Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A giant of his age

IF you want to be a local historian, there can be no greater inspiration than to live in what was once home to one of the first great recorders of Furness places, people and events.

This pen portrait of the multi-talented Dr William Close of 2 Castle Street, Dalton, has been drawn up by Alice Leach and can be read in full on the Barrow Civic and Local History Society website.

Dr Close was born in 1775 and became a Dalton surgeon, apothecary, historian, writer, musician and inventor.

He lived at 2 Castle Street from about 1800 to 1813, paying an annual rent of £4 four shillings (£4.20), to his landlord, John Thompson – agent for the iron ore mines.

A stable for the doctor’s horse once existed at the back of the house, then known as Holt’s Yard. The house has a roofed, side entry.

Dr Close had a large hole bored through the beams for storing the tubes of his brass musical instruments to catch the wind. The hole is still visible and the beams provide summer nesting homes for successive families of swallows.

Mrs Leach writes: “One of my most treasured books is The Antiquities of Furness, by Thomas West (1805).

“The editor was William Close, who added his own 86-page supplement.

“The work was prepared for publication by Close at 2 Castle Street.”

Among his other claims to fame was the introduction of vaccination against smallpox to Furness in 1799 – only three years after Dr Edward Jenner pioneered the use of the cowpox vaccine to produce immunity to smallpox.

At that time Dr Close lived in temporary accommodation at Rampside. He had been born at Field Broughton, near Cartmel, the only son of John Close.

He spent his childhood years with his parents on Walney, where he attended the first school to be built on the Promenade.

From 1790 to 1796 he was apprenticed to Roger Parkinson, surgeon, of Burton in Kendal.

He later attended lectures in anatomy, surgery and midwifery at the University of Edinburgh, the centre of excellence.

Close began work as a doctor serving Dalton, Walney and Ireleth in 1797.

In 1803 he married Isabella Charnock in St Mary’s Parish Church, Dalton. A son, John, was born in 1805 and a daughter, Jane, a year later.

There are no surviving pictures of Doctor Close, but he is described as a small, slender man, respected for his candour, sincerity and diligent attention to his professional duties.

The doctor rode on horseback to visit his patients, travelling the lanes and the old red-stained iron ore road. His daily rounds took him through the Furness countryside, inspiring him to write about some of the villages and their inhabitants.

He wrote: “The parish of Dalton is particularly healthy, the cool air from off the western ocean being rarified in the summer months, its slow current is often accelerated into pleasant gales, which ventilate the fertile plains of this district and the rest of Low Furness with air of the most salubrious quality.”

The village of Barrow was described as a small sea-port – “a place to which invalids often repair to bathe in the summer season.”

Dr Close was a prolific letter writer. He wrote to Nicholson’s Journal on various subjects of natural philosophy, making observations on improvements in blasting at quarries to reduce the danger of accidental explosion.

He worked on many new ideas and inventions for new types of explosives, printing inks, siphons and pumps.

Dr Close also worked on improvements to the design of the trumpet, the French horn and the bugle.

Despite his many achievements, he died of tuberculosis on Sunday, June 27 in 1813, aged just 38.


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