Those readers who bought a copy of The Cotton Spinner will have found some extra material at the end of the story that explains more about my research. One of the pieces I added was about Dr James Barlow. Sadly there was no opportunity to add any pictures so I thought I’d share them with you here:
When I was eleven years old I went to a secondary school that was housed in an old house on Preston New Road, near its junction with Montague Street, in Blackburn. Local readers may remember the house as Spring Mount. It was the original girls’ grammar school and was Blakey Moor Girls’ School when I was there.
It was a lovely old building and I used to run my hands over the sturdy wooden bannister rails and wonder about the people who once lived there. It was only when I was researching for my saga series The Mill Town Lasses that I discovered the house had been built for Dr James Barlow. It was his home and the site of his successful medical practice. He is a fascinating man and is credited with performing the first caesarean section in the UK in which the mother survived.
In 1822 he published a book Essays on Surgery and Midwifery: With Practical Observations and Select Cases. It is possible to track it down online. It’s not for the faint-hearted but I did draw on a few of the details from his writing for my description of the birth of Bessie in The Cotton Spinner.
Dr Barlow came to Blackburn after the breakdown of a short marriage to Elizabeth Winstanley. He never remarried and passed his fortune to James Barlow Stewardson Sturdy, who went on to become Mayor of Blackburn. Some sources claim he was his adopted son, but my own research seems to indicate that he simply made him his heir. James Barlow Stewardson Sturdy appears on Vladimir Sherwood’s painting Laying the Foundation Stone to the Cotton Exchange, Blackburn, which is displayed in Blackburn Museum. A portrait of Dr James Barlow hangs on the stairs in the museum at Bolton.
Dr Barlow died on 20 August 1839 at his home in Blackburn. And yes, he did keep a peacock that used to annoy people with its noise!