Doctor Alexander Walton MB BS MRGP

    4th December 1941

         and

       Mrs Christine Walton

       18th October 1941

This piece is breaking from the usual and going to cover the life stories of two remarkable people, both of whom are held in extremely high esteem, not only in their home town of Spalding, but throughout a large part of the Eastern Counties and beyond.
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Alex Walton was born on the 4th of December 1941at Kelloe in County Durham into what can only describe as a truly hardworking family. His father and grandfather were both men of North Eastern Mining stock and with it, proud of the fact that they were staunch Socialists and members of the Labour Party.  Alex’s mother was from a totally different background though. She was from proper Lancashire Farming stock and held true Conservative values! This in itself would have made it a very interesting house in which to grow up! Alex’s father was one of ten, all of the boys going down the Pit except for one who was sadly killed in the First War. He however, was one who was spotted as having exceptional talent and was given the opportunity to study mining engineering at Sheffield University where on graduating he went back to Kelloe as Under Manager and then on as Manager to Blyth Colliery in Northumberland and latterly to Wheatslade. It was always his ambition to become a Doctor but sadly this was not to be. He did however play a very important part in the North East Branch of the Miners Rescue, when an explosion ripped apart Wheatslade Colliery. It was a full eighteen months before they could reach where the bodies of their colleagues lay and when they did so the pit ponies literally bolted. This hit Alex’s father very hard and was something he never got over.

Alex was educated at the Cathedral School in Newcastle before progressing to the Royal Grammar School and then in 1960 it was onto Medical School. Christine or Chris as we fondly know her, was born at Gosforth, near Newcastle on the 18th October 1941 and lived there throughout her childhood. She was educated in and around Newcastle, firstly at the Convent La Sagesse and then progressed on to Eastcliffe Grammar. Chris had also decided that the medical profession was where she also wanted to be. She trained initially as a Cadet Nurse at the Royal Infirmary before qualifying in 1963 as a SRN, a position which, now no longer exists. It was during their training at Newcastle General Hospital that Alex and Chris met. Alex was the trainee Doctor and Chris, the trainee nurse and they just happened to be on the same ward together at the time when an enema needed to be performed. I think maybe rank was pulled and Chris had to undertake the job in hand, with the offer of being taken out for a glass of Babycham when they were next off duty! She duly accepted and in 1965 they were married.

On qualifying Alex continued to practice at Newcastle General before the two of them left to go to Edinburgh for a while. Whilst they were there Chris became a night sister and Alex taught medical students. They then returned to Newcastle, with Chris going to the Royal Infirmary as a research nurse to Professor Johnson and Alex back to the General where he worked on the baby wards. It was at this time that Chris was asked to read a medical paper to the Royal College of Surgeons, something of which she will always be justly proud.

Chris and Alex at a hunt ball which Chris helped to organise

Chris and Alex at a hunt ball which Chris helped to organise

In 1970 however, it was time for a change. Alex and Chris Walton decided that a new life beckoned and off they set for Lincolnshire and the Market Town of Spalding.  This was a far cry for them both having been brought up in the North East and nothing like what they had been used to in and around Newcastle and Edinburgh.  By this time though, being fully qualified, they were more than ready for the challenges that lay ahead of them. Alex joined a general practice with a team of three other doctors. It was the duty of the doctors from their partnership to attend casualty every other day as well as being responsible for playing their part in looking after the 30 bed maternity unit at Spalding Hospital. At this particular time their team of four looked after nine thousand patients in an area that spread at least eight miles into Fens. Nowadays the number has risen to be more like twenty thousand!

His first night on call is one that Alex remembers vividly. It was very late when he received a phone call from a distressed mother about her new born baby who was beginning to show signs of being far from well. For this young city doctor to set forth late at night into the wildness of the fens was something he will never forget and without any doubt left its mark on him for a various number of reasons. After much searching he eventually found the house where mother and child were located and all was well. The journey back, as dawn was breaking, saw the Fens starting to spring into life with hares, rabbits  and pheasants and even a heron all appearing on the road in front of him. This one experience well and truly demonstrated to Alex just how much their lives had changed.

On another late night call to a man who had lost his finger in a pea viner Alex was brought face to face with the importance of agriculture to the area. So the following morning being off duty, he made a point of visiting the farmer where the incident had occurred. Alex wanted to know more about a pea viner and what it actually did. After some instruction and a trip round the farm he had a much clearer idea about farming here and it was as a result of this he developed two questions which he regularly used. They were, “how’s things lifting and how’s things selling? The answer to both would always be the same – “badly!” It was during this visit that the farmer concerned asked Alex if he rode, as they were looking for someone to help exercise their horses. The reply was in the negative but Chris had done so in the past. Little did he know at the time but he had been talking to Rex Sly the Joint Master of the Fitzwilliam! It was from that moment on that a firm friendship began and it is one that has been ongoing for over forty years. Chris became the stable jockey, and rode out regularly with Steph, Rex’s wife. In due course, she bought a horse, Rebel and was introduced to hunting, something she greatly enjoyed and was to become an important part of her life for many years afterwards.

Whilst Alex continued to work hard in the practice, Chris certainly did not sit still. Their daughter Sarah was born in 1972 and it was not only the duties of a mother and a housewife she performed. In her own right Chris like Alex was becoming immensely popular in the town, with nothing being too much trouble to either of them. The role of JP, Chairman of the local Bench as well as Chairman of the North Sea Camp Board of Prison Visitors were just a few examples of her dedication to the local community.  Alex in the meantime was  fully engrossed in ensuring the best for his patients. He felt it was important for new young doctors coming to the area to have a better knowledge of the agricultural industry and the dangers that went with it. He therefore decided to create courses which would give their participants a far better understanding. This meant taking them out onto farms as well as to food processing and distribution plants. It was something that became a key part of their education as for many this was a totally new experience and it was whilst on one of these visits he came across one of his patients who he had helped wean off the dreaded valium. He saw her cutting cabbages for coleslaw with the most lethal looking knife he felt perhaps it was understandable why he had put her on that form of medication in the first place! Most interestingly the lady concerned was married to an Ukranian prisoner of war who couldn’t go back because the Ukranians had fought with the Germans against the Russians.

Doctors hours are long, tiring and can be extremely taxing, therefore some light entertainment is important to build into the schedule from time to time. Initially a day or two’s shooting was on offer which Alex thoroughly enjoyed and whilst partaking in this met many of the local farming community. He then joined a local syndicate and shot for fifteen years. This gave him the chance to enjoy the fens in the middle of winter, not always the most hospitable of places, as those of us who know it quite well have found out! Fishing and skiing holidays also came into the equation but then it came to be Alex’s turn to be introduced to hunting, perhaps something that all those years before when practicing as a Medical student in the North East, would never have even entered his mind. His first day was with the Fitzwilliam in the snow at Raunds near Wellingborough. A large glass of whisky certainly helped calm the rather fragile nerves and then he was told by Rex Sly who was Master at the time, to follow him. A large hedge suddenly loomed up out of the blue and the next thing he knew he was over it and away. This was such a memorable day for Alex’s and the beginning of the next chapter in his life, hunting!

Chris and Alex hunting with the Fitzwilliam

Chris and Alex hunting with the Fitzwilliam

It was unfortunate for both of them that much of their time whilst out with the Fitzwilliam was spent picking up those who had just experienced the ground coming up to meet them rather quicker than they had hoped or wished for! It was however hunting that gave both Alex and Chris the opportunity to enjoy something they could do together. Many happy days were spent both in the Fitzwilliam Country as well as others and when the hounds went visiting Alex made sure time was taken off work so he could go too. After all he was Senior Partner at this time, so why shouldn’t the good Doctor have some time to be allowed to enjoy the spirit of the chase? There was a day visit to the Grove and Rufford from where it is believed he got the bug. Then the five day trip when the hounds went to Salisbury Plain to hunt by kind invitation of the Royal Artillery. Lastly it was a week’s Staghunting on Exmoor when the Master of the Fitzwilliam at the time, felt a visit it was not the safest thing to do without a Doctor being present! As there was only one who hunted in the area at the time Alex accepted the invitation. The rest of that particular week is a story for another day, suffice to say it was certainly an interesting addition to his hunting life!

Alex and Chris continued to hunt for several more years but have now retired both from practice and sadly hunting as well. They are a couple who from the very beginning have been there constantly devoting their lives to helping and supporting others. However they have had more than enough thrown at them, either by accidents or ill health and yet through the incredibly caring nature they posses, have always had other peoples interests at heart.  The measure of the man is summed up I believe by this; having retired and not been in the best of health Alex took on the chairmanship of the Spalding branch of Help the Aged and actively looked at raising as much money as he could for them! That speaks volumes. With Chris who we are indeed so fortunate to still have in our midst, it is her wonderful kindly smile that says it all. Mention the name Walton in Spalding and I know for a fact, you will not get anybody held in more high esteem than them.

So from the people of the town of Spalding that took to this couple from the Urban North East to their hearts, and those of us who are privileged to have been brought up in more rural surroundings, it is time for us all to say, thank you Alex, thank you Chris, the kindness you have shown to all of us will quite literally never be forgotten.

James Barclay
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