Hugh Beavin

The surgeon with an international reputation

IN THE early 19th century Hinckley received a number of notable visitors. These people usually came to the town in search of medical treatment from Dr Robert Chessher who established an international reputation for his skill in medical practice.

Robert Chessher was born in Hinckley in 1750 but sadly his father died while he was still a young boy. His mother remarried and her new husband was William Whalley, a Hinckley surgeon.

The headstones of the Whalley family may still be seen in the churchyard of St Mary's. Robert became an assistant to his stepfather, particularly in the treatment of fractures.

At the age of 18, Robert was sent to London where he competed his medical studies under the direction of John Whyatt and Dr Thomas Denman. He also attended the lectures of John Hunter, the famous Scottish anatomist.

After completing his instruction from Dr Denman, Robert Chessher took a post at the Middlesex Hospital as House Surgeon. In 1778 Mr Whalley died and Robert returned to Hinckley where he took over his late stepfather's extensive practice. He was also bequeathed a large amount of property in Hinckley.

Robert Chessher developed a particular interest in "skeletal injuries" and this led to friendship with other medical men who shared this specialty including Dr Kirkland of Ashby de la Zouch.

Chessher was particularly interested in constructing mechanical devices to aid the treatment of spinal injuries. Mr Reeves, Hinckley machinist and splint-maker, first aided him in the manufacture of these devices.

Gradually, Robert Chessher's reputation grew and a number of eminent London surgeons advised their patients to seek consultations with him in Hinckley. Lord Holland brought his son to the town for treatment by Dr Chessher and George Canning, Foreign Secretary and later Prime Minister, also came to Hinckley on his son's behalf. Other famous patients who are thought to have sought treatment included William Wilberforce and the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Dr Chessher resided in Castle Street but the exact location of his practice is unknown. Machinists and splint-makers who worked for him, including Mr Hill and the two Felton brothers, also had their business premises in Castle Street.

Robert Chessher died at the end of January 1831 and he was buried in Peckleton, the village from which his family originated. His funeral procession consisted of "eight mourning coaches-and-four and a long train of gentlemen's carriages" according to the Gentleman's Magazine.

In his will, Robert Chessher left a sum of £1,900 in trust to provide bread and blankets for the poor of Hinckley.

Author: Hugh Beavin

Written for: Hinckley-on-line