Back to the Past with Ed Grimsdale: Who are the most important people in Buckingham’s history?

Early photo of Buckingham Nursing Home, now Buckingham Hospital
Early photo of Buckingham Nursing Home, now Buckingham Hospital

I’ve been thinking about who are the most important people in Buckingham’s history, because Oliver, a Maids Moreton Cub, asked me to help him with a project.

It’s a great question if one without a definitive answer because everyone values different qualities.

I thought Oliver should examine Dr George De’Ath, possibly Buckingham greatest medical doctor. Over the coming months I’ll choose a number of candidates for listing and I hope you will respond with your suggestions.

Once we’ve assembled a gallery, perhaps it would be good to hold a poll and elect our top 10 seen through the prism of 2014?

George De’Ath was the second son of Dr Robert De’Ath who was Buckingham’s leading practitioner. George was born in Buckingham on September 16, 1861. Educated at Westminster School and Guy’s Hospital, George returned to Buckingham when his mother and then his father died over a period of six weeks in 1885 to 1886.

George plunged into work, taking over his father’s extensive practice. Dr De’Ath lived in what is now Hamilton House nursing home in West Street and he rode around Buckingham on a big black horse.

Buckingham’s new nursing home was opened in 1887 but two other Buckingham doctors decided their duty stints were burdensome and they withdrew, loading everything on young George’s enthusiastic shoulders.

But, George was more than a doctor and he supported the creation of Buckingham’s swimming and cycling clubs. His eloquence and wit made him a great debater and there was a strong demand for his amusing recitations at concerts.

Meanwhile, De’Ath’s medical commitments had grown. As well as medical officer at the nursing home, he added a similar role at Buckingham’s workhouse and then became the chief medical officer of Buckingham town.

In that role, George became alarmed by preventable deaths amongst poor people: those that he had frequently looked after for free but his interventions had been too late.

Among George’s wealthy patients was the Comte de Paris, the pretender to the French throne, and his retinue of 80 at Stowe. The Comte had published a study of the English working class. Over at Claydon House, George tended Sir Harry Verney, his son, Frederick, and his distinguished sister in law, Florence Nightingale of nursing in the Crimean War fame. George exchanged letters with Florence and she sent him her pamphlet on health missioners.

The world’s first conference for health missioners held at Buckingham Nursing Home in 1892. Through the passionate advocacy of Frederick Verney it was financed by the new Bucks County Council and George De’Ath was its tutor. The health visitors it trained rode around north Bucks on bicycles advising women how to improve their family’s health through better sanitation and hygiene in their cottages. Within 10 years, Buckingham had the lowest death rate of any town in England. From this humble beginning led by George De’Ath in north Bucks, the concept of health visitors and district nurses spread worldwide.

When the Bishop of Oxford was taken ill in Buckingham Church, Dr De’Ath tended him. The bishop was soon on his feet. As he left the church, he took the doctor by his hand and quipped: “By Death I shall escape death.” Sadly, both Robert and George De’Ath had weak hearts and they both died prematurely after collapsing with heart problems. George died on July 7, 1901 of heart failure, aged less than 40. This remarkable man has been prominent in Victorian Buckingham for less than two decades but he’d achieved so much, and given and received so much love.

An appeal: as far as I know, Buckingham has no picture of Dr De’Ath. Can any reader help, please? Email