A Short History of the AVMC
A holistic veterinary practice
In response to popular demand, we post here a potted history of the practice. My parents (Evelyn and Kenneth D), who were both practicing vets, came to the area in about 1944, having both undergone their veterinary training at The Royal Veterinary College, London and having been evacuated to finish their courses at Goring, during the air raids of the '39-'45 war. In my mother’s young days, lady vets were very rare
They first rented a room at Pidnell Farm, near Radcot. They soon moved into Chinham House, first renting it, then buying it. It had previously been owned by Brasenose College in Oxford (a college founded in 1509 and named after the ancient brass (brazen) door-knocker hanging above High Table in Brasenose Hall). Chinham House is a Queen Anne (early 1700’s) dwelling, with period interior and extensions, built into and onto a Norman/Mediaeval barn at that time.
The house is three-storey, the top two rooms consisting of wattle and horse-hair plaster, constructed within the loft. There is a fine Queen Anne staircase and fireplace. The main rooms are high-ceilinged, with typical plaster mouldings. Another unusual feature of the house is the presence of the original solid pine shutters, doors, floors and sash windows, all of which are of very high quality. The bricks for the extensions were reputedly made on site.
The original barn was mentioned in the history of the Civil War campaign (1645-6) of Faringdon and Radcot (an ancient river-crossing close by, on the River Thames). At some time during this campaign, Cromwell’s cavalry was described as having been billeted in Penstones Farm (next door to us) and the horses in the barn next to Penstones Farm (that’s us).
The place has undergone changes, even since the times of Queen Anne. We have a photograph of the frontage, prior to tarmac on the High Street. It shows that there were two cottages in what is now our kitchen garden. They are not there now but the windows and fireplaces are still to be seen, in the kitchen garden wall.
In my childhood, this was the veterinary practice. It was a very rural mainly cattle practice. There was significant sheep and pig work. I spent every minute that I could, going round with my parents and helping in the very Herriot-like veterinary work. I would help to unpack the medicines orders and stock the shelves. Many ‘happy hours' were spent reading product literature and thereby absorbing the ‘trade’. The kitchen was where I now consult, with a lovely vaulted baker’s oven. The office was where our kitchen now is. The two were then swapped while I was very young, for space reasons.
The ‘small animal' service was initially offered in a little loft room, in Alms Houses in nearby Faringdon and the ‘operating theatre’ was in the tack-room of Chinham House’s stable. This had a brick floor, with an old machine bench as an operating table, over which I could just see when I was small, if I stood on the rail. I used to operate the Tate & Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin ‘anaesthetic machine’. This was a tin with cotton wool inside, soaked in ether. It was a very safe and controllable method but, of course, much frowned upon in today’s technological world. The main hazard was that ether was inflammable and heavier than air, so that one was walking in inflammable vapour. Still, the room was so damp and draughty and the brick floor so damp, that there was little risk of sparks from static electricity. Eventually, as small animal work increased, a consulting room-cum-operating room was made in the then office (i.e. where the main consulting room is now) and the office and waiting room were set up in a new ‘log-cabin’, in the drive.
Business and work expanded, so assistants were employed. These assistants lived in a house in Faringdon, called Danetree. Eventually, this was ‘converted’, meaning upstairs became a large flat and downstairs became a veterinary premises with X-Ray machine, operating room, waiting room, two consulting rooms and a dark room. No walls or doorways were changed. It was left as if a house, in case it was needed again in that form. There was also a small ‘lock-up' (two-room) branch surgery in Shrivenham/Watchfield, by the Golf Course.
While I was at college, my old 1933 Morris 10 and my brother’s old 1936 Daimler were moved out of the stone garage block and a new waiting room and office were constructed there. The old tack-room was joined in, and renovated, to form a new consulting room.
This is how the practice was, when I joined it in 1973, after my studies in Cambridge and my ‘year away' in Burnley, Lancashire. We were then a four-man practice, expanding to five very soon. We had three premises, none of which was purpose-built or purpose-fitted. We served mainly the Vale of the White Horse and down to the Thames Valley.
My father had built up an extraordinary reputation in preventive medicine, in ‘routine-visiting' of farms and in nutrition work. I naturally followed this line, having seen it developing in my formative years and seeing the immense wisdom, logic and benefit of it. My mother was very highly-rated as a small animal vet, after injury took her off the farms. She had a client base that even included some ‘regulars’ from as far away as London. Very importantly, she also used some homeopathy, having been introduced to it on the same occasion that I was (i.e. when I was about eleven years old). Her obvious successes with it were, of course, influential to me. I started using homeopathy from the day I qualified and acupuncture from about 1980.
In about 1978, my parents left Chinham House and went to Guiting Power, Gloucestershire. Happily, both my parents were with us and extremely busy, until recently. My mother has recently retired as a trustee of the Guiting Power Trust and my father, who was helping to run Guiting Manor Farm, for the Trust has sadly recently died. The book ‘Old Country Vets’ describes some of their life and times, from a bygone era of veterinary practice.
In 1987, as we were so busy with alternative medicine, we reconstructed the disused consulting room at Chinham House, making it a dedicated Alternative Medicine premises. It became the country's first dedicated holistic practice and I formally became a full-time holistic vet. We opened the consulting room into the garden, by putting in French windows and we created a herb garden, containing examples of some 150 medicinal herbs. The general practice still used the office and consulting facility across the yard, at that time.
In the late eighties, we rebuilt the Faringdon premises, making a purpose-built small animal centre, with flats. The practice office was moved to that site but my colleagues continued to hold conventional surgeries in the outside waiting room and consulting room at Stanford in the Vale.
In the early nineties, we bought a surgery and flat at Wantage, to allow expansion of the natural medicine side at Stanford, which needed the full Stanford site for its work. This made four practice centres, in all.
The practice (comprising the main Faringdon premises and the Shrivenham (Watchfield) and Wantage branches) was sold to incumbent veterinary assistants a few years later. That became ‘Danetree Veterinary Surgeons', who now do all of our emergency and out-of-hours work.
We find ourselves now in a lovely rural property, far from purpose-built but comfortable. It is admittedly strained at the seams with all our activities but it is both a home and a well-worn work place. Animals enjoy coming and seem to relax very easily in its homely and non-clinical environment, for holistic veterinary care.
We run 20 acres of pasture and woodland on an organic basis, in order that we can rescue and rehabilitate a few horses and give our happy bunch of cattle and other animals a contented and relaxed lifestyle. We are re-establishing flora and fauna at an exciting rate, each year bringing new surprises. For instance, we have seen eighteen species of butterfly in the garden in recent years, which has been a source of great joy. We leave areas to ‘run wild’ for this purpose and intentionally have a relaxed policy to weeds and plant life on the premises.
Unfortunately, we had a fire in our little wooden/thatched barn, in the main yard, a few years ago. This was obviously tragic but it has presented the opportunity to rebuild and alter use, employing the latest environmental and power-saving technology. Planning permission was finally given and the planning of the features that will make it self-contained, energy-wise, are well under way. We have to cope with the burnt-out eye-sore, in the meantime.
Work at the Centre continues, providing holistic consultations, with the provision of homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs, chiropractic etc. to our patients. The premises has also been home to the annual Veterinary Membership Examinations, for the Faculty of Homeopathy, since their inception. This entails closing the practice for a day each year, for the candidates to attend the clinical and oral sections of their examination. For the first time, in 2006, this was a two-day event, as numbers were expanded by the first candidates from Ireland.