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Dr William Scatterty

British Staff

We are very proud and privileged to feature an article by renowned local personality, Ian Dewhirst. Ian is an expert on all things Keighley. A former reference librarian, Ian is the author of many books about Keighley and the surrounding area. He continues to write a weekly column for the Keighley News and has been publishing articles for various newspapers and magazines since 1959. Ian was made an MBE in 1999 for his services to local history. He also has the very rare distinction of having one of the local Northern diesel trains named after him – that train can be found serving today on the same railway line that brought the German prisoners to Skipton almost a hundred years ago.


Photograph reproduced by permission of Bradford Libraries
It must have seemed inevitable that Dr William Scatterty should emerge as Administrator in charge of the Keighley War Hospital. A Scotsman, he had come to Keighley in 1886 as partner to Dr William Dobie, remaining in private practice only until 1892 when he was appointed Medical Officer of Health for the Borough, a post he would hold until 1928, when ‘he retired under the age limit’, as the local paper carefully pointed out, on ‘the introduction of the superannuation scheme’. Not one to be idle, he promptly commenced duties as Medical Officer for the Craven Combined Districts, until 1947 when he was in his late eighties.

Dr Scatterty proved a conscientious Medical Officer of Health, routinely inspecting middens and stables, tripe dressers, blocked drains and cellars awash with ‘several inches of sewage’, interspersed with high-profile scares like suspected arsenic in beer and Blackpool  rock. (The rock turned out to be all right, but arsenic ‘in notable extent’ was found in the beer.)

Morton Banks Hospital, Keighley. Photograph reproduced by permission of Bradford Libraries

Infectious diseases were a special interest: when a Keighley and Bingley Joint Hospital Board opened a modest corrugated-iron fever hospital at Morton Banks in 1893, Dr Scatterty was its medical superintendent. A diphtheria epidemic in 1901 necessitated the closure of Sunday Schools and fumigation of day schools, whilst scarlet fever saw milkmen ordered ‘not to go into infected houses’. In 1902 there was a smallpox epidemic. Hearing a rumour of ‘a case of smallpox in one of the vans’ attached to Sanger’s Circus at Colne, Dr Scatterty crossed the border the day before it moved to Keighley and inspected its performers and staff, though without result. He required local lodging-house keepers to supply daily lists of their tramps. Yet still the smallpox reached Keighley, where Dr Scatterty persuaded one obstinate sufferer to enter hospital by promising to keep him supplied with tobacco! He kept a diary of the more gruesome aspects of the epidemic, like the man who ‘got his wife to prick all the pox on him and squeeze out their contents so that his appearance might not attract attention (he generally had a pimply face).’

Meanwhile Dr Scatterty was also active in the St John Ambulance Brigade. There had been an Ambulance Association in Keighley since 1883, but Dr Scatterty and Dr J. Nicholson Dobie, son of his former partner, started a local St John Ambulance Division in 1897, upgraded to Corps three years later. When eight men and four women went on duty at a play in the Keighley Mechanics’ Institute in 1899, they were able to render ‘magnificent services’ when a window-pane broke from its pivot and crashed down on the audience below.

Those early St John members had been distinguishable only by ‘the Ambulance badge on their right arm’, but soon uniforms became a priority. Perhaps this was not altogether surprising — the Great War would show how impressive Dr Scatterty looked in uniform — but there was an immediate demand as St John recruits were invited to volunteer for service in the Boer War, though initially only those with full uniforms. The Keighley Corps was soon able to send seven of its members to South Africa, besides having two uniformed squads ‘for competition and other purposes’, and feeling entitled to march ‘as near a band as possible’ in annual Gala processions!

Demonstrating both Dr Scatterty’s energy and the strength of the Keighley St John Ambulance Corps, by October of 1914, a 50–bed military hospital was ready for use, by arrangement with the Trustees of the Spencer Street Congregational Sunday Schools, at whose parent church Dr Scatterty was a worshipper. It was the following May before it received any patients, but by 1919, increased to 60 beds, it had treated 861 in-patients and 400 out-patients. Mrs Agnes Scatterty — who would be awarded the MBE and made an Officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem — served as its Administrator.

The stage was now set for Keighley’s official War Hospital, which at the beginning of 1916 the Keighley and Bingley Joint Hospital Board offered ‘with all its equipment’ to the War Office. Dr Scatterty’s ‘knowledge of the ebb and flow’ of infectious diseases was apparently crucial: ‘he was convinced that the district would be comparatively free from diseases requiring treatment there during the time the institution was required. That view was justified.’

The twenty beds of the 1893 fever hospital had grown to 200 by 1916, and a Mayoral appeal for funds soon doubled that capacity. Dr Scatterty described the Morton Banks War Hospital as ‘beautifully situated on the sunny slopes of Rumbalds Moor on the left bank of the River Aire’ (more accurately, its grounds adjoined the Leeds and Liverpool Canal). The extensive site allowed for further buildings, up to an eventual 746 beds, although despite the amenity of ‘asphalted winding paths, flanked by evergreens, flowery bowers and shady seats’, there were disadvantages — the ends of J and N wards, for example, were more than a quarter of a mile apart.

Dr Scatterty, inevitably appointed Administrator, was gazetted as Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, subsequently promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel; his St John colleague Dr Dobie became Captain then Major. By 1919 the Keighley War Hospital and its Auxiliaries had treated 13,214 military cases, including 105 German prisoners of war. It had helped develop treatments for gas poisoning, gas gangrene and tetanus, and had been selected to demonstrate military surgery to American Red Cross surgeons. It had proved the effectiveness of verandah treatment — the Germans, of whom 42 prisoners had died of septic pneumonia, had even objected to the windows being open.

Verandah treatment at Morton Banks Hospital. Photograph reproduced by permission of Bradford Libraries

Dr William Scatterty was made a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1921, serving as County Commissioner for Yorkshire. A familiar and revered Keighley figure taking a daily constitutional walk, he died aged 95 in 1954. ‘There was always admiration for his smart and neat appearance and for his erect, almost soldierly bearing,’ said the Congregational minister who conducted his funeral. ‘He moved with a grace, courtesy and dignity which seemed representative of a more leisured age.’

A more leisured age it might have been, but for Dr Scatterty it had been a busy one.

Ian Dewhirst, MBE.