DR JOHN SETTLE
Whatever the circumstances of Settle's appointment, however, in post he was his own man.
If John Settle was reincarnated as a modern politician he would probably take as his slogan "tough on ill health, tough on the causes of ill health." Settle believed in fresh air, exercise, hard work and good food. He often lambasted the bad habits and negligence of parents but never lost sight of the wider social setting. His annual reports stressed the need for individual responsibility -
When John Settle first became Medical Officer, almost one in five newborn would die within their first twelve months. Gradually this declined to a rate of one in seven by the 1890s and had reached one in ten by the time of his retirement. Better medicine played its part but Settle was convinced that "ignorance of mothers treating their children is the principal factor in infant mortality." He was ahead of his time in calling for day nurseries, "with benevolent ladies to supervise", and for lady Health Visitors to educate young mothers on a personal, intimate level where male inspectors would inevitably fail. He campaigned against illiterate midwives who were unable to follow written instructions and was sanguine enough to report that "time will weed out the worst, and the Sairy Gump of Dickens' time is nearly extinct." Settle was brave enough to accuse certain families of deliberately neglecting their infants in order to financially benefit from insurance payments. This willingness to court controversy was repeated in his championing of illegitimate children. They died at a rate of more than twice that of legitimate children: "they seldom get the mother's milk and the mother's care .. ..in France, where children are scarcer than with us, the State is a good foster mother." Settle's crusade against infant mortality was more than just a doctor's conscience; on 12 July 1884 his son Charles died six hours after delivery.
Epidemics were an accepted part of life in Victorian England. Figures which we would now regard as horrifying were common -
This insistence on civic housekeeping, or social medicine, saw Settle campaign for years for a public disinfector, a refuse destructor, improved drainage and an isolation hospital capable of handling more than one disease at a time. Year after year he called for a public abattoir to replace back-
Working From the Wrong End', he explained that money spent on treating disease
would better be spent on better housing conditions; 'In the Sweat of they Face Shalt
Thou Eat Bread' confirmed his belief that work and exercise were necessary adjuncts to good health.
John Settle's retirement as Medical Officer was a low key affair. In August 1910 it was reported to the Health Committee that he would leave office on 31 December. The Minutes record the Committee's "regret at the severance of his long connection with the Corporation", a curiously muted valediction. When Settle went there was only a quiet presentation in the Town Hall. Again we must beware of using too much imagination. Settle may have found the increasing levels of public health bureaucracy and legislation not to his taste; there may have been a falling out. Equally he may just have thought that thirty-
On Schneider, Settle says that he disliked humbug and make believe. "His personality attracted everyone and his reputation was immense. We could not call it exactly good or moral, but it was great never the less ...... he was fine, tall and big and spoke with a strong voice. Schneider's favourite attitude in life is well depicted in his statue. When emphasising a point he would place the two forefingers of his right hand on the palm of his left. It was an attitude of his own and quite characteristic." Settle was one of the party who journeyed to Belsfield, Schneider's home at Bowness, to urge him to stand in Barrow's first Parliamentary election. His eventual defeat by the Liberal John Duncan in 1886 was a surprise, which Settle blames on Schneider's headstrong performances on the hustings -
Settle confirms the wily, background influence of J.T. Smith and also the fact that
Schneider, Ramsden and Smith were not personal friends -
prickling acerbities of Sir James and the irascible outbursts of Mr Schneider, to place them in the same room for ten minutes with JT must have meant war of a wildcat and bulldog character." Settle showers praise on the work of Ramsden, at one point comparing him to Romulus. Myths abounded of him -
Three sections of Settle's articles touch on his work as Medical Officer. He was of the opinion that the rash of industrial accidents in the 1860s and 1870s was the result of the employers having no liability: "it did not cost a company anything to kill a man." He quotes a story, which he judges apocryphal but true in essence, of a man asking for a job in the Steelworks. He was told that there was no vacancy at the moment but "do you see that man at the Bessemer? When he's killed, you can have his job." The Employers' Liability Act, by placing accountable responsibility on employers for the safety of their employees, brought improvements where moral persuasion had failed. On education Settle advocated a relaxed approach, preferring play to serious learning until the age often. This was based on his belief that until that age the brain should be allowed to grow 'naturally' and he recalled an example from his own schooldays: "a young man was introduced to our school. He was quite a big chap, probably nearly twenty and he didn't know even his alphabet. We jeered at him until we found that it wasn't policy because of his size. But in six months things changed. He caught up to us and steadily forged ahead. He took up subjects such as algebra and Euclid..... his brain had expanded naturally under Nature's teaching and he was now earnest to learn."
Settle repeated many of his misgivings about common lodging houses. Often they were full of "the flotsam and jetsam on the sea of life who float into these houses, blown by the adverse winds of heaven." Yet not all could be tarred with the same brush: "in their common rooms you might hear a conversation in better tone than often heard in the Council smoke-
John Settle's wife Harriet died in 1907. Shortly after he moved from their long-