A new book has just been published telling the fascinating story of a young Scottish doctor who started up a medical practice at 18 Bolton Street in Ramsbottom nearly 200 years ago. When arriving in Rammy in 1835, Peter Murray McDouall was shocked by the conditions that local factory workers faced in the mills of owners such as the Grant Brothers. However, it seemed there was little he could do to bring about change until he joined the ranks of the Chartist movement, which was campaigning fiercely across the north of England, especially in hot-spots in East Lancashire, for the rights of working men to vote in elections.
‘Ramsbottom’s Revolutionary Doctor’ is local author Nigel Jepson’s new book, which is a follow-up on a local theme to his history of Ramsbottom United, ‘Come on You Rams’, published last December. His interest in this latest subject-matter came after noting the blue plaque above the door of 18 Bolton Street (now the premises of John the Jeweller’s), which pays testimony to the brief but highly eventful life of Peter Murray McDouall.
‘I was curious to find out more about the young doctor and embarked on researching into his life and times’, the author says. ‘Everywhere I looked, both in Ramsbottom and beyond, the story seemed to become more interesting. Just from a purely local history perspective for example, McDouall is arriving on the scene at a time when the main changes are taking place which created the Ramsbottom town-centre of today.
‘Beyond this though is the compelling story of the extent to which McDouall came personally to commit himself, on a national basis, to seeking to improve the lives of all those at the mercy of having to suffer the huge social and economic hardships of those times.
‘Becoming a Chartist leader, Doctor McDouall, possessing what was described at the time as a fiery ardent temperament, proved himself a powerful orator delivering rousing speeches to thousands of people in public meetings across the country. Championing the rights of working people, he became a cult figure to followers. At the same time however, he also became a threat to the Home Office who were desperate to put him under lock and key.
‘Any form of protest was looked upon very harshly by the authorities at this time but McDouall put his head above the ramparts and was not prepared to be silenced, whether in Ramsbottom or anywhere else. Sentenced to two spells of imprisonment (during the first of which he met his future wife, daughter of the prison warder) and a spell of exile in France, he was eventually to die in mysterious circumstances, aged only 40, after emigrating to Australia with his wife and children.
From the local standpoint, Nigel is keen to acknowledge that, in writing this biography of Peter Murray McDouall, he has drawn in early chapters on work carried out by various members of the Ramsbottom Heritage Society. ‘This undoubtedly proved invaluable in creating the platform for studying the life of a man who was to go on to become a figure of national importance in what was for him a mission to achieve stronger democratic ways of governing the country as a whole.’