George Hitchings (1791–1851)

George Hitchings was baptised on 14 May 1791 at St Aldate’s church, Oxford. He was the eighth of the eleven children of Edward Hitchings (a prosperous tailor at the time of George’s birth, and later Mayor of Oxford) and Elizabeth Benwell. All were baptised at St Aldate’s Church, and five died in their early childhood.

Hitchings was elected to the staff of the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1811, when he was only 20, and remained in the post until his death. Because he was made a freeman of Oxford, he did not have to be matriculated by the University in order to work in the city.

On 18 September 1813 George Hitchings married Sophia Halse, the daughter of James Halse, by licence at St Cross (Holywell) church. Sophia was “of this parish” and George’s mother Elizabeth was one of three witnesses to the marriage. He is described as a surgeon in each of the following baptism entries of his children:

  • Elizabeth Hitchings (born 9 November 1814, baptised at St Aldate’s church 19 December 1814, died aged 2 and buried 24 March 1817 at St Aldate’s)
  • Maria Hitchings (born 19 November 1815, baptised at St Aldate’s church 21 December 1815)
  • Ellen Mary Hitchings (born 1 December 1816, baptised at St Aldate’s church 31 December 1816, died aged four months and buried 22 April 1817)
  • Sophia Hitchings (born 5 December 1818, baptised at St Aldate’s church 5 January 1819)
  • George Charles Henry Hitchings (born 1 November 1821, baptised at St Aldate’s church 14 February 1822)
  • Emily Hitchings (baptised at St Aldate’s church 20 August 1823)
  • Harriet Fane Hitchings (born 17 May 1827, baptised at St Aldate’s church 16 August 1827)
  • Alice Benwell Hitchings (born 17 October 1830, baptised at St Aldate’s church 14 January 1831)

George Hitchings’ daughter Elizabeth died at the age of two, and the following announcement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 22 March 1817: “Last week died, after a short but severe illness, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of George Hitchings, Esq. surgeon of this city.”

By 1823, directories list George Hitchings as a surgeon in St Aldate’s, and eventually his son George Hitchings junior took over his practice there.

The private diary of Mary Latimer, the teenage daughter of a wealthy Oxford wine merchant, records a number of visits by Dr Hitchings. Work at the Radcliffe Infirmary was unpaid, and these diaries give a good idea of the kind of work Hitchings did for the rich in order to make a living:

  • 25 April 1817: “ Mamma’s finger very bad, obliged to send for Mr Hitchings.”
  • 29 April: 1817: “Mr Hitchings sent me a box of ointment for a swelling in my glands.”
  • 13 May 1817: “Mamma’s finger very bad indeed, sent for Mr Hitchings.”
  • 19 August 1817: “The Twins vaccinated by Mr Hitchings in the morning.”
  • 24 August 1817: “Mr Hitchings called to see Jane” [Jane, the diarist’s younger sister, had had a burst eardrum and suffered from epileptic fits]
  • 10 November 1817: “Digby [the diarist’s young brother] went to Mr Hitchings with his hand which had been badly cut with a chisel.”
  • 5 December 1817: “Mamma’s eyes, which had long been weak, now extremely painful. Mr Hitchings called to see them.”
  • 7 December 1817: “Mr Hitchings came to look at Jane’s ear, having yesterday performed an operation on it.”
  • 14 December 1817: Sally [the Latimers’ servant] taken very ill at Church in the afternoon, and continued so; (15th) Sally getting worse, towards evening Mamma had Mr Hitchings to see her; (16th) Sally continued indifferent. Mr Hitchings attended twice; (18th) Sally not quite so well. Mr Hitchings attended twice.
  • 30 January 1818: Mr Hitchings came to cup Jane in the foot by order of Mr Curtis. She fainted during the operation.
  • 30 March 1818: “Jane was cupped in both her thighs by Mr Hitchings, by order of Mr Curtis. She was very poorly afterwards, and went to bed before 6.”
  • 4 May 1818: “On our return home we found the party in great consternation in consequence of a very alarming fall Charles [diarist’s brother, aged 7] had had from the top of the nursery steps to the bottom of the house. Mr Hitchings attended, and late at night pronounced him out of danger.”
  • 14 July 1818: “Jane bled in the morning by Mr Hitchings, and was poorly the rest of the day”
  • 20 August 1818: “Jane was bled in the arm by Mr Hitchings.”
  • 29 September: “Mr Hitchings came up to see Jane’s ear”; 30 September: “Mr Hitchings called, and applied Caustic to Jane’s ear”; 2 October: “Mr Hitchings called, and put more Caustic to Jane’s ear”; 5 October: “Mr Hitchings called and put more Caustic to Jane’s ear”’ 9 October: “Mr Hitchings called to see Jane’s ear”
  • 15 November: “Mr Hitchings came to look at my toe, which was better”
  • 20 December: “Papa confined by a strain of his right side, which was occasioned by his falling over a chair. Mr Hitchings attended him, he was bound up & ordered to be kept perfectly quiet”

Until August 1818, the Latimer family were living conveniently in All Saints parish, but after that date Dr Hitchings had to travel up to their country estate (Headington House) for his visits. Mrs Latimer also kept diaries, and the family were still summoning Dr Hitching up to Headington as late as 14 October 1836, when Mrs Latimer’s husband, who had had “a pain in his stomach with an unusual degree of flatulence”.

In 1821 George Hitchings surrendered his lease of his current house in St Aldate’s, and the following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 18 August:

In the CITY of OXFORD.

TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, At the King’s Arms Inn, Oxford, on Thursday the Sixth of September next, between the hours of Four and Six in the afternoon, under such conditions of sale as will then [sic] produced,—All that capital MESSUAGE or TENEMENT, stable and saddle-house, with loft over, courts, yard, and garden, walled round, in the occupation of Mr. George Hitchings, surgeon, situate in the centre of St. Aldate’s, Oxford.

The House is substantially built with stone and comprises —on the ground floor, a large dining parlour, and another small parlour in front; kitchen, scullery, wash-house, and other convenient offices, wine and beer cellars, under ground —on the first floor, a large drawing room, sitting room, and two sleeping rooms —in the attic story, three sleeping rooms and a store room.

Possession may be had at Lady Day next, when Mr Hitchings’s lease will expire. May be viewed by his permission.

Hitchings then moved to another house in the parish, 88 St Aldate’s Street (formerly called Waterhall, from its situation near the Trill stream). This has now been rebuilt, and juts out seven yards further into the street than before, obstructing the view of Bishop King’s Palace.

The operation book of the Radcliffe Infirmary show that in the period from 1838 to 1843 Hitchings was carrying out the majority of operations there, and he was also anatomical surgeon at Christ Church to Dr Kidd from 1836 to 1842.

On 27 March 1851 Hitchings’s wife Sophia died. An announcement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 29 March 1851 reads: “On Thursday last, after a lingering illness, the beloved wife of George Hitchings, Esq., surgeon, of this city”. She was buried at St Aldate’s Church on 1  April 1851.

Hence Hitchings is described as a widower at the time of the census, taken three days after his wife's death on the night of Sunday 30 March. Aged 59 and described as a surgeon, he living at 31 St Aldate’s Street with his four unmarried daughters: Maria (36), Sophia (32), Harriett (25) and Alice (20), plus three house servants and a nurse.

On 9 September 1851 George Hitchings died at the age of 61 in his home in St Aldate’s (which was known as Water Hall), and his funeral was on 13 September 1851. His obituary in Jackson’s Oxford Journal reads:

On Tuesday the 9th inst. at his residence in St Aldate’s, George Hitchings, Esq., surgeon, in the 62nd year of his age. For forty years he had given his gratuitous service to the Radcliffe Infirmary. During this long period of active usefulness, by the exercise of his professional skill, he had been the means of completely restoring to health, or alleviating the sufferings of multitudes of the poorer classes of this city and the neighbouring counties. His sagacity in discerning the cause of disease, and his ready recourse to the appropriate treatment, as well as his dexterity and accuracy in every operation, however delicate and hazardous, where niceness of hand and vigour of nerve were required, had raised him, most deservedly, to the highest repute with the public at large, and given his opinion the weight of authority among the less experienced members of his profession. His loss will be deeply felt by his family and an extensive circle of friends; especially by the poor, for whom, with the kindest and most compassionate feeling, he was ever ready to use his most strenuous efforts, and availed himself of all the resources of his art, for their succour and relief.

The contents of his house in St Aldate’s were put up for auction on 28 October 1851, and included a Broadwood piano and oil paintings, and drawings by Gainsborough.

Surviving children of George Hitchings
  • Maria Hitchings died unmarried at the age of 42, and was buried on 26 June 1857 at St Peter in the East Church, Oxford.
  • Sophia Hitchings died unmarried at the age of 78 at 14 Walton Street and was buried on 17 August 1896.
  • George Charles Henry Hitchings qualified as a surgeon at the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. The 1851 census shows him described as a practising surgeon, living with his wife Caroline in a separate house in St Aldate’s from his father with his children Edward (3), Rosa (2), and Catharine (1); their fourth child Elizabeth was born in 1853. Hitchings married his second wife Louisa Lacy (of Bexhill, Surrey) in the summer of 1858 in the West Riding of Yorkshire. They had three more children: Ada (born 1860), Louisa (born 1861), and Robert (born 1864). George practised from 37 Holywell Street, and Kelly’s 1890 directory lists him as the Medical Officer and Public Vaccinator for Headington and Wheatley and the medical officer for the workhouse.
  • Emily Hitchings married the Revd John William Freeborn (1824/5–1871), the son of Dr John James Simms Freeborn, in Oxford on 15 January 1850. Her husband became headmaster of Llanrwist School and then Ruthin Grammar School.
  • Harriet Fane Hitchings died unmarried at the age of 69 at Oxford in 1895.
  • Alice Benwell Hitchings married William Henry Green in 1859 at St George’s, Bloomsbury, London and died 1874 in the West Riding of Yorkshire aged 43.

Most of this information was kindly supplied by Joan Williams

See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 13 September 1851, page 3c (obituary)
  • A.G. Gibson, The Radcliffe Infirmary (1926), p. 164
  • A.H.T. Robb-Smith, A short history of the Radcliffe Infirmary (1970), pp. 52–3

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