked at great lengths about the title of James’s newspaper. William came up with the title of ‘The Bedford Times’, named after Mr. Whitbread’s popular coach, ‘The Bedford Times’.
William and James campaigned for better living conditions for the people of Bedford. In the town of Bedford at that time the stench of cess-pools, manure pits and several reeking slaughter houses poisoned the air. The Corporation kept its own slaughter house on St. Paul’s Square. James, through his newspaper, ‘The Bedford Times’, expressed his rage upon those who had allowed such terrible conditions to persist for the sake of their own private interests. James condemned the practice of allowing burials in the town churchyards. He proposed the immediate closing of the churchyards excluding Trinity Church and the Moravian Church. In his role as Borough Treasurer James purchased the ground for Foster Hill Road Cemetery, which opened on the 5th June 1855.
Charity worker, councillor and Mayor.
William was one of the founding members of the Literary and Scientific Institution and the General Library when it opened in 1834 at Harpur Street. He subsequently became the Vice President. He often gave lectures on science at the Institution. In 1837 William was involved in forming the Independent Order of Oddfellows: Bedford, Maiden Queen Lodge (number 1319). In 1843 he was the Vice Chairman of the lodge. The lodge held their meetings at the Odd Fellows Arms in Mill Street, Bedford. The Mill Hotel now occupies the site. William was a member of the Town Council and the Harpur Charity Board. In 1853 he became the Mayor of Bedford.
Ill health forces William to retire
By 1854 William and Caroline had moved into 4 Duke Street, Bedford. The house consisted of three reception rooms, seven bedrooms, with servants’ hall, stabling, coach house, harness room, greenhouse, and magnificent gardens.
In August 1859 William had an attack of paraplegia, and lost the use of the lower part of his body. On the 4th May 1860 William sent a letter of resignation to the Board of Guardians of the Bedford Union. He informed them that he would never recover from the attack of paraplegia. He also gave up his medical practice.
Despite being bedbound, William was able to write several reports concerning the welfare of the people. In one of his reports, he writes: “Contending that contrary to popular opinion, hard water, such as Bedford’s main supply, was the beverage most beneficial to growth, health, and strength. Soft water, he said, was only useful for washing purposes; hard water was necessary to bring out the real delicate flavour of tea. He said that at the top of Ram Yard there was a spring of fine water which, like other springs in the town, had been covered over and turned into a drain”.
The final years of William and Caroline
In 1861 after being bedbound for two years, The Lodge of Oddfellows presented William with a hand pulled invalid carriage. The carriage was a step forward in giving William the freedom to travel around Bedford. His friends often took him out and around the town in his carriage.
On the 30th August 1887 William died aged 84 years at his home, 4 Duke Street, Bedford. Dr Samuel Hoppus Adams was with him when he died. Dr. Adams recorded the cause of death was from paraplegia. Dr. Adams, who had his medical practice at 28 Tavistock Street, was one of William’s pupils.
William’s funeral took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. The four pallbearers were former pupils of William. The chief mourners included William and Caroline’s nephews, the Rev. Paul Williams Wyatt, Rev. Vitruvius Wyatt and Arthur James Harvey Wyatt, and friends of William, Dr. Charles E. Prior, and Thomas Gwyn Empy Elger.
The Rev. Vitruvius Wyatt and his brother, Rev. Paul Wyatt, conducted the service. Rev. Paul Wyatt read the hymn. “Let saints on earth in concert sing from Hymns Ancient and Modern”. The Moravian Minister the Rev Charles Edward Sutcliffe gave a short address, in which he referred to the useful and exemplary life of William in helping the sick and his kindness to the poor. William’s burial took place in Section F4 82
William and Caroline’s home at 4 Duke Street was the temporary home of the Judges of England when on circuit in Bedford. One such occasion was when the Bedfordshire Summer Assizes opened on the 4th July 1879 in the Crown Court, Shire Hall, by Mr. Justice Lindley. The judges’ Assize procession started from the judges’ lodgings at 4 Duke Street, in the handsome state carriage of the High Sheriff, Mr Thomas Bagnal jun., of Milton Hall. In the procession were the Mayor and the Corporation in their robes. After opening the commission Mr. Justice Lindley attended divine services at St. Paul’s Church. After the service the procession went along the High Street, with the usual escort of trumpeters and javelin men.
In 1904 Caroline was unwell and it was not possible for her to move out of her home. The authorities found suitable lodgings for the Judges at the home of Claude Edmund Clark at 28 The Embankment. Claude was brewer and the Managing Director at Messrs Wells and Winch Brewery.
Caroline died on the 2nd April 1907 aged 81 years. Her burial took place in the grave next to William. Section F4.71. Her nephews the Rev, Virtuous Wyatt and the Rev. Paul Wyatt performed the last rites.
The Rev. Paul Wyatt often visited his aunt Caroline at 4 Duke Street. He had hoped to live at 4 Duke Street after Caroline died. In her will Caroline made a special clause that allowed her nephew to bid for the property. In May 1907 4 Duke Street went up for auction. The solicitor, Mr. Henry Tebbs was acting on behalf of a committee who wanted the property for a new vicarage for the parish of St. Paul’s. Rev. Paul Wyatt agreed the property would be suitable for St. Paul’s vicarage and did not bid against Mr. Tebbs. Mr Tebbs secured the property for £2,850. Part of Caroline’s estate also included a small farm and a cottage at Yardley Hastings that sold for £230.00 and four cottages at Willington, Bedfordshire, which sold for £315.00.
In her Will, Caroline left £500 for the building of St. Leonard’s Church, Bedford. Her nephews, the Rev. Paul Wyatt and the Rev. Vitruvius Wyatt were instrumental in the building of St. Leonards Church.
Researched by Linda S. Ayres
Photography Linda S. Ayres
Bedford Mercury 18th July 1840 and 20th January 1844 and 11th April 1846 and 12th June 1847and 16th February 1861 and 27th July 1861 and 24th May 1907 and 7th June 1907
The Bedford Times 12TH May 1860
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent 3rd September 1887 and 10th September 1887 and 25th February 1910 and 4th March 1910 and 14th October 1921 and 8th February 1952 and 10th July 1948
Beds Times and Standard 3rd October 1947 and 3rd Sept 1948
Northampton Mercury 4th May 1844
Bedford Mercury and Huntingdon Express 2nd September 1848 and 29th September 1949 and 15th December 1849
Reports from the Commissioners -Volume 26 – Page 12. Parliament House of Lords 1842
The Health Foundation
A report to the General Board of Health Whitehall
The farmers’ magazine 1847 Page 178
The 1855 report to the General Board of Health.
The Oddfellow’s Quarterly Magazine 1843 page 342
Transactions of Branches. The British Medical Journal Vol 2 No 87 (August 28 1858) pp 729-732
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