The Way We Were: A history of dentistry

Oxford House in the days of gas lamps
Oxford House in the days of gas lamps
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CITY historian JOHN TAYLOR takes another walk down memory lane...

ALONG with general grumpiness, another step towards enrolment at the University of the Third Age is having had the last of my teeth extracted.

And with a complete set of dentures, the only aspect to miss about the dentist’s chair is the matronly bosom of the comely dental nurse, comfortingly posed above one’s slowly swelling lips as, with practiced nimble fingers, she probes deep within one’s inner cheeks with her gurgling suction tube.

But that’s quite enough of the Mills and Boon, and so to dentistry as it was ‘when I was a lad’. A time when fillings were performed without anaesthetic, and extractions were performed under gas, the mere mention of which will no doubt strike terror into those of a certain age, who can remember the nauseous smell of the rubber mask, and the fitful descent into semi oblivion.

And so to those for whom a visit to the dentist seems traumatic, just be thankful that you didn’t live in times gone by.

Speaking of which, in April 1914 Mr. J. Austin Bayes transferred his business as a chemist to Mr. F.H. Holyoak, who had come to Bletchley from ‘a high class establishment’ in Leicester. The business, in Aylesbury Street, would be known as ‘The Modern Pharmacy,’ and the arrangement for Mr. C. Gaston to operate a dental surgery there, on Thursday afternoons, would continue as before.

The following year, anyone in need of a dentist could also visit the ‘House of No Pain,’ at 15, Bletchley Road, where ‘A first class West End London operator will continue to use Mr Pilcher’s Successful Method.’ Extracts would cost from 1s, and complete sets from £1 1s.

Scrolling forward in time, in 1927 Mr. Ernest Copeland took over the practice of a Mr Saunders, and although he first operated from premises in Aylesbury Street, he later moved to accommodation above Lloyds Bank in Bletchley Road, and then to 77, Bletchley Road, where, until retiring through ill health, he would continue his dentistry until 1949. – he died in 1952, leaving a daughter who was the wife of Jack Haynes, the landlord of the King’s Head, Fenny Stratford.

As for other dentists, for several years Mr Warren Wise had practised as ‘Heytor,’ Bletchley Road, until the family moved from the town about 1939.

Tragically, the following year his only son, Corporal Jack Wise, aged 21, would be officially posted as missing, while in the aftermath of the war, towards the end of August 1946 his daughter, Eleanor, married Peter Lenton, whose parents lived at Park Farm, Brampton, Huntingdonshire.

No doubt still remembered by many in the town is Mr Marshall, who around 1951 began as a dentist in Bletchley Road, where he continued until his short lived retirement in the south of France.

Having taken over the dental practice of a Mr Barnes, he was initially helped by his father, who, born at Paisley, and educated in Ireland, had qualified as a dental surgeon in Glasgow.

Being awhile the President of the West of Scotland branch of the British Dental Association, for many years he would be the dental officer for Renfrewshire, but on giving up his school work he – instead of retiring to Ireland – came to help his son at Bletchley. He died in 1966, aged 78.

Now based a little further along Bletchley Road, the former practice of Mr. Marshall continues as C. Vitiello and associates.

As for the original premises, this came to accommodate a firm of solicitors, and ironically not only in the same room where the dental surgery had been, but in the very same place that the dentist’s chair had been, it was there that I sat with pen eagerly poised to sign my divorce papers.

In fact almost deja vu, for there it had been many years before when I thankfully got rid of another pain, in the form of an abscessed molar.