WEBSTER, Dr George 1797-1875. Doctor and funder of the BMA. Webster was apprenticed to a physician at the age of 12, attended Edinburgh University at the age of 15, and was enrolled as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh when he was 18. His ambition to be an army doctor got him as far as Belgium, where the allied victory at Waterloo terminated his army career before it had begun. Refusing a position in India, Webster accepted one as assistant and subsequently partner to Dr Hall of Dulwich, little knowing that Dulwich was to become his home for the next sixty years. He soon became an established and respected figure in the community; Blanch speaks of him as ‘the most popular man in the parish’.
By 1841 Webster had settled in a house just north of the present College Road entrance to Dulwich Park, where the last of his nine children was born. He died there in 1875 when discussions were already underway to erect a drinking fountain in his honour very close to his home, near the entrance to the Old College. This fountain was finally in place in 1877 and was restored a century later to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.
Webster had an ongoing concern for the sick and poor and was appointed a medical officer by the Poor Law Board of Camberwell. He and his colleagues in Camberwell and Southwark resigned their positions in 1836, because of ‘an indignity cast upon their profession’ by the Board. Webster’s strong feelings concerning the necessity of reform of the medical profession especially in relation to Poor Law Boards led him to establish The British Medical Association, an eloquent member of which was Thomas Wakley, the reforming founder of The Lancet. Webster’s Association, of which he was the President, survived for little more than a decade. Following its demise, The Provincial Medical Association which had also come into existence in the 1830s changed its name to The British Medical Association, the organisation we know today.
Webster’s concern for child paupers led him to serve on the board of management of the Sutton Schools where it was reckoned 14,000 child paupers were prepared for domestic service or apprenticeships in the years 1855-75. Blanch claimed that ‘no face is as welcome to the little ones at Sutton as that of the cheery doctor’. After he had retired as a GP, the indefatigable Webster became a JP, serving as a magistrate for some years until his death.
By Hilary Rosser