The Broseley Dentists




The Wilkinson Society.

MEMORY MEETING No 8, 6th September 2006

Dentistry in Broseley, led by Martin Brooks


Facilitators –  Dot Cox and Janet Robinson

 Martin Brooks gave us an excellent evening of reminiscences on many subjects, some of them hilarious, backed up by a few contributions from members. 

 Martin started with a quick autobiography.  He was born in Wednesbury and is proud of being from The Black Country.  In the 1960’s he was a choirboy at St. Bartholomew’s, Wednesbury and remembers vividly the view down the aisle to the ‘volcano’ shape of The Wrekin in the distance.  He was sent to elocution lessons but is still happy to revert to his local dialect. 

After qualifying as a dentist at Manchester he joined a practice in Harlow new town. His ambition was to earn more as a practice partner so he looked for a suitable post.  The idea of working in a new town appealed to his social democratic principles so he enquired at Dawley, only to be told that there were enough dentists situated centrally.  He was recommended to try Madeley or Broseley where dentists were an extinct species.  If dentistry were needed, there might be an ‘expert’ available in one of the pubs who could whip teeth out for  7/6d (75p) a time.

 He took an old grocer’s shop in Madeley but patients were initially not quick to volunteer for treatment.  Shropshire County Council appointed him School Dentist in Broseley and supplied a caravan for use in the playground for the first six months.  His salary was a useful £24 per week for four sessions, at a time when his mortgage payments were £24 per month.  Once he had gained the confidence of the children, their parents were soon asking for treatment.  His nurse, Mary Tudor, was a great help.  Since there had been no resident dentist in Broseley for 150 years, there was quite a backlog of problem teeth and sepsis.  Frequently these problems had advanced towards huge abscesses or Vincent's angina, otherwise acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, but best remembered locally as ‘trench mouth’ since the 1914-1918 war.

The vast majority of his work was far from today’s preventative and cosmetic procedures.  ‘Relief of Pain’ was the paramount concern of most patients.  Today an extraction is usually avoided except in extreme circumstances.  Then, extraction was seen as the best way to end a problem permanently and teeth had to be extracted singly, in multiples or as a complete clearance.

 The subject of anaesthesia kept the audience members well awake.  Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, had been discovered by Joseph Priestly in 1793 but the technique used in Broseley was still ‘Rag and Bottle’.  With ether dropped on a mask held on the mouth and nose, the patient was asleep very quickly.  Since the cloth had to be removed for access, administration stopped and the time available for extraction was around a minute or less before the patient awoke.  The mask was often secured by straps round the head and Martin described how one patient’s activities while nominally sedated led to a struggle to get the head set off that resulted in a magnificent mop of 1960’s style hair coming away in his hands.  Naturally, it was replaced wrong way round with effects that had the audience in fits of laughter.

During his studies at Manchester, Martin had become familiar with the use of gas supplemented by fluorethane (Halothane) additive made by ICI at Aderley Park, that made anaesthesia far more controllable.  He had the apparatus installed and soon most patients were asking for ‘Extractions with the gas’.  Living in Broseley was Freda Bannister, co-author of the standard work on anaesthesia by MacIntosh and Bannister.  She was a consultant at Wolverhampton and the wife of Dr Rupert Whitney.  Martin was very pleased that she was able to help in his surgery on occasions although not so happy with the time that it took for patients to come round again after their thorough somnolence.

 Not a straight face was to be seen while the topic of ‘Dentures’ was being aired with much clattering of virtual sets.  There was much to be valued in the early versions made with a Vulcanite base in use until the 1940s.  The vulcanised rubber conformed to slight variations in the mouth and could still be in satisfactory service for over 20 years.  The later acrylics had no such latitude despite other advantages. 

After a slow start the practice grew and grew.  Extra help was needed after the first three years and the practice now employed ten dentists and four hygienists.  A recent anecdote concerned students visiting Shropshire from the Birmingham College of Dentistry.  Unlike Shropshire, the water supply in Birmingham has been fluoridated for tears and teeth remain in good condition. 

‘Is that decay?’ they ask when they see a cavity!

 The discussion occasionally strayed from dentistry to cover the education systems and social politics of the 1960s. 

‘Does anybody feel that those times were better and want to go back to ‘The good old days?’, queried Martin.

‘Yes’, replied Ian firmly, ‘I was younger then!’






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