Edward Lacy, 1799-1870: Poole surgeon, mayor and magistrate

Edward Lacy was a prominent resident of Poole during the mid-part of the nineteenth century, as surgeon, councillor, mayor and magistrate. Yet he does not figure prominently in the published histories of the town. He was born in Salisbury in 1799, but his parents, James and Mary (nee Bernister), were from nearby Wimborne, and his brother Henry was born in Poole. The highlight of Edward Lacy’s career was probably his year as the town’s Mayor; the low point may have been his part in a highly publicised case of grave robbing.

Edward began his medical career by undertaking work as a pupil at the County Infirmary in Salisbury, before heading to London to the Marylebone Infirmary; he then studied at St George’s Hospital as pupil and dresser to Sir Edward Home and Sir Benjamin Brodie, receiving his diploma in 1823. He was awarded Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA) and Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) in 1822, as well as becoming a Fellow (FRCS) in 1852, shortly after the qualification was instituted.  He practised originally in Stockport, perhaps chosen because brother Henry was at that time living in Manchester. He was appointed House Surgeon at the Stockport Infirmary in March 1823, was also at the Dispensary and House of Recovery, moving on later to the Queen’s Lying-in Institution, Manchester, where he lectured on midwifery and diseases of women and children. Edward applied several times, unsuccessfully, to be elected to surgeon at the Manchester Royal Infirmary during the 1830s. It was while in Manchester that he became embroiled in 1832 in a law suit concerning grave-robbing. The Rev. Gilpin of Stockport  successfully brought a libel case, against an activist and publisher, Mr Doherty, who had claimed that a body was removed from the graveyard with Rev. Gilpin’s knowledge to the dissecting room of surgeon Mr Lacy, who happened to be the Rev. Gilpin’s brother-in-law. The case featured strongly in the local and London newspapers, and must have been very embarrassing for Edward.

He married Frances Gilpin  on 2nd September 1828; she was born in Broughton in Furness, Lancashire, the daughter of a local magistrate. They had 4 children while living in Manchester – Ruth, Bernard and Frances , but another daughter, Caroline Mary, died in infancy in 1840.

They had moved to Poole by 1844, Edward taking over the medical practice of the late Dr Thomas Barter in the High Street. The probable address ( thanks to High Street historian Jenny Oliver) was at or near number 90 High Street, adjacent to the old thatched cottage at the corner of Carter’s Lane.

Probable location in Poole High Street

Edward had gained considerable experience in hospital work before moving to Poole, but there was no hospital in Poole at that time, or indeed during his lifetime. His living was therefore from general practice, plus the various contracts available to doctors.  Edward was Honorary Surgeon to the 4th Dorset Rifle Volunteers, surgeon to several different friendly societies and the Amity Lodge. Another role was medical officer to the Kinson, Canford and Parkstone district of the Poole Union. However, Edward was later involved in Bournemouth’s first hospital development. He was listed as a member of the founding committee of the Bournemouth Public Dispensary for the Sick Poor in

Bournemouth Dispensary , Yelverton Road

1859, as well as working there as an honorary surgeon. The dispensary was established to provide for the poor in the fast-developing town of Bournemouth , but also covering adjoining areas including Poole. As a dispensary it did not have inpatients, although just before his death it became a cottage hospital, forerunner to the Royal Victoria Hospital.  Later, as his health began to deteriorate, he took as his partner Dr William Turner.

His medical interests are shown by publications in the Medical Times and Gazette on ingrowing toenails, treatment of naevi, and anal fistula. He prepared a report for presentation to the inaugural meeting of the Dorset County Association of General Practitioners in June 1848 on the use of chloroform in surgery, which represented an early clinical review of experience. In 1855 he presented a curious case to the Pathological Society in London (although unable to attend unfortunately) concerning an elderly Poole lady: Enormous concretion of iron and magnesia: removed by operation from the lower bowel. See here to read about it.

1848 was a year when his name was to certainly the fore as a medical man, as he was invited in November to present a lecture at the Guildhall to Poole’s Mechanics Institute on The Health of Towns. This was a lecture on a topic more suited to a Medical Officer of Health, if such a post yet existed, rather than a general surgeon. Presumably he was by then known for his knowledge of the subject, and his experiences in the Manchester area may have been significant in this. The context was the passing of the Public Health Act in that year, but the worry of cholera outbreaks was a constant factor locally and nationally. Edward began by comparing life expectancy in Poole with that in Manchester, Liverpool and Stockport, to demonstrate that what he termed its “salubrity” compared well with the northern cities. He praised the introduction of new drainage in Thames Street and North Street, where effluvia traps were in place, but in reality he certainly knew how dirty the streets of Poole were, so perhaps tried hard not to offend his listeners’ pride in their town. The bulk of his lecture was educational, using diagrams and other aids, to demonstrate how the lungs and circulation were affected by poor living conditions. Evidence was presented to show how cholera arose where drains and sewers emptied, in damp situations, and amongst “the dirty of the inhabitants.” He highlighted the twin causes of ill health as being due to environmental factors and what he called “personal economy.” The former was down to the “vitiated state of the atmosphere” due to noxious gases from the filth, offal, decomposing matter, lack of drainage and sewerage, and the state of housing and workplaces. The latter was due to the poor personal habits of the population. He stressed the need for better ventilation in homes, workplaces and public rooms. The newspaper reports the bouts of applause that greeted his remarks, so perhaps the message was well accepted by his audience. He ended by stating that however well the Poor Law Guardians provided aid and nutrition for the poor, they could do nothing to affect ventilation and cleanliness for the general population. He offered, should cholera hit Poole, that “his surgery would be open at all hours to the suffering poor.”

There is evidence Edward Lacy returned to this message during his time as a councillor, but the poor state of the public health in the town continued for decades, so clearly without much effect. Poole in fact did not adopt the 1848 Public Health Act. A few years later the General Board of Health, forerunner of the Ministry of Health, condemned the “defective sanitary condition of the town.” However his lecture is worthy of a place in the history of the drive to improve Poole’s public health.

Edward was first elected to the Poole Town Council in 1848, representing the North West Ward as a Conservative, remaining a councillor until his death. It was during the year before that he had been appointed medical officer to the Poole Union; clearly he was a recognised figure in the town by then. In November 1860, as a long-serving member, he was elected by the Town Council as the Mayor, and by this time he was also chief magistrate for the town. When he died the newspaper headline recorded it as the death of a magistrate, rather than surgeon; perhaps in his later years his presence on the Bench was more marked than his medical work.

Outside his medical career, he had at least one business interest, almost certainly influenced by his brother Charles. Charles had been involved with coaching, but saw the railways as the future and became involved in many schemes as investor, promotor and director. This was the time of “railway mania”, and Manchester was at the forefront. Edward was attracted to it also and his name appears in relation to the efforts to develop a railway link from Poole to Salisbury. This link was for a time known locally as the Lacy line. There is no evidence this business venture brought him financial success. His brother was certainly successful, and for a while a national figure, serving as MP for Bodmin.

Edward Lacy died on 7th October 1870, aged 70, and was buried in Poole Cemetery on 13th October. The funeral was a large affair, with a procession of civic dignitaries and an honour guard of 30 men from the Rifle Volunteers; flags were at half-mast on the Guildhall and church. His obituary in the local newspaper was accompanied by a eulogy, highly complimentary about his medical career, including his charitable approach to those unable to pay for his care. As a surgeon and citizen he had made his mark in Poole – during his lifetime at least.


Supporting materials are lodged at the History Centre, Poole Museum, including transcripts from the local newspaper of his lecture on The Health of Towns and the obituary, plus an account of the grave-robbing case.



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