John Fewster

Apothecary and Surgeon

John Fewster & family2018-08-17T08:39:38+00:00

John Fewster was a surgeon and apothecary born about 1738 (based upon his age at his death).  He married Betty Tyson in Thornbury on the 26th of April 1770 at which time John was said to be living in Thornbury, though he does not appear to have been born there.  It is possible he had come to Thornbury a few years before to take up a practice and had met and then married, Betty, the daughter of Thomas Tyson and granddaughter of Samuel Tyson of Hope Farm in Falfield.

Professor Gareth Williams in his book “The Angel of Death; The Story of Smallpox” says that John Fewster was from nearby Stonehouse in Gloucestershire.  This seems very likely as the parish records for Stonehouse have an entry for the baptism of John Fewster son of John and Sarah Fewster of Standish.  Apparently John Fewster was also a surgeon in the North Gloucestershire Militia.  Gareth Williams also says that John received his medical training at Bristol Infirmary.

John Fewster has a place in English medical history because of his part in finding out ways of preventing the smallpox epidemics that were so devastating at that time.  Wikipedia says that “During the 18th century the disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans per year (including five reigning monarchs), and was responsible for a third of all blindness.  Of all those infected, 20–60%—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease.”

In 1765 John Fewster presented a paper to the Medical Society of London entitled “Cow pox and its ability to prevent small pox”.

In 1768 he founded a medical club called the Convivio-Medical Society which met in various places including the Ship Inn at Alveston.  His friend Edward Jenner was a member.  Dr Fewster suggested to local medical practitioners that they open a house on what is now the A38 near Thornbury to use for people being inoculated against smallpox.

At this time the most accepted method of protecting people against the scourge of smallpox was to use the fluid taken from the blisters that formed on people with a mild form of smallpox. This was called inoculation.

In 1796 thirty one years after John Fewster had presented his paper on the subject, Edward Jenner, the friend and colleague of John Fewster, was broadly given credit for the introduction of the small pox vaccine.  “Vaccine” comes from the Latin word for cow and Jenner is famous for using the fact that contracting cowpox gave people immunity from the greater scourge of smallpox.  He collected the liquid from the blisters of people who had cowpox.  He then scratched the skin of his patients to rub in the liquid and induce a mild form of cowpox which then gave protection against the much feared smallpox.  In a letter written to Mr Rolph, surgeon of Peckham in October 1798 John Fewster was still disputing Jenner’s conclusion that a cow pox vaccine was protective against small pox.  He wrote: “I think it (i.e. the cow-pox in the natural way) is a much more severe disease in general than the inoculated small-pox.

I do not see any great advantage from inoculation from the cow-pox: inoculation for the small-pox seems to be well understood, so that there is very little need of a substitute.  It is curious, however, and may lead to improvements”.

John Fewster was Mayor of Thornbury in 1776/77 and again in 1811/1812.

John Fewster’s wife Betty was one of the heirs of her cousin Arthur Taylor and under the terms of his will of 1797 she inherited a considerable amount of property near The Hackett called Tan-Yard House and its surrounding land. Tan-Yard House is now Hackett House.  We understand that this was quickly sold off by their three children after the death of their mother.

John and Betty Fewster owned Wigmore House in Castle Street Thornbury.  The deeds of Wigmore House which were photographed by Heather Palmer (one of the research group from Thornbury Museum) contain a document dated 1894 which has a schedule referring to the earlier owners.  It says; “22nd and 23rd March 1782. Indentures of Lease and Release the latter between John Johnson of the one part and John Fewster of the other part.”

We have taken this to mean that John Fewster bought the property which is now Wigmore House from John Johnson in 1782.

However the Land Tax and Poor Relief Records have further information.  The Land Tax Record of 1781 shows that John Fewster was the tenant of a property owned by John Johnson.  The Records of 1782 and subsequent years up to the time of his death continue to show what seems to be this property was both owned and occupied by John Fewster.  The Assessment for the Relief of the Poor made in 1770 also shows that John Fewster was occupying a property owned by John Johnson which appears to be this same property.  This indicates that John and Betty Fewster were renting what is now Wigmore House for quite some time before before they bought it.

We have evidence to suggest that although John and Betty Fewster bought Wigmore House they did not always live there.  The Gloucester Journal of 29th January 1816 advertised the property for letting.  GJ 1816 29th Jan property fewsterPlease see the advertisement on the right to read the details.  Note that at this time the property had an orchard and six acres of land and a large coach house and stables sufficient for six horses.

Wigmore House was referred to in the will John Fewster made in 1820.  This will confirms that John Fewster may not have actually lived there at that time as it says “I give and devise unto my dear wife Betty Fewster all that my messuage or tenement with the outhouses, stables, garden orchard and piece of ground thereto adjoining now in the occupation of Mr N N Jefferys which I some time ago purchased of Mr John Johnson, since deceased.”

John Fewster died aged 86 on 3rd April 1824.  His will, drawn up in 1820 and proved in 1824, deals with other properties than that which we believe to be Wigmore House. It says;

“I give and devise unto my said wife Betty Fewster all that my Coach house and stable now in my occupation situate in the High Street of the Borough of Thornbury on the south east side of a dwellinghouse now or lately inhabited by Joseph Longman.” We believe that this Coach house and stable later became the house that is now number 20 Castle Street.

“I give and devise unto my said daughter Ann Fewster all that my messuage or tenement and garden or court behind the same now in my occupation some time since purchased by me off the said John Johnson …….but in case she the said Ann Fewster shall die without having issue …then I give and devise the same last mentioned messuage and premises unto her the daughter of the said Elizabeth Player her heirs and assigns for ever.” We believe this to be the property that became Epworth House.

“I give and devise unto my said daughter Elizabeth Player all that my messuage or tenement lately erected by me, now or late in the occupation of Mr Hunt.” We believe this property to be what is now Bank Cottage but cannot explain how it is that by the Tithe Survey of 1840 this property came to be owned by Thomas Fewster, John Fewster’s son.

John’s wife Betty Fewster continued to own Wigmore House and the Land Tax Records showed her as the owner until her death on May 3rd 1835 aged 87 years.  The schedule of 1894 which is in the deeds of Wigmore House refers to the will of John Fewster made in March 1820 and proved 4th October 1824, thus appearing to confirm our theory that the house was the one referred to in the will.  We believe that about the time of Betty’s death Wigmore House was occupied by Edmund Lloyd as the lease was advertised in the Gloucestershire Chronicle in November 1834 as being in the occupation of Edmund Lloyd, solicitor.

The details of the sale of Wigmore House and other property which took place on 1st August 1863 has a list of conditions of sale describing ALL the property in the sale as having been owned by John Fewster and left in his will of 1820.  This property was said to have been inherited by his son Thomas Fewster.  In the sale of 1863 this property was broken down into 12 lots.

Lot 1 was the house lived in until the time of the sale by Edward Long. We know this to be Wigmore House
Lot 2 was a house then lived in by George Godwin the veterinary surgeon. This is believed to be Epworth House, which is the house next door to Wigmore House.

Lot 3 was a building “lately forming the stables and coach house to Lots 1 and 2, together with the saddle room, poultry house, pigsties, yard and land” which was “capable of being converted at small expense into a commodious Residence”. This property was indeed converted at a later date and lies in the small roadway or passage alongside Bank Cottage and which now links Castle Street and Stafford Crescent.

Lots 4 to 12 were various smaller pieces of land which the sale details said “are parcelled out from the two closes of land called Johnson’s Ground situated immediately behind lot 1 and numbered respectively 297 and 299 on the tithe map for the parish of Thornbury.  They are bounded by and have capital frontages to the Turnpike road leading from Thornbury to Gloucester the high road leading to the church and lands of W G Salmon esq and T O Wetmore esq “.

This shows us clearly that John Fewster owned Johnsons Ground, the large area of land now bordered by Gloucester Road, Church Road and Wigmore House, which must have all been part of the Wigmore property.  This was possibly transferred to John Fewster under the terms of the Indenture of 1782 in which John Fewster bought property from John Johnson, including Wigmore.  The name “Johnsons Ground” itself being a possible indication of the provenance.  The Tithe Apportionment Map drawn up between 1837 and 1840 gives this numbers 297 and 299 and says that it was owned and used by Elizabeth Fewster.

The Children of John and Betty Fewster

Anne Fewster. The records of the Church of St Mary in Thornbury show that the John and Betty Fewster’s first child was Anne Fewster who was born on 15th May 1771.  Anne Fewster never married and she died in Thornbury on 8th March 1845 aged 74.  There is a tablet to her memory in St Mary’s Church erected by her niece, Elizabeth Fewster, as a tribute of affection.  At this stage we know little more about Anne, apart from the bequests in her will which was proved on 18th April 1845.   These included the income from seven hundred pounds to her nephew, George Fewster, nine hundred pounds to her niece, Elizabeth Fewster, the income from seven hundred pounds to Eliza Lawford and to her niece, Mary Ann Player, another seven hundred pounds.  It would seem that Anne was a very rich woman in her own right.

John Fewster.  John and Betty’s first son John Fewster followed and was baptised on 18th December 1772.  

Elizabeth Fewster.  On 14th January 1774 their second daughter Elizabeth Fewster was baptised.  On 5th June 1804, Elizabeth married John Player, a gentleman from Elberton Court.  The couple had five children Eliza, Mary Ann, John William and Henry.  Henry died of fever when he was a medical student at Manchester Hospital.  John and Elizabeth lived at Elberton before moving to Briton Ferry in South Wales and then Lougher.  John Player was multi talented, a self taught musician who made his own cello and a botanist, amongst other things.  After his wife’s death he returned to Gloucestershire, first Olveston and then The Close House in Thornbury.   His second daughter Mary Ann born in 1806 came with him and she met and married Richard Whalley, a teacher at the Free School (which later became Thornbury Grammar School).

Thomas Fewster was the fourth child of John and Betty Fewster, baptised in Thornbury on the 30th January 1776.

The Morning Post of January 23rd 1801 announced the marriage of Mr T Fewster and Miss Lackington of Charles Street, St James.  The parish register of St James’s Piccadilly confirms that Thomas Fewster married Elizabeth Lackington on 9th January 1901.  Elizabeth was the sister of George Lackington who may have been the tenant of a property in Thornbury in 1797.  Anne Fewster (Thomas’s sister) and George Lackington were witnesses to the marriage.

Thomas and his wife Elizabeth had at least two children; George who was born 31st May 1802 and Elizabeth born 26th May 1806.  Thomas was a surgeon and apothecary like his father and in 1824 he became a mayor of Thornbury, also like his father.  The Trade Directory of 1830 advertises both Thomas Fewster and his son George as apothecaries.

The 1840 Tithe Apportionment Survey makes it clear how the Wigmore property had been divided between Thomas Fewster and his sister Ann following the death of their parents.  Thomas owned and lived in Wigmore House itself and also had a surgery with a yard and court in what is now Bank Cottage, further down Castle Street, and the land previously described.  Ann lived in what is now Epworth House with a court attached and the stable and coach house.

As well as the property that he inherited after his parents’ death, we know that Thomas himself bought the “Lion House” in 1822 from George Buckle.  It also seems that he owned at least two other properties from 1809 or even earlier, that is before his father died, and for which he continued to pay Land Tax.  We know that Thomas Fewster owned at least two more properties in Castle Street which became Oriel House and Oriel Cottage but at this time we do not know whether he inherited them or whether these were the two properties for which he was paying Land Tax and so must have owned before his father died.

Thomas died in Thornbury on 12th June 1840 aged 64 and was buried on the 17th of June.  By the 1841 Census Thomas’s widow, Elizabeth, and their daughter, also called Elizabeth, were living in what was presumably Wigmore House.  The “Lion House” opposite appeared to be unoccupied.

Thomas’s widow, Elizabeth Fewster died the following year on the 1st of August 1841, aged 65.  There is a tablet in the chancel of St Mary’s Church in Thornbury erected to the memory of her and her husband.

By his will which was proved in London on June 26th 1841 Thomas Fewster left his daughter Elizabeth one thousand pounds and to his son George he left “the entire good will of my practice as a surgeon apothecary and accoucheur” (this is a French term for a male Obstetrician).  He left his wife one hundred pounds and all his property during her life time.  After her death his two children George and Elizabeth inherited all his property as tenants in common.

It was later agreed that George should buy Elizabeth’s half share of “Wigmores House”, as it is called, for £825.  In the indenture dated the 29th of September 1841 which is part of this transaction it was stated that part of the house had been rebuilt.  This was perhaps the Georgian wing that was added to the older house sometime between 1818 and 1841.  Also included were a stable and coach house, formerly a barn or workhouse adjoining the yard of the house.  All of these properties, except the stable and coach house, had belonged to their father.  The stable and coach house were occupied by Ann Fewster, their father’s sister who had a life interest in them until her death in 1845.  In the indenture of September 1841 Edmund Lloyd, gentleman, is named as the under-tenant of George Fewster, who had presumably taken over the occupancy after George’s sister, Elizabeth moved elsewhere.  By the 1851 Census George Fewster who had been living in Bank Cottage in the 1841 Census had moved to Wigmore House where he was living alone, except for a servant and a groom.  However he was living in Southampton Street, The Strand, Middlesex by 24th of May 1852 when he purchased Elizabeth’s half share of the “Lion House” in Castle Street for a further £95.

The next day George sold the “Lion House” to Charles Prewett of Thornbury, a tailor.  At that time Lion House was occupied by George Godwin the veterinary surgeon.  The house was later sold to Edward Long in 1859.

Elizabeth Fewster died in October 1865, aged 59 years.   She was buried in the cemetery in Cheltenham on 17th October 1865.  The probate record says that she was a spinster of 11 Lansdown Parade in Cheltenham.  Probate was granted to Mary Ann Ferris (wife of Richard Ferris).  Mary Ann (nee De la Roche) was the daughter of John and Martha De la Roche.  She had married Richard Ferris in 1852.  Prior to that time the 1851 Census shows that as a widow Mary Ann Coote was living in St Catherine’s Place in St Andrews  in the same household as her mother the widowed Martha De la Roche and Elizabeth Fewster.

In the 1871 Census George Fewster who was a retired surgeon aged 69 was lodging with a retired coastguard, George Saule, and his family in Ilfracombe North Devon.  By 1881 he was living in the Swansea area with William Player and his family .  George Fewster died in the Hereford district in the June quarter of 1889.

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