Edward Tallent was baptised on 9 Jan 1801, the son of Thomas Tallent Jnr and his wife Mary (née Burton). The register of Saxlingham Nethergate with Thorpe in Norfolk shows that he had been privately baptised before being received into the church on 26 July that year. This may indicate that his life was thought to be in danger soon after he was born.

The Medical Directory of 1860 shows that he qualified as a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries  in 1822 and became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons the following year.

Pigot’s Directory of 1830 showed him living in the High Street. On 23 August 1831, he married Elizabeth Winckworth at Old St Pancras in London.[1] Later censuses show that she was two years older than him and had been born in London in the parish of St Mary Somerset. On the Tithe Apportionment Survey map in 1837 he is occupying plot no 488 which was owned by Thomas Tyrwhitt Drake and lay opposite the end of Cherry Lane. The 1841 census finds the couple living in Amersham High Street and Edward has an apprentice surgeon, William Carpenter, 25, also in the house. In 1864 William Guest Carpenter is listed as a surgeon in Amersham and later went into partnership with Edward Tallent.[2]

Tallent’s appointment as Medical Officer to the Union House and to Amersham Parish dated from June 1835 and he was earning £113 a year from the two contracts.[3] Such appointments were sought after, especially by medical practitioners trying to establish themselves in a district, as they had a certain prestige and also brought in a steady income.

His tenure did not always go smoothly. On 12 January 1841 Mr Tallent attended a meeting of the Board of Guardians in order to complain about the conduct of the master, Mr Ellis. Tallent alleged that he had ill-treated one of the inmates, Diana Russell, and flouted his orders about the diets of sick paupers. The matter was investigated but it was decided that there was insufficient evidence that ill-treatment had led to the inmate’s illness and that no unnecessary violence had been used towards her.  The dietary requirements had been observed. Dianna Russell, a child of 10, is listed in the 1841 census.

The quality and type of medical care given to the paupers in the infirmary depended very much on co-operation between the medical officer and the nurse. A mystery surrounds the resignation of a nurse, Jane Birks, in 1846. She had previously worked for three years at the Wolstanton and Burslem Union in Staffordshire for three years and had good references. She was a widow aged 35 and with experience in the job and yet she stayed only three months at Amersham before resigning on 9 January 1846. The reason for her resignation was given as incompetence.[4] It is not unknown for employers who want to be rid of an employee to give them a good reference in order to move them on but here the reason for this abrupt downgrading may lie in friction between the nurse and medical officer. With no universally accepted standards for training Mrs Birks may have followed the practices she had learnt in a previous post only to find that they were unacceptable in her next job.

In 1849 Edward Tallent was involved in a more bitter and prolonged quarrel with the Master of the Workhouse, who by then was Mr Sanders. A very long letter was printed in the Bucks Chronicle, 17 November 1849, p 4. The writer, named only as ‘A Lover of Justice and Truth’, was deploring the fact that complaints had been made against John Sanders by Edward Tallent, the Medical Officer.

By-passing the Board of Guardians, Mr Tallent had complained direct to the Poor Law Board in London, which made the whole matter much more serious. The Bucks Chronicle and Bucks Gazette of 8 December 1849 (p 4) gave more detail of the charges, which were that Mr Sanders had for some time employed men and boys, whilst pauper inmates of the workhouse, to attend cattle on land occupied by Mr Sanders and that food for the cattle was being supplied from the stores of the Union.

They established that William Neale, a long-term inhabitant of the workhouse, for two or three weeks, was sent early in the morning to see to a milch cow and some weaning calves in a field about a mile away from the workhouse and that William Neale for this purpose sometimes slept away from the House without the Board of Guardians’ knowledge. Two boys, Halsey and Chipps, had also been going out daily to help William Neale, taking with them workhouse provisions for their own use as well as Neale’s.

The board acquitted Sanders of the charges of fraudulent appropriation of workhouse property but could not ‘pass over the grave irregularities in his conduct, as master of the workhouse, and the many infractions of the instructions issued for his guidance, as shown by the evidence adduced at the enquiry; and the board consider that Mr Sanders may be justly held thereby to have forfeited his claim to a continuance in office.’

The Poor Law Board then decided, in view of the many testimonials it had received and the master’s length of service, not to terminate his appointment but to wait until they heard further from the local Board of Guardians. The correspondent who forwarded this report to the newspaper was indignant about the way Mr Sanders had been treated, alleging that Mr Tallent was himself in the habit of similarly taking men out of the House to mow his lawns and perform other little services, which was just as much in contravention of regulations!

The ‘Lover of Justice and Truth’ gave the full text of a memorandum which had been signed by 90 rate-payers and sent to the Poor Law Board.

‘They [Mr & Mrs Sanders] have most ably and efficiently discharged the duties of their office —and , as we believe, have, to the utmost of their power, protected the interests of the rate-payers, and also contributed, by their management, to the comforts of the poor inmates of the union-house — at the same time that they have kept them in a due state of subordination.’

‘That whilst we admit certain acts of indiscretion and irregualarities by Mr Sanders…. we confidently believe there were no mala fides in his motives; and that, in employing the man Neale and the boys at Rushey Meadow , Mr Sanders believed he was only carrrying out the views of the Board of Guardians in finding employment for the boys; as, at the time Mr Sanders took Rushey Meadow, where his cattle afterwards were, he had been directed by the Board of Guardians to hire, or find, a field in the neighbourhood that might be hired, for the employment of the boys, …..but that he was unable to do so.’

The writer refers to other ‘gross misrepresentations’ made by Mr Tallent who had alleged that the Master had lamb on his table at Easter and a fat goose at Christmas. He suspects that Mr Tallent had by-passed the Guardians because he had complained so frequently to them that they were inclined to laugh at him. It is possible that the writer was himself one of the Guardians as he is able to quote the testimonial given earlier that year on 27 February 1849 when the Sanders were applying to the City of London Union:

‘Resolved unanimously —That, during the four years and upwards of their services in this union, Mr and Mrs Sanders have given every satisfaction in the performance of their respective duties; and the board regret that there is any probability of losing their services.’

He is then able to quote Edward Tallent’s own reference for the Sanders, dated 6 March (only 8 months earlier):

‘I have much pleasure in bearing testimony to the competency of Mr John Sanders, as master of the union-house, having had full and frequent opportunites of observing him in his duties during the last five years. He has ever been most ready to to attend to the comforts of the inmates, and his uniformity of good temper has rendered him peculiarly suited to the office.’

During December 1849 the quarrel escalated and several broadsides were fired.

Charlotte Jane Wick(e)s, the schoolmistress, resigned on the 7 December. Unusually she was called before the Board and asked to state the reasons for her resignation so 10 days later she cited ‘the ungentlemanly and overbearing conduct pursued by the Medical Officer towards me’; ‘he has innumerable opportunities of exercising petty tyranny and heaping every species of annoyance and insult upon those under him’. He had apparently written to the Board of Guardians accusing her of neglecting her duities. She was very annoyed that he had sent a child, Elizabeth Collins, back into the school when she had ‘the itch’. As a result several others girls caught it and had to be sent to the infirmary.

She was not the only letter-writer. On 29 December a very long and vehement document came from someone identified only as ‘a servant’ yet who was clearly very literate indeed. Mostly this dwells on the faults of Mr Sanders, allegedly a man of violent temper who flogged the children at any opportunity. The writer also accused the Relieving Officer of being on the take and said ‘the two wives are sisters’. It is unclear which wives are meant and whether Mrs Sanders was being targeted or possibly the Relieving Officer’s wife and the spouse of Frerick Charsley’s clerk. As the letter winds on there is more vehemence than clarity in the accusations.

As it had been impossible to track down the Sanders’ marriage,[5] it seemed worth trying to disentangle what was meant. Amersham’s Relieving Officer in 1851 was William Brooks, living in Whielden Street. His wife Eliza, 38, had been born in York. Checking the births of their two sons born in Amersham in 1848 and 1850 showed that Mrs Brooks had been Eliza Watson before her marriage. That led to their marriage at St Laurence, York, on 14 April 1834 at which one of the witnesses had  been Mary Ann Watson. William Brooks at the time was a Bombardier in the Royal Horse Artillery, which might account for why some of their children had been born in Ireland.

Further searches brought up the marriage of a John Sanders to Mary Ann Watson by banns in St Pancras Church, London on 27 March 1830. At that date no supporting evidence such as age or occupation needed to be recorded, nor does any witness bear the name Sanders, Watson or Brooks, but this is at least very plausible and the breakthrough is owed entirely to one of Mr Tallent’s allegations.

The campaign rumbled on with other letters appeared in the press on 8 December 1849, flanking the Lover of Justice and Truth’s communiction. Firstly ‘A Ratepayer’ dismisses Mr Tallent’s accusations — ‘his malicious motives are too well known to be disguised’. Intriguingly he mentions some kind of demonstartion on 5 November, ‘the Guy and Donkey Cart with the Hog Tub’ which had subsequently been referred to in Punch.  He also praises Mr Sanders for his absolute honesty in always refusing the ‘douceurs’ which his predecessor used to accept, either in the form of a percentage of the bills paid by the Union or half a dozen bottles of wine from the merchant who supplied the Union. ‘A Parishioner’ also described how ‘the neighbourhood had been excited’ by Mr Tallent’s endeavours to bring ‘the poor union-master to ignominy and shame’.

When Mr Tallent’s earlier attempt was dismissed, he brought a second charge on 4 December, according to the Lover of Justice and Truth’s letter of 15 December in the Bucks Chronicle. Mrs Sanders was alleged to have called him ‘a villain’. Her husband, standing in the kitchen with a carving knife in his hand, echoed his wife’s words. The Guardians apparently failed to accept that the Master, who had been cutting up a chicken when Mr Tallent walked into the kitchen, represented the same level of threat as that perceived by the doctor. Mr Sanders apparently said to him ‘You see that disgrace has fallen upon your shoulders instead of mine — I told you it would be so!’ and continued cuttting up the chicken.

The letter also contained an analysis of Mr Tallent’s strategy: ‘Mark the arrangement! He fails, in his first attempt, to prove the master a rogue, and brings his second charge before the Poor Law Board has decided on the first. He signally fails in his second; and, half an hour before the guardians are about to deliberate upon the letter from the Poor Law Board, whether the master is fit to be retained in office or not, he gives the side blow, hoping that the guardians would be gulled into believing him. Truth has, however, again prevailed. No notice is taken of the third charge; and the guardians pass a resolution in favour of the master retaining his office.’

The Lover of Justice and Truth took up his pen again to inform the editor of the Bucks Chronicle of the outcome (see 19 January 1850 p 3, following on from 12 January, p 4). The Poor Law Inspector, Mr Pigott, had had a meeting with the Guardians. He reprimanded all concerned in the affair but left it to the Guardians to decide whether Mr Sanders should continue in office. It seems to have been a frequent strategy of both the Poor Law Board and the local Board of Guardians, when allegations could not be proved, to give all concerned a good fright and then allow them to continue in office.

This brought the sorry affair to a close but probably did little to mend relations. One of Tallant’s grievances was that he had ordered a particular diet for a pauper and the master had cancelled it.  It is easy to see how the two men could disagree in areas such as diet where each felt his word should be law.

1851 High Street aged 50 Tallent was listed as a Member of the College of Surgeons, a Licensed Apothecary and General Practitioner. His wife Elizabeth, then aged 52, had been born in the parish of Middlesex St Mary (given more precisely in 1861 as London St Mary Somerset). By that year he and his wife have moved to his native Norfolk, and he is described more succinctly as a consulting surgeon. The date of the move may be marked by the dissolving of the partnership which had existed between him and William Guest Carpenter, his former apprentice, which took place in July 1857.[6] Carpenter seems to have moved to 50 Finsbury Square, London, and to have been declared bankrupt by April 1861.[7]

A previous partnership with Thomas Beath Christie had been dissolved on 7 March 1855.[8] Whether the timing had anything to do with Christie marrying Charlotte De La Mare on 1 March 1855 at St Barnabas, Homerton, is unclear but he was described simply as ‘gentleman’ on the marriage certificate. He died on 16 January 1892 in Ealing and was styled MD. This qualification was conferred by the University of St Andrews in 1854 and in the same year he became an MRCS and LSA, both in London. This was followed in 1858 by gaining his FRCP, Edinburgh, according to the 1859 Medical Directory. He was then living at Pembroke House, Hackney. How much of Beath’s life was devoted to medicine and surgery is hard to pin down.

Tallent resigned from his position as Medical Officer for the Union in the summer of 1851.

Edward Tallent died on 6 Jan 1867 at Great Horksley Park after a long illness[9] and his executors were his brother John Thomas Tallent of Hingham, Norfolk, who was also a surgeon, and a nephew, Arthur Tallent Clowes of New Buckenham.


[1] The Evening Mail, 24 Aug 1831, p 8, gives the bride’s surname as Winchworth.

[2] William Guest Carpenter had qualified as Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1837, got his MRCS in 1840 and FRCS in 1848. He registered as a medical practitioner on 1 Jan 1859 according to the Medical Directory of that year.

[3]See Return of the Names, Ages, Designation of Office, &c., of Officers whose Incomes are paid from the Poor Rates, 1849, p14


[4] Pauper Prisons, Pauper Palaces, ed Paul Carter & Kate Thompson, 2018, p 149, citing MH 12/383, papers no 14189/B/1845 and 248/A/1846 at the National Archives

[5] There are a number of trees on Ancestry concerning this couple, citing a marriage which took place on 4 August 1851 at Holy Trinity Church, Newington, Southwark. The John Sanders concerned is of full age, a coachman living in New Kent Road. His bride, Mary Ann Rouse, cannot sign her name. These details are not compatible with the Amersham couple, who presumably married before 1844.

[6] The London Gazette, 28 July 1857, p 26221

[7] The London Gazette, 26 April, 1861, p 1841

[8] The London Gazette, 13 March 1855, p 1068

[9] Bicester Herald, 25 Jan 1867, p 2

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