Speech given by Ronald Cohen to the Dental Students' Society at the celebration of their Jubilee in Nov, 1945.
Mr President, gentlemen. It is my duty to propose the toast of the Dental Students’ Society on this important occasion, marking the beginning of the 60th year of existence of the Society. The Secretary, Mr. Robinson, invited me at the same time to say something about the early history of medicine and dentistry in Birmingham. I confess that my first impulse was to refuse this onerous task, chiefly because some of those here today have personal knowledge of many of the happenings which I shall relate and consequently will be able, and I hope, willing to correct my errors.
In self defence therefore, I start with a period so remote that not even the most ancient among us, or perhaps I should say, the most senior of those present, can have personal remembrance.
The first dental practitioner in Birmingham that I can trace is one Robert Law, who lived near the White Hart in Digbeth in 1741. He made “artificial teeth to the greatest perfection, so artfully fixed as to endure for years without taking out, he neatly cleanseth the teeth taking away all their tarterous scales or filmy or muddy humour, also hardened (!) Or fasteneth those that are loose”!
Besides practising dentistry Law made trusses and steel stays, neat steel collars for young ladies and various machines. He undertook to make trusses for those living at a distance, if they send to him “their bigness round”.
There is also a man described in a 1768 directory of Birmingham as a “nailor and tooth drawer”.
The first dental book to be published in Birmingham is a rare little pamphlet entitled A Treatise on the Teeth, by W. H. Barron, surgeon dentist and cupper, 1824.
The first record of medical teaching in Birmingham goes back to 1767, when Mr John Tomlinson, surgeon to the Town Infirmary, gave a series of anatomical lectures. There is no record as to how long these lectures lasted, but Tomlinson was the first provincial surgeon to give regular anatomical lectures, although spasmodic lectures were often given on the bodies of executed criminals.
In 1765 Dr. John Ash called a meeting to consider the advisability of opening a General Hospital near Birmingham. Building was soon started, but financial difficulties put a temporary stop to the scheme. In September, 1779, however the General Hospital was formally opened.
In 1825 William Sands Cox, then only 24 years old, announced that a regular series of anatomical lectures would be held at 24, Temple Row. This is the beginning of the Birmingham Medical School.
A regular medical school with lectures on various subjects was started in 1828 on the “lines of those established for some time past at Manchester, Leeds, and other large towns”. There were various difficulties from time to time but we have no opportunity now to describe them.
In 1843 Queen Victoria granted a charter to the School and it became “The Queen’s College at Birmingham”. The College prospered exceedingly at first, but shortly disagreements and financial difficulties made it obvious that a very drastic reorganisation both of administration and finance was necessary, and in 1867 an Act of Parliament was obtained to clarify and consolidate the position of the College. The Queen’s Hospital was opened in 1841 to provide clinical instruction for the students at Queen’s College.
The students at the General Hospital began to feel the lack of a school at which they could obtain instruction and in 1851 a new college, known as Sydenham College, was inaugurated. The building was in Summer Lane, opposite the power station. The new school prospered, to some extent probably because the students were not under theological control such as existed at Queen’s. However it eventually became obvious that two medical schools in the city were unnecessary and after the Act of 1867 had put the affairs of Queen’s in order, schemes for amalgamation began to be mooted. In 1868 Sydenham College was formerly dissolved and the Council of Queen’s College appointed professors from the staffs of both hospitals. The Professor of Dental Surgery was Mr. T. Howkins, uncle of Col. C. H. Howkins.
In 1880 Mason College was opened, at first as a Science College only, but two years later students at Queen’s College were able to take part of their lectures at Mason’s. In 1892 the Medical School was transferred from Queen’s to Mason’s; in 1897 the College became Mason University College, and in 1900 a charter was obtained raising it to the status of a University and thus entitled to grant dental diplomas and degrees. It was the first University in the country to grant dental degrees, John Humphreys was the first to receive one.
The Dental School began its existence at Queen’s College in October 1880, and the Council of the College elected Messrs. Thos. Howkins, Charles Sims and F. R. Batchelor to the Professorships of Dental Surgery, Dental Mechanics and Dental Anatomy respectively. The Secretary of the department was Mr. John Humphreys to whose enthusiasm was due the rapid development and enlarged scope of the School. It worked under great disadvantages at Queen’s and it was not until the removal of the medical school to Mason’s College that real progress could be made. At that time it was of course necessary for students to take the diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons or of one of the Scottish Universities.
The Dental Hospital was established in January 1858 at Odd-fillows Hall, 13, Temple Street, largely through the efforts of Samuel Adams Parker, who practised in Colmore Row and was a pupil of John Tomes. It was not the first in the country, being preceded by an Institution for diseases of the Teeth established by Harrison and Saunders 1839, The London Dental Dispensary founded by C. J. Fox 1855, and the Islington Dental Dispensary 1857. The Royal Dental Hospital School was not opened until December 1858, so that the Birmingham Dental Hospital is the oldest in this country.
It led a somewhat peripatetic existence; in 1863 it was moved to 2, Upper Priory to premises shared with the Homeopathic Hospital, in 1871 it moved to 9, Broad Street, in 1882 to 71, Newhall Street, and in 1905 to the present building. The Hospital did not occupy the whole building at 71, Newhall Street; the cellars were let to a brewery and the first floor to a lying in charity. It is to be hoped that callers found their way to the correct destination.
It was at 71, Newhall Street that the Dental Students’ Society came into being. The idea of the Society originated in the enthusiastic brain of John Humphreys. The first President was Charles Sims and the first Secretary A. D. Miller. The first meeting was held on November 4th, 1886. Among those present at the meeting were Messrs John Humphreys, who was President in 1887, Frank Huxley, W. Palethorpe, W. T. Madin, E. Sims, A. J. Wilson, P. Naden, G. C. Matthews, W. Parrott, F. W. Richards, G. Marson, F. R. Howard and A. D. Miller, and I am happy and proud to say that we have one of these with us today Mr. Cale-Matthews.
Unfortunately the minutes of the first ten years of the life of the society are lost, and it is not until 1896 that a complete story of the Society can begin. If anyone here today can give me any information relating to these ten years I should be very grateful.
In 1896 owing to insufficient accommodation at the Dental Hospital the Council of Mason’s College offered the use of the Professor’s Common Room to the Society for its meetings. At a meeting during this year Mr. Cale Matthews described his experiences at the L.D.S. examination as was listened to with great amusement. The Secretary, Mr. H. P. Joscelyn, stated that the paper “bristled with wit”.
Col C.H. Howkins' first connection with the Society was in the lowly post of Assistant Secretary pro. tem.
At an open meeting held during the year “by kind permission of Messes Hamilton there was an exhibition of pictures with the cinematograph from Curzon Hall”. The President was Dencer Whittles who was a keen photographer and frequently illustrated papers read by members, with lantern slides of his own making. Whittles gave considerable assistance to John Humphreys in the formation of the great John Humphreys Odontological Museum.
It was customary at this time to give a Christmas present to the “lady clerk” and to the nurse (Miss Edwards). A ring was given to the “lady clerk” and money to the nurse.
During the summer an excursion was generally made to a beauty spot within easy reach of Birmingham and this year Bideford was chosen.
At a concert held towards the end of the session Mr.Malcolm Knott sang “Jimmie on the shoot, Boys”, Mr Cale-Matthews sang and Mr.H.P. Joscelyne played the banjo.
Mr Charles Sims was elected a life member of the Society and Mr Dencer Whittles had the Transactions of the Society reprinted from the Mason College Magazine at his own expense and presented to the members. At that time papers from qualified members were not encouraged and in 1897 a paper from a qualified man was actually refused.
1899 was in many ways a remarkable year. At one meeting the author of the paper to be read was late, so the President, Mr. A.W. Steynor, entertained the members with a recitation! I commend this to future presidents. Mr. Harold Round gave a paper on Fractures and showed a “triple” fracture of the mandible.
Two important resolutions were passed; one proposed by Mr. A. H. Proctor and seconded by Mr. S. H. Roe read “That the present clinical teaching at the General Queen’s Hospital given to Dental and Medical students alike is inadequate for the requirements of the former”. This was sent to Mr. John Humphreys to be placed before the clinical board.
Another, proposed by Mr. Stuart Wallis and seconded by Mr. Dencer Whittles was sent to the War Office and the Press and read “That the attention of the War Office be called to the fact that though this august body requires a high standard in the matter of opposable teeth in the mouths of their recruits quid pro quo there should be qualified dentists appointed to keep such organs in repair, either when doing garrison duty or on active service”. The War Office replied, as it doubtless usually does, that the matter was under consideration. The form this consideration took may be seen from Col. Wood’s paper on Dentistry in the British Army (Proc. R.S.M. 1938). There was one dentist, Newland Peddey, to treat the whole of the troops in South Africa in 1900 and in 1901 four were appointed.
In 1900, a paper which had won Ash’s Prize was to be read, but it was not forthcoming from the examiners. It is not quite clear what had happened to it, but as a result of the fuss, Mr. P.T Naden, one of the examiners and a staunch supporter of the Society, resigned. A deputation consisting of Messrs. Tomey, Bowater and Proctor waited on him, but you will be surprised to hear even their silver tongued eloquence failed to persuade him to alter his decision.
During this year Col. Bowater showed a famous casual communication. It was, and is, a small gold upper plate, which had been swallowed twice, and each time safely recovered. This plate has been shown several times during the past forty years and it must be familiar to many generations of students.
A Dental Student’s Representative Committee was appointed to bring to the notice of the University Authorities and the Surgical Committee of the Dental Hospital certain grievances. For example certain lectures clashed at the University and it was impossible for students to attend them all, students were expected to pay for the filling material used in phantom work, the demonstrators should spend more in the filing room as much time was wasted in finding them, and other less important matters.
During the year Mr. Round showed several cases of fractures successfully treated. Two of which I regret to say had been treated by wiring neighbouring teeth across the fracture line. As we have seen, the session 1900-1901 was packed with momentous happenings, and the president was Mr. Cale-Matthews.
To the high scientific pleasure of reading a paper before the Society was added in 1901 a financial inducement, for it was during this year that the Midland Dental Manufacturing Co. kindly offered a prize for the best paper read each session by a student. The final selection of the best paper was made by Charles Tomes, who was at that time external examiner in dental subjects to the University.
The well known badge of the Dental Hospital first appeared on the dinner menus this year, the 10th time this function had been held. Messr Whittles and Bowater represented the Society at the Annual Dinner of the National Dental Students and the following day a meeting was held in London and it was decided to form a Federation a British Dental Students Societies. This body gradually collapsed. Let us hope that the newly formed British Dental Students Association will have a longer and more useful life.
Mr Harold Round ‘s Presidential address on Quackery in 1903 so stirred the Society that it was decided to write to the other dental student societies to invite their views as to the best means of dealing with the menace, but nothing came of the effort. An interesting demonstration during 1905 was the hypnotising of a patient by Mr. Beaty and the painless removal of a tooth during the hypnosis.
In the same year Mr. A. W. Wellings suggested that a library be again formed and two years later a catalogue was printed listing about 130 volumes. The books were housed in book cases presented to the society by the honorary staff and the library was formally opened by Hopewell Smith at the Annual Conversatzione.
During 1909 an Anaesthetics Bill was presented to Parliament, with the object of preventing the administration of anaesthetics by any person except duly qualified medical men and those registered under the Dental Act of 1878. The Society printed a “Protest” against the bill, and it was sent to the members of Parliament for Birmingham, to other dental student societies and to the lay press. The Birmingham Post printed a short article on the subject which caused Gilbert Barling, at that time Dean of the Medical, to send a letter to the Post pointing out what he considered to be errors of fact in the article. This letter was answered by “a dentist”, and the whole affair appears now to be extremely unedifying. Col. Bowater, who was President for that year, said that while he felt that major anaesthetics should always be administered by a medical man he thought that a part of the Act should be opposed, but that in any case such matters should not be discussed in the lay press.
In 1912 Miss Hedley was proposed as the first woman member, but at a later meeting she withdrew her name.
The Otago University Dental Students’ Society sent their syllabus for the session 1912-1913 to the society and endorsed on it in the hand of Prof. H. P. Pickerill, who was the first President of that Society, are the words “The First offspring of the Dental Students Society”.
In 1914 and 1915 it became clear that the functions of the Society remained in abeyance until 1919, when a meeting was held with a view to re-starting the Society. Need I say that Col. Bowater was in the Chair? A full programme of scientific and social activities was arranged for the ensuing session.
The following twenty five years are so comparatively recent and moreover I feel I have already overtaxed your patience that I will only refer to the more important happenings.
In 1923 was exhibited a rare casual communication, very different from the examples of dilaceration, exostosis and multi-rooted teeth which recur so constantly at meetings. It was a case of aneurism of the facial artery which had been diagnosed and treated as an alveolar abscess. The treatment and outcome was unfortunately not recorded, but the minutes state that the specimen was exhibited and created much interest. In 1931 the few antiquated remnants of the library were re-moved to the University Library.
In 1933 the then President, Mr. B. J. O’Meara, proposed an exceedingly important alteration to the rules. He suggested that a permanent official of the society be appointed, to be a member of the committee, but elected each year, his duty to be that of advisor in financial and other matters to the Society for the year. The wisdom and far-sightedness of this was soon apparent, for this post enabled continuity, so difficult to obtain in a student society, to be maintained, and the finances of the Society have been properly handled from this time.
A joint meeting with the Medical Union was conducted by Mr. Harold Round in 1935.
In 1939 it was decided to continue the scientific meetings, but to curtail somewhat the social activities.
In 1941 Mr. W. H. Edmonds went as the representative to the newly formed Joint Planning Committee of Dental Students. A meeting was held in Manchester and the British Dental Students Association was born.
During this year the Council of the Central Counties Branch of the British Dental Association invited the Society to send two representatives to sit on the Council, to consider the future of dentistry. A very important addition to the rules was made. A student chairman was to be elected, whose duty it would be to preside at all ordinary meetings and committee meetings.
In 1943 two Honorary Life Members were elected, Mr. Harold Round and Major Flackner of the U. S. Army Dental Corps.
In 1944 students attended meetings of the Central Counties Branch of the B.D.A. as Associate Members, and Mrs Lindsay gave a paper in which she reminded the Society that it was founded in 1886 and that consequently the session 1945-46 would be the 60th.
And now ladies and gentlemen, we have covered more or less completely a period of over two hundred years and I would like to say that while we must ever progress and look forward into the future, yet at the same time we must be conscious of a long history of which we may be proud. I have tried to show, but I am conscious of many shortcomings, that the study of dental history need not be a dry-as-dust subject which so many believe it to be, but is, on the contrary, of absorbing and living interest and should indeed form part of out dental education. As Emerson says “The use of history is to give value to the present hour and its duty.” (Society & Solitude: Works & days)
It now only remains for me to thank you for your patient courtesy and to give you the toast, which is The Dental Students Society coupled with the name of Mr Barnes.