As I get older, I tend to want less clutter in my life. There was a time when I would obsessively hang onto all sorts of rubbish in the hope that it would come in handy, someday! Perhaps it’s the sort of wisdom that comes with being 53. I say to my family, when I pop my clogs(well, DM’s, Cowboy boots or Vans actually!)there won’t be a great deal of rubbish to haul away, always a dreadful task when someone close sheds their mortal coil. With this in mind, probably for the past four years I’ve been rummaging through all my stuff, performing what I call a “life enema” and could probably fill my flat twice over again with all the stuff I’ve given or thrown away! And it feels good……
So earlier in the year I was sorting through one of the numerous boxes I’ve been trying to get to grips with in my loft. And in this particular box I found a letter from my Nan Moore(Layzell)and judging by it’s contents I’d say it was written around 1975. My regular readers will already know about this amazing woman, via the Bostock and Wombwell piece. Her Mother was Eliza Wombwell, who was the niece of George Wombwell, the famous menagerist.
It’s an amazing letter, not just because of her writing style which is prim and proper. At one point she admonishes me for having “shoulder length hair”, and tells me that you are either “a man or a woman”, and that fellows who wear their hair long are “show offs and not gentlemen”, and that she “detests sissys”!!! I don’t know or recall why, perhaps I asked about the man, but a good deal of the letter is about Dr John Salter, who delivered not only my Pa, but his brother John too, and was the family Doctor. Indeed John Henry was said to have delivered over seven thousand children in the Dengies. Salter was a larger than life character, his hobbies and pursuits, tho’ numerous, favoured hunting and shooting, and he would regularly visit Russia in search of bears and wolves and various big birds, and was great friends and shot with the Tsar. In Wentworth Day’s “Farming Adventure” he recalls an entry in Salter’s journal when whilst John Henry was living in Tolleshunt D’arcy he shot a Peregrine Falcon in his back garden! Dr John shot 62,504 beasts and birds, between 1865 and 1925, some of which ended up as the “Salter collection” in Chelmsford museum. He is described as one of the greatest hunters that ever lived, but it’s also said he was a very compassionate man.
Nan said Dr Salter had a glass eye. She said that obviously that kind of prosthetic was, in those days, fairly primitive. Apparently JH was boxing with what he called “a big brown gypsy at the knock ’em downs”(a side show at the Derby day race course in 1862)and as a result of a blow he started to go blind in his right eye and could no longer be a surgeon, a profession in which he was expected to excel. Nan said JH’s glass eye used to scare the children locally!
The Doctor lived at D’arcy house, and Nan said he’d bought the first Spice apple tree back from abroad, from which many grafts were taken, to make the D’arcy spice one of the more popular apples in Essex. John was a keen gardener, indeed he was working on a rockery, moving huge stones around mere weeks before his death. Nan describes John as a very forthright man, and made no bones about telling his patients to work harder if he thought they were “putting it on”. Winter was a time of real hardship for the seafaring folk of the Dengies, and not only would John treat the poorest people for free any time of day or night(he made up for it by charging his more wealthy patients, like my Nan’s grand parents apparently, a higher fee, )but he’d also send food parcels to very poor families. Nan describes Dr Salter as a “very wonderful gentleman” and said that “everything he did was wonderful”, and was obviously extremely fond of the man. She mentions a writer that Sir Barnes recently turned me on to, James Wentworth Day(a wildfowler like JH, also a ghost hunter!), as having written much about Salter tho’ most of it she said was fabrication, and that her and her second husband Jim Moore thought he was a big head and didn’t like the man. I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying “Farming Adventure” by Wentworth Day, some of his words are very romantic and poetic. I think the reason why Nan didn’t like Wentworth Day was because she said he thought he was the only person who really knew Dr John, also called “the Essex sportsman” by my Grandmother. and she obviously knew better.
Apparently John Henry had a run in with my notorious great Grandfather, Willie Layzell,(more about Willie at a later date, I hope) who worked on Lipton’s yacht. Dr Salter told Willie he’d be better off working the land rather than going to sea, as every time he came home from a voyage him and Eliza made a baby. I can just see the look on Willie’s face, all bright red and flustered, because William was no doubt a very forthright gentleman too, but respect for Doctor Salter made him bite his tongue!
Nan describes her Uncle George Wombwell(who kept the King’s Head in Tollesbury)challenging Dr John to a horse race from the pub to Champion hall in Totham. George was convinced he would win the race, and placed a large wager as a result. Of course JH being an expert horseman(even bareback)thrashed George and won a tidy sum. And with mention of Champion hall, Nan said Dr Salter was a great friend, and regularly boxed with Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny.
After many years as a brilliant Doctor, Magistrate, marksman, horseman, dog breeder and outstanding sportsman, John Henry Salter shed his mortal coil on the 17th of April 1932 aged 91. It’s said that prior to his passing a few of his patients visited him on his deathbed, because they said his voice(which Nan describes as “rather gruff”)gave them comfort. Nan said she was very upset when she heard JH had died, but that he had “earned his rest”……
Thankfully Doctor Salter kept a journal all of his life. It was edited by J O Thompson and published as a book called “Dr Salter, his diary and reminiscences 1849-1932” and is a fascinating read.
But what of this flamboyant fellow Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny?