The Dispensary was the place for the urban poor to go if in need of out-patient medical advice or treatment. It replaced and enhanced the service previously provided by the parish apothecary, the Dispensary having its own house apothecary plus medical staff.
While the service was free, patients had to be referred by an appropriate person, such as a magistrate, clergyman or charitable subscriber. Indeed, the Dispensary was funded mainly by charitable donations with some money from the parish and the doctors and surgeons working gratis. The doctors there could also refer patients to the fever hospital if necessary and surveys showed that in the early days almost a quarter of those attending had typhus.
The first Dispensary opened in 1778 although there are differences of opinion as to the location and date of closure before moving to Church Street. Baines, for example, says the location was Prince's Street with the move taking place in 1781 while Gore says it was John Street with the move the same year as it opened. Dr James Currie was one eminent physician who practiced at the Dispensary and lived nearby in Basnett Street. He was at the Dispensary between 1781 and 1786 at which time he moved to the Infirmary.
There are at least three engravings of the Dispensary on Church Street so it seemed a good subject for a build. John Foster Snr was the architect and the Dispensary was one of his earliest projects according to Hollinghurst's recent book.
The building was close to the Athenaeum, another Foster project, and sandwiched between them, at least initially, was a large house belonging to former mayor George Case.
In 1818-20 there were two doctors and a surgeon in attendance during specified opening hours and some 10000 persons made use of their services during that period.
By 1828, according to Baines, there were three physicians, three surgeons (one also acting as governor) with a house apothecary the only paid member of staff . One physician would be in attendance every day except Sunday at 09:00 and 11:00 to see out-patients although home visits were also made.
Gore gives further details and in some years lists a matron as part of the team.
The building comprises two storeys with an open reception area set back from the street. Although the property is surrounded by a fence, there is no obvious gate in some pictures. The corner fenceposts seem to support either small sculptures or, more likely, lamps (which can also be seen to the side and on adjacent buildings; not presently included in build).
Doors can be seen in the reception area, one on each of the two visible sides. This suggests that there were possibly three rooms or areas on the ground floor, perhaps one each for duty doctor, surgeon and the house apothecary. The presence of three chimneystacks in some of the prints is consistent with this hypothesis.
However, there is no obvious connection to the first floor so either this is obscured, internal or external at the rear. The upper storey is equally uncertain but it is likely that there would be meeting and office space. The rooms appear quite large unless divided internally to give, say, waiting areas, internal passageways and staircases, perhaps one on each side.
A tangent: Botanic Gardens
In 1800 a meeting at the Dispensary of Drs Bostock and Rutter, together with Rev W Shepherd (first curator) and luminary William Roscoe determined to proceed with establishment of Botanic Gardens. One of the early interests was in medicinal plants so the link with the Dispensary is perhaps enlightened self-interest.
John Bostock was born in Liverpool, studied medicine at Edinburgh and was made MD in 1798. He left Liverpool for London in 1817 and switched fields to science, becoming vice-president of the Royal Society in 1832. He is often credited as the first person to describe the symptoms of hay fever (1846).
Both Bostock and Rutter, as well as Roscoe, were closely associated with the early development of the nearby Athenaeum.
The Dispensary became redundant with the opening of North and South Liverpool Dispensaries in 1822 and 1827 although all three appear to have been operational in 1828. It was sold for £6500 in 1829 and demolished the following year to make way for exhibition rooms for the Liverpool Academy of Arts (among others) as well as ground floor shops fronting Post Office Place and Church Street.
The construction of the new buildings was the first major undertaking by builder Samuel Holme, later Lord Mayor and responsible for building St George's Hall and Crewe engine works. He was contracted to a Mr Booker who owned both the exhibition rooms and shops built by Holme.
Josias Booker had gone out to Guiana (then Demerara, now Guyana) in 1815 and by 1818 was managing his own sugar plantation. Along with his brothers he subsequently formed a company that acquired its own ship to carry sugar to Liverpool. This enterprise subsequently became a major shipping line but the name is probably now best known for the company's former sponsorship of the Booker Prize for Fiction. The company latterly specialised in food retailing and in January 2017 was the subject of a takeover bid by Tesco.
As we have seen, however, the company has been associated with the arts in Liverpool almost from the start, the Booker company being based at 13 Old Post Office Place in 1842, adjacent to or possibly beneath the rooms used by the Liverpool Academy.
Although not accessed to date, there are papers regarding the Dispensary in both the City Archives and University of Liverpool Special Collections & Archives.
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