Dr. Norman H. Sutcliffe

Personal Memories of a Benfleet Doctor

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  It consisted of a waiting room with wooden chairs and a table covered with out of date Horse and Hound magazines, a consulting room with desk and Drs chair and a chair for patients, which had 2” cut off the front legs so one sat on a slight slope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.

Norman's last day at the surgery - September 1993
Norman Sutcliffe
Doctors from the Rushbottom Lane Surgery celebrating the retirement of Dr Doug Acres in 1983.
Norman Sutcliffe
Joining the practice early 1960s
Norman talks about Pendley House practice at Tarpots and the Kiln Road surgery. Approx 6min 30sec.
The changes after Tom Wilks retired.
The arrival of Dr John Clarke and Dr Helen Wessels. Approx. 2min 10sec.
Description of the local area.
A home birth visit when many local roads were still unmade. Approx. 2min.
Anecdotes - Tom Wilks
Norman's memories of working with Tom. Approx 2mins.
The Doctor, The Vet and the Runaway Pig
When Dr Wilks attended a home delivery and the story of a pig that escaped in Hopes Green. Approx. 4mins
The modern practice with the advent of computers.
How computers changed the work of a G.P. Approx 2min 10sec.
Childhood Years
Norman describes his childhood years before moving to Essex. Approx 1min 30sec
Home visits made by Norman.
Norman talks about what happened when making one particular home visit. Approx. 3min 30sec

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  • Thanks to everyone for their kind words about my Dad. He was kind, understanding and took great pride in helping everyone, even if they were not a patient. He also had a great sense of humour and often enjoyed a racy joke! In his later years he enjoyed gardening, creative writing, travelling abroad and being with his family.

    By Andrew Sutcliffe (19/11/2023)
  • I lived in Benfleet from 1964 to 1972. We were Dr. Sutcliffes patients and I remember clearly having my polio etc. on the lump of sugar. I remember a smiling tall dark haired man, with heavy glasses and he wore a white coat. He was probably fed up with us, as mum was a hypochondriac, and I remember Dr. Acres looked after her in the late 60’s. I was well all the time I lived in Benfleet, so many thanks to Dr. Sutcliffe.

    By Trevor Redburn (10/05/2023)
  • I’m sorry to see that Dr Sutcliffe died last year.

    Dr Sutcliffe was our family doctor, even after my parents divorced, until my mum and step-father moved to Cornwall in early1979 (they were back in Benfleet before my first term at Nottingham medical school ended before Christmas 1979!). He diagnosed my type 1 diabetes in January 1971, telling my parents that I was lucky as I had walked into the surgery, as most new diabetics were discovered in diabetic ketoacidosis and unconscious in hospital! Around 1977 I started working on Saturdays at Cross chemist, working in the pharmacy (under the watchful eye of the pharmacy staff and Mr Cross junior!). At that time the pharmacy was on the first floor. Later, Mr O’Connell, the shop manager, asked for me to work in the shop downstairs when I was back home in Benfleet for the holidays between university terms. When Dr Sutcliffe learned that I was at medical school and thinking of becoming a GP, he came in and offered to take me as a student on his home visits (as a new student he felt it would be unsuitable for me to sit in in the surgery). I learned a lot from him during those visits. As a child patient, I had thought him very severe, but now found he had a sense of humour (telling me some of the funny experiences he and his colleagues had been involved with – no names ever mentioned so patient confidentiality maintained). However, these visits and stories had a significant effect as it gave an insight to how people behave when they are unwell, hopefully making me a better doctor by being aware of how illness affects people. I didn’t end up as a GP, the long hours and the challenges of matching this with type 1 diabetes and meals meant a career in Microbiology beckoned. Contact with hospital staff, GP staff and patients was still key, so these lessons learned became invaluable. I think at the time he was the lead GP for new GP trainees at the practice, so it is unsurprising that he thought he might get me trained up for later years!

    I know my mum, trusted him as our family GP, and missed him sorely when we moved to Cornwall. When they returned, it was just off Rayleigh Road, so a more local GP was used.

    Dr Noman Sutcliffe, many thanks for that opportunity and the help with my health during my early years. I’m now a type 1 diabetic of 53 years – as of today. RIP.

    By Dr Stephen Cotterill (14/01/2023)
  • I have just read that Dr. Sutcliffe has passed away. I am so sad. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that Dr. Sutcliffe diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes in 1961 when I was 3 years old, and he looked after my family and myself until he retired in 1993. In September 2021 I received a medal from Diabetes UK for living with type 1 diabetes for 60 years. There was an article about my story in the local Echo newspaper along with a photo of me, my husband and my medal. The following week I received a letter from Dr. Sutcliffe. He congratulated me for my achievement in surviving this illness for so many years. I was so overcome by this that I burst out crying. I couldn’t believe he still remembered me after all these years. He sent me a lovely Christmas card in 2021, which I have kept. He was a fantastic doctor and a kind and compassionate man, and my sincere thoughts are with his family.

    By Marina Lightbown (nee Lazell) (10/07/2022)
  • I understand that Norman passed away peacefully on Wednesday the 8th of June, 2022 aged 86 years. Although he was not my doctor, I saw him often as a patient from 1961 when he was at the Kiln Road practice with Dr Wilks, right through to when he retired in 1993.

    As an editor of this website I contacted him in 2011 to ask if he would consider adding some of his memories to this website. He visited my home and spent the evening recording his memories and reminiscing about days gone by.
    A wonderful doctor who will be sorely missed.

    By Eileen Gamble (02/07/2022)
  • Dr Sutcliffe was our family Dr from 1970’s until he left Rushbottom lane. Last of the old school Dr’s. Not only did he deliver me at home, but I clearly remember the original surgery at the Tarpots. Dark wood adorning the walls and the medicinal smell. Receiving my polio on a sugar cube. The move to the new build in Rushbottom Lane and my visit my mum made me go to when she found out I’d started smoking! I received my lecture from him and on walking out the back door he was leaning out the window having a quick puff between patients 🙈🤣 we made eye contact but nothing was said or ever mentioned in future appointments 🤣
    After he retired I remember my dad cutting himself with a stanly blade. He sent me and my sister to the chemist in Hadleigh for butterfly stitches. Recognising us he instructed us on what to do.
    What a wonderful Dr and I am so sad to hear of his passing. Like us, I am sure he is mentioned a lot around family dinner tables when reminiscing about days gone by. Xxx

    By Faye Clarkson (01/07/2022)
  • I worked as a Receptionist/Secretary for Dr. Sutcliffe in the late sixties and have many memories of those times.  Dr. Sutcliffe was such a kind and understanding man for whom I had great respect.  I also used to occasionally babysit for his three children.    It was lovely to hear him recounting his memories.  I have to say I have had many jobs over the years, some in management, however I remember my time at the surgery with great fondness and still have my job reference  written by Dr. Taylor to this day.

    Many thanks for the kindness and understanding shown to me during the years I worked at the practice.

    Heather Jaggard-Legerton – formerly Daly.

    By Heather Jaggard-Legerton (27/12/2014)
  • Dr Sutcliffe was my family doctor from 1963 until I moved to the other side of Benfleet in 1986. He saved my brother Peter’s life when Southend Hospital sent him home having missed his ruptured spleen and Dr Sutcliffe sent him back. A top man indeed.

    By Paul Smith (08/12/2014)
  • Dr Sutcliffe was my doctor from 1968 until he retired, he was the best Dr I had and helped diagnose my daughter Melanie with Asthma, he also had to put up with my brother Kenny who got to know him well. Sadly Ken died, age 52, 10yrs ago, my dad has gone also but my mum is ok age 84 now.

    Thank you for being such a kind doctor.

    By Janet Rogers (nee Quinlan) (15/11/2014)
  • I joined the surgery as a receptionist 1970.  It was my first job on leaving school and quite an experience!!  One of my most important duties was going to the baker’s each day to get Norman’s roll for lunch.  I remained at the surgery for 7 years – a very happy time.  I also use to babysit Norman & Jan’s 3 children.

    By Jean Neale (Nee Palmer) (01/11/2013)
  • Thank you Marina I remember you well. You were such a brave little girl it was a privilege to treat you and your family.

    By Norman Sutcliffe (13/08/2013)
  • Dr. Sutcliffe looked after me from 1961 when he diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes until he retired in 1993. He also looked after my son from 1987 until 1993. He also looked after my parents. He was a fantastic doctor and did a fantastic job of looking after my family. Marina Lightbown (nee Lazell)

    By Marina Lightbown (20/06/2013)
  • Fantastic!  Really nice trip down memory lane, a great page. Thank you.

    By Alistair (12/11/2011)

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