In the Victorian period in Consett and surrounding area’s it was down to the old town Doctor to see to all the medical needs. On the whole this was a quite an archaic system, with many operation’s taking place in peoples homes, on kitchen tables and the like. However, Consett was no normal town and by the sheer number of people flocking to the area in the mid 1800’s if became necessary to create a dedicated building, especial for the needs of the Consett Iron Works.
The Renton family were a massive influence in the health and well being of the people of the area. John Renton was
born 1812 in Midlothian, Scotland. He was a M.D. and Surgeon graduating from Edinburgh University. He settled in Shotley Low Quarter in the late 1830’s and married Mary Siddell. They had quite a large family, around 11 children of which most lived to adulthood, not a mean feat in those days. Two of the son’s, William Matthew Renton and George Renton, both also took up the family business and become Doctors.
The Iron Works and Coal Mines owned by the Consett Iron Company (and Derwent Iron Company before that) like most industries in those days, did not have the best of safety records. An initial infirmary was set up to deal with accident and emergencies some time in the 1850s-60s. However, it was simply 2-3 cottages knocked together and was known to be located on Church Street, Consett across from where Christ Church would soon stand. In the 1870’s an inspection by Dr W.M. Renton made it very clear that the premisses were completely unsuitable for purpose as well as being unsanitary. So he along with his brother George and other local doctors of the area took up these concerns with the CIC board. By 1874 an advert was placed in the paper looking for quotes to start building in the following year, but unfortunately problems lay ahead. Due to high costs and strike actions at the time it took a further 4 years.
The infirmary eventually opened in 1878 to great admiration from across the North East and gratitude of the local workman. It was ran by Dr William M Renton along with a qualified Nursing staff. It was also attended by other local doctors such as Dr Marchbank and William’s younger brother Dr George Renton. The new facilities were built on Parliament Street Consett, now the site of the YMCA, and featured up to date facilities including room for 12 patients and also rooms for the nursing staff.
The area was also lacking another important factor, the need of an ambulance service. Unlike now this general meant conveying people via stretcher or cart. It was Dr George Renton who this time sprung to the challenge founding and setting up the St John Ambulance Association in Consett Iron Works. The service became a great success and was rolled out across the area both for the Iron industry and coal mines of the CIC.
On 13 April 1889 the members of the St John Ambulance Association gathered in the CIC works pay office in order to present Dr G Renton with a handsome travelling case valued at over £10. The event was well attended and it was hard for everyone to get in. The gift was to show the appreciation of all the Consett Iron Company workman for him founding such a worthwhile organisation and giving up his time to train them. The bag was presented by Mr Thomas Harrison of Templetown, a member of the association and also a highly respected voice of the workers, being one of the first Union leaders and members of the Workers Socialist Labour party (one of my ancestors of which I am proud).
The Infirmary lasted for many years until around the early 1920’s when it was no longer viable due to the new facilities in the area and so closed its doors. Dr George Renton passed away in 1899, leaving at least one son to carry on his work, Dr Ralph S Renton making him the 3rd generation of Doctors to look after the needs of the people of the area. Ralph went on to run a practice in Blackhill as well as becoming honorary surgeon of the Consett Hospital until he took up the call to arms during WWI. For his dedication and services during the war he was awarded the Military Cross in 1918.