The Mayor reads the Riot Act in Wisbech

Enid Porter recorded information from the Eastern Daily Press

It was intriguing to find recently that 50 years ago the Mayor of Wisbech read the Riot Act in… (Wisbech) & mystifying to see that the occasion of the tumult(?) was the death of a xxxx doctor. A search of the files of the E.D.P. of that time is a reminder that.. Lloyd George’s original national insurance scheme of 1911 provoked bitterfeeling.

Wisbech was one of the places where the majority of the local doctors had refused to co-operate in the scheme. Only two doctors, the brothers William and Henry Groom, had agreed to take xxx patients. In these circumstances the Isle of Ely Insurance Committee had the power to call in an extra doctor to cope with the flood of new patients. They appointed a young doctor, Horace Dimock, a native of Stretham, who qualified quite brilliantly at Cambridge & at St Thomas’s.

Dr H.C. Meacock, the Chairman of the I. of Ely branch of the B.M.A. lived & practised in a Georgian house on the N. Brink. The Vice-Chairman, Dr C.H. Gunson – an equally convinced opponent of L. George – lived in the Crescent, near the church. By them & their colleagues, Dr Dimock was met with icy disapproval. Only the brothers Groom were cordial. Dr, D., however, turned out to be not only clever & hardworking, but a xxxx man who supplemented his medical services by numerous acts of personal kindness to the poor. Moreover, the xxxx Radicalism of the Fens enlisted itself in his xxxx.

A newspaper photo shows him to have been a handsome young man.. he was highly popular with his patients in Wisbech & neighbouring villages, & within 18 months he had built up quite a big xxxx practice in addition to his xxxx. Moreover, he had moved from hired rooms in to a house on the Crescent… Then on Friday Oct 24th 1913, the news burst upon Wisbech for Dr. D. had been arrested on the information of Dr Meacock, on a charge of criminal libel.

It seems that for months Dr. Meacock, his colleagues and friends had been receiving anonymous postcards printed in capital letters. Some of them spoke of Dr. D. as “the beloved xxxx doctor” & “the brilliant young surgeon”, but made scurrilous allegations about the conduct or Dr. M, and his colleagues. M. & his friends complained to the Police & the Post Office; the letter boxes were watched &, on Oct 24th the Police superintendent, 2 plain clothes men and a handwriting expert when to Dr. D’s house. He was arrested, brought before the magistrates & remanded that same day. His friends the Grooms stood bail for him.

Dimock asserted his innocence to them & to the Insurance Committee & next day went to London to see the Medical Defence Committee of the B.M.A.; but found his accusers have been before him. His patients stood by him & after attending to them until late on Sunday evening; he rode home on his motorcycle to his mother’s house at Stretham. His sisters asked him how he had got on, and he said “Not at all”. He broke down and cried, but then recovered & went to bed, saying he had not slept for 3 days. At midday on Monday he was found unconscious with bottles of morphine & vexxx under the pillow. By the time a doctor had been fetched he was dead.

There was tremendous excitement & grief when the news reached Wisbech. On Thursday evening, Oct 30 – two days after Dr. D’s death – 4 or 5 thousand people attended a meeting in the market place. The meeting was orderly enough, although the speaker declared that Dr. D. had been “persecuted from the day he came to Wisbech”. Tributes were paid to his services “especially to the poor”, & the crowd, standing with heads xxx and bowed, passed a resolution of sympathy with his relatives & then sang “O God our help in ages past”. But, said the E.D.P.s reporter “apparently an undercurrent was at work”.

Hundreds of people went & stood in front of Dr. Meacock’s house on the N. Brink. There were cheers for Dr.D. and the brothers Groom, & loud boos for Dr. M. Then stones were thrown _ _ several windows were smashed before the rush from the police broke the crowd up. But they crossed the bridge over the river & reassembled again in front of Dr. Gunson’s house in the Crescent, where booing & hooting, they smashed all the windows. The police charged again & drove them away – only for them to return to Dr. M.’s house.

By this time it was 11.30. “Every minute a window was smashed, & every smash was accompanied by a cheer.” The police could no longer shift the crowd. They xxx for the Mayor & telephoned to Lynn for reinforcements. After midnight there were mobs outside both doctor’s houses & not a whole pane of glass in either of them, but still the volleys of stones continued.

It was then that the Mayor read the Riot Act, & xxxx charges by the police at last cleared the streets.

The next day the queer mixture of reverence and violence continued. 200(?) mourners from Wisbech travelled to Stretham to Dr. D.’s funeral and filed in pairs passed the open coffin in his mother’s house. In the town, blinds were drawn in mourning &, in spite of police reinforcements from Cambridge, Peterborough & Lynn three(?) more doctor’s windows were smashed as well as those of an unpopular grocer(?) in the High Street. On Saturday, which was market day, the crowd turned to fighting the police & throwing fireworks; there were barn charges and beams were broken instead of windows. The xxxxx, said R.C.D.P. ‘were very powerful – as loud as the xxx that summoned the fire brigade’

The violence ultimately spent itself on xxxx xxxx – 5 Nov. Thereafter the Insurance Committee diplomatically passed 2 resolutions – one of confidence in the honour of Dr. M. & the other of sympathy with Dr. D.’s family & appreciation of his work. They then appointed another young(?) xxx doctor who added to high medical qualifications the prestige of a Cambridge rowing Blue. Dr. M. and his colleagues felt themselves sorely injured. They emphasised that they had acted throughout on the advice of the police, but they would not justify themselves by continuing the xxxx of a dead man. It was a pathetic, ugly and still xxx mystifying story of human frailty, popular sentiment and mob violence.


[“Jonathan Mendle” (Eric Froden) in Eastern Daily Press. 1 Jan 1964]


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