Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 26, 2017.
Webpage updated: July 26, 2017




The Plymouth Public Dispensary in Catherine Street was supported by voluntary subscriptions and had for its objective the relief with medical advice and medicine, the sufferings of the industrious poor of the Borough and neighbourhood who were unable to pay the costs of such relief for themselves.   Its service did not include paupers.  

Its origins lay in the Plymouth Medical Society, which was founded in 1794 largely at the instigation of Doctor Robert Remmett and Doctor Charles Yonge.

Their Dispensary opened on November 13th 1798 at the Mayoralty House in Woolster Street.  Three months later it moved to Howe's Lane in the house of a Mr Cleverton. In April 1801 the cowpox inoculation was given to smallpox cases.

In 1804 a garden in Catherine Street was purchased for 234 17s but work did not start on erecting new premises until Doctor Charles Yonge died in 1807 and left them 1,000 in trust.  The Dispensary was opened in 1809.

Following the cholera outbreak in 1831, it was decided to erect a hospital on land previously a cherry garden in Sussex Place, Notte Street.  It was to be the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital and Plymouth Public Dispensary but legal reasons prevented the amalgamation and it continued as only the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital.

What was considered to be a major development in the working of the Dispensary took place in September 1878: it was divided in to two departments.  The original "charity" side continued to provide 'gratuitous medical relief of poor persons who are unable to defray the expenses of procuring advice and medicines for themselves, and who are not in receipt of parish pay.'  The new activity was called the "Provident Department", whereby those members of the working classes, including domestic servants, who were unable to pay doctors' fees but who did not want to turn to charity, could pay monthly subscription towards their medical costs.

Two medical officers were engaged to provide the service: Mr R Hughes, MB, Cantab., on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, at 2pm and Mr E H Edlin, FRCS Edin., on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays at the same time.

Anyone over the age of 14 years paid 5d per month.  A father or a mother, plus all their children under 14 years of age paid 10d per month.  A family of father, mother and children under 14 paid 1s 3d per month.   And it was no good joining just when you got ill because in those circumstances the charge was five shillings plus a month's subscription.

In a situation where a member was so ill that they could not get to the Dispensary, they could have their membership card sent to the home of one of the medical officers and as long as it was there before 9am they would receive a home visit that day.  Working men who would suffer a loss of wages through attending the Dispensary during the afternoon could get advice direct from one of the medical officers at home.

People living outside the Borough boundary, i.e. north of Townsend Hill or in Devonport, Stonehouse and Plympton, could join for 1d less per subscription but had no right to a home visit.

The premises still exist in Catherine Street.