A visit to the dentist in the latter half of the 19th century was not for the faint hearted, with extractions deemed a ready solution for dental cavities and toothache.

Early advertisements in the Watford Observer reveal that dentists from top London surgeries attended well-to-do patients in Watford.

In 1869, Messrs Ephraim Mosely and Sons of 9 Grosvenor Square provided free consultations every Tuesday at Mr Thorne-Ley’s, a wine merchant in the High Street. Perhaps a quick tot helped to allay patients’ fears or concerns regarding the cost of treatment!

The practice had provided the service since 1830, with Ephraim Mosely claiming that he and his sons, Benjamin and Alexander, were the only qualified dentists in attendance in Watford at that time. He actively promoted his ‘white India rubber artificial teeth, gums and palates’ and his impressively-titled 1862 publication: ‘Teeth, Their Natural History: With the Physiology of the Human Mouth, in Regard to Artificial Teeth’.

The dental surgery of Frederick A Eskell of 25 Hanover Square, London began its attendance in Watford in 1864. A dentist from the practice examined patients every Tuesday at Mr Adcock’s, a tailor opposite the George Inn in the High Street. He claimed his new system of treating and fixing artificial teeth imparted a youthful appearance to the countenance ‘till now deemed unattainable’, resulting in ‘admiration so freely bestowed.’ His superior gum-coloured ‘Adamantine’ vulcanised base for artificial teeth and gums provided a ‘natural elasticity’, and the ‘greatest support to the adjoining teeth’. His advertisement noted that ‘even loose ones are held firmly and retained in their natural position.’ A set of teeth from Frederick Eskell cost £5, equating to nearly £635 today, and a single tooth from 5/-, equivalent to £34. Perhaps satisfied patients were encouraged to dig further into their pockets and invest in a new suit as they emerged from the dentist straight into Adcock’s tailoring shop.

Watford Observer:

The George Inn with sign outside, centre right, opposite Mr. Adcock's earlier tailoring business premises, c1906. Picture: Frederick Downer

A third dentist in attendance in Watford in 1869 was Mr W Farnham of 12 Tyndale Place, London, a ‘surgeon and mechanical dentist’ and patentee of the ‘Painless System of Pure Dentistry’. He claimed to be the only ‘legally qualified dentist by indenture practising in Watford’ and assured patients of ‘proper treatment in all cases of the mouth’. He attended every Friday, more appropriately at Mr H Oldfeld’s, a chemist in the High Street.

Guernsey-born chemist Alfred J Cottle MPS, who practiced at 97 St Albans Road from 1865, registered as a dentist after qualifying in an examination in 1878. In 1891 he was advertising his ‘extensive’ dental knowledge and ‘rare skills’, citing ‘a clientele extending over a very wide area’.

Fast forward to 1899, when Liverpudlian Walter Quantrell opened The Market Street Dental Rooms at 47 Market Street, Watford. He was still practising there 16 years later, working from 9am until 9pm daily, including Wednesdays (Watford’s half-day closing). As well as dentistry and the supply of artificial teeth, he was a director of Watford Football Club and contested King’s Ward at the Urban District Council election in 1913, coming third out of five candidates for the two seats. He was also director of the Watford Mutual Building Society. A busy man indeed!

Watford Observer:

Walter Quantrell's Dental Rooms, Market Street, 1915

In 1915, the dental surgery of H T Best Ltd was located above the umbrella shop in Market Place; one of several branches. Watford manager H D Herbert, in his seventh year in the practice, worked daily from 10am until 8.30pm, aided by two assistants. He boasted the latest apparatus, including an electric motor for grinding and polishing, as well as electric lighting and heating and warm water, with ‘painless’ extractions under nitrous oxide gas. The surgery supplied ‘the best’ English and American artificial teeth, with the provision of single or partial teeth or complete sets in vulcanite and gold. A further benefit was that easy payments could be arranged.

Watford Observer:

H.T. Best's Dental Surgery, 1915

I definitely wouldn’t wish to go back in time as far as dental treatment is concerned. My own childhood memory is of Mr Catchpole’s surgery at 74 St Albans Road. Having to face an extraction resulting from overcrowding, I can’t forget the smell of gas, the rubber mask and the nurse firmly holding me down. I was terrified and the experience left me fearful of dentists for years! But the promise of extra pocket money that I could spend at Watford Stamp Shop, directly across St Albans Road, somewhat aided my recovery. Thank goodness for modern, patient-friendly dentistry!

Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’, available at www.pastdayspublishing.com and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.