South Shields Local History Group

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Winterbottom, Thomas

Thomas Masterman Winterbottom was born on 26th March 1766 in a house on what was to become the corner of Dean Street, on the north side of the town’s Market Place. He was the eldest of what were to be eight children of Dr. James Winterbottom (1742-1797), a Whitby man who had come to South Shields to practice medicine and who had married local girl Lydia Masterman. After a private education as a pupil of Rev. Brown, the Curate of St Hilda’s, young Thomas was sent first to Edinburgh University and then onto ‘Glasgow’, where he qualified as a doctor of medicine.

Thomas Masterman Winterbottom (Wikipedia)

In 1792 Dr. Winterbottom, a committed abolitionist, was appointed Physician to the colony of Sierra Leone, Africa. The Sierra Leone Company had been established by abolitionists, with the aim of facilitating trade and providing a home for Africans who had been imprisoned under the American slave trade. Winterbottom laboured for four years in the fledgling colony, documenting the unique tropical diseases of the region and working to improve public health. The medical term Winterbottom’s Sign derives from his description of the swelling of the neck, a symptom of ‘Sleeping Sickness’.

In 1796 he returned to South Shields and having taken over his father’s practice, he married at Jarrow Parish Church, to Barbara, the widow of James Wardle, a local ship owner. He settled down in Westoe Village and when not engaged in the duties of his practice wrote several medical books and papers. A major philanthropist, he was much admired by his fellow townsmen. Although he retired from general practice after some 30 years.

Thomas Winterbottom 1850 (Unknown STH0001111)

Dr Winterbottom continued his active interest in the subject right up to his death, which occurred on 8th July 1859 at the age of 93, by which time he was the oldest qualified medical practitioner in the country. He was given a public funeral which was probably the largest in terms of attendance which South Shields has ever seen and was buried in the central part of Westoe Cemetery, reserved for notable local worthies. In its obituary the Newcastle Journal noted that Winterbottom was “as good a man as ever was born in the town of South Shields”.

1983 Grave Top (Unknown STH0005439)

Having no children of his own, and his wife having pre-deceased him in 1840, Dr Winterbottom left his considerable fortune to the various charities he had instituted and supported in life. These included the Master Mariners’ and Annuity Society, which he had created in 1839, which provided cottages and payments to aged and infirm master mariners, their widows and orphans; the Winterbottom South Shields Fund for the Relief of Deserving Widows of Seamen; the Unmarried Female Servants’ Reward Fund; the Scullerman’s Charity and a Coal Charity to provide coal for the poor of Westoe each Christmas.

The bulk of Dr Winterbottom’s fortune was left towards the funding of a Marine School, and his friends, including Robert Ingham MP, made it their business to get it established, such that the building in Ocean Road was completed and opened on March 26th 1866, the centenary of its founder’s birth. Over the years that followed the Marine School provided nautical and engineering classes with special lessons for those wishing to become navigators or sea-going engineers. From 1880 to 1890 the school produced 365 master mariners, 392 first mates, 385 second mates, 7 extra masters, 7 compass deviation officers and 3 coastguard officers. After being a credit to its town for about a century the Marine School eventually evolved into the South Tyneside Marine and Technical College.

Plaque Unknown 1914 (STH0001113)
Winterbottom tomb – 2022

South Shields Local History Group, Sand Dancer Leaflet
The Borough of South Shields (G.B. Hodgson), The Shields Gazette & The Newcastle Journal.

South Tyneside Libraries
Terry Ford

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