Benjamin Gooch (1708 - 1776)

Founder of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Apprentice Doctor in Hapton

Written by Claire Dove

Benjamin Gooch was born in Ashwellthorpe in 1708 to the Rector, Benjamin Gooch, a graduate of Caius College, Cambridge and his third wife, Sarah.

He studied at the London schools and hospitals before returning to Norfolk and becoming apprenticed to Robert Bransby, the general practitioner in Hapton. No records exist of where they practised but in 1719 Bransby was resident at Hapton Hall.

Later Bransby and Gooch moved to Shotesham, Norfolk. They practiced at the High Shottisham Old Hall, which became the ‘Duke’s Head’, a coaching inn in the 1890s, which still stands today. Gooch took over the practice in 1748, on Bransby’s death. It was while living here that Gooch became friendly with William Fellowes, the philanthropic squire of Shotesham who funded a Cottage Hospital, run for the benefit of the sick and needy of the neighbourhood. Gooch ran the Shotesham Cottage Hospital, the first of it’s kind in England. Some of the buildings remain, now named ‘Red House’, ‘The Doctor’s House’, ‘The Hospital’, ‘The Nurses Home’ and ‘The Mortuary’.

The Red House

Robert Bransby was born about 1685, location unknown. He married marry Watts in 1708 in Beccles. They were certainly living in Hapton in 1709 when their first daughter Elizabeth was born. Children were Elizabeth (1709-1784), Mary (1712-1769), Honora (1713-1713), Robert (1714-1716), Honora (1716-1732), Francis (1717-1737), Susanna (1719-1727), Robert (1720-?), Rand (1728-1730). All born in Hapton.

The Parish Record
"Hapton Parish Records December 1709"

On 5 November 1734, Elizabeth Bransby married Benjamin Gooch at Hapton Church. They had one daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1735.

The Parish Record 2
"Hapton Parish Records 1734"

At Shotesham hospital, Gooch acquired much of his surgical skill and developed a reputation which spread locally, nationally and internationally. He was the leading lithotomist of the early eighteenth century when bladder stones were more common in Norfolk than anywhere else. An account of a stone removed by John Harmer, surgeon, assisted by Gooch, describes the stone as ’12 inches one way, eight the other and weighed upwards of 14 and a half ounces”. The patient, John Howse, 48, of Poringland, recovered well.

In 1758 Gooch published three editions of a surgical text book, one of the volumes “Cases and Practical Remarks in Surgery” was dedicated to William Fellowes. He also devised the ‘Gooch splint’ for stabilising fractured bones, which was still in use until the 1920s.

One case he mentions describes how a parson fell off a runaway horse and fractured his skull. Eleven days later, Gooch trepanned his skull to let the pus out and the parson made a good recovery.In 1771, William Fellowes asked Gooch to help found the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. Norfolk was in need of a hospital with most doctors working in London and journeys to the capital were arduous. William Fellowes brought together a committee of wealthy and influential Norfolk people and opened a subscription fund. The hospital site was purchased with the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital becoming the 17th voluntary hospital founded in England. The foundation stone was laid by William Fellowes in 1771, with the hospital seeing its first patients in 1772.

Although Gooch was the first appointed consulting surgeon at the hospital, he never operated there, due to his ill-health. But he served on the committee to set the rules and acted as advisor/assessor for the selection of medical staff. Gooch died on 11 February 1776, aged 68 at Halesworth, Suffolk and was interred in the churchyard at Shotesham All Saints Church. Elizabeth died in 1784

The Gooch Painting
"Painting by Thomas Bardwell, on display at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital"

Shotesham Website: Benjamin Gooch Founder of the N&N
Country Life Magazine: A Grade II*-listed Queen Anne home that was once the pub where Sir Alfred Munnings propped up the bar
Norfolk and Norwich NHS website: N&N - Our Founders

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