Great Yarmouth tribute to the Queen’s doctor who lived his motto ‘work itself is a pleasure’

PUBLISHED: 14:31 06 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:31 06 January 2014

Blue plaque unveiled on South Quay in Great Yarmouth to Sir James Paget at the same time as the town celebrates 200 years since he was born.
The mayor John Burroughs with Hugh Sturzaker.

Picture: James Bass

Blue plaque unveiled on South Quay in Great Yarmouth to Sir James Paget at the same time as the town celebrates 200 years since he was born. The mayor John Burroughs with Hugh Sturzaker. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

Born the son of a brewer and later made a baronet by his patient, Queen Victoria, Sir James Paget is one of Great Yarmouth’s most famous sons.

Today a blue plaque marking the site where he was born was unveiled on South Quay. The occasion kick-started a fortnight of events celebrating the bicentenary of Paget’s birth.

Speaking before the Mayor of Yarmouth, Councillor John Burroughs, unveiled the plaque, retired consultant surgeon Hugh Sturzaker paid tribute to Paget and legacy he left behind.

“Sir James was dedicated to his work and had great compassion for his patients,” said Mr Sturzaker, a governor at the James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, author of a new book on Paget and organiser of the bicentenary events.

“He emphasised the importance of cleanliness on the wards and treating patients with care.

“He introduced the subject of science into the art of medicine and, I think, one of the greatest things about him was his motto ‘work itself is a pleasure’.”

Paget’s memorable motto now features on the blue plaque installed at 100 South Quay. It has been installed on the site of Paget’s family which was demolished in 1941 after it was damaged during the second world war.

Paget’s name, however, lives on - in Paget Row that runs behind South Quay and the Gorleston hospital named in his honour, as well as several conditions he discovered during his medical career.

Paget was born at 57 South Quay into a prosperous family. He was one of 18 children, only eight of whom survived to adulthood.

Sir James Paget (1814-1899)

Sir James Paget was born on January 11, 1814, the fifth son of Samuel and Sarah.

At 16 began a five-year apprenticeship with Dr Charles Costerton, a surgeon-apothecary with premises in Hall Quay, Yarmouth. He attended Norfolk lectures on anatomy, later describing them as equal to any he attended in London.

In 1834, he moved to the capital to train at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, paid for by his brother George, and at age of 22 passed the surgical trainee examination.

His career path has been described as “somewhat unorthodox” - his apprenticeship in Yarmouth left him without the patronage of a known London surgeon. Instead Paget was worked his way up; attending ward rounds with senior doctors and performing post mortem examinations in his spare time.

It was during his training in London that he discovered, using a microscope borrowed from the Natural History Museum, worm larvae in the body of a patient who had died from a feverish illness. The discovery of Trichinella spiralis was linked to unhealthy pork and Paget campaigned for diseased meat to be banned.

After qualifying, his family hoped he would return to work in Yarmouth, but Paget had his sights set on working at St Bartholomew’s and began a small practice while he waited for a place to open up.

It was during this time he became engaged to Lydia North, the woman who became his wife of more than 50 years.

In 1837, Paget was appointed curator of St Bartholomew’s Museum and earned £100 per year. It was not a high wage and Paget, the model of a Victorian man, was frugal - he went without dinner every Friday night and would to send money back to his family, who had fallen on harder times, in Yarmouth.

He married Lydia in 1844 and went on to have five children.

In 1847, Paget finally became a surgeon at St Bartholomew’s and later surgeon extraordinary to Queen Victoria.

He retired from the hospital in 1871 aged 57 following a blood poisoning illness, but continued with his private practice and in the same year was made a baronet.

An article in Vanity Fair in 1876 summed up the influential role he had come to fill.

“He is universally accepted as one of the very eminent men of his profession,” it read.

“He is shy and retiring to the extend of excess, but he is well known to be much admired by many thousands of proprietors of damaged frames.”

His father, Samuel, was a successful shipping merchant and brewer who supplied the Roya Navy with food and drink.

Educated in Yarmouth, young Paget planned to join the Navy but at 16 became an apprentice to a local surgeon.

He trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London where he went on to become one of the country’s most influential surgeons, often referred to as the father of British pathology.

He was a respected author and teacher as well as physician to Queen Victoria for 41 years.

In later life, Paget continued to visit Yarmouth - he had supported his family after they fell on harder times, and in 1888 opened a new hospital in his hometown.

He died in London in 1899, two weeks before his 86th birthday and his funeral was held at Westminster Abbey presided by one of his sons, by then Bishop of Oxford.

Events to celebrate his life and links to Norfolk will include a Paget Conference at the Burrage Centre at the JPH this Saturday; a dinner at Great Yarmouth Town Hall where guests include 92-year-old Sir Julian Paget, fourth baronet; a civic service at Yarmouth Minster led by the Bishop of Norwich this Sunday; and free exhibitions at both the Minster and the Burrage Centre.

For details on the conference or dinner this Saturday, January 11, email or contact Mr Sturzaker, c/o Department of Surgery, James Paget University Hospital, Lowestoft Road, Gorleston NR31 6LA.

Mr Sturzaker’s new book, Sir James Paget: Surgeon Extraordinary and His Legacies, is on sale from bookshops and Amazon as a hardback (13.99) and paperback (£7.99).

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