John Rigby :The Founder of a Chorley Medical Dynasty
Chorley, Lancs.
by John Harrison.
(Dec 2010)

By examining the lives and careers of the Rigbys, the family which could be considered for a long time to be controlling the main medical practice in the town, it is possible to get a perspective of some of the changes in the organisation of medical care and public health in nineteenth century Chorley. However when a medical practitioner lived in a small town, such as Chorley, without a town newspaper for most of his working life, and with minimal involvement with the medical services of the Poor Law or the charitable Dispensary, his “footprint” is not easy to find. When that “footprint” is found, unless there are diary type records of practitioner or patient, information about treatment is usually lacking. Wilson, writing of the Victorians refers to “the truly terrifying inadequacy of ...medicine.” Although newspapers do throw some light on the practice of the Rigby brothers in the later part of the century, the nature of their father’s practice is largely unknown.

John Rigby, the founder of this medical dynasty, was born in Upholland in June 1800, son of another John, a farmer. He was educated at the local Grammar School in Upholland “and at a comparatively early age was apprenticed to Mr. Littler, Surgeon”. John Rigby of Upholland, Lancashire was listed as an Apothecary, qualifying 29 March 1821. In the past medical historians crudely split medical practitioners of this period into Physicians, Surgeons and Apothecaries, in a decreasing order of social status. However, in the eighteenth century, few Physicians were found outside London, and as Kett suggests, the terms Surgeon and Apothecary were interchangeable. Early in the eighteenth century, and in preceding centuries, surgeons were often associated with the trade of Barber, and members of the Company of Barbers and later the College of Surgeons were usually trained like John Rigby, through apprenticeships as a trade, rather than at University, as in the case of Physicians. The barber-surgeons of the early eighteenth century were replaced in most of provincial England by Surgeon-Apothecaries and Surgeon, Man-Midwife. The term “Barber” was gradually dropped as surgeons sought to establish their own distinct identity. Loudon has suggested that the most apt description of the three divisions of medical practitioners is that “they resembled three overlapping circles, the degree of overlap being greater in the provinces than in London.” Movement by an individual practitioner from one circle to another in areas of overlap was comparatively easy.

Apothecaries were originally shopkeepers, whose legal role was to dispense physicians’ prescriptions. During the eighteenth century Loudon has described them gradually evolving into full-time general practitioners developing simple surgical skills as a business necessity, who perhaps still retailed to the public as a sideline. In 1808 an advertisement for shops in Horwich suggested that “a gentleman who is a Surgeon and a Man-Midwife, would meet with considerable practice.” In the following year a Surgeon and Apothecary’s Shop was advertised for letting in Preston. Apothecaries moved away from their trading image due to competition from druggists, and booksellers and newspaper publishers selling patent medicines.
Whether John Rigby worked out of such premises initially, is not known. He arrived in Chorley in 1821 and began to practice in St. Thomas’s Square, roughly where the modern Magistrates court is located. Rigby had completed his apprenticeship and had then gone to the Middlesex Hospital and had obtained the Diploma of the MRCSE. (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.) In Baines’s 1824 Directory Rigby was listed as a Surgeon of 7, St. Thomas’s Square.
It may be coincidental that John Rigby was able to establish himself in his practice in the same year that his father, John Rigby, Gentleman of Upholland, died. John appears to have been the youngest of four sons and received in his father’s will “various fields and closes in Dalton.” This may well have been the first part of a property portfolio that would continue to be built up during his life. By the time of the death of Dr. M N J Rigby in 1961, the Rigby family “owned a considerable amount of property in the town centre.” Some of this portfolio developed through purchases. It may be that John Rigby was a buyer when 15 lots of shops and other premises were sold by auction in 1867. These had formerly belonged to the Gillibrands, one time lords of the manor. Rigby also built homes, initially in Fazakerley Street and later in High Street. The actual number of houses was one the most important indicators of the town’s growth. In 1811 there were 902 inhabited houses; by 1821 this had increased to 1275 and the figure probably exceeded 1500 by 1824 as a Baines’s directory that year reported “upwards of three hundred houses” having been built since the 1821 census.

The second decade of the nineteenth century saw an expansion of building by various of the town’s institutions, namely the Workhouse School (1811), Weldbank Catholic Chapel (1813), The Union Library (1814), Chorley Adult School (1817), Weldbank Catholic School (1818), the Gas Company (1819), St. George’s Church (1822), the rebuilding of the Grammar School (1824) and the Primitive Methodist Chapel (1828). These were ad hoc measures by particular individuals or groups of inhabitants, addressing specific needs. The town was however benefitting from improvements in transport. A regular coach service began in 1813 which on different days brought and carried people and mail to and from Bolton, Manchester, Wigan and Preston. In addition the carriage of raw materials and finished products was much improved with the building and completion of the Lancaster and Leeds to Liverpool Canals. The latter was completed in 1816. Immigration to the town was an important factor in its growth. Newcomers would have been attracted by many commercial and industrial opportunities. In 1824 there were 24 Muslin Manufacturers and 4 Cotton Spinners.
The town had little clear Leadership in the 1820s or indeed in subsequent decades until the creation of the Improvement Commission in the 1850s. The power of the manor was on the wane, and as the Gillibrands were Catholic their legal scope for action before Catholic Emancipation was limited. The Anglican Church had potentially a powerful position but the Rector seems to have been often absent and inactive. Occasional meetings of Ratepayers gave some direction.
The 1820s was a decade when many of the people of Chorley experienced or came close to experiencing severe poverty as a result of the fluctuations in trade and industry. In Chorley, as elsewhere, charitable subscriptions played an important role in providing food to the poor. However it was not provided free of charge. The poor had to buy the food at a reduced charge, so on one occasion £170 was raised by charitable donation and £122 was paid back by the poor. In such a climate it is perhaps not surprising to learn that the poor were driven to more violent behaviour. 1826 was a particularly difficult year. In April it was reported that a Chorley doctor riding home from Brindle on e evening was accosted by a man who seized the reins of his horse, asking for a shilling as he, his wife and five children were starving. Two other men stood in the shadows. The doctor gave each man a shilling and they went quietly away. Whether or not that Doctor was John Rigby is not known and is immaterial, as such an event would be profoundly unsettling for all practitioners. Within days of this incident, Chorley, and more particularly its mills, were attacked by a large mob which had marched from Tockholes. “The women supplied the rioters with stones concealing the missiles in their aprons.....there can be no doubt a great multitude of the townspeople were their friends.” Their arrival was a shock to the townsfolk, many looms were smashed, and although a magistrate read the Riot Act, the impression is left that the mob dispersed in their own time.

This period of violence was not repeated but there is sense of the 1820s being a time of periodic depression which might erupt like a powder keg at any time. In 1829 it was reported “The state of this once flourishing town is deplorable in the extreme: one-third of the houses are either uninhabited, to be let or their occupiers have been served with notice to quit by their owners.” One of the strategies to deal with this potential threat of violence and upheaval was charity, and in Lancashire, and elsewhere, that could include medical charities. Pickstone pointed to the foundation of the Wigan Dispensary in 1798 by men who were simultaneously raising a troop of volunteers and similar connections with the foundation of dispensaries in Preston in 1809 and Bolton in 1814: “Charity began to take on a new meaning, as a form of social defence and a plea for traditional values.” The foundation of the Chorley Dispensary in 1828 was part of a second wave in Lancashire, largely supported by Tory Anglicans but with wider community support from church and chapel collections and with Poor Law contracts. It should certainly be seen as part of the town’s response to the mid-decade violence. John Rigby, however, was not involved, probably because he saw his livelihood as not being with the poor of Chorley.

It is not known whether Rigby bought an existing practice or worked in partnership with an existing medical practitioner. However with the town experiencing significant population growth there was a growing market for medical practitioners. My earlier research showed that arising from the population growth at the end of the eighteenth century, the two established practitioners, Richard Hull and Thomas Hindle, had almost certainly found their workload to have doubled. That population growth continued in the first decades of the nineteenth century, from census figures of 4516 in 1801 to 5182 in 1811 and 7315 in 1821. This represented 14.7% growth between 1801-11 and 41.1% between 1811-21.
A growing market existed, and one that was profitable for some medical practitioners. Richard Hull’s intestate estate was valued at under £800 when he died in 1809. By that time Charles Hill, an additional practitioner, had arrived in Chorley to take up the appointment of Town’s Surgeon, employed by the Vestry, under the Old Poor Law. Hill used the Town’s Surgeon’s post as a means of getting a foothold in the town. Having established himself after a few years he resigned the post to continue as a general practitioner. However, using wills as a guide, neither Hill nor another practitioner of this period, Richard Hudson, appeared to find this work profitable. The survival and success of John Rigby may well have due to him drawing his clientele from the more prosperous families in the town. An obituary stated “He soon developed a lucrative practice”.
Steven King has drawn some conclusions about the economics of doctoring as they applied to Lancashire at this time :-

• From the early nineteenth century competition amongst medical men became severe as the supply of fully and partially trained medical men overtook the growth rate of the general population.
• Medicine could be a financially uncertain occupation, leaving some on the edge of gentility, and others bankrupt.
• The most successful practitioners were those who could judge potential demand for their services at different fee levels.
• Physicians and Surgeons were more likely to be making a respectable medical living by the mid point in their careers than surgeon-apothecaries.
• Patients usually held the upper hand in economic relationships with their doctors as Doctors were reluctant to damage their reputation by taking debtors to court.

Doctors tended to have circuits on which they travelled and for this a good horse was a necessary expense. When this added to the cost of a “surgery”, and the general costs of maintaining a high visibility in the community with often a civic and charitable role it can be seen that there needed to be a considerable initial outlay and a high level of on-going expense that needed to be matched by an equally high level of income from patients.
A further way to reinforce a doctor’s financial and social position was to marry well. A wife might bring a dowry and social connections. John Rigby married Anne Morris on 12 January 1831 at Upholland. She was the daughter of Ralph Morris, Gentleman. Morris may well have lived in Upholland, although Chorley Land Tax Assessments show a Ralph Morris occupying a farm on Eaves Lane in 1811 and Kay’s Farm in 1821. The Morris name and connection was sufficiently important for it to be included as a middle name for John’s sons John and James.

In the 1841 Census John Rigby, listed as a surgeon, was living with his wife, a female servant and four children in High Street. In the 1830s and 1840s there appears to have been five other medical practitioners in the town. John Rigby is not recorded in the Preston newspapers of this period as having attended any of the various types of accidents to which it would appear all the local practitioners were called. His practice must therefore have been with the more prosperous sections of the residents of Chorley and district. Similarly he is not mentioned in the newspaper reports about what seems to have been the first uses of Ether and Chloroform in the town in 1847 and 1848. His practice did not need to be linked to breakthroughs in medical practice and his patients would probably not have wished to be guinea pigs.
Whilst no records survive to put flesh on the picture of his general medical practice, some information can be found about John Rigby’s wider role in the town. He was mentioned as being a churchwarden in 1833 and he invested in Chorley Waterworks and in the Cotton Twist Company in the 1840s. The investments may illustrate King’s argument that “Lancashire doctors ...sought to protect themselves economically by diversifying their income streams.”
King has concluded that “for much of Lancashire the really notable development of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is the extension of (albeit inadequate) doctoring services to the poor through the poor law.” Rigby, however, seems to have been content to allow a newcomer to the town, Thomas Howarth Bamford, through his work for the Dispensary and its contact to deliver Poor Law medical care, to establish his reputation, perhaps with the poorer end of the Chorley medical market. Bamford’s popularity within the town was such that he was given a testimonial for his services to the public in 1846, and letter became Medical Officer of Health for Chorley.

Indeed, Rigby seems to have been particularly reluctant at this time to engage in wider medical work outside his own practice. He must have found more than sufficient income there, and was probably aware that, as Loudon expressed it, “the status of an individual practitioner depended greatly on his income and class of patient. One could say he was known by the company he kept- socially and professionally.”

It is pertinent to notice that when Bamford’s resignation from the Dispensary in 1846 threw that charity into major crisis, and it appeared that the six medical practitioners in the town were asked to share the work, John Rigby withdrew from the scheme, although he did join in 1850. This may have been as a result of moral pressure, being the only practitioner not involved. He was paid £13 6s 8d per year and saw approximately 120 patients a year until he resigned in 1858. This shared role seems to have not been popular. There were complaints and subscriptions to the charity fell during the 1850s.
All the local practitioners, including Rigby, were called upon again in 1849, this time by the Poor Law Guardians, to advise its Sanitary Committee about the threat of Cholera. They played down the crisis in Chorley, although they were various cases of diarrhoea in the town and Cholera in neighbouring villages. Within a month, Bamford, as Chorley District Poor Law Medical Officer, had to report several cases of Cholera in Chorley and two deaths. The Guardians agreed a scheme to pay medical practitioners for each case of Cholera or Diarrhoea attended. This was 2/6d within the medical officer’s township of residence, or 4/- if outside that township. No payment seems to have been made to John Rigby. Possibly he did not submit a claim, or possibly he did not involve himself with this work. This may have been because he saw his priorities elsewhere, with more prosperous patients instead of the urban poor. However, it also appears that by good fortune, the outbreak of Cholera was far less severe than that experienced elsewhere and therefore the demands on medical practitioners were not as great as might have been anticipated.
The Cholera outbreak served to focus attention on the wider issue of Public Health in the town and there was a considerable argument about the merits of adopting the Public Health Act or a local Improvement Act. This was in the context of a town still run through meetings of ratepayers and the parish Vestry. One of the most influential voices in the town was that of Richard Smethurst, the leading cotton manufacturer. He favoured Chorley people managing their own affairs as opposed to interference from the General Board of Health and at his suggestion the Ratepayers appointed a “Committee to consider the sanitary condition of Chorley.” This consisted of the town’s Guardians plus 21 townsmen. Amongst the cotton manufacturers, tradesmen and lawyers were John Rigby and another surgeon, John Pollard. Notionally the Committee was to look at sanitary conditions, but for many, public health was secondary to a concern for local enterprise, such as the possible purchase or establishment of markets, gas works or water works. As mentioned earlier, Rigby was a shareholder of the Water Company so it can be seen that he had at least two different interests in the work of this Committee.

The Public Health debate moved on, however, with the enquiry and report of the General Board of Health’s Inspector, Robert Rawlinson. A report on the Sanitary Condition of Chorley was commissioned from Bamford and another surgeon, Garthside. John Rigby appears not to have been a part of the process. Finally a Chorley Improvement Act in 1853 established a new format for the government of the town which lasted for the next thirty years. However in practice, the same families and personalities which had dominated Ratepayers Meetings continued to dominate the Chorley Improvement Commission. Rigby’s position in this elite was secure and he now looked to advance his family’s position in the town and district.
This advancement was achieved in part by bringing his sons into his practice which gained enhanced professional recognition in 1853 when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The 1851 census showed his son John Morris to be a medical student. In 1857 John Morris Rigby, a Doctor of Medicine, married Harriet Elizabeth Anyon of Leyland, daughter of Richard Anyon, a Cotton Spinner. Baines lists Anyon as a Muslim Manufacturer of Preston Street, Chorley; the Land Tax Assessment in 1831 shows Anyon to be an owner and occupier of property in Hollinshead Street, one of Chorley’s newer residential streets. A further son, James Morris, joined his father’s practice in the town in 1859. A further son George Cardwell was practising in the town by 1865 as he was reported as attending an accident at McNaughton and Thom’s printworks.

All three sons were to die tragically young, and John Rigby had already lost a son, Richard Morris Thomas. He was buried at Upholland in 1855 and his gravestone records that Richard was aged 15 of Chorley when he “lost his life in an attempt to save two of his school fellows from drowning in Morecombe Bay.” Possibly they attended Rossall School, near Fleetwood, as George was shown to be in the 1861 census. A further son, William, also predeceased his father. Rossall (1844) was one of several new public schools founded in the early to mid Victorian period. Wilson argued that “the Victorians invented school as a social instrument which moved forward the potentiality of the bourgeois revolution.” There is no evidence to support a view of Rigby as a “revolutionary”, but he was clearly attuned to the changed ways of educating sons to ensure wider life opportunities.

John Rigby may have been anticipating his sons’ arrival in his practice when he took up the post of Poor Law district medical officer for the Rivington District. It is difficult to find another reason! The previous holder of the post had resigned having been refused an increase in salary. Rivington was a predominantly rural, thinly populated district, for which Rigby was paid £25 per year. In addition Rigby was paid extra for surgical and midwifery cases and also served and was paid as Public Vaccinator for the district.
Up until 1855 all medical officers were elected annually, but were usually re-elected by the Guardians. Most medical officers were already established local practitioners like John Rigby who were earning at least a reasonable living from their private practice. A major reason for accepting poorly paid poor law contracts may have been to keep out newcomers. That may have been Rigby’s motive as well as the Rivington district included Adlington which was starting to grow. After 1856 it appeared that Chorley Poor Law medical officers had tenure until death, resignation or dismissal by the Poor Law Board. However the Poor Law Board queried the appointment of Rigby and also Mr. Smith in the Brindle district “requesting to know whether at the time when Mr. Smith and Mr. Rigby were respectively appointed medical officers of the Brindle and Rivington districts the board could have obtained the services of fully qualified men residing within those districts”. The Guardians’ reply argued that in neither district were there resident medical men with full qualifications and the Poor Law Board dropped its objections due to “very special circumstances” and agreed to annual appointments. This would allow for changes in local circumstances. However it would be difficult for a practitioner to set up practice in a thinly populated area without the additional income of a Poor Law Medical contract.

The Rivington position changed again in 1860 when John Rigby resigned the post upon being appointed to the Magistrate’s bench. He seems to have met the needs and expectations of the Guardians as they expressed their “unanimous approval of the very satisfactory manner in which Mr. Rigby discharged the duties of his office.” It was probably best to be appreciative to the new magistrate, and respect his wishes in terms of his replacement in Rivington.
The appointment to the bench was undoubtedly a major civic advancement for John Rigby, and although it marked the winding down of his medical career, his influence in the town continued to grow, not only as a magistrate, but also as an ex-officio Poor Law Guardian and also as an Improvement Commissioner. His obituary stated that “It was in his magisterial capacity that the deceased’s memory will live longest in the minds of the inhabitants of this town and district. ‘Owd Doctor Rigby’ was a terror to evil doers round about.”

Quite possibly John Rigby, in his Poor Law position, had be made to feel a little insecure because of local professional rivalry. This was focussed around William Pilkington. He was the son of a Leyland manufacturer, and had served as an apprentice to a physician in the West End of London. He later studied medicine at London University and obtained “diplomas from Surgeons’ Hall and Apothecaries’ Hall, London as well as the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh.” Before returning to Lancashire he had held appointments in Nottingham and Yorkshire as well as at Manchester Infirmary. He was arguably as well qualified and as broadly experienced as any practitioner in Chorley. He came to the town initially as a partner to John Garthside, who had held a poor law appointment for a number of years, and so Pilkington may well have seen that as being a route to establish his name and practice in the town. His first target seems to have been the long-established, but poorly qualified Thomas Howarth Bamford. He had established his reputation and practice in the town from the 1830s onwards with the Poor Law and the Dispensary and later became Officer of Health for Chorley. When the Poor Law Board challenged his lack of qualifications the Guardians argued on Bamford’s behalf, that he had given 18 years of satisfactory service. The Poor Law Board backed down due to “very special circumstances”. Pilkington wrote to the Guardians denying that he had written to the Poor Law Board about Bamford! He next “threw his hat in the ring” when John Rigby resigned his post in Rivington. The contest was described by the Preston Guardian:- “The election of a medical officer for Rivington district of the Chorley Union took place on Tuesday last, at the weekly meeting of the Chorley Board of Guardians. The candidates were Dr. Pilkington, of Chorley, who had been in extensive practice for several years, and Dr. James Rigby, the son and successor of Mr. John Rigby, an old and much respected practitioner in the town, whose resignation of the office in question caused the present vacancy. On a poll of the Guardians, Mr. James Rigby was declared the successful candidate, he having 21 votes, and Mr. Pilkington 9. The candidates produced testimonials which proved that both were highly qualified for the office.” James was a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, but certainly lacked Pilkington’s experience having “commenced practice in the town in 1859” Undoubtedly his father’s experience and status was the decisive factor.

On Bamford’s death in 1862, Pilkington applied for the post of poor law medical officer for Chorley, only to be defeated by another son of John Rigby, John Morris Rigby. John Rigby, senior, attended the Guardians’ meeting which elected his son, in his new role as “ex-officio” Guardian. Not surprisingly, Pilkington wrote to the Poor Law Board alleging “unfair practices.” This accusation may have had freemasonry implications as both of these sons of John Rigby were masons. In response to a letter from the from the Poor Law Board, the Guardians’ clerk suggested an investigation by an independent authority, such as a Poor Law Inspector, however this bluff was not called, if that is what it was. At a further meeting of the Guardians a letter was presented from John Morris Rigby, answering Pilkington’s charges and a unanimous resolution was passed by the Guardians declaring that there was no foundation to Pilkington’s allegations. His statements were described as “frivolous” and “attributable to a feeling of vexation and disappointment.” Whilst this issue had been decisively settled by the Guardians, William Pilkington, was certainly not happy with the situation or the Rigbys in particular, and soon after wrote again to the Poor Law Board, reporting to the national body a decision of the Chorley Guardians to request repayment of a midwifery fee paid to James Rigby as no order had been given to him to treat the woman concerned.

It is not known what, if any, response was made by the Poor Law Board. However it is clear that by 1862, John Rigby had seen his sons successfully picking up his medical practice and enlarging it. His eldest son, John Morris Rigby had been practicing with him since 1855, and with the death of Thomas Bamford was appointed Officer of Health under the Improvement Commission, and under the Chorley Guardians was appointed both as Medical Officer for the Chorley Poor Law District and Workhouse Medical Officer. At a stroke, John Morris Rigby became arguably the medical practitioner with the highest profile in the town. At the same time his brother James established important links with the town’s growing manufacturing base, being doctor to the Railway Wagon Works and Chairman of the Co-operative Spinning and Manufacturing Company. He later succeeded his brother as Officer of Health.
George, a younger son, became surgeon to the Birkacre Print Works and the Amalgamated Society of Druids, was a later Workhouse Medical Officer and practiced in Eccleston as well as Chorley.
The subsequent lives of these three sons were nothing less than tragic; two pre-deceasing their father and the third dying as an asylum inmate. However the Rigby medical dynasty survived and continued to flourish in the town and district for a further 70 years. This owed much to the efforts of John Rigby.

John Harrison Dec 2010