By Kim Leslie (with an Introduction by Nichola Court)
In his first blog, Kim Leslie introduced us to some of his more colourful ancestors, whose lives – at times, dramatic – are revealed in his family papers – The Corfield Papers. In his second blog, Kim focuses on his grandfather, Dr Carruthers Corfield, whose papers form the major part of the collection. Born in Kensington in 1873, Carruthers retired to Rustington in 1938, where he became a well-known and prominent figure until his death in 1969. Read on to find out more about the surgeon and doctor whose career started in the slums of Whitechapel, less than a decade after Jack the Ripper’s brief reign of terror, and whose extensive diaries and other papers chart the development of medicine and medical practice during his 40 year career, as well as the society in which he lived and worked, and his own fascinating life…
As I said in the first part of this blog, my grandfather was Dr Carruthers Corfield (1873-1969) who lived at Broadmark Place in Rustington.
To the archivist he was a gift: a compulsive record keeper, ‘keeper’ the operative word. He never threw anything away; his ‘Acquisitiveness File’ – so marked in his own distinctive hand – was always the first port of call for everything, papers, scraps and ephemera, before they were sorted and stored away. He was the perfect complement to his wife’s family who brought into the Corfield domain a huge collection of memorabilia chronicling not only her own family, but also families interlinked by marriage going back to the eighteenth century.
The Corfield family can be traced back much further than this though, to 1180, to Corve Dale in Shropshire. Their property was at Corve, or Corvet, later Corfield, today represented by Corfield Farm, the remnant of their medieval settlement under Wenlock Edge.
One branch of the family, that of Dr Corfield of Rustington, came south in the 18th century, to Wiltshire, when Edward Corfield (1761-1851), a surveyor, was living in Salisbury preparing surveys for the Earl of Pembroke whose estate centred on the family home at nearby Wilton. In the course of his work Edward produced a number of tithe maps and awards, not only in Wiltshire, but also in neighbouring Hampshire and Dorset, as well as in Essex, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Wales.
Edward’s great grandson Carruthers Corfield was a quite remarkable man, a man of so many parts and so many achievements, of astounding energy, wide interests and intense determination; his whole life a forceful demonstration of his favourite biblical quotation, the touchstone of his life (and found on his headstone in Rustington churchyard): ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might’.
By profession a surgeon and doctor of medicine, he was a freeman of the City of London, liveryman of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, a leading Oddfellow and Freemason, chairman of the Church of England Children’s Society, philanthropist and local historian.
His early life he documented in enormous detail. Diaries and letters cover crucial years in his personal and professional development, from his time as a medical student to his first practice as a fully qualified doctor and surgeon in the 1890s, working with wounded soldiers as a civil surgeon in Woolwich during the Boer War.
Ten diaries cover 1893-1903, recording the minutiae of his life in meticulous detail. As a young man, as a medical student, money was always short, prompting a strong entrepreneurial spirit, always on the lookout for money-making opportunities such as selling soap, offering berries for harvest decorations to Whiteley’s department store, selling salvaged firewood and even toying with the idea of making his own ‘anti-fat’ preparation from thyroid glands to be ‘sold under a fancy name’. (What would have been the source of these glands?!)
Devoted to his cycle, he documented all his cycle journeys and the miles ridden each day throughout the year to the nearest eighth of a mile, rides upset by frequently exploding tyres. His meticulous attention to detail comes over very strongly with lists for so many aspects of his life, not only for miles cycled – and walked – but also records of expenses, list of books read, patients seen, details of bodies dissected, even tabulated pages giving the results of each chess game with his fiancée, Beatrice. Everything was noted, measured and, wherever possible, costed.
Much more about personal and family affairs, these diaries give just a few passing glimpses of headline news: feeling the aftershock of the Hereford earthquake, the magnificence of the new road under the Thames at Blackwell, seeing Queen Victoria at her Diamond Jubilee, the death of Gladstone, the relief of Mafeking and his first sight of the new ‘auto motor car’ seen on the London streets in 1896. A few years later he was one of the first doctors in south-west London to own one himself.
His motoring notebook, his personal logbook, details all eleven cars he ever owned, from his early Wolseley down to his Morris Minor 1000 in 1960. Short-lived was his Vauxhall 14, destroyed by the German bomb that landed in Rustington in 1940. By 1963 he totalled the mileage of his motoring life, a grand total of 314,413 miles in all. For fine-weather leisure he and his wife each owned a Wall Auto-Wheel motorized cycle bought in 1914 on which they toured Wales together.
Some of his earliest medical experiences were in the slums of Whitechapel in London’s East End, notorious for its poverty, squalor and violence. Here he worked – not happily – as assistant to Dr Rees Ralph Llewelyn, the newsworthy surgeon who carried out the post-mortem on the first Jack the Ripper victim, murdered within yards of his surgery. Thankful to leave, Dr Corfield set up his own surgeries in more leafy and salubrious Balham and Tooting. Significantly his medical papers reflect the workings of his pre-National Health doctor’s practice, marking the transition from private fee-paying medicine to working both privately and as a panel doctor for London and Surrey County Councils under Lloyd George’s revolutionary National Insurance Act of 1911.
In the early years of the 20th century the young doctor entered public life through local politics and friendly societies and in his endeavours for the welfare of London tramway workers.
It was through membership of local lodges of the Independent Order of Oddfellows friendly society, serving as treasurer, secretary and surgeon, that eventually led to his prominent position in helping direct the national affairs of the Oddfellows through his writings and as a conference delegate. His Handbook of Medical Terms (1914) was a ground-breaking publication, popularizing medical language in response to the new National Insurance Act to aid the Oddfellows lay officials in understanding doctors’ technical terminology in their scrutiny of sickness claims.
All his wide-ranging philanthropic work culminated in work for homeless and abandoned children through the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society, later known as the Church of England Children’s Society, of which he became national chairman.
Retiring from his London medical practice, Dr Corfield moved to Rustington in 1938 where, since 1905, he had been holidaying and acquiring property. Here, in the middle of several acres of farmland, once the property of John Ede Butt, the well-known Littlehampton timber merchant, he built his new home, Broadmark Place in Sea Lane in the mid-1930s.
He soon became a prominent figure in village and church affairs. When war broke out in 1939 he helped set up the Village Produce Association and became platoon medical officer to the Rustington Home Guard. He chaired two of the Rustington Children’s Society homes, one of which, a diabetic home, being renamed Carruthers Corfield House in his honour on his 90th birthday.
He left his greatest legacy in Rustington in the parish church where he was vicar’s warden for some twenty years, notably in designing and raising funds for the addition of the new vestries, designing the heraldic organ screen, saving the ancient lychgate from destruction, instituting the church’s planned giving system and writing the first guidebook of any substance on which all subsequent editions have been based as well as writing some two hundred articles on local history for the church magazine; one notable series being on the history of Cudlow, now lost under the sea near Climping.
To the West Sussex Record Office his one great legacy is in the Corfield Papers, a rich source of our family’s history that reaches out into local, national and even international life.
The collection’s catalogue can be consulted via WSRO’s Search Online facility. Using the Advanced Search feature, enter Corfield in the CatalogueNo field. The Corfield Papers in West Sussex Record Office: An Illustrated Catalogue and Family History has recently been published by Northgate Press, Chichester in association with the Record Office (ISBN 978-1-5272-4799-4). This is a hardback volume with over three hundred coloured illustrations and is available at £40 by contacting its editor and compiler Kim Leslie at email@example.com.