Ashwell has been served by three doctors from the Moynihan family over two generations from 1933-2000:
John Holmes Moynihan
Born 11 April 1905, Skipton, Yorkshire.
John was educated at Handsworth Grammar School, Birmingham and Charing Cross Hospital, London. Qualifications: MRCS, LRCP (London) 1928.
John worked at Charing Cross Hospital until 1933 mainly as a Junior Surgeon, also as a Private Medical Practitioner in the Bloomsbury area.
John married Sheila Janet Ferguson in 1931, taking over the Ashwell Practice from Dr Robert Edmund Heighes Woodforde in July 1933, retiring in 1972.
John and Sheila lived at Ashwell House (formerly the Mount) until 1953, where they raised three children*. Later they moved to Avenels in Guilden Morden where they built a retirement bungalow in the grounds in 1974.
Dr John was Chairman of Ashwell Nursing Association in the 1930/40’s. He spent three years off work partly in hospital then at Midhurst Sanatorium and finally two years in a purpose built hut at the end of the garden as he still had active Pulmonary TB.
He was sometime Chairman of Ashwell Horse Show, Chairman of Ashwell Parish Council and was an active member of the Drama Society. In later years he was President of Ashwell Horticultural Society up to his death.
In 1981 Dr John recorded his memories for Ashwell Museum – “Ashwell Remembered Fifty Years Ago”:
“Well, I am a comparative newcomer to the Ashwell district. My wife and I came to Ashwell in 1933 which is a mere 47 years ago. We came, incidentally, because our first child was on the way, and we had previously both worked in London hospitals and did not think London was a very good place to bring up a family.
We wanted somewhere within 50 miles of London, where they had main water and main electricity and main drainage. It was not easy in those days to find somewhere with a suitable practice within 50 miles of London that had all these facilities.
Taking over the Practice
Eventually we were given the name of a Dr Woodforde who lived at Ashwell, Baldock, Herts. But in those days, of course, long, long before the instigation of the National Health Service, when a practice was changing hands it was highly confidential and the Doctor who was retiring did not like the news to get out too soon. He felt that some of his patients might go away to the opposition and he wanted to keep as much goodwill as possible available for the purchase of the practice.
However, we got the name of Ashwell, Baldock, Herts – we knew Baldock was a nice country town having motored through it – so we came out to have a look and we motored all round Baldock looking for a house called ‘Ashwell’.
We failed to find it, naturally enough, so we eventually went to the police station in Baldock and said, “Can you tell us where Dr Woodforde lives?” they said, “Oh yes, he lives in a village called Ashwell, it is about five miles away. You go up the North Road and turn right”.
We wondered, we thought, well is it worthwhile – well perhaps we have come so far we will just go and have a look. So we came along to see Ashwell and I remember very vividly coming down Newnham Hill. The dog roses were absolutely rampant over the hedges, which are no longer in existence. We came into this delightful village and we went through to the end of the village where we were told the Doctor lived.
An Enormous House
The house in those days, opposite the Springs, looked an enormous place and we wondered whether we could possibly undertake this responsibility. It was called ‘The Mount’ in those days; it has since been upgraded to ‘Ashwell House’.
I was wearing by London professional garb of a black jacket and striped trousers, but I don’t think I had my bowler hat on, actually. We approached the bottom of the garden and a head appeared over the hedge with a sort of net cap on with bobbles round it. This was Dr Woodforde’s wife and she asked me what I wanted. I told her and she said, “Oh, I thought you were the man from the Prudential”. That was really our first introduction to the village and Dr Woodforde, who turned out to be a delightful and competent doctor, who practiced single handed in the area from the turn of the century.
We had an official introduction, – it was all very formal in those days. We lived at the Three Tuns, incidentally, whilst we were introduced to the practice, where grandfather Bentley was the licensee, and I used to go out with Dr Woodforde every morning.
Small Waiting Room
Surgery used to be twice a day, morning and evening every day except there was no evening surgery on Tuesday or Sunday. Every other day there were two surgeries a day.
The waiting accommodation was, to say the least, primitive. There was a lobby – I don’t suppose many of you remember ‘The Mount’ – you do? one or two of you do. But not many I think. There was an alcove just inside the door which would accommodate three people sitting in close proximity and one or two others standing in even closer proximity, and the rest had to queue down the drive.
We stood that for sometime then eventually we updated it by renting the old saddlery, which was an enormous improvement because there was quite a lot of waiting accommodation.
Moved to the High Street
Eventually we moved to what was Miss Adkins, a drapers and sort of general store, on the High Street, (now the Dentist) where the present surgery is and which since, of course, we have upgraded again. (now moved to Gardiners Lane – how things change!)
When we started in Ashwell I think the striking difference in practice and in the demands was that surgeries were quite quiet (Oh for the ‘good old days’!). I mean we might have four or five people, six people possibly, in a very busy period. However the number of visits that we had to do was by present standards astronomical. I mean thirty visits a day was quite usual in the busy season.
The other thing that was very noticeable was the seasonal fluctuation. During the height of summer and certainly covering the period of pea picking and potato picking it was very, very quiet and then it crept up a little bit more busy up to Christmas. And then Boxing Day – Wham! And then we got the seasonal infections early in the year. The visits went up and up and up, January, February and March and then gradually began to tail off again.
Telephone Ruined General Practice
I remember Doctor Woodforde telling me, when he was introducing me to the practice, that the introduction of the telephone had ruined general practice. It meant that the Doctor was far too easily available; he was one of the first people in Ashwell to have a telephone.
I believe I am right in saying that we was the first man in Ashwell to have a car, it was a Model T Ford (how things have changed!) Sometimes he used to use it and sometimes he used to bicycle and even when he was introducing me to the practice he used to cycle round.
His memory was failing a bit at that time and I remember that on one occasion he had cycled up to Bygrave, left his bicycle somewhere to do a few visits and walked back home. Later that day somebody came down from Bygrave and said, “The Doctor forgot to take his bicycle”.
In his early days, of course, if somebody wanted him in the night – before the telephone – from one of the outlying villages, they had to harness their own pony or horse and trap or whatever, come over, rouse him, get him out, dressed, into the horse and cart, take him out to wherever it was, let him do his job then come back again. You really did need the Doctor if you had to do that!
I must say that having heard Mrs Westrope speak I am more than ever regretful that I never had the pleasure and privilege of working with her as a District Nurse (see Mrs Westrope’s speech under “Other Ashwell Medical Services”). I think it must have been like having three right hands to have been able to work with somebody of that competence and, of course, things are so very different now.
Working with Nurses
As she explained to you, she was the District Nurse, the Midwife, Health Visitor and School Nurse. Now you have, well I have been retired so long that I don’t know what they call themselves now, I really don’t, but they have numbers starting up there and finishing down there; they have community things which I don’t understand instead of ordinary nurses and the whole thing seems to have got completely – in my mind – out of hand. (I am sure today’s GPs feel the same about the never-ending changes).
When Gwenda Westrope was on the job she knew everybody, she knew the families, she was in at the births, illness and probably in at deaths. She knew everybody concerned, whereas now you have one person coming for this and somebody else for that and somebody else for the other – nobody really sees the whole picture! (Oh dear what would Dr John make of today?)
Infant Welfare Centre
Well, when we came in 1933 there were no services like antenatal services or infant welfare centres. The Infant Welfare Centre was started by Doctor Sheila, I can’t remember exactly when it was but just before the war I think, wasn’t it 1936? It was an enormous innovation and a great help; eventually she also added an antenatal service to it. It took the County quite a long time to recognise this service. It was all voluntary to begin with but eventually the Council Authority recognised it, very grudgingly, and took it over; so it started.
I really don’t think I have got anything else to say; I am delighted to see so many people here. I have been trying to make out how many of them I really recognise, some of them I helped to introduce into this ‘vale of tears’, your Chairman for one, but like Mrs Wallace who said she felt like a ‘Grand-mummy’, I feel almost like the ‘Grand-daddy’.”
Sheila Janet Ferguson
Born 3 December 1904. Bloomsbury, London. Sheila trained at Kings College Hospital, London. Qualifications: MRCS, LRCP.
Sheila worked at Sussex Hospital and Queen’s Hackney (Paediatrics House Officer).
Dr Sheila helped in the Ashwell practice between her pregnancies, taking over the practice in 1941 when Dr John was hospitalised for nearly three years with TB. When the NHS started in 1948 Dr Sheila became Assistant County Medical Officer working with children in clinics and school inspections throughout North Hertfordshire. She started the Infant Welfare Clinics and Family Planning Clinics in Ashwell in the 1930’s. Dr Sheila retired in 1970.
Dr Sheila was a Parish Councillor.
Both Dr John and Dr Sheila died in 1994.
Peter John Moynihan
Born Ashwell, August 1934. Educated at Bryanston School, Dorset and Oxford University College. Qualifications: BA English.
Peter worked as actor and is particularly remembered as Philip husband of Katie in the popular Oxo adverts on TV during the 1960s.
Peter died in 1992 at Norwich.
Wendy Mary Moynihan
Born Ashwell, 8 October 1938. Educated Hitchin Girls Grammar school, Cranborne Chase, Dorset and Kings College Hospital London. Qualifications (MB, BS). Wendy worked mainly in Paediatrics in London, Birkenhead and Cambridge.
Wendy married Roger H Billington at St Mary’s Ashwell on 8 June 1963.
Fergus David Moynihan
Born Ashwell, 29 January 1940. Educated Bryanston School, Dorset, Charing Cross Hospital (MB, BS, MRCS, LRCP, DRCOG).
Fergus was House Office at Wembley Hospital, West London Hospital; Senior House Officer at Kingsbury Maternity Hospital; Casualty Officer at West London Hospital.
Fergus married Elizabeth Grace Fletcher at St Mary’s Ashwell on 18 May 1963.
Fergus joined Ashwell medical practice in 1965 retiring in 2000.
Elizabeth (Liz) Grace Fletcher
Born Newcastle under Lyme, 7 August 1940. Educated Letchworth Grammar School and Kings College, London. Qualifications: BA Hons French. Occupation: Journalist on several magazines, Writer and served as a Magistrate.
Liz’s parents, George and Grace Fletcher lived in Letchworth from 1942. George was in the RAF during the war on radar installations in the Scottish Islands. He came to Letchworth as Manager of the National Westminster Bank. After he retired they moved to Steeple Morden (The Diggings) then to a bungalow in Guilden Morden where George died. After George’s death Grace lived with Liz and Fergus for three years then went to a Nursing Home in Sheffield where she had been born and where Liz’s sister was living.
Fergus and Liz started married life in Ashwell in 1965 living at Stella House, High Street, in the flat over the Surgery (where the dentist is now); Tim their son was born there.
In 1968 they then purchased The Manse (in Kingsland Way – The Manse belonged to the Ashwell Congregational Church – now Ashwell URC).
The house had been empty for three years having had tenants in it for many years before that. The place was in a very poor condition – one cold tap in the kitchen which had stone flags on the floor with nettles growing through; the roof was suffering “nail sickness” which had to be replaced.
While the roof was being repaired it was discovered that the attics had been insulated with chaff – with old electricity cables running through it. The EEB wouldn’t connect the house until it had been re-wired and the chaff removed.
In 1977 they purchased and moved to Popes Farm – a little cottage which again had been empty for two years – it had two acres of land and was out of the village (so Fergus wouldn’t have patients calling by at all times of the week asking for repeat prescriptions, or general advice!)
The Surgeries in the village were first of all in Dr Woodforde’s home, Springview on the High Street opposite the Springs, he later moved to The Mount (now Ashwell House) from 1908 (I think).
Dr John continued to run surgeries in the Mount until he sold the house and moved to Guilden Morden in 1953. He bought Stella House at that time and while it was being converted from a shop to a surgery the surgery was temporarily in the Old Saddlery.
The current Ashwell Surgery was built in 1987. Dr Fergus opened a surgery at Bassingbourn in 1973, in the High Street; new premises was opened in Spring Lane in 1994.
Fergus and Liz have always been active in village life both serving as Parish Councillors. Fergus served for 38 years a number of these as Chairman of the Parish Council.
They have been enthusiastic members of the Horticultural Society helping and exhibiting in the annual shows. Liz oversees the beautiful cottage garden which we all enjoy and flower arranging at St Mary’s, besides many other activities.
Fergus and Liz have two children:
Sarah Jane Moynihan
Born Cambridge, 3 April 1966. Educated Knights Templar School, Durham University. Qualification BSc Archaeology.
Teacher at Ashwell Primary School.
Sarah married Martin A Talks at St Mary’s Ashwell on 27 August 1988, they have three children:
Isobel 1992, Rufus 1994 and Alphaeus 1997.
Timothy (Tim) John Holmes Moynihan
Born Ashwell, 5 October 1967. Educated Knights Templar and the Perse, Cambridge and the British School of Osteopathy. Qualifications: D.O.
Tim is a self employed Osteopath working in Ashwell and Baldock.
Tim married Claire R Watling at St Mary’s Ashwell on 3 March 1995, they have two children:
Rosanna and Charlie (twins) 1999.
Acknowledgement: Dr Fergus Monyihan