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Dr Frederick Robert Spackman (1820-1892)

Harpenden physician from c.1851-1891

Dr Frederick Robert Spackman was born in 1820, the son of Robert Spackman, a surgeon in Lutterworth, near Leicester. He obtained his licence from the Society of Apothecaries in 1840, membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1842, his London M.B. in the same year and his M.D. in 1856. He was consultant physician at St Albans Hospital and in Harpenden took over the practice of Dr Kingston. From the gravestones, it seems that Dr Spackman’s first wife was Harriet Mary. No memorial to her remains but she is recorded as the mother of a Harriet Mary who died in 1846. The child Harriet is described as the eldest daughter of Frederick and Harriet and shares the grave with her sister.

The second wife was Caroline Harriet Johnson and she came from Lutterworth too, and was most likely married there [in 1844 – see Comment below]. In 1851 there were three children in the family:  Harriet aged 4, Frederick aged 3 and Johnson 10 months. The baby is undoubtedly Caroline’s but the elder two were probably from the first marriage [see Comment below]

Batchelor’s Row, Church Green – DS-HC 60

In 1851, the Spackmans were neighbours of Helen Brash, the Tea Dealer and Grocer, who used to hold penny readings in her house. We know that she used to live in one of the cottages on Church Green, known as Batchelor Row, and if that is where she was in 1851, and it seems very likely, then the Spackmans were also somewhere there before they moved to Bowers House, which must have been soon after the census.

Bowers House, watercolour by Ernest Hasseldine in 1935, probably from a postcard – DS-HC 125

Caroline had four more children, but three of them did not reach maturity. Jane Sawbridge, the cook, seems to have come to Harpenden with Caroline. There is a rather touching memorial to her in the churchyard which describes her as a “faithful servant and true friend for upwards of 68 years in the service of the Johnson and Spackman family” and she must have been very much missed when she died at the age of 83. Caroline died in 1859 when she was 43 and her father and husband gave the stained glass window in the south transept of the rebuilt church in her memory.

The incident of the horse and cart stuck in Cock Pond, probably took place in Dr Spackman’s time. DS-HC 180

At the time of the 1861 census, Dr Spackman and four little children were living at Bowers and being cared for by Mary, his sister. Mary was married in 1863 and about this time too, the doctor married again. His third wife, Eliza Jane, was born in Grahamstown, Cape Colony. None of Caroline’s children had been baptized at Harpenden. As her father was a clergyman, perhaps they were taken to his church for him to perform the ceremony. The six children of Eliza Jane, however, were christened there. By all accounts it was a very happy family.

“A wise physician”

North end of Bowers House – Dr Blake is known to have used this part of the house as his surgery, and he installed gaslights. Possibly Dr Spackman also saw his patients in this wing of the house. – Credit: R Ross, April 2013

Dr Spackman was described as “a wise physician and a kind and faithful personal friend. All who knew him honoured him for his true liberality of sentiment and action, his high minded honour and integrity and his fidelity to a lofty standard of duty in every relation of life. None could find admission to the circle of the family without feeling that reverence and love for the head of the family that animated and guided all and made the home peculiarly happy”.

Apart from his ministrations to the sick, Dr Spackman played his part in village life, serving on various committees, such as that of the Lecture Institute and Reading Club, and most of his children and no doubt his wife, took an active part in the social welfare work in the village. Harriet, the eldest daughter, was prominent in a number of organizations and was Secretary of the Girls Friendly Society for 18 years. When she died in 1915 a brass tablet on the wall of the St Nicholas Chapel and the alter rails, were given by that Society in her memory. Rose married Dr Warington and was a well-loved step-mother to his children, and Etheldreda married Canon Vaughan’s curate, the Rev Colin J Creed.

Alice Spackman’s school

Alice was the one who went to Cheltenham College then trained as a teacher and ran the school at Bowers House. There were only a few children to begin with, three in fact, and it is very pleasing to record that two of these little girls were still living in Harpenden (in 1975) remained great friends and very fond of each other.

Later the school flourished and “Miss Alice” enlisted the help of her youngest sister Gertrude, and a friend who used to drive over from Mackereye End each day. Denis Wilson (brother of Theodora Wilson) “began a new phase by entering as a scholar at Alice Spackman’s school for little boys and girls on Thursday September 22nd [1892].” (Theodora’s Journals, p.62).

One of the sons, Oscar, went to Canada, became a farmer and was a very hard man to work for. So said a local man who accepted the offer of a job there with him, but he did not stay very long. In 1879 Dr Spackman took on a young assistant, Dr William Henry Blake, who later went into partnership with him and eventually took over the practice. Dr Spackman retired in 1891 and after a long and painful illness, he died in 1892. His wife lived until 1900.

Comments about this page

  • From my family history research I can add more information about Frederick and his second wife and family:

    Frederick was christened 6.8.1819 in Lutterworth. He married Caroline Harriot/Harriet Johnson in Lutterworth in 1844.

    I have found the following children who must have been Frederick and Caroline’s. They were born between 1844-1859:

    1. HARRIET MARY christened 14.7.1846 in Harpenden; died a Spinster 1915 St Albans Registration.
    2. FREDERIC HENRY christened 24.2.1848 in Harpenden, died in 1880 in Redruth.
    3. JOHNSON WOLSEY christened 19.7.1850 in Claybrook, Leicestershire, died 1927 St Albans Registration.
    4. ANNA MARIA ISABELLA  christened 15.1.1852 in Harpenden and died in 1856 Harpenden.
    5. ROBERT WILLIAM christened 1.9.1853 in Harpenden. There is a Robert who died 1856 St Albans Registration.
    6. SELINA LOUISA REBECCA christened 11.7.1855. Died 1934 East Preston Sussex.  Selina married Robert Mather on 7.2.1893 in Harpenden. Robert was born 1835 in Northumberland, He died 1902 East Preston Sussex.
    7. ANNIE ROUSE BOUGHTON christened 28.10.1857 in Harpenden; died 1937 St Alban’s Registration. Annie was a Spinster. NB Caroline’s mother was a Rouse Boughton.
    By Christine Brunsden (19/08/2015)
  • How chuffed I was upon reading the article of Helen Brash, tea dealer and grocer in Harpenden. I laughed at the idea of her reading teacups in her house for 1 penny. True Scotsman! Helen was my 2x Great Grandmother, whom I have learned much about since doing my family tree. Thank you , Dorothy

    By D Madderson (26/08/2013)

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