Dr Anthony Peat spent his life ‘in incessant toil for the relief of human suffering’. He was ‘the doctor of all classes, and his kindness to the poor was a notable feature of his character’.
Some 200 hundred years after his birth, I hopped on a bus to see how the folk ‘of all classes’ who ‘loved and esteemed him’ paid tribute to this fine Cumbrian Character.
Dr Anthony Peat, the Workington obelisk
Yesterday, an obelisk of polished Dalbeattie granite, executed.. at a cost of £279, and erected in Portland Square, Workington, was unvelied by Mr William Fletcher, of Brigham Hill, in the presence of an assemblage of several thousand people, formed chiefly of the inhabitants of Workington. The monument, which is of a plain character, is 23 feet in height from the base, the length of the shaft being 13 feet.
So wrote the Carlisle Journal, on Tuesday June 28, 1881.
A committee of 12 had overseen the collection of funds, commission and so on of the obelisk. And its unveiling was a huge occasion for the town.
Shops and businesses closed for the afternoon, and there was a big parade, whose ranks included Workington Rifle Band, Workington Rifles, Oddfellows, St. John’s Drum and Fife Band, Forresters, Free Gardeners, West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company’s Drum and Fife Band, St Michael and Joseph Sick and Benefit Society, and West Cumberland Brass Band.
Crowds lined the streets and filled Portland Square, where William Fletcher made a speech before the unveiling.
In it, he asked (and answered): what was so special about Dr Anthony Peat?
Dr Anthony Peat – who was he?
Anthony Peat was born on August 31, 1819. The first son of John Peat and Margaret, née Fletcher. John Peat had, five years earlier, inherited Salmon Hall, Seaton, from his father (another Anthony). John died in 1838, leaving Salmon Hall to Margaret – Anthony was still a minor. But when Anthony came of age, he chose a different path in life.
In 1841, he passed his exams at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
And by 1851, he was renting accommodation in Portland Square, Workington. He was still doing so when he died on June 4, 1877 – the memorial obelisk is almost directly in front of number 11, where he was listed as a boarder.
Anthony Peat had interests beyond his work as a doctor. He was a good shot, and held a volunteer commission with 7th Cumberland Rifles (Workington). In 1851, he was president of Workington Oddfellows, and a member of Workington Cricket Club. He was also a leading supporter of Workington Mechanics’ Institute.
Workington Mechanics’ Institute
Anthony Peat’s support of this institution is part of why he was ‘loved and esteemed by all classes’. For mechanics institutes were set up to provide ‘the working man’ with opportunities to improve his lot. They housed lending libraries, lecture theatres, class rooms and laboratories. (You can read more here).
In 1864, Dr Anthony Peat was chairing a ‘Penny Reading’ in the Assembly Room at Workington Mechanics Institute. A lot of people were present to hear him say it was mistake to say that the working classes were not fond of reading—they were fond of reading, but the books they perused “showed low and vitiated taste. They were full of murder, horrors, and sentimental nonsense.”
In the library of the Mechanics they could get the works of the greatest dramatists and novelists of the past and present age, as well as works of a higher or instructive character; and he hoped that these readings, so numerously attended as they were, would impart a healthier tone, and more elevated standard to the reading of the public.
He urged those present to remember the speakers and singers were amateurs. They came forward to promote a good cause, for the benefit of the public generally, and the labouring classes particularly. It was, therefore, neither just nor expedient to direct against them, either in letters to newspapers or in any other way, severe, sarcastic, or ironical criticism.
The audience then heard a mix of songs and readings from Shakespeare and Tennyson.
Dr Anthony Peat, doctor and surgeon
At the unveiling of the obelisk memorial, William Fletcher (a magistrate and coal owner) asked why the townsfolk so mourned the loss of his old friend.
- Was it his manly and genial presence which always made him welcome In every circle of society?
- Was it his vigorous common sense which brought to bear upon every topic that came up, and his hearty and out-spoken contempt for everything that was mean or hypocritical?
- Was it his great natural abilities, which would certainly have enabled him make a figure for himself In any walk of life!
- Was it his unfailing fund of wit and anecdote?
- Was It the extent of his professional relations, so great that I have no doubt most of you had the benefit his services?
- Was it his warm sympathy with education and with social self-improvement?
- Or was it a similar sympathy with the volunteer movement of Workington, of which he was a promoter, and which produced this fine corps of which we are all so proud? (cheers).
Well yes, but there was more.
Another and crowning characteristic remains to be mentioned and that was his untiring devotion to the dicates of duty.
In season and out of season, by night and by day, indifferent weather, utterly regardless of his own health and comfort, he was always ready at the call of duty (Cheers.)
l am sure I do not go too far when I add that it was upon the altar of duty that at last he laid down his life. (cheers.)
This devotion to duty included treating patients during cholera outbreaks in Workington in 1847 and 1866.
After the outbreak of 1847, he brought a government inspector to the town to show him the primitive methods of collecting fresh water and emptying sewage in to the same water course – a move which eventually led to massive improvements (source) .
The lost memorial
The Portland Square obelisk wasn’t the only tribute to Dr Anthony Peat. There was also a stained glass window in the parish church and a brass tablet on the wall. (And a monument in Camerton churchyard, where his body was buried). Sadly, there was a fire in St Michael’s Church, Workington, in January 1887. Soon ‘the whole edifice was a fiery furnace’. The brass plate was later salvaged from the ruins, but the stained glass window was, not surprisingly, destroyed in the blaze.