Dr John Salter.

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?

22 Responses to “Dr John Salter.”

  1. Another very interesting piece of work from you Ter, I well remember Nan’s hatred of mens long hair, especially as Jed had a very short back and sides army cut at the time and she thought it was a “mans” hair cut! Dear Nan,what stories and memories we could depend on her for. Glad you found all that info on Dr Salter, I must find his book.

  2. Thought you might like to know my Grandmother worked for Dr. Salter and I have a lovelly silver sugar dish engraved from him to her. Her name was Clara Cottis who eventually married Alfred South also of Tolleshunt Darcy. My Grandmother lived at Hill Farm at the time. I also have one of the silver cups he won with his dogs. I live at the back of the museum in Chelmsford and the bear he shot in Russia is still there as you may well know. My Grandmother used to hug this every night before she went home. I would have loved to have met him in person. I have been trying for years to get hold of his diary and hence have come across your piece on him which I found fascinating.

  3. Pat and I have been talking via email, this is one of them:

    “I will take a photo of the silver and a Tunbridgeware cabinet that apparently my mother told me was Mrs. Salter’s Jewel Box. It really is lovely. My husband John was Caretaker of Chelmsford Museum and informs me now that not all of his collection is in the Museum. He seems to recollect that some went to Colchester and some to Stratford. I have a great photo of Dr. Salter in his gun room with some of his collection of animals.
    My grandmother says that she had to hold a patient’s head when he was pulling a tooth out and she used to make all sorts of noises and Dr. Salter said to her “this is hurting you more than the patient!!” She was also given a dressing table set by one of Mrs. Salter’s lady visitors whose husband went on an expedition to Spitsbergen and she thought he would not return so she had an affair. The gentleman in question gave her this dressing table set and when she discovered her husband was coming home she asked my grandmother to take it. Sounds great fun and games doesnt it? He had a spaniel called Pat and I often wondered if I was named after that!!! I have always wanted to have a poke about in his house and feel the atmosphere. We do sometimes pop and visit his grave in the little cemetary from time to time.
    He used to have as my grandmother called them “The Big Five” from Scotland Yard come and stay for duck shooting. I have a sketch by one of them up in my loft of the marshes. I really don’t know who “The Big Five” were – any ideas? I think the sketch is by someone called “Smith” from my memory. I dont know many stories about him only that he went shooting with the Csar of Russia and my grandmother thought it was because of the Csar’s son was hemophiliac.

    I did meet Wentworth-Day before he died – I am a Consultant’s Secretary at the local Hospital and Wentworth-Day gave a talk on local ghosts one evening. I spoke to him and he remembered my grandmother and of course Dr. Salter. He told me to see his Secretary who had a copy of the Diary but I never liked to impose as I think he went a bit mad and used to wander around naked in his garden so my Surgeon told me!!!”
    Thanks Pat, and full credit goes to you for the wonderful photos of Dr Salter in his gun room.
    I’ve also been told Stephen Nunn, a renowned Maldon historian has written a paper about the good Doctor. I’m hoping I can make it available on line with a link.
    I’m also trying to find out where the good Doctor’s collection went after a rather disappointing visit to Chelmsford museum.
    Watch this space……

  4. Is “Dr Salter, his diary and remininscenses 1849-1932” available anywhere? Please reply to paulandros@hotmail.co.uk

    Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny’s memoirs can be found here -http://www.archive.org/stream/memoirsofsirclau00chamrich#page/n7/mode/2up
    He also wrote “Forty years of a sportsmans life” to be found on the same website.
    Both he and Dr Salter seem to represent an amazing human spirit that we seem to have lost.

  5. I’ve just been re-reading bits of Salter’s diaries as I’m writing some cycling reminiscences of 55 odd years ago when I rode from London to gawp at Darcy House. Apart from all his successful career and sporting achievements he was the biggest funny handshaker for miles around. Apparently his qualifications in that respect put him fourth in line to God after Schubert and Beethoven. Salter’s obituary in the Essex Chronicle is a good read. It is stated there that his eye went in a shooting accident and that he fought Jem Mace in bareknuckle days. He also went to witness one of the last public hangings. Sick.
    I do not suppose for one moment that I tell you anything new but Salter’s successor at D’arcy House was thriller writer Margery Allingham. I am not one for whodunnits or modern novelists possibly excepting Dorothy Sayers but Allingham wrote one non fiction work which I greatly admire and which coincidentally has just been re-published in a better edition than any before. It is “The Oaken Heart”
    and describes in great detail life in Tolleshunt during the last war-written as it was happening. A very valuable work indeed. Salter is mentioned many times .

    In addition to Salter my shelves also hold both editions of De Crespigny’s autobiography. He was a great steeplechaser and pioneer balloonist. In crespigny both the s and the g are silent like the P in bath. Regards Dave T.

  6. Just a word in defence of your nan’s opinion of Wentworth Day: my dad knew him too and had a similarly poor opinion of the man.

    Amazing that this old character Salter delivered your dad.

    I wrote a bit about him when I did my Village Visit feature for the East Anglian Daily Times a few years ago. You’ve mentioned just about all the facts I wrote about apart from two: during his lifetime he owned a total of 2,696 dogs, of which he had bred 2,123 himself; and between 1888 and 1931 he won 1,400 prizes for his horticultural specimens (although the three gardeners he employed at D’Arcy House may have had a hand in that).

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

  7. About the Salter stuffed animals collection, you probably remember the old Maldon Museum, as it used to be when it was housed in premises above Matthews seed merchants (you probably stumbled up the stairs to the museum after picking up half a pound of hemp seeds – fishing bait of course – from Matthews).

    Anyway, a proportion of Salter’s stuffed animals were up there. They probably moved with the museum when it went to Spindles in the 1980s. But I would be rather surprised if the iconoclastic neophytes who ousted Cath Backus as chairman of the museum committee didn’t take them down the dump and chuck them in a skip while moving the museum to its current location.

    Another batch of stuffed animals went to the Natural History Museum in Colchester, I think. Some were displayed as part of a set of tableaux depicting local wildlife habitats. I think some are probably still there. However, that kind of thing went out of favour a long time ago as it’s not in keeping with the modern museum ethos (a bit of a contradiction in terms really). Also I suspect lots of the animules probably began to get a bit moth-eaten. So it’s probably not surprising that not much of the collection is still on show.

  8. I am at this time working on a web site for Tolleshunt D’Arcy. I have really found this web site so interesting as I am sure many more of the newer residents of D’Arcy would too. Can anyone help with any pictures or information that I can add to the history page. Ideally I would love to do a link to this website Terence. would this be possible?

  9. I imagine wildlife in general must have breathed a large sigh of relief when Dr. Salter died.

  10. Ha ha! Yeah. If he’d lived another 50 years there might not be any animals left at all!

  11. Hi Just been reading the Diary Of Dr. J H Salter. So decided to have a look see what was on the net regarding him. Came across your site. The book was part of a lot I bought at Reeman Dansie Auctions in Colchester. Yes it states in there JHS had glass eye. Also confirms he was a hunting shooting fishing man, went to Russia, met so many people and lived a very full life. Staunch Mason.

  12. I have just this month moved into Tolleshunt D’Arcy and so have been researching the village and it’s history. We have moved into a very charming house almost opposite D’Arcy House. I had better finish the unpacking very soon as your website has certainly whetted my appetite and I can see I shall be reading for weeks to come. What a character J H S seems to have been and I really hope I can track down a copy of his journal very soon. Now that I have discovered your website I will continue to ‘dip in’
    Thank you

  13. Please could you call me urgently on XXXX – I want to write about the great hunter for my newspaper! Steve

  14. My interest in Dr. Salter’s diaries may seem a bit unusual, having been drawn to one single entry Dr. Salter made in the year 1859. I am an American baseball historian, and my particular field of interest is the English origin of the game. Baseball, as is not commonly known in your country or mine, originated in England in the 18th century. American baseball and the game of rounders are both descendants of this original, little-remembered English form of baseball.

    Dr. Salter’s diary entry for Aug. 2nd, 1859 describes his participation as a young man in an outdoors excursion that included various sporting activities, as well as a stolen romantic moment with his beloved Laura. The sports and games played during that outing included archery, cricket, bat-and-trap, and base-ball. Given the relatively early date, it seems certain that the form of baseball engaged was the original English version of the game.

    Dr. Salter was obviously a remarkable man, and his diaries appear to hold something of interest for almost everyone.

  15. D’Arcy House is unusual, having TWO Blue Plaques: Salter’s & Allingham’s. Dr Salter was President of the Colchester Medical Society in 1871 & 1883. Sadly JO Thompson did not include any medical information in editing the diaries, which would have made fascinating reading today. Regrettably they will remain unread because a stray German bomb obliterated the author, his house and diaries in Chelmsford in 1940.
    Dr FF Casale Archivist

  16. Just to clarify, does anyone know whether JO Thompson’s house was in Romford or Chelmsford? And it was Thompson, and not Wentworth Day, that took possession of the diaries, some 80 volumes all told……

  17. I am also interested in Dr Salter and have some old photographs of the doctor and of his home.

    The archivist of Chelmsford museum told me that they held Dr Salter’s collection for some time, until most of this was sadly destroyed in a fire. However, thankfully, some of the collection did survive and is housed in the museum’s storerooms. They also have copies of parts of some of Dr Salter’s original diaries.

  18. Looking through The Laindon Lodge of Freemasons 75th Anniversary summons I was intriged to find out who Dr J.H.Salter was and where he was located as he was the Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Essex in 1930.
    After turning to the computor for more infomation I came across this website which has answered many questions about J.H.Salter he must have been an incredible character as he was 89 years old when on the 29th of November 1930 he came across Essex to Hutton Masonic and performed a large part in the ceremony of consecration of the new Laindon Lodge which in those days would have taken up a large part of his day and late into the evening. Paul Gibson.

  19. My grandparents spoke of Dr Salter and had three silver mounted horn mugs which were his and I imagine came from his house sale. I admired these when a small boy and they eventually came to me upon their demise. My grandparents died in the late 1960’s.

  20. Researching Sussex spaniels I came across Dr Salters diary entries published from Oct 1949 in serialised form in the ‘Essex Newsman Herald’ available on line via a subscription website. RE his eye – On Derby Day June 4th 1862 Dr Salter records being involved in an altercation with a ‘big brown gypsy’ at the ‘Knock ’em downs’ a fight that included others as well. The next day he says his ‘black eyes and smashed nose stood out very well’. On June 21st he records his right eye as going blind.

  21. Thanks for your comment and I’m publishing it so people know they can access Salter’s diaries online.

    I’m assuming as you repeat a part of my article that perhaps you didn’t read it as thoroughly as you might?

    I quote Salter when I say a “big brown ‘un”.



  22. Are there any books available to buy about the great man Sir Henry Salter, what an incredible individual

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