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‘Bonkers’ Edwardian GP Dr Jelley is brought to life in audio tour app A Hackney Autobiography

PUBLISHED: 12:43 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:02 23 May 2017

A detail from the cover of The Threepenny Doctor - the Centerprise book that inspired the audio tour. Picture: Centerprise/On the Record

A detail from the cover of The Threepenny Doctor - the Centerprise book that inspired the audio tour. Picture: Centerprise/On the Record

inside out homerton

The Gazette finds out more about Dr Jelley, who treated Hackney’s poor before the advent of the NHS – and recommended to some that they go to the pub on Friday nights.

Gary Molloy, whose voice– features on the audio tour. Picture: Sophie PolyviouGary Molloy, whose voice– features on the audio tour. Picture: Sophie Polyviou

An eccentric doctor who used to hare around on a tricycle and once threatened to shoot his neighbour’s chickens as he stood on his hospital roof is the subject of a new audio tour.

The tale of the Edwardian GP Dr Jelley was immortalised in a book published by the Kingsland Road community bookshop Centerprise in 1974.

Henry Percy Jelley opened his surgery for the working class folk of Hackney and Homerton in 1911.

He was known as “the threepenny doctor” and boasted of being able to treat more than 100 patients an hour.

A drawing of Dr Jelley on his horse used to accompany the audio tour. Picture: Joanna LaylaA drawing of Dr Jelley on his horse used to accompany the audio tour. Picture: Joanna Layla

At a time when the poor could barely afford to visit doctors and health insurance didn’t exist, he provided a vital service to locals, charging very little – sometimes nothing for those who could not afford to pay.

His story is in the audio tour Inside Out, created by Laura Mitchison and Rosa Schling from non-profit group On The Record, which helps different community groups tell and archive their stories – a little like the Gazette’s own history pages.

It’s part of their project A Hackney Autobiography. The story is also told in their book in their book The Lime Green Mystery.

Laura said: “Dr Jelley is a magical pre-NHS physician who came rattling onto the scene in 1911 in a broken down old horse and cart. He’s a doctor but he’s also a little bit bonkers.

A photo from ‘Every Birth It Comes Different: Writings from the Hackney Reading Centre’, a book about births at Homerton Hospital that makes up another strand of the Inside Out audio tour. Picture: Centerprise/On the RecordA photo from ‘Every Birth It Comes Different: Writings from the Hackney Reading Centre’, a book about births at Homerton Hospital that makes up another strand of the Inside Out audio tour. Picture: Centerprise/On the Record

“He was always dressed in a frock coat and a top hat and he also rode on a three-wheeled bicycle. I can’t even picture a man on a massive tricycle.

“He was a crazy driver and he was always getting fined by the police for dashing about and driving probably drunk and dangerously.”

The Centerprise book contains “enchanting anecdotes”.

Laura said: “The people doing the remembering are quite old by this point so their stories build a vivid picture of this guy who has a mixture of history and myth on his breath. He’s kind of a folk hero.

A photo from ‘Every Birth It Comes Different: Writings from the Hackney Reading Centre’, a book about births at Homerton Hospital that makes up another strand of the Inside Out audio tour. Picture: Centerprise/On the RecordA photo from ‘Every Birth It Comes Different: Writings from the Hackney Reading Centre’, a book about births at Homerton Hospital that makes up another strand of the Inside Out audio tour. Picture: Centerprise/On the Record

“He was almost like a holistic practitioner in those days because he wasn’t prescribing medicine people couldn’t afford. He would say: ‘Have some vegetables and meat and if you need to have a drink and get out and socialise on a Friday, do that.’”

She said his “common sense cures” prefigured a lot of modern holistic approaches to mental health.

“It’s not about medicating people up to the eyeballs,” she said. “Being creative, talking therapy and eating well is the new wisdom.”

Dr Jelley also had a shop further down Homerton High Street.

Laura said: “He did a sideline in suits – he was a proper renaissance man. He had notices all over this shop complaining about the police and his neighbour’s chickens.

“He lived among the people and was much loved but he had no bedside manner and he would speak in a monotone voice with no inflection.”

With the help of members of the mental health charity Core Arts, Laura and Rosa give a snapshot of the history of mental health – both inside and out of the institutions – in Hackney. That, and childbirth.

The unusual audio experiences guide you on a 50-minute walk where the old Hackney and Homerton Hospitals used to be.

Hackney Hospital was a workhouse in the 19th century and a “lunatic block” opened there in 1911.

In the 1930s it became a hospital. In the 1970s and 1980s when it was run down, several of the patients on F-Block psychiatric ward had poems published by Centerprise, where they used to spend much of their time on day release.

Their prose is read out by Core Arts members in the audio tour, which also takes you past Dr Jelley’s “lying in hospital” for mothers after childbirth, where the Polski Sklep grocery store now stands in Homerton High Street.

To buy a copy of the book ‘The Lime Green Mystery: An Oral History of the Centerprise Co-op’ email info@on-the-record.org.uk.

Find the free app A Hackney Autobiography on Google Play or the iTunes app store.

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