Norman H. Sutcliffe was born in a small village in Leeds in 1935. His father was a Methodist Minister and Norman’s childhood was spent moving around with his father’s work. After several moves within the north of England the family then found themselves in London. Norman recalls he found London difficult to adjust to and he was not sorry to move out to Essex.
In the late 1950s the family settled in Leigh on Sea when Norman’s father was invited to take charge of the Methodist Church in Elm Road. During this time Norman did not spend much time at the family home, having attended medical school he was often away training at various different hospitals.
Norman qualified as a General Practitioner in 1959 and later, in 1961 he found work at a small practice in Thundersley. He joined Dr Douglas Acres, Dr Vincent Tyndall, Dr Ralph Taylor and Dr Tom Wilks. In the same year Norman married his wife, Jan and they went on to raise their family, two sons and a daughter.
In 1961 when Norman joined the practice, Tom Wilks was already approaching 70 years old and retirement beckoned. Tom had been the local doctor for many years and was renowned in the area for arriving on horse back when he visited his patients. Larger than life and an ex-army doctor, he had served in the Cavalry as a medical officer during the war. An accomplished horse rider, he had two horses which he rode regularly around the un-made roads of Benfleet. In later years when Tom could no longer ride, Norman helped Tom’s wife Frankie exercising the horses and the pair could be found riding the local unmade roads.
Life at the surgery, in Norman’s own words
“Your members may be interested in this little account of my first months in General practice as assistant before Tom retired.
I frequently took surgeries for him at his surgery in Kiln Road. The surgery was a wooden building – really a large shed next to the house. It consisted of a waiting room with wooden chairs and a table covered with out of date Horse and Hound magazines, a consulting room with desk and Drs chair and a chair for patients, which had 2” cut off the front legs so one sat on a slight slope – uncomfortable, so you didn’t stay long! Heading off this room was a small examination room with a wooden frame couch.
The only telephone was unplugged from the house and plugged in next to the desk. Surgery hours were 9-10am and 5-6pm. No appointment system of course.
Tom’s patients did not want to see the young newcomer, they only trusted their ‘proper doctor’ and family friend.
The building was lined with hardboard and the space in between was lagged with straw as insulation. Little holes had been made in the hard board and frequently a mouse or nesting bird would poke its head through.
I used to sit there for an hour. The phone would sometimes ring but when I answered the call was terminated!
Only one or two patients came during that hour and in between seeing them I used to walk down the long garden, look at Frankie’s hens, some of which I had hatched and reared and given to her, then to the stables to say Hello to the horses, 2 grey mares which were there, or in the field beyond.
After the hour was up I plugged the phone back in the house and left.
The patients did get used to me in time, so perhaps I wasn’t too bad after all !
Memories of a bygone age.”
Norman has recorded some of his memories of his days at the surgery but explains that when he retired in 1993, he was somewhat relieved as the new technology was difficult to adapt to. However, he says that he was very sorry to leave his patients behind, as they felt like family to him.
Today, Norman lives in Leigh-on-Sea with his wife Jan.
Click on the sound recordings to listen to Norman’s memories.