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Salop Infirmary. […] A Legacy of £50, bequeathed by the late Mrs. Matthews, of Dogpole Court, was reported to the Directors of this Charity on Saturday last; as also a reversionary bequest of the like amount under the will of the late Rev. James Matthews. — Salopian Journal, 12 August 1835.
The Rev (and Mrs) James Matthews, benefactors
When I first read the above notice, I was rather puzzled by it. The death of the Rev James Matthews, and his £50 bequest to the Salop Infirmary, I knew about. But his wife, Maria Matthews, née Rowland, was very much alive in 1835! The mystery was soon solved – the Mrs Matthews in question was James’ first wife. Let’s take a look at the family life, and the legacies, of Mr and Mrs James Matthews.
On 1 January 1795, at the age of 36, “James Matthews of the Parish of St. Mary Bachelor and Martha Price widow of the Parish of St. Alkmond” were married at the bride’s parish church in Shrewsbury. The witnesses who signed the register were J B (John Brickdale) Blakeway, a fellow clergyman (and co-author of A History of Shrewsbury) and Arabella Atcherley, daughter of the Rev James Atcherley (see The Atcherley-Symes story – Part 1).
I suspect Arabella was not the only Atcherley present at the nuptials, particularly as my research for this story has led me to the realisation that James and Martha – and Arabella – were all first cousins: nephew, niece and daughter respectively of James Atcherley!
Martha was baptised at Condover in Shropshire on 30 April 1758, the youngest of seven children born to Joseph Gittoes and Mary Atcherley (who were married in 1750). After a marriage settlement was drawn up (in which the Rev James Atcherley acted as the Trustee for the Gittoes side of the deal), Martha, aged 22, wed the Rev Edward Price, a widower, at Meole Brace (pictured here) on 27 February 1781. The ceremony was carried out by James Atcherley himself.
A Montgomeryshire man, Edward Price (or Pryce, as his surname was apparently also written) was said to be “of Gaervawr” in Guilsfield parish, situated on the north side of Welshpool. I think it likely that he was the Edward Price, son of Thomas of Guilsfield, who entered Jesus College, Oxford, on 27 March 1750 at the age of 18 and was later awarded the degree of B.A. That being so, it seems likely that he was the “Edward the Son of Thomas Price of Varchoel and Sina his Wife” who was baptised at the aforementioned parish on 3 August 1731. He was Vicar of Berriew from 24 April 1764 until his death in 1793. The entry for his burial in the Berriew parish register shows that “Revd. Edward Price 30 Years Vicar of this Parish aged 62” was interred on 18 May that year.
Martha’s wedding to the Rev James Matthews nearly two years later matched her with a man of her own age (Edward Price had been about 50 years her senior). The couple had no children (a deliberate choice in view of their first cousinship?). Both had money and property to bequeath however.
Ordinarily, under the law of coverture then in force, any property owned by a woman came under the control of her husband when she married. However, under the terms of her marriage settlement Martha had the power to dispose, by her will, of shares in several funds, the household goods, plate, linen and furniture which she had brought to the marriage, and the property in Dogpole Street in Shrewsbury in which she and her husband lived.
Martha made her will on 6 August 1812, when she was 54. There being no children of her marriage, she directed that after her husband’s death all of the above-mentioned assets were to be converted into money by her executors, Lawrence Frost (husband of James Atcherley’s daughter Mary) and Richard Gwyn, surgeon. After payment of debts, funeral expenses and certain legacies (including one to her first cousin Eleanor Vickers, née Atcherley), her executors were to shared the money raised between a number of people. First on the list were Martha’s first cousins, the children of James Atcherley (other than the aforementioned Eleanor Vickers): the Revs Roger and John Atcherley, Arabella Holt, James Atcherley of the Royal Marines, Mary Frost, and Ann Atcherley. James Atcherley’s nephew John Atcherley of Whitchurch was also included.
Martha later added two codicils: the first directed that the money from the sale of her household goods, plate, linen and furniture should go to her husband, the second was her bequest to the Salop Infirmary.
The death of “The wife of Rev. James Matthews, of Shrewsbury” was reported in the obituary section of The Gentleman’s Magazine in February 1815. Martha had passed away the previous month, aged about 56, and was buried at Condover St Andrew & St Mary on 26 January (the picture, left, is of a monument in that church).
Eight years would pass before the widowed James Atcherley remarried. When he did tie the knot again, on 4 February 1823, it was to a clergyman’s daughter who was about 18 years his junior. Maria Rowland, daughter of the Rev John Rowland and his wife Mary, was born on 3 February 1777 and baptised five days later at Shrewsbury Holy Cross & St Giles. Her marriage to James therefore took place the day after her 46th birthday. The couple would remain together for about eleven and a half years until death did them part. James’ passing in 1835 was followed by that of Maria in 1842; she was buried at Astley on 2 February 1842.
James Matthews wrote his will on 6 February 1830, some five years prior to his demise. Following the example of his first wife he left his estate in trust to Lawrence Frost and Richard Gwyn, who were also made executors. He made provision for his wife Maria under the terms of their marriage settlement, and left specific bequests to his former servant, to a Robert Stanton of Oswestry – and, as we have seen, to the Salop Infirmary. His residuary legatees, who were to receive equal shares of the remainder of his estate, were “James Atcherley an Officer in His Majesty’s Marines Arabella the Widow of William Holt late of the City of Gloucester Tea Dealer deceased Mary the Wife of the said Lawrence Frost and Ann Atcherley Spinster (the Sons and Daughters of the late Reverend James Atcherley) and John Atcherley of Whitechurch Innholder Nephew of the said Reverend James Atcherley”. (The Revs Roger and John Atcherley had died by this time.)
It would seem that James Matthews enjoyed good health even in later life. In the second edition of the first volume of The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury, written before James’ death but published two years after that event, in 1837, it was written that:
Mr. Matthews still lives, as active and erect as a man of thirty, cheering a most respectable circle of friends, by the intelligence and vivacity of his conversation, enjoying what the poet Thompson has designated—
“Heaven’s next best gift,
To that of Life, and an Immortal Soul—Independence.”
I have little doubt that James’ legacy to the Salop Infirmary, along with that left by Martha his first wife (and first cousin), helped some of Shropshire’s poorer inhabitants, when afflicted by illness or injury, to regain their own independence.
Alternative medicine? Ploughman’s Drops versus the Salop Infirmary
Of course, for all its good intentions and despite the best efforts of its medical personnel, the Salop Infirmary could not cure all of the patients referred to it. Medical science, such as it was back in those times, was simply not up to the job. The poorer classes who could not get a recommendation for admission to the infirmary, or who did but were failed by that institution, had to look elsewhere for treatment. ‘Healers’, the wise women who knew about traditional folk remedies, and purveyors of ‘quack’ medicines were among those to whom they turned.
Searching digitised newspapers online for references to the Salop Infirmary yields many advertisements from the early 1800s in which the wonders of Dr Smith’s Ploughman’s Drops were extolled. This miraculous medicine apparently brought relief to many, some of whom said they were left on death’s door by the treatment they received from the infirmary. Ploughman’s Drops were marketed as a cure for all manner of conditions from blotches to biliousness and back pain, from fistulas to fits and ‘female complaints’, from kidney conditions to cancers and the King’s evil, and from skin complaints to scurvy and scrofula.
Scrofula and King’s evil were actually one and the same, a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck nowadays known as lymphadenitis which in times past was frequently caused by tuberculosis (the photo here shows a young man with scrofula). Under either name, this disorder often featured in testimonies from people who said they had benefited from Ploughman’s Drops, published regularly in the newspapers of the day. In 1810, for example, under the headline “Another Living Witness to the virtues of Smith’s Ploughman’s Drops”, it was stated that:
ANN, the wife of JOHN STEADMAN, of the Parish of Acton Burnell, eight miles from Shrewsbury, was in the year 1807, shockingly affected with the KING’S EVIL, and got admitted an Out patient of the Salop Infirmary; when, after twelve month’s trial, she was discharged incurable. At this time, she had twelve large wounds in her neck and bosom; she was now most providentially advised to try
DOCTOR SMITH’S PLOUGHMAN’S DROPS,
and after taking three large bottles only, she was duly restored from her dreadful malady, and continues at the present moment perfectly well. […]
Not even Dr Robert Waring Darwin, father of the famous naturalist Charles and physician to the Salop Infirmary from 1788 to 1831, was immune from criticism. A letter from “E. W.” of Liverpool, in adverts also published in 1810, told the story “a most extraordinary cure, at the turn of life,” which she received from the marvellous medicine of Dr Smith. Having been very ill for nearly a year, despite receiving treatment from various local apothecaries and doctors, E. W. “went into the neighbourhood of Shrewsbury, and applied to Dr. Darwin, who ordered my head to be shaved, and a blister applied; then I was an out-patient of the Salop Infirmary some time.” She gave up on the infirmary and five months later discovered Ploughman’s Drops – four bottles of which, she claimed, restored her to her former health.
Vanquishing venereal diseases was allegedly also within the scope of Dr Smith’s powerful potion. In 1818, “R” told the tale of how he “contracted a certain disorder” and underwent unsuccessful treatments provided by four different ‘Pharmacopolists’ in Shrewsbury before he “applied to the Salop Infirmary, where they state they cure all, but they gave me nothing but mercury pills”. Mercury was commonly used medicinally at that time, but as Dr Smith rightly proclaimed, it was “a deadly poison, destructive to the vitals of the human frame.” His alternative treatment was said by his correspondent to have “snatched me from the jaws of death”.
A number of testimonials included the names of witnesses of high standing in the community. For example, a statement attributed to one Western Menlove in 1834 (saved from a cancer of the lip and scrofula), bore the name of Corbett Browne, Rector of Upton Magna and Withington (and son-in-law of Sarah Atcherley, who married Thomas Dickin), as a witness.
Of course, the claims made on behalf of Ploughman’s Drops were not without their critics either at the time or since, and Dr Smith’s elixir has been placed firmly in the category of quack medicine. The ‘doctor’ was in fact a gentleman farmer according to at least some his advertisements (and his will, proved in 1835, in which “William Smith of Upton Magna in the County of Salop Farmer” directed that his nephew Charles Smith “shall not sell mortgage or transfer the recipe of the Ploughmans Drops on pain of forfeiting his claim to the within devised property”).
As I have related in Quackery and an Atcherley however, products of this nature sometimes contained genuinely useful substances. Richard Moore, in Shropshire Doctors & Quacks, has suggested that Dr Smith might have used foxglove leaves – a source of the effective heart drug digitalis – as the active ingredient in his preparation. If this was the case, it would lend an element of credibility to at least some of the claims made by those who downed his drops.
> On to Part 4.
Picture credits.Meole Brace Holy Trinity: Photo © Copyright David Gruar; taken from Geograph and adapted, used, and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Monument in Condover St Mary & St Andrew: Photo © Copyright Mike Searle; taken from Geograph and adapted, used, and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Young man with a typical case of scrofula: Image from the Wellcome Collection, adapted and used under a Creative Commons licence. Advertisement for Ploughman’s Drops: From the Wrexham Advertiser, 15 Dec 1855, page 1, at Newspapers.com.
See also references 1 and 8 for Part 1, and 12 and 21 for Part 2 of this story.
 Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1795. Entry dated 1 Jan 1795 for James Matthews and Martha Price. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M03722-1, Film 510675.
 Condover, Shropshire, parish register covering 1758. Entry dated 30 Apr 1758 for the baptism of “Martha Daughtr of Joseph & Mary Gittoes”. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P00883-1, Film 485952.
 William Arthur Griffiths (1953), Notes on Richard Tudor, the Welshpool benefactor (1657-1743), and some of his Present-day Representatives. In: The Montgomeryshire Collections. Vol. 53, 1953-54. Page 130. Copy viewed at National Library of Wales, Welsh Journals website. Note: The year of the marriage in this article appears to be a typo – 1791 should read 1781.
 National Library of Wales, documents 987-8 (Vaynor Park Estate Records) dated 25-6 Feb 1781. Pre Nuptial Settlement of 1 and Martha Gittoes. Abstract viewed at National Library of Wales website.
 National Library of Wales, document 396 (Llwyn Estate Records) dated 25 Feb 1781. RELEASE to uses (being a settlement before the marriage of the said Edward Price, clerk, and Martha Gittoes). Abstract viewed at National Library of Wales website.
 Meole Brace, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1781. Entry dated 27 February 1781 for Edward Price and Martha Gittoes. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages.
 Joseph Foster (1891), Alumni Oxonienses: the Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886. Volume III.—Later Series. Page 1147. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
 Guilsfield, Montgomeryshire, parish register covering 1731. Entry dated 3 Aug 1731 for baptism of Edward Price. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Montgomeryshire Baptisms.
 Price, Edward (1764 – 1793). At: Clergy of the Church of England Database.
 Berriew, Montgomeryshire, parish register covering 1793. Entry dated 18 May 1793 for burial of Edward Price. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Montgomeryshire Burials.
 The National Archives, Kew. Item ref PROB 11/1852/59: Will of Martha Matthews, Wife of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Also available from The National Archives website.
 Sylvanus Urban (1815), The Gentleman’s Magazine. Volume LXXXV. Feb 1815. Page 188. Copy viewed at Google Books.
 Condover, Shropshire, burial register covering 1815. Entry dated 26 Jan 1815 for Martha Matthews of Dogpole, Shrewsbury, age 56. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
 Shrewsbury St Alkmund, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1823. Entry dated 4 Feb 1823 for “James Matthews Widower of this Parish and Maria Rowland Spinster of the Parish of St Chad”. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch I02496-7, Film 1702205, Ref. no. 71.
 Shrewsbury Holy Cross & St Giles, Shropshire, parish register covering 1777. Entry dated 8 Feb 1777 for baptism of “Maria dtr of Revd. John & Mary Rowland [when born] Feby 3”. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch I04388-5, Film 1895094, Ref. no. item 11-14.
 Death of Maria Matthews registered at Shrewsbury, March quarter 1842; volume 18, page 169.
 Astley, Shropshire, burial register covering 1842. Entry dated 2 Feb 1842 for Maria Matthews of Shrewsbury, age 65. Indexed in Shropshire Burials Index 4a (Shropshire Family History Society).
 The National Archives, Kew. Item ref PROB 11/1852/54: Will of Reverend James Matthews, Clerk of Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Also available from The National Archives website.
 Wrexham Advertiser, 15 Dec 1855, page 1. “Celebrated Shropshire Medicine.” Copy viewed at Newspapers.com.
 King’s evil and the royal touch. At: The Science Museum Brought to Life website (accessed 6 May 2019).
 Mycobacterial cervical lymphadenitis. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 6 May 2019).
 Chester Courant, 20 Mar 1810, page 3. “Another Living Witness […]” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Robert Darwin. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 6 May 2019).
 Chester Courant, 7 Aug 1810, page 4. “The Turn of Life.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
 Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 3 Jan 1822, page 1. “Smith Triumphant!”Copy viewed at Newspapers.com.
 The Manchester Times, 20 Dec 1834, page 2. “Ploughman Victorious over the Sons of Esculapius.” Copy viewed at Newspapers.com.
 Alex Burnett (ed.) (1824), The Medical Adviser, and Guide to Health and Long Life. No. 11. Pages 175-6. “The following bill is a rare specimen of the liberties which can be taken with John Bull’s credulity.” Copy viewed at Google Books.
 Bye-gones, Relating to Wales and the Border Counties. 1882, page 9. “Shropshire Medicines.” Copy viewed at National Library of Wales, Welsh Journals website.
 The Salopian Journal, 25 Oct 1826, page 1. “Ploughman’s Drops. A Medicine prepared by a Shropshire Gentleman Farmer.” OCR text viewed at Last Chance to Read.
 The National Archives, Kew. Item ref PROB 11/1846/518: Will of William Smith, Farmer of Upton Magna, Shropshire. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Also available from The National Archives website.