HISTORY BY ALISTAIR RAE
The first record of a veterinary surgeon living in Boroughbridge was in the 1891 census, when Tom Henry Sekker was living with his family at Aberure, the house on Horsefair between the Midland Bank and the bridge over the River Ure. Henry Sekker was the youngest son of Charles Sekker who had a veterinary practice in Knaresborough High Street in the mid 19th century. Between the 1891 and 1901 censuses, Henry Sekker blew himself up whilst mixing a potentially explosive mixture of chemicals to treat a horse’s foot. He lost an arm and before he died he was put onto the table in his surgery and one of his damaged legs was amputated.
The practice was then taken over by William Archibald Campbell from Ayrshire. Initially he lived with his widowed mother but later married and had two sons and made a name for himself in veterinary circles with his many learned articles in the Veterinary Record.
My father, Gordon Rae, bought a half share of the practice in 1942. Mr.Campbell was ill with tuberculosis and lived away from the home, in a potting shed in the garden. Although Aberure was a big house, only one room, a small cobble stone scullery, was used for the practice. My father was keen to smarten this room up, with a view to improving the image of the practice. He uncovered a fire-grate, which he had swept and much to his surprise, the well preserved arm of Henry Sekker was found among the soot. He was still clutching his pipe. At the back of Aberure there was a large barn, in which there was stabling for two horses, a pig sty and room to garage the many cars the practice owned. Father’s first job on arriving at Boroughbridge was to cycle along the Great North Road to Wetherby to pick up a car that was being repaired. He later recalled that he only saw two vehicles on the entire journey.
The following year William Campbell died and father bought the other half of the practice from his widow. During the war the Boroughbridge practice was virtually the only one in the area that wasn’t affected by the call up. As a result the area covered was vast. I once saw a bill rendered for 5/- for travelling up to Brough, on the A66, to treat a pig and provide a bottle of skin lotion. The practice was almost entirely large animal and provided veterinary cover for all the major race meetings in the area. My mother sent out bills quarterly and they provided no details, just ‘for services rendered’.
The 50’s and 60’s saw farmers putting pressure on vets to provide drugs, particularly antibiotics, without the need to see the patient. To offset this, a big boost was given to finances by the introduction of the Tuberculosis and Brucellosis eradication schemes and soon vets, and the Boroughbridge practice especially, began to rely on income from drug sales and Testing money but undervaluing their services. Small animal work still amounted to less than 0.5% of the turnover, cat spays being done on Wednesday afternoons and ‘evening surgery’ being restricted to the occasional caller after the 6pm BBC News.
In the late fifties the practice had expanded to two assistants and father opened a branch practice in Easingwold, sending an assistant, Dickie Hillman, across to run it.
Father retired in 1969 following a hip operation and the onset of decimalisation. I returned from Gloucester and ran the practice on my own for a year until Vic arrived from Penkridge. He had being doing 100% small animal work and was getting a huge salary, about £2,400 a year whilst I had being getting £1,200. In advance of his arrival we bought Foundry House, New Row, moved all the equipment and drugs from Aberure and took on Norah Coates as our secretary and general factotum. The first thing Vic and I did was to paint all the walls ‘clinical white’. Our very first patient arrived while we were still in our painting overalls; John Penty with his terrier with a torn ear. Within seconds there was blood all over our new consulting room but that was the start of the ever increasing rise of the small animal side of the practice.
The 70’s and early 80’s were a boom time for the practice. Calf rearing was big in the area and we did several routine visits every week to the bigger units. We had massive castrating and dehorning sessions, I once cut 150 young bulls in an afternoon at Alan Armstrong’s. The Sunday page of the day book had long lists of jobs which were outstanding. During February and March we regularly did 120 farm calls a week.
We bought a little cottage in Bishop Monkton in the late 70’s and twice weekly ‘surgeries’ lasting 15 minutes were fitted in between the farm calls. The waiting room was in the front garden. We also bought a large Portakabin, which was eased into the yard at the back and became the main port of call for all farm clients wanting a chat with Mrs. Coates and collect vast quantities of antibiotics to keep their pigs alive. Small animal calls were increasing and we took on an assistant who had ‘seen practice’ with us a few years earlier. Alistair Abraham came from Culloden and was an instant success with everyone he met. He took charge of the small animal side and introduced a computer system, which immediately made the consulting room an even more alien environment for me.
About this time we formed an alliance with two equine vets, Anthony Stirk and Barry Williams. We had been trying for a while to enrol an assistant with horse experience and when we heard that this pair were going to set up in our area we felt the best thing was to incorporate them. We had a sliding arrangement that meant that after 5 years they would be full partners. We set up an equine operating box at Vic’s and initially things went smoothly but then logistical problems arose. Anthony was frequently at Doncaster or beyond and Barry lived over at Coxwold. As a result we found ourselves still having to apply ourselves with horse work with clients we scarcely knew. In the end, Barry and Anthony had a row and they all went their separate ways.
In 1984 the Boroughbridge practice joined colleagues from Ripon, Bedale and Masham in forming Yoredale to counter the competition from wholesalers selling PML drugs.
In 1992 ‘Young Alistair Abraham’ was killed in a car crash whilst on holiday in America. His funeral was held at Aldborough church and Vic gave a very moving, and for him difficult, address to the massive congregation.
The surgery is still going strong in it's home at 'Foundary House' in New Row, Boroughbridge, ran by Alan McCormack.