PONTEFRACT SURGEON AND DENTIST
by DAVID ROBSON
Leo Robson - Pontefract Surgeon and Dentist
Photograph submitted by
father, Leo Robson, was a surgeon at Pontefract General Infirmary for
about ten years, starting in the late 1930’s. During that time he must
have treated thousands of patients.
a general surgeon in those days he did all sorts of operations. Indeed I
remember going on a visit underground at the Prince of Wales colliery in
the 1950s when I was a young boy. I was introduced to the men working
that day; "This is Mr. Robson’s son" – and was amazed by
how many of them had been his patients. I remember him being called out
late at night for emergency operations. I remember him going in on
Christmas Day to carve the hospital turkey and I remember sitting with the hospital receptionist, a lady
called Joan Tomlinson. "Name?" she would ask the patients as
they registered. "Address?" then "Church or Chapel?"
Pontefract was, in those days, a very Methodist town.
father was a practical man. He loved operating and even devised some
special instruments of his own for some tricky procedures. For years, he
worked under the senior consultant Mr. Blackburn, and by anybody’s
reckoning did more than his fair share of the work. Why would such a
keen, dedicated and able surgeon make the transition from being Mr.
Robson, Pontefract surgeon, to Dr. Robson, dentist of Ropergate? For
reasons which then were appalling and now, one hopes would be
unthinkable. He was born in Leeds in 1911, the son of orthodox Jewish
immigrants in Chapeltown, which was then more or less a Jewish ghetto.
He studied at Leeds medical school, and after various junior hospital
jobs in and around London, moved to Pontefract where he lived with my
mother, Lorna, and where I was born. We were, as far as we knew, the
only Jewish family in the town.
years working at Pontefract Infirmary as senior registrar, he applied
for a promotion where some beds would come under his direct control and
thus enhance his income. He was turned down. Then, in 1949 or 1950, soon
after the establishment of the National Health Service, Mr. Blackburn
retired and my father applied for his job as senior consultant. He got
through the first interview but finally was rejected for the job. Why
had this happened? He had ten years’ service, he had worked hard and
he was well respected and liked. As far as one knew he had many good
references from people involved at a local level. The reason for his
rejection can be expressed in one word: anti-Semitism.
the regional hospital board, whose appointment it now was, anti-Semitic
ran strong. My father was just one of many Jewish doctors who, at that
period, were unfairly excluded from senior medical jobs in the Leeds
area. Disappointed, distressed and disillusioned, he decided to leave
the hospital and profession he had loved. My mother, who now lives in
Harrogate, remembers that a collection was made for him (in the street,
she thinks) and she bought two chairs with the proceeds.
father, now nearly 40, decided that the best course open to him was to
return to university and qualify as a dentist. With a young son, and
twins on the way, this was a punishing course financially and in other
respects. He went to Manchester University, and we went to live with my
grandparents. He qualified as a dentist after two years and soon opened
in Ropergate, Pontefract. He was well remembered in the town and soon
built up a good practice.
have been a journalist in London for over 30 years and in February 2002
I went to Pontefract to write an article for the Daily Express about the
impending closure of the Prince of Wales colliery. Among the people I
met was Arthur Withington who had been NUM branch secretary there from
1980 to 1992. I told him my father had been a dentist. "Oh
Robson," he said, "I had all my choppers out with Robson.
Funnily enough, I’d never been to the dentist ‘til I was 20 odd. I
got hit in the mouth with a cricket ball. I had five out then back for
some more until they were all out. When I went to him, he asked why I
was shivering and I said because this is my first time at the dentist. I
thought you could chop wood on me and it wouldn’t bother me, but he
bothered me, he bothered me a lot!"
were different days for dental health, and for dentistry. My father
practised in Ropergate for over 20 years, until his sudden and untimely
death in 1975.
More from David Robson:
A Seam of
Memories and Pride