Henry Veesys etc. – medical care before the 17th century

The general history of Newmarket can be divided into before and after 1605, when King James I discovered the town and its transformation into a famous centre for horse racing began (note this was their February 1604, our February 1605 – see New Year change). Before 1605 it was a very small place, a new little market on a key route into East Anglia that ran between two parishes, Exning in Suffolk and Woodditton in Cambridgeshire. It provided accommodation and sustenance for travellers, and a market to serve both them and the surrounding villages. So although it’s thought that people have lived in the Newmarket area further back than recorded history, and that the town is named after this new market, which was established in the 13th century, evidence suggests it remained a small place whose population was no more than a few hundred people until the late 16th / early 17th century. It’s been estimated that even by the year 1605 Newmarket’s resident population was probably no more than about four hundred people.

The medical history of Newmarket can be divided similarly, i.e. by the turn of the 16th/17th centuries. The 17th century saw the emergence of a medical family (the Greenes) who are the earliest known medics to have been based in the town. They would have been in practice from perhaps the 1580s onwards. There is no evidence of such people before Richard Greene who died in 1615, but the data is very thin that far back and in such a small place, so it’s hard to be sure (in fact Richard’s father, who was a grocer, might have had a medical repertoire too, given the link between grocers and apothecaries – see more on that below). By the turn of the 16th/17th century Newmarket’s population was probably starting to become sufficient for a local full-time medic to make a living in the town. Moreover, there’s some evidence that the 17th century saw a significant increase in the use of medics generally, and it’s been estimated that at this time the number of medics per head of population was somewhere between one in four hundred and one in two hundred, so considering the population of Newmarket at this time about right for Richard Greene working alone initially, then with Robert Greene his younger brother into the 17th century. Before the Greenes, aside from local folk knowledge, it’s likely Newmarket’s wealthier residents travelled to nearby Cambridge for medical services and maybe some Cambridge based medics came out to Newmarket to serve the local population and passers through, perhaps on market days. Henry Veesy was possibly one such example.

Henry Veesy made a will in 1503 in which he described himself as an appotecarij or potecary of Cambridge i.e. an apothecary. However, in the will he left some money towards St Mary’s church in Newmarket, and also he referred to a William Parmytter alias Cowper of Newmarket who not only owed him money (and was let off some in the will), but also was a witness to the will. Clearly Henry Veesy had some dealings with Newmarket, and that was likely commercial, since there’s no evidence of any earlier Veesy ancestors in the town. An apothecary was someone who prepared and sold medicinal products. In a town like Cambridge, where there would have been some physicians, strictly speaking an apothecary’s role at this time would have been to dispense the prescriptions of physicians rather than to give medical advice. However, in a place like Newmarket an apothecary would have been the source of medical advice too, although would have charged for the medicine not for the advice. True university educated physicians were very rare, especially outside of major towns (see The history of medical treatments, training, qualifications and regulation for more on this, followed by a section on barber-surgeons, then one on apothecaries).

Henry Veesy (or Vesey, Veysy, Veysey etc. as his name was variously spelt) lived in Cambridge, and came from a family of grocers and apothecaries who later built a house on the corner where Petty Cury joins Cambridge Market Square. His son Henry described himself in his will of 1534 as an appotycary and grocer of Cambridge. That’s interesting, since apothecaries were essentially a specialist form of grocer/spicer/pepperer who specialized in medicinal herbs and products. In London the Society of Apothecaries did not separate from the Grocers Company until 1617 (again see The history of medical treatments, training, qualifications and regulation). Henry Veesy, and perhaps his son after him, might have dispensed to Newmarket residents from their grocery/apothecary shop in Cambridge and might have travelled out to Newmarket on market days to give advice and dispense to people there. It’s an interesting geographical point that the town’s market in Henry Veesy’s day would have been held at what later became known as The Rookery area of town. His ‘practice’ (if it existed) could therefore in a sense be viewed as an early forerunner of The Rookery Medical Centre!

It’s likely there were other apothecaries like Henry Veesy and his son who perhaps visited Newmarket. It’s possible that there were other grocers/spicers/pepperers in Newmarket in the 16th century and earlier who sold some medicinal products and perhaps could be called apothecaries in part, we simply don’t know. In the 15th century there was a single shop in what was called Spicers’ Row. It’s possible their activities included selling medicinal products and this could have been complemented by barbers’ shops where some minor surgery was performed, as appears to have been the case with Nicholas Searle and William Raby in the 17th century. However, as mentioned above, it’s unlikely that Newmarket had an exclusively Newmarket-based individual who derived their income primarily from medical services until Richard Greene and his later family of surgeons and apothecaries, who dominated the 17th century medical scene in Newmarket. For some thoughts on medical care in the area before even the new market was founded, again see the page on The history of medical treatments, training, qualifictions and regulation.

Relevant references in chronological order

1503, 15th April: The will of Henry Veesy, potecary of Cambridge. Reference: VCC wills; volume 1, folio 4, (Cambridge University Library).

1534, 20th March: The will of Henry Veysey, appotycary and grocer of Cambridge. Reference: VCC wills, volume 1, folio 57, (Cambridge University Library).

Some other sources consulted include:-

Atkinson TD. On the house of the Veysy family in Cambridge. Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 1889;7(1):93-103.

May P. Newmarket Medieval and Tudor. Published privately; 1982.

May P. The changing face of Newmarket 1600 – 1760. Peter May Publications; 1984.

May P. Newmarket 500 years ago. Suffolk Institute of Archeology 1975;33(3):253-274.

Mortimer I. Introduction. A Directory of Medical Personnel Qualified and Practising in the Diocese of Canterbury, circa 1560-1730. PAPER No. 021. http://www.kentarchaeology.ac/authors/021.pdf (accessed 10th January 2015).

Shops History Newmarket. The Rookery (now Guineas Shopping Centre). http://www.newmarketshops.info/The_Rookery.html#Map (accessed 29th November 2014). [Note: see this website for further details regarding the history of The Rookery area of town throughout history.], [Note also, newmarketshops.info has been supplied with information regarding the medical history of Newmarket by the author of talkingdust.net since August 2013 (see footnotes on some of the pages). Both websites continue to be developed, and in this sense are mutually symbiotic.]

The research notes of Peter May. Reference: HD1584, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London. Our History. http://www.apothecaries.org/society/our-history/ (accessed 28th June 2014).

Note: For published material referenced on this website see the ‘Acknowledgements for resources of published material’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page. The sources used for original unpublished documents are noted after each individual reference. Any census records are referenced directly to The National Archives, since images of these are so ubiquitous on microfilm and as digital images that they almost function like published works. Census records are covered by the ‘Open Government Licence’ as should be other such public records (see the ‘Copyright and related issues’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page for which references constitute public records, and any other copyright issues more generally such as fair dealing/use etc.).