An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 7 (of 87 parts) - Dr. Henry Baker Bates

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 7 (of 87 parts) - Dr. Henry Baker Bates
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
Dr. Henry Baker Bates
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVI
Dr. Henry Baker Bates was quite a remarkable man who was much loved by Sutton folk as their doctor, councillor, Sherdley Estate agent and four-times Mayor of St.Helens during the difficult war years. The St.Helens Reporter in their 1940 obituary described him as the 'uncrowned king of Sutton'. In recognition of his services Dr. Bates was made a freeman of the St.Helens Borough and awarded the CBE. His gardens were the talk of the town, he always wore a white orchid as a buttonhole and he became involved in a bitter legal dispute with Michael Hughes. Oh and he kept a pet monkey!

Dr. Henry Baker Bates pictured outside Sutton Hall c.1908 driving his Prunel a Tonneau vehicle

Dr. Bates outside Sutton Hall c.1908 driving his Prunel a Tonneau

Dr. Bates outside Sutton Hall c.1908

Henry Baker Bates was born in Liverpool in December 1867 and obtained his diploma in medicine at London University. He also undertook a course in forensic medicine at the University of Liverpool during the summer of 1890 and arrived in Sutton later that year. For nine months prior to qualifying, Henry served as assistant to Dr. Thomas R. Pennington (1843-1891) who had a practice in Junction Lane. Bates began courting his daughter, Edith Elizabeth Pennington (1870-1908) and in the 1891 census is recorded as a visitor at the Pennington household at 59 Pembroke Place, Liverpool.

Dr. Pennington seems to have commuted to his Sutton surgery from his Liverpool home and shortly after completing his census return on April 5th, died at the young age of 48. Henry was still only a medical student but took over Pennington's practice, receiving his licence as a medical practitioner in June 1891.

Certificate awarded to Henry Baker Bates by the University of Liverpool - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

Certificate awarded to Henry Bates by the University of Liverpool

Certificate awarded to Henry Bates

Henry and Edith married on 15th September, 1891 at St.Augustine church in Everton and set up home initially at 10 then 24, Junction Lane with a surgery at no. 26. Edith bore Henry four children, William Henry (1893-1915), Dorothy, Ileane, and Eric Thomas (1905-1986) but despite being a doctor, the couple lost three other youngsters during the 1890s. These were Edith Amy (d.1892), Leslie (d.1897) and Harold (d.1899), who died after one day, ten months and seven months respectively. William Henry, known as Willie, also died in September 1915 aged just 22 years.

Dr. Bates had bought his practice from the executors of Thomas Pennington's estate on August 1st 1891. The initial agreement was that Bates would pay to the executors half of the practice's net receipts. This was then revised to £4 5 shillings per week for five years. However, the gross earnings of his Junction Lane practice were only £8 per week and the young doctor soon found himself in financial trouble. The executors called in the bailiffs and on January 5th, 1893. Bates suffered the indignity of appearing before Liverpool Bankruptcy Court with debts of £1011 and assets of £137 15s 6d. This was an extraordinary event in the young doctor's life as his wife Edith was one of the beneficiaries of her father's estate. So effectively Bates was in part seeking protection in the bankruptcy courts from his own wife!

Henry survived the bankruptcy scandal but learnt that being a doctor in Sutton was unlike to make him wealthy. It was easier to get blood out a stone than some of his patients! On July 1st 1896, Bates appeared at St.Helens County Court claiming £9 19s from
William Dixon of Earlestown. This was for non-payment of medical fees for attending his late wife and supplying her with medication. Dixon had separated from his spouse and had inserted a notice in local papers which stated that he would not be responsible for her debts. Upon her death, Dixon received £16 10s insurance money but refused to pay Bates's bill. So the doctor sued him in the county court but the judge ruled in favour of the defendant.

Later in 1896, Dr. Bates was invited to contest East Sutton ward against Charles Walsh, a man who had made quite a name for himself on the Town Council. Walsh had been a councillor since April 1889 when he replaced incumbent William John Kirkham, who had been disqualified for spending more than six months out of the country. Curiously five months after being elected, Walsh was himself disqualified from voting in local elections and in the Town Council. He ran a draper's shop in Peckers Hill Road and it was discovered that he hadn't paid his rates within the prescribed time. Walsh was, however, able to retain his council seat and by 1896, had put this embarrassment behind him.

Initially some saw Dr. Bates's candidature on behalf of the Conservative party as a joke. The good doctor hadn't lived in the town for long and Liberal Cllr. Walsh was renowned for his brilliant debating powers and oratory. The St.Helens Newspaper of November 3rd 1896 reported that Cllr. Walsh's election cries were'Baths for Sutton', 'Recreation Grounds', 'Better water, better lighting, and better streets' while Dr. Bates asked electors to vote for 'no school board' and 'the winning side'.

Two polling booths were set up on waste land off Sutton Road with the election closing at 8pm. The boxes were sealed and transported to St.Helens Town Hall where a crowd of several thousand gathered. The Newspaper reported that the main interest in the five borough wards where elections were taking place was in Central Ward where a curious battle of the bottle was taking place. Publican
Edward Ormesher - who was secretary of the St.Helens Licensed Victuallers' Association - was fighting against leading Liberal and prominent St.Helens temperance worker Joseph B. Leach, the retiring councillor. As the paper reported, it was a solid Liberal ward but 'there was no knowing how the beer element might prevail'. In fact there were three publican candidates, including Mr. H. Bickerstaffe in West Sutton.

The crowd of constituents didn't have too long to wait before the election results were declared. A large staff of counting clerks did the business speedily and at 9.10pm the Mayor appeared on the Town Hall steps with the candidates. Dr. Bates had defeated his rival by a majority of just 57 and Alderman Massey, leader of the Conservative party, was said to have been quite astonished with the young doctor's victory. Charles Walsh blamed his defeat on the Liberal party being "entirely disorganised and almost demolished", although he had also begun his election campaign quite late.

Left: Young Dr. Bates; Middle: Edith Elizabeth Bates née Pennington (1871-1908) Right: St.Helens Newspaper November 3rd 1896

Dr. and Edith Bates and St.Helens Newspaper report from November 3rd 1896

Dr. Henry & Edith Bates and St.Helens Newspaper report from 3/11/1896

Dr. Bates became the only medical man on the council but continued his practice at 26 Junction Lane. On Sunday November 16th 1897, Patrick Phillips of Chapel Lane Farm, Burtonwood, smashed in the surgery windows and kicked in Cllr. Dr. Bates's plate-glass door. Phillips was arrested by Constable Peters and charged with being a 'lunatic wandering at large'. A special session of St.Helens Police Court was held and the magistrates ordered Phillips to be detained in the imbecile ward of Whiston Workhouse for fourteen days.

As a councillor, Dr. Bates became chairman of St.Helens Corporation's Health Committee, a position that he held for many years. He's credited as a health pioneer for the town and many improvements in the public health services were brought about under his guidance. In April 1899, Bates visited Fecamp in Normandy as a member of a fact-finding deputation and learned that sterilising milk had significantly reduced infant mortality in the French town. As a consequence, St.Helens became the first borough in England to possess a municipal supply of sterilised milk, which was supplied to the people of the town at a specially low rate.

Dr. Bates became heavily involved in the Sutton Conservative Club in Edgeworth Street and helped to get a new building constructed in 1900. Henry probably owned the first motor car in Sutton, believed to be a Prunel A Tonneau. Shortly after the council election, Henry and Edith moved their residence to Leach Hall, the former home of a number of Sutton dignitaries including William Blinkhorn and leased from Captain Michael Hughes. This brought him into contact with the major landowner who wrote to him on September 25th 1906 offering him the position of Sherdley estate agent. His role was to manage all Hughes' estates for the initial salary of £600 per annum (rising to £700), free use of Sutton Hall as his private residence as well as the estate office, plus commission on new estate business. Bates accepted the offer and took up the position on November 1st.

When Sutton residents heard of Dr. Bates' new role, it caused some distress as Suttoners had become dependent upon his medical services. At first he announced that he would be continuing his practice part-time and had engaged Dr. Frederick William Kerr Tough (1878 - 1945) as his partner. However, Captain Hughes insisted on a clause in his terms of employment preventing any other form of work apart from council duties. Incidentally Dr. Tough did take over the Junction Lane practice and he engaged Dr. Bates's brother-in-law Henry W. Pennington as a medical assistant but in April 1913 prosecuted him for embezzlement.

Michael Hughes and Henry Baker Bates were also president and vice-president, respectively, of
Sutton Harriers Athletics Club and in January 1907 the pair journeyed with the team to Paris, where they beat the French national champions. St.Helens newspapers reported that a special cheer went up when the crowd, that had assembled at the station to welcome home their conquering heroes, saw Dr. Bates disembark.

Thank you' card sent to those who had expressed sympathy after Edith's death - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

Card sent to those who had expressed sympathy after Edith Bate’s death

Thank you card sent after Edith's death

In 1908 Cllr. Dr. Bates was raised to the Aldermanic bench upon the death of Alderman Massey, although it was also a year of personal tragedy. While in the middle of a campaign for re-election as councillor for East Sutton, Dr. Bates' wife Edith became ill with dropsy and died. Her funeral was held on October 10th 1908 at a packed St.Nicholas which the St. Helens Newspaper (13/10/1908) reported as an:
 ...extraordinary demonstration of sympathy and regard, there being a large attendance of people from all parts of the town. The church was crowded and the cemetery and its approaches were also crowded.  

Alice Ann Rigby pictured in 1911. She had previously lived at 64 Peckers Hill Road which in 2009 was one half of Booze Busters

Alice Ann Rigby in 1911 having previously lived at 64 Peckers Hill Road

Alice Ann Rigby pictured in 1911

The large attendance at the funeral service was also, no doubt, a reflection of Dr. Bates's own personal popularity within Sutton and St.Helens. However, the Victorian and Edwardian eras were practical times and with young children and a very busy professional and municipal life, the doctor needed a wife and mother. The lengthy newspaper funeral attendees list included a number of individuals from the Rigby family and on August 23rd 1911, Henry married Alice Ann Rigby (1878-1966).

Sutton Conservative Club congratulatory telegram sent on August 23rd 1911 - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

Sutton Conservative Club congratulatory telegram sent on August 23rd 1911

Sutton Conservative Club telegram

The day before the wedding, the couple were presented with a silver-mounted 'escritoire' writing desk at the Town Hall from the staff of the council's Health dept. This was in recognition of the high esteem in which Dr. Bates was held and his work as Chairman of the Health Committee. The couple then honeymooned on the Continent in France, Belgium and Switzerland, stopping off in London where a number of telegrams were received from well-wishers. They then settled in at Sutton Hall. Alice had previously lived in more modest accommodation at the family home in Peckers Hill Road, initially at no. 47 and then at 64 almost opposite, although in more recent days she'd been resident in Prescot Road.

Dr. Bates contributed to the Independent Methodist Chapel's new build in Herbert Street in 1910

Bates contributed to the Independent Methodist Chapel's new build in 1910

Independent Methodist Chapel

On January 2nd 1914, Dr. Bates led a Health Committee deputation to Liverpool, the city of his birth, to inspect the City Council's rehousing project. This had attracted interest from as far afield as Japan and with a housing crisis in St.Helens, the officials wanted to learn lessons. Subsequent proposals by Dr. Bates and the Corporation's Housing Committee to build some tenement flats in the town were, however, quite controversial and opposed by the trade unions. Jimmy Sexton, leader of the Labour party in St.Helens and future MP, said tenements weren't decent or healthy, adding that "God made the world for all, and He did not mean them to live up in the air."

The Alderman's work as chairman of the Health Committee was not always appreciated by the citizens of St.Helens. In 1915 Dr. Bates caused outrage by despatching a questionnaire - known as a health census - to householders. Despite a number of improvements, many houses were still insanitary and the war had exacerbated problems with overcrowding. This was because many soldier's wives had moved in with their parents or in-laws while their husbands were abroad. The questionnaire was trying to ascertain the state of public health in St.Helens by linking it to people's living conditions, employment and wages. However one question that asked householders to state their total earnings had a furious reaction with many refusing to complete the forms. Thousands were left uncollected and the officials charged with their collection received much abuse.

The St.Helens branch of the National Union of Railwaymen wrote to the Town Council in protest against the 'inquisitorial and impertinent' form that demanded to know the private affairs of the townspeople. The council discussed the letter on July 7th and Dr. Bates told the meeting that he never dreamt that the census would cause such resentment. Every question had had a distinct bearing on matters of public health but the medical officer was now instructed to stop the collection.

Mayoral portrait of Henry Baker Bates which seems to have been hand coloured - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

Mayoral portrait of Henry Bates which seems to have been hand coloured

Mayoral portrait of Henry Bates

On October 6th 1915 Dr. Bates was invited by St.Helens Town Council to become Mayor of the Borough of St.Helens and was formally elected at the annual council meeting on November 9th. It was a time-honoured tradition when new Mayors took their seat in the Police Court that they forgave the first offender that was before them. So six days after election, Bates gave a second chance to a lucky Liverpool woman charged with being drunk in St. Helens. It was revealed that many people from the city were commuting to the town as Liverpool's pubs had been closed.

Dr. Bates was re-elected as Mayor for three successive years and was dubbed 'the people's mayor' by the St.Helens Newspaper. He chaired numerous war charities, including a fund in which owners of one-man businesses could become re-established after the war. In 1918 Bates was elected leader of the Conservative party in St.Helens. For some years he had been chairman of the Conservative Workingmen's Association and treasurer of the Primrose League.

Scroll granting freeman of the borough to Dr. Bates was contained within a silver gilt casket - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

Scroll granting freeman of the borough to Dr. Bates within a silver gilt casket

Scroll granting freeman of the borough was contained within a silver gilt casket

On January 2nd 1919, the doctor was made a Freeman of the Borough of St.Helens with the award of the M.B.E. following later that year. The scroll confirming the award of the freemanship was contained within a silver gilt casket and his widow presented it to the town in 1953 to mark Queen Elizabeth's coronation. However, 1919 was also a very difficult year for Dr. Bates as his relationship with his boss at Sherdley Hall, Colonel Hughes, finally broke down. Although Hughes had consented to Dr. Bates becoming Mayor of St.Helens for three successive years, he felt that his work as the Sherdley Estate agent was suffering and so he had refused permission for his fourth term. He was also highly critical of his leadership of St.Helens Corporation and in a letter to the council (dated 1/10/1918) - which the St.Helens Reporter dubbed 'amazing' and the St.Helens Newspaper called 'extraordinary' - Michael Hughes called for Dr. Bates' administration to be replaced by individuals:
 ...who will exercise care and consideration in the administration. The squandering of the ratepayers' money during the last twelve months in order to curry favour with Government officials has, in my opinion, been scandalous. 
Letters dated between 1910 and 1919, that are in the possession of Dr. Bates' grandson, evidence increasing acrimony between the pair which was finally brought to a bitter conclusion in the St.Helens County Court on April 30th 1919 when the Colonel sought to evict Bates from Sutton Hall. The Mayor of St.Helens brought his own action for unpaid salary.

Left: Notice by Colonel Hughes in the Liverpool Daily Post of 13/11/1918;  Right: St.Helens Reporter's account of the court case

Left: Notice by Colonel Hughes in the Liverpool Daily Post of 13/11/1918; Right: The St.Helens Reporter's account of the court case from 2/5/1919

Notice by Col. Hughes and report in the St.Helens Reporter of the court case

Letters that had been exchanged between the pair were read out during the court hearing. In one dated November 9th 1918, which was the day when Dr. Bates accepted the offer of a fourth term as Mayor, Colonel Hughes felt that he had breached the terms of his employment contract and wrote:
 Your connection with the Sherdley Estate terminates today by your own act. I shall be obliged if you will inform me when it will be convenient to you to hand over to me everything that you hold of mine...I shall be glad if you will vacate Sutton Hall as soon as possible...In conclusion I have one favour to ask, and that is, that once having left Sutton Hall you never set foot on any part of my property again. 
Dr. Bates for his part said that he had only requested permission from his employer to accept the offer of the Mayoralty out of courtesy as their original agreement made in 1906 permitted council duties as well as estate duties. His argument was that his employer could not stop him from accepting the office of Mayor and he demanded three months salary in lieu of notice. Dr. Bates accepted that he and his wife had to leave Sutton Hall but said that they had difficulty finding suitable accommodation. In further correspondence through his secretary William Spencer (dated 19/11/1918) Colonel Hughes said:
 If Mr. Bates cannot find a house, tell him to find an hotel, there are plenty of them round about. 

An election leaflet from 1922 and a portrait of the young Henry Baker Bates - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

An election leaflet from 1922 and a portrait of the young Henry Baker Bates

Election leaflet and portrait from 1922

Although County Court Judge Thomas ruled in Dr. Bates favour and awarded him £271 in back salary, victory was bitter-sweet as Henry and Alice lost their home and an important source of income. Plus there was potential damage to his reputation as accusations were made at the hearing that Dr. Bates had used his terms of mayor to avoid military service. The following week letters were released to the press which showed that the mayor had volunteered for army service "on two or three occasions".

Alice and Henry Baker Bates in 1930 with Sir James Crooks (1858 - 1940) on the far left of the picture

Alice and Henry Baker Bates in 1930 with Sir James Crooks on the far left

Alice and Henry Bates in 1930 with Sir James Crooks (on the far left)

However, Dr. Bates was able to resume medical practice and the couple left Sutton for 'Parkside' at 280 Prescot Road by Taylor Park. The house was originally owned by Samuel Taylor, the lord of the manor of Eccleston, who donated 47 acres of his estate in 1892 to create the eponymous public park. Samuel's sister had occupied Parkside during the latter 19th century years.

Alice busied herself designing their garden, which was renowned in St.Helens for its collection of terracotta figures, water features, windmill, stone bridges, animals and birds. For a time their gardens were opened to the public but too much damage was caused by visitors. Dr. Bates kept quite a menagerie at their home including several dogs, several budgerigars, a toucan, monkey, tawney owl and a Chinese pheasant and he grew hundreds of exotic plants in his greenhouse with a particular love for orchids.

On April 10th 1928 Henry gave evidence at the 17-day-long inquiry into the conduct of the St.Helens Chief Constable
Robert Ellerington. The latter had been in dispute with the Council's Watch Committee and on September 26th 1927 they had issued a resolution forcing him to retire. Parliament ordered a board of inquiry and Dr. Bates stated that the Chief's sole ambition had been to make his force more efficient but some members of the committee had tried to undermine his authority. What wasn't revealed was that the pair were close friends and on one occasion Ellerington had accompanied Bates when the then Sherdley Estate Agent had travelled to Thornham Hall in Suffolk.

Just why this photograph was taken with Alice Bates in bed isn't known - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

Just why this photograph was taken with Alice Bates in bed isn't known

Henry with wife Alice pictured in bed

It wasn't all success for Dr. Bates as he twice contested the Newton-Le-Willows parliamentary constituency and twice failed. However, he continued on the bench of the police court but the St.Helens Reporter's weekly 'Police Court Life' revealed that he mainly adjudicated on quite trivial offences. For example, their edition of August 24th 1934 reported on Dr. Bates imposing fines for a chimney being on fire, a dog not wearing a collar, a motorist ignoring a traffic sign and three cyclists riding without rear lights.

Obituaries on Henry Baker Bates both dated 20/11/1940;  Left: St.Helens Reporter and right: St.Helens Newspaper

St.Helens newspaper obituaries on Henry Baker Bates both dated 20/11/1940

Newspaper obituaries from 20/11/1940

On May 18th 1938 Dr. Bates was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at St.Helens Town Hall, when the Royal couple briefly visited the town as part of a tour of Lancashire. This may well have been his last public engagement. When Henry died on September 19th 1940, aged seventy-four but still practicing medicine, the St. Helens Reporter declared his death the 'passing of a great leader' who'd played a significant role in shaping St.Helens. The St.Helens Newspaper stated in their report that he'd had a 'great record of public service'. It's worth mentioning that Dr. Bates is the only individual to have served as Mayor of St.Helens for four years. As these days it's the usual practice to have a different mayor each year, it's likely that Henry's record will never be broken. His medical practice was sold by his widow in November 1940 for £3450 and Alice, the four-times mayoress, outlived her husband by twenty-six years, dying in 1966.

Dr. Eric Baker Bates who was brought up in Sutton Hall - Contributed by Merrick Baker-Bates

Dr. Eric Baker Bates who was brought up in Sutton Hall

Dr. Eric Baker Bates (1905-1986)

Dr. Baker Bates' son Eric Tom Baker Bates (1905-1986) who spent his childhood in Sutton Hall, also joined the medical profession with a practice in Liverpool's Rodney Street. He also worked at Providence Hospital in Tolver Street, St.Helens until its closure in the 1980s. Eric ended his days looking after the needs of retired priests in Colwyn Bay. When he passed away in 1986, he brought to a close a 200 year-long family tradition in the medical profession. Eric is buried with his mother Edith in Sutton Parish churchyard at St.Nicholas. The inscription on his memorial reads 'father, physician, friend, teacher & wit', which was composed by his close friend Father Bernard Eager. However Eric’s father Henry is buried in Rainhill Parish Churchyard with his second wife Alice and on his memorial it says ‘Always service. Never self.’
Thanks To Dr. Bates' Grandson Merrick Baker-Bates For His Contributions To This Page
Also see 'Marshalls Cross Memories' by Liz Mercer in Memories of Sutton Part 3 and Zeppelin Attack at Bold in Sutton at War Part 1 and Sherdley and the Red Cross Fund in Sutton at War Part 1
Next:  Part 8)  Religion in Sutton Part 1 (C of E Churches)    |    Research Sources & References
Next:  Part 8)  Religion in Sutton Part 1
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
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