A History of YALDING, Kent, England


Early medical practitioners included apothecaries, physicians, and also barber-surgeons, as until 1745 surgeons belonged to the same guild company as barbers. Surgery was considered only one step up from butchery, and medical men who went to sea were usually surgeons, for their ability to perform amputations. In English social history the Churchwardens and their Overseers of the Poor operated through the Poor Law System, the fore-runner of our Welfare State. In this it was obviously very satisfying that our poor country inhabitants knew that for severe accidents or illnesses they would be cared for. To help maintain this support in a fair manner, the system allowed the Wardens and Overseers to extract a charge on the more wealthy residents, and to keep out vagrants and travellers that could become a burden on the parish expenses.


To start our investigation here we are drawn to a public house that stood in the central high street. Where some signs of The Bull indicate places where pilgrims stopped on their way to a shrine, ours is linked to a family of surgeons.

One of the earliest mentions of a medical payment is:-

1665 Paid John Bull, Surgeon, for “blooding & physic”   2s. 6d.

The following year, in the baptismal register of 1666, John Bull junior was indentured to Robartt Viedgen until he was 24 years of age. Further payments for this practice are:-

1675 Paid John Bull for setting Hornden’s child’s arm.   10s. 0d.

1676 Paid John Bull for “ scurging and blooding”.             6s. 0d.

In 1686 John Bull the elder, ‘Barber and Churugeon’ left his house in Yalding to his son to have free use of the shop and closet (a cupboard) and also all his books, implements and materials. The probate inventory lists his occupation as a Barber Surgeon.

In the shop was “one table, three stools, one chair, one chest, one stone mortor, one loking glass, one bason, one slop pot, one case and five razors, several rolls of slave, bottles of oil and one brass mortar.” Whilst the closet held “one plaister box with instruments belonging to surgery, one case of lancets, a box of salvatore gelly, pots and glasses of apothocary wares, and books.”

The inventory also included details of the brew house, so perhaps the customers needed a strong drink before or after treatment. Our churchwarden’s records recall medical payments to John Bull in the 17th century, and a payment of £2 12s. to his son John to make a trip to London in 1714.

How long son John continued to use his father’s tools is not known, but in 1738 his descendant Richard Bull is living in the house and is described as a victualler, beer seller. A manorial document states in 1735 that ‘The Bull’ had previously been called ‘The Sign of the Surgeons Arms.’


One of our eighteenth century village doctors was Charles Hill, as  extracts  from  the

overseer's account shows:-

1761   Mr. Hill, surgeon's bill             £  2 .4s. 6d.

1769 Mr. Hill. surgeon's account       £ 12. 2s. 6d.

Previously he had been a surgeon with the navy on board the Monarque, and was present at the court-martial and death of Admiral John Byng, who was made the scapegoat for the loss of the island of Minorca. Byng had arrived at Spithead on 26th July 1756, and remained there under arrest until court-martialled. The court sat from 28th December to 27th January, 1757, and found him guilty of neglecting his duty in not doing his utmost to destroy the French fleet and relieve Minorca. He was sentenced to death and was shot on the quarter-deck of the Monarque in Portsmouth harbour on 14th March, 1757.

Shortly after this Charles came to Yalding, using we hope a little more tender loving care than a naval doctor required.  On 17th November, 1763, Charles married Mary Underwood, who died on 20th February, 1773, leaving him with two children, Polly and Thomas. Charles followed her within a few years, and was buried on the 14th April 1777.

There is a memorial plaque to this family at the west end of the south aisle in the church.

Another surgeon briefly made an appearance as the records show:-

1783 Mr Essex surgeons bill      £ 7. 11s. 6d.