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DR JOHN SETTLE

Whatever the circumstances of Settle's appointment, however, in post he was his own man.

If John Settle was reincarnated as a modern politician he would probably take as his slogan "tough on ill health, tough on the causes of ill health." Settle believed in fresh air, exercise, hard work and good food. He often lambasted the bad habits and negligence of parents but never lost sight of the wider social setting. His annual reports stressed the need for individual responsibility - cleanliness, common sense, care and attention - but he repeatedly called on the Council to improve the general framework of health care, even though, as he later remarked, "I was often a voice crying in the wilderness." To the modern eye Victorian Barrow was a town of death and disease but by contemporary standards it was reasonably healthy, more so than most other northern towns of a similar size. Reading Settle's reports, three themes stand out - infant mortality, epidemic diseases and what can be called 'civic housekeeping'.


When John Settle first became Medical Officer, almost one in five newborn would die within their first twelve months. Gradually this declined to a rate of one in seven by the 1890s and had reached one in ten by the time of his retirement. Better medicine played its part but Settle was convinced that "ignorance of mothers treating their children is the principal factor in infant mortality." He was ahead of his time in calling for day nurseries, "with benevolent ladies to supervise", and for lady Health Visitors to educate young mothers on a personal, intimate level where male inspectors would inevitably fail. He campaigned against illiterate midwives who were unable to follow written instructions and was sanguine enough to report that "time will weed out the worst, and the Sairy Gump of Dickens' time is nearly extinct." Settle was brave enough to accuse certain families of deliberately neglecting their infants in order to financially benefit from insurance payments. This willingness to court controversy was repeated in his championing of illegitimate children. They died at a rate of more than twice that of legitimate children: "they seldom get the mother's milk and the mother's care .. ..in France, where children are scarcer than with us, the State is a good foster mother." Settle's crusade against infant mortality was more than just a doctor's conscience; on 12 July 1884 his son Charles died six hours after delivery.


Epidemics were an accepted part of life in Victorian England. Figures which we would now regard as horrifying were common - in Barrow, measles killed 106 in 1883, 83 in 1886, 67 in 1898 and 70 in 1902; scarlatina, whooping cough, typhoid and tuberculosis were regular visitors. Settle was not averse to blaming ignorance and "intemperate social habits" for the virulence of some outbreaks. One in Cemetery Cottages, Ormsgill, he regarded as "dirt fever.... affecting as it does the dirty, poorly fed and generally dissolute class of the community." He often despaired of parents allowing infected children to mingle with the healthy. But he was also aware of the social background to disease. Respiratory illnesses killed most in Hindpool because workmen went from the heat of the steel furnaces to cold, often damp homes. As for tuberculosis, "if every man, woman and child was well fed, well clothed, clean in person and surroundings and living on dry soil in well ventilated houses, there would be no need for sanitoria".


This insistence on civic housekeeping, or social medicine, saw Settle campaign for years for a public disinfector, a refuse destructor, improved drainage and an isolation hospital capable of handling more than one disease at a time. Year after year he called for a public abattoir to replace back-street slaughterhouses discharging waste which "pollute our sewers and endanger our health". In similar vein he championed a municipal lodging house to replace the disease-ridden private houses, which were "a hotbed and breeder of depravity" or which had "a miserable back door entrance and back door character." Sometimes Settle met with success - a public abattoir and disinfector were introduced - but many improvements would not happen for twenty years or more after his retirement. Towards the end of his term as Medical Officer, Settle became more active in the Barrow Naturalists' Field Club and was President for the years 1908 to 1910. His occasional lectures mirrored the themes of his annual reports to Barrow Council. In 'Health, Houses and Architecture' (1907) he claimed that modern houses were less healthy than their more primitive predecessors because they kept out fresh air and helped to breed infectious disease; in 'The Mistaken Art of

Working From the Wrong End', he explained that money spent on treating disease

would better be spent on better housing conditions; 'In the Sweat of they Face Shalt

Thou Eat Bread' confirmed his belief that work and exercise were necessary adjuncts to good health.


John Settle's retirement as Medical Officer was a low key affair. In August 1910 it was reported to the Health Committee that he would leave office on 31 December. The Minutes record the Committee's "regret at the severance of his long connection with the Corporation", a curiously muted valediction. When Settle went there was only a quiet presentation in the Town Hall. Again we must beware of using too much imagination. Settle may have found the increasing levels of public health bureaucracy and legislation not to his taste; there may have been a falling out. Equally he may just have thought that thirty-two years was enough for anyone. For another ten years Settle continued in private practice. In 1923 he wrote a series of articles in the Barrow News looking back on the young Barrow he had known some sixty years before. They provide a fascinating insight into leading characters of Barrow's 'heroic age' - "the railway gave us James Ramsden and the Steelworks Mr Schneider and Mr J.T. Smith. These three, Caesar-like, came, saw and conquered. They found a wilderness and out of it constructed a town".


On Schneider, Settle says that he disliked humbug and make believe. "His personality attracted everyone and his reputation was immense. We could not call it exactly good or moral, but it was great never the less ...... he was fine, tall and big and spoke with a strong voice. Schneider's favourite attitude in life is well depicted in his statue. When emphasising a point he would place the two forefingers of his right hand on the palm of his left. It was an attitude of his own and quite characteristic." Settle was one of the party who journeyed to Belsfield, Schneider's home at Bowness, to urge him to stand in Barrow's first Parliamentary election. His eventual defeat by the Liberal John Duncan in 1886 was a surprise, which Settle blames on Schneider's headstrong performances on the hustings - "if he had stayed at home with an a attack of gout and got J.T. Smith to speak for him, I believe he would have won hands down. His bright visions of sitting in the House of Commons were blotted out for ever. This depressed him and weakened his heart" (Schneider died in November 1887).


Settle confirms the wily, background influence of J.T. Smith and also the fact that

Schneider, Ramsden and Smith were not personal friends - "knowing something of the

prickling acerbities of Sir James and the irascible outbursts of Mr Schneider, to place them in the same room for ten minutes with JT must have meant war of a wildcat and bulldog character." Settle showers praise on the work of Ramsden, at one point comparing him to Romulus. Myths abounded of him - "that Coppernob (Furness Railway engine No 3) would take sugar from his hand ..... that a visitor recounted to his friend that he had gone 'to that place where they first erected a statue and then built a town around it." We discover that Ramsden's statue is close to lifelike, with one exception, the kind of information which can only be gained through personal reminisce - "in life, Sir James was never short of some covering for his bald spot and when he had to remove his hat he wore a skull cap. On one occasion the head of his statue was covered with a workman's cap and a policeman had to shin up the statue to remove it."


Three sections of Settle's articles touch on his work as Medical Officer. He was of the opinion that the rash of industrial accidents in the 1860s and 1870s was the result of the employers having no liability: "it did not cost a company anything to kill a man." He quotes a story, which he judges apocryphal but true in essence, of a man asking for a job in the Steelworks. He was told that there was no vacancy at the moment but "do you see that man at the Bessemer? When he's killed, you can have his job." The Employers' Liability Act, by placing accountable responsibility on employers for the safety of their employees, brought improvements where moral persuasion had failed. On education Settle advocated a relaxed approach, preferring play to serious learning until the age often. This was based on his belief that until that age the brain should be allowed to grow 'naturally' and he recalled an example from his own schooldays: "a young man was introduced to our school. He was quite a big chap, probably nearly twenty and he didn't know even his alphabet. We jeered at him until we found that it wasn't policy because of his size. But in six months things changed. He caught up to us and steadily forged ahead. He took up subjects such as algebra and Euclid..... his brain had expanded naturally under Nature's teaching and he was now earnest to learn."

Settle repeated many of his misgivings about common lodging houses. Often they were full of "the flotsam and jetsam on the sea of life who float into these houses, blown by the adverse winds of heaven." Yet not all could be tarred with the same brush: "in their common rooms you might hear a conversation in better tone than often heard in the Council smoke-room." He admitted to a grudging respect of these who ran them, especially one Mrs. Scally - "men of the lodging house class, rough as most of them are, are more easily managed by women, and as regard the rowdy element, Mrs Scally was assisted by a fine St. Bernard dog. Mrs Scally has made money and has shops, a farm and property galore. She has also had four husbands, not all at once, but in Indian file - a regular female Bluebeard.


John Settle's wife Harriet died in 1907. Shortly after he moved from their long-time home at 21-23 Storey Square to 189 Abbey Road. In 1918 he made his last move to 30 Hawcoat Lane, where he lived with his housekeeper Alma Redfers. He was in the habit of going for a late afternoon walk and on Friday 15 February 1929 he set off at 5.15p.m. There was snow and ice on the ground and when Settle did not return at his usual time, Mrs Redfers and a neighbour went to look for him. Settle was found halfway along Cliffe Lane; he had fallen two or three times, on the last occasion fracturing his leg. Dr. Alien attended to him, apparently the first time Settle had ever been a patient. John Towers Settle died at llpm on Friday 22 February; he was buried at Barrow cemetery on the following Tuesday, which would have been his 82nd birthday. A link with Barrow's infancy was broken. Settle's words which began his Barrow News articles now served as his own testimony: "the grim Reaper of Men, with hoary lock and swinging scythe, has gathered in his harvest, and most of these who could tell us of sixty years ago now lie under the quiet hillside.