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Drs. Harry and Katharine Rosebery Drinkwater of Wrexham

Timothy Morgan Owen Shelby was headmaster of Brymbo School from 1893 until 1933. This school's first annual pupil medical check was carried out in 1908 and in 1911 the name "Dr. Mrs. K R Drinkwater" appeared in the school log as the doctor examining the pupils, a role she filled for several more years. The discovery of a female doctor at a time when the suffragettes were only just beginning to make inroads into a male-dominated society, was thought-provoking and worthy of investigation. She was Dr Katharine Rosebery Drinkwater (11 Nov 1872 - 29 Dec 1939) OBE (1918) BSc (Lond 1896) LSA (Lond 1903) MB BS (Lond 1906) DPH (Liverp 1909).

Katharine, the eldest daughter of Mr H Mason Jay MD, FRCS, was educated at Bath High School, Bedford College London, and the London School of Medicine for Women. She obtained her BSc in 1896 and qualified as a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries London (LSA) in 1903 before graduating MB BS from the University of London three years later. She then studied for a Diploma of Public Health (DPH) at Liverpool University, becoming one of the first women to hold that qualification.

Harry Drinkwater As well as gaining all those qualifications, she found time, on 15 November 1903 [St Pancras, 1903, 4th qt], to marry a widower, Dr Harry Drinkwater MD MSc (Hon), of Wrexham. The marriage was conducted at St Pancras Parish Church, by the vicar of Wrexham, who was also a Canon of St Asaph. Katharine never had children but became stepmother to her husband's three grown-up children. Harry was eighteen years her senior and her eldest stepson, Ernest, was only six years her junior (Ernest died just under two years before she did). Harry's first wife, Ellen Priscilla (née Reed) had died on 29 October 1902 [Wrexham 1902, 4th qt] following many years of ill health (heart problems, neuralgia and sciatica) [Obituary and death announcement: Llangollen Advertiser Denbighshire Merionethshire and North Wales Journal, 7 Nov 1902].

Katharine and Harry (pictured right) were both highly intelligent, talented people who were, in many ways, ahead of their time.

Harry was a practicing GP and for many years he also conducted autopsies for the Wrexham coroner, which caused his name to appear in numerous local newspaper reports. For most of his life Harry pursued an interest in field botany, which he coupled with a love of painting, and, to help him cope with the grief of losing his first wife, he set out to try to paint every plant around Wrexham. Some of his paintings were given a "prominent display" by the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature and Art in 1908 [Cheshire Observer, 10 Oct 1908 (view)] and the following year Harry was presented with the Society's gold medal, awarded annually in memory of its founder, Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), author of "The Water Babies". [North Wales Weekly News, 5 Nov 1909 (view)]. Another of that paper's issues [15 Apr 1910 (view)], reported that "At the last meeting of the Linnean Society Dr Drinkwater showed specimens of drawings in distemper on coloured paper of wild flowers growing at Wrexham; his object was to draw every plant in the local flora natural size, and he has completed 300, leaving about 500 still to be drawn". Many such plant drawings appear two-dimensional but Harry generally included shadow, which gave his drawings depth and often the appearance of a photograph. His fame really spread after he submitted 200 of his paintings to the National Eisteddfod held in Wrexham in 1912. (see - I recommend you zoom in, either using the toolbar or by pressing 'Ctrl' with '+' to see them in sufficient detail - here for some examples); he subsequently donated his drawings (almost 500 in number) to the National Museum of Wales.

In 1909, Harry was brought a strange flowering plant that had been found near Llangollen and he sent a sample to Kew for identification; it was a narrow-leaved Amsinkia (Amsinkia angustifolia), a native of Chile and Patagonia. Harry wanted to know how it had got to where it had been found. "We met at the home of our mutual friend for a botanical ramble and chat, and, after a welcome tea on a warn afternoon from our friend, he told us that he had from Wrexham, a few years ago, a quantity of siftings from Chilian barley, which he used as poultry food, scattering much of it on a grassy knoll. On going there, we found, much to our pleasure, several plants, which seemed to be well established." [Llangollen Advertiser, Denbighshire, Merionethshire and North Wales Journal, 16th Jul 1909 (view)]. This was typical of Harry; he was meticulous and thorough in his approach to all research.

One of Harry's research projects investigated mentally and physically disadvantaged children within the education system and led him to make some extremely perceptive conclusions. In the light of modern thinking, his observations may seem quite obvious but they were much needed at that time to help to create the educational opportunities that now exist for such children. Just after WWI, as acting school medical officer in Wrexham, Harry looked at 137 local elementary school pupils who had mental or physical deficiencies. Reporting on his methods and on his findings, the Llangollen Advertiser, Denbighshire and North Wales Journal of 23 May 1919 (view)] quoted him as stating:

"The system of elementary education is based on the assumption that children are identical, as at any rate that they resemble one another very closely in their aptitude for learning. There could not be a greater blunder. As a matter of fact children differ very widely, and show every degree of ability from the very clever to the very dull. There are some who learn readily, without much effort, whilst others, owing to congenital defect are, are wholly incapable of learning the subjects in the school curriculum, and are, therefore, incapable of benefitting by the instruction provided for them in the ordinary elementary schools.

The aim should be to educate, develop, or train the faculties or powers of which the child is possessed ... It is an undoubted and well-established fact that many a feeble-minded child shows special and unusual ability in certain directions, especially with work that can be done with the hands - e.g. drawing, woodwork, needlework, basketwork, and gardening. The Board of Education has been very negligent on this point and has tried to get impossible results ...

The association of the mentally-defective child with other children in the ordinary class was a great tax upon the teacher, tended to hinder the progress of the normal children and was an injustice to the feeble-minded child itself.

In regard to this observation and bearing in mind that this interest in the Drinkwaters was initiated by research into Timothy Morgan Owen Shelby and his work as headmaster of Brymbo School, it should be noted that the school log reports that, within the limitations of the laid down curriculum, Timothy created the school garden and built into the curriculum many lessons around the sowing, nurturing and harvesting of many of its plants. He also raised funds for the purchase of a school sewing machine and his wife donated to the school a sewing prize.

Katharine Drinkwater, meanwhile, was pursuing her own medical career and being as active a member of the community as her husband. In addition, she and Harry both showed West Highland White Terriers and both regularly won prizes. Katharine was on the committee of the West Highland White Terrier Club of England (that of Wales not being established until 1993) and occasionally judged competitions. Nevertheless, it is what she achieved within her medical career that is particularly noteworthy.

Katharine's duties at Brymbo School arose once she had, in 1907, become assistant school medical officer under the Wrexham Education Committee and medical inspector of children under the Denbigh County Council but her medical speciality appears to have been gynaecology. This site reveals that she was a recognised teacher for the Central Midwifery Board, a lecturer in First Aid and Home Nursing, a member of the North of England Obstetrics and Gynaecology Society. She also held the post of Assistant Gynaecologist at the Women's Hospital Liverpool. In 1913, she published Midwifery Forceps - Historical Sketch in the Liverpool Medical Chirurgical Journal, 1913.

In 1910 Katharine was one of the many who attended a meeting to set up a memorial in Wales to the late king Edward VII in the form of a movement to eliminate tuberculosis [Denbighshire Free Press, 19 November 1910 (view)]. Similar movements were being established internationally around that time and this one in Wales had been founded by Mr David Davis, MP for Montgomery, who had already donated thousands of pounds to it. He stated that Wales had the worst mortality rate from the disease in the UK, that it was unclear as to why but that in Wales he felt "they had done everything for the soul and the mind, but nothing for the body". TB was extremely contagious and rife in areas of overcrowded living conditions but was not just a plague of the poor. The aims of the movement involved prevention and treatment; to send out speakers to educate the general public and to build more sanatoria to isolate and treat patients. The log of Brymbo School reported several talks given to the school by speakers from the "King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association". One was in March 1923; later that year the disease claimed the life of two of the headmaster's sisters, one of whom had taught at the school and who had lost her husband to TB the year before.

Many women were involved in the women's suffrage movement and opportunities to advance its progress came with the outbreak of war in 1914. On 26 June 1915, The Wrexham Advertiser (reproduced in the Wrexham Telegraph, p6 (view)) published an article that began: "For the purpose of discussing women's work during and after the war, a public meeting under the auspices of the Wrexham Women's Suffrage Society, was held at the Free Library in Wrexham, on Friday evening and was largely attended." The report's concluding sentence was: "Dr Katherine Drinkwater pointed out various vocations in which women were urgently needed." No doubt she was already doing what she could to help the war effort and, by example, to demonstrate female emancipation but a more active opportunity to help with the war effort was to present itself.

(This site has provided some of the following information.)
In May 1916, Dr Louisa Aldrich-Blake, Surgeon at the New Hospital for Women (founded by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), tireless campaigner in the late 19th century for the right of women to practice medicine and the first female doctor to qualify in England; just after her death her hospital was named after her) and Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, approached the women doctors on the Medical Register to ask if they would be willing to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). (In 1915, Aldrich-Blake's herself had temporarily left Britain to work as a surgeon for the Anglo-French Red Cross in the 600-bed field hospital at Abbaye du Royaumont near Paris.) Katharine was one of the first female doctors to volunteer and was contracted to work for twelve months as a Civilian Surgeon attached to the RAMC. (Unlike their male colleagues, these women had neither military rank nor status, though their pay and benefits were those of a temporary commissioned officer in the service.) Together with 21 other female doctors, she embarked for Malta on 2 August 1916. Others were to follow; from then until July 1917, eighty two lady doctors from the UK would serve in the Malta war hospitals.

Malta provided medical care for 136,000 men, mainly from the abortive Gallipoli Campaign, some suffering from battle injuries but many suffering from illnesses such as dysentery, fever and malaria, brought on by the climate and the insanitary conditions on the Gallipoli Peninsular. The treatment and reuperation of those patients who survived the week-long, 850 mile sea crossing from the Peninsular often took many weeks; Malta provided a haven, far away from the front line. However, that long sea crossing became increasingly dangerous when German submarine activity mounted in the Mediterranean and, in April 1917, after several hospital ships had been sunk, much of the hospital treatment was transferred from Malta to Greece.

Auberge d'Aragon The Llangollen Advertiser, Denbighshire, Merionethshire and North Wales Journal of 3rd August 1917 (view) reported that Katharine's return from Malta was imminent and that she had "had charge of two military hospitals". Her obituary in the BMJ (10 Feb 1940, p237) states that she was medical officer in charge of the women's wards in the Military Families Hospital at Malta for over a year. This hospital, under the reorganisation required to accommodate patients from the war, was separated from Valetta hospital and installed in the Auberge d'Aragon (pictured, left), opposite St Paul's Anglican Pro-Cathedral in Valetta (now the Ministry for Home Affairs). The Supplement to the London Gazette, 7 June 1918 (view) announced that "Mrs Katharine Rosebery Drinkwater MB BS, In charge of Military Families' Hospital Staff and Department, Malta" was awarded an OBE. (Interestingly, in the 1911 census, the headmistress of the girls' department of Wrexham County School, Annie Elizabeth Wordsworth, was boarding with the Drinkwaters and she was awarded an MBE in the same 1918 Birthday Honours.) In Katharine's absence, Harry continued to enter their dogs in competitions; the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality, 25 August 1916, reported one such success at the Llanrwst Show. Once Katharine had returned, they were again both winning prizes at such shows.

Incidentally, the writer Vera Brittain, mother of Shirley Williams, was a VAD at the nearby Royal Naval Hospital Mtarfa at the same time that Katharine was in Malta; she wrote about it in Testament of Youth.

Once the war was over, life for the Drinkwaters appears to have proceeded much as before. No doubt Katharine would have been delighted, in the interests of equality, when the Wrexham Education Committee in 1919 "decided to increase the salary of Dr. H. Drinkwater, acting school medical officer, by £25 per annum, and the salary of Dr. K Drinkwater, assistant school medical officer, by £25 per annum" ) [Llangollen Advertiser Denbighshire Merionethshire and North Wales Journal, 24 Jan 1919 (view)].

Though Harry remained active, he suffered poor health towards the end of his life. He died at their home, Lister House, Ruabon Road, Wrexham, on July 11, 1925. His obituary in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh stated:

HARRY DRINKWATER, M.SC, M.D., M.R.C.S. (Eng.), F.L.S., J.P., received his medical education at the Universities of Durham and Edinburgh, and afterwards held the following appointments:-Examiner to the St John's Ambulance Association; Physician to the Wrexham Fever Hospital; President of the North Wales Branch of the British Medical Association; and Vice-President of the Chester Natural Science Society*. He was the author of papers on medical subjects in the Liverpool M.C. Journ., 1912; Journal of Genetics, 1915; Practitioner, 1917; Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1917; and in the Lancet, 1920. He was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1908, and died on 11th July 1925."
[* The Llangollen Advertiser, Denbighshire, Merionethshire and North Wales Journals of 1 Jun 1917 (view) and 7 Jun 1918 (view) reported that Harry was president of the Chester Natural Science Society, at least from 1916 to 1918.]

Harry's obituary in The British Medical Journal, 1 Aug 1925 added that:

When he became M.D. in 1885 he was awarded a gold medal. In 1924 he received the honorary degree of M.Sc. from the University of Wales. After practising in Sunderland for a short time he entered into partnership with the late Dr. Eyton-Jones at Wrexham, [that partnership ended in 1892] where he continued to practise until his death. He was president of the North Wales Branch of the British Medical Association from 1917 to 1922, and was a justice of the peace for the borough of Wrexham. ... He contributed numerous papers to various societies, and was the author of A Primer of Dietetics, and also of Fifty Years of Medical Progress 1873- 1922, published in 1924; for the last twenty years he had been engaged in compiling a medical biography.
A colleague writes: By the death of Dr. Harry Drinkwater North Wales has lost one of its oldest and most respected medical practitioners. He had not been in good health for some considerable time, but was in fairly active practice until the day of his death, which was brought about by an attack of angina pectoris. Many in Wrexham will have lost a true friend and helper. He was always a student and a great reader and thinker; one of the most methodical men that I ever knew. He was, one might say, wedded to his profession, and a continual source of inspiration to his young colleagues, trying to instil into them the value of reading, methodical examination of patients, and the collecting of cases, rare and common, upon which to build priceless information which would yield great results in practice. This he always did throughout his life, and the variety and originality of his communications to learned societies will always be a source of amazement to his friends. He was a prolific writer, and could always be depended upon to read interesting papers at the local meetings. He would not accept any statement without sifting the facts, yet he was not dogmatic in his own statements. He was the embodiment of professional etiquette and an example to all. One of his favourite sayings was, "Scepticism is the highest virtue and blind faith the one unpardonable sin." It is not for his profound knowledge of his profession that Dr. Drinkwater will be remembered by his colleagues, but for his kindly nature, his deep sympathy, and cheerful outlook upon life. He was laid to rest on a beautiful sunny afternoon, surrounded by a host of friends, and amidst a wealth of the flowers that he loved so well.

Probate was granted to his wife and to his son-in-law, Rev. Charles Paul Keeling.

For the rest of her life, Katharine continued to be active and involved in both local and medical matters. She was appointed a Denbighshire JP in 1920. She was chairman of the Denbigh and Flint Division of the British Medical Association (1927-9) (she was disappointed that influenza prevented her from chairing its first meeting after reorganization in 1928 (see here)). In the last years of her life, Katharine was Assistant Medical Officer for Maternity and Child Welfare and Medical Officer to Ante Natal Clinic for Wrexham and President of the Wrexham and District Clinical Society (1937-8).

She was still quite wealthy and was living at Holly Cottage, Eyton, near Wrexham, when she died on 29 December, 1939. Her obituary appeared in the BMJ, 10 Feb 1940, p237 (view). Probate was granted to her brother-in-law, Herbert George Laughton, husband of Katharine's sister, Elsie Irene Jay.

Harry and Katharine lived in an age that could be said to have sparked off much of the scientific advancement and social change that has accelerated into the modern age and I am glad to have had this opportunity to learn about their contribution to the Wrexham community, to medicine and to society in general. Katharine was one of the many women of her time who helped to further the role of women, not through militancy but by example, though this would not have been possible without the understanding and encouragement of her husband. Harry, in his turn, carried out much useful research and left a wonderful botanical and artistic legacy that he wanted to be displayed and enjoyed. Both are worthy of remembrance.

Footnote: Harry was concerned that his paintings might be locked away in a storeroom and forgotten and he did his best to ensure this did not happen. He hoped the pictures would be bought, which would make them more likely to be treasured, but the National Museum of Wales did not have the funds available so he donated them to the museum, on the understanding that they would be on permanent display, in rotation (see here). Many have been displayed in recent times and, as mentioned above, many can also be seen (I recommend you zoom in, either using the toolbar or by pressing 'Ctrl' with '+', to see them in sufficient detail) here.

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