George Cuthbert Mura M’Gonigle
George born 19 February 1889 at 48 North Bridge Street, Monkwearmouth was the second child of William Alexander M’Gonigle and Sarah Catherine Stobbs.
William was born in about 1850 in Tamlagh-Finlagan, County Londonderry. He married Sarah Catherine Stobbs in 1881 in Darlington. Sarah was born in 1858 in Hunwick near Bishop Auckland. Their first child Brian Hall M’Gonigle was born in 1887 but only lived 3 days. George had a younger sister Kathailin Mary M’Gonigle who was born in 1891 in Monkwearmouth, she was a teacher. William was the vicar of St Cuthbert’s Church, Monkwearmouth which is where George was baptised on 20 March 1889.
George spent his childhood in both Monkwearmouth and then Ellingham in Northumberland when his father became Vicar at the village church. The family were in Ellingham on both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. George completed his medical training at Newcastle Medical School and then graduated from Durham University in 1910.
In 1911 he was a house physician at the RVI in Newcastle. By 1914 he had also taken a diploma in public health and became a Bachelor of Hygiene in 1914. Prior to World War One he was school medical officer for County Durham. He enlisted and during the war he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps gaining the rank of captain.
He married Dorothy Evelyn Campbell on 15 July 1916 in Bayswater, she had been a VAD nurse and they had met whilst working together in Italy.
He returned to Durham after the war and in 1924 moved to Stockton to become Medical Officer of Health. In his work in the town he specialised in the study of rickets and especially on one of its primary causes, poor diet. His research found that the poor could not afford the more expensive foods – dairy, fruit and vegetables which would provide the correct vitamins to halt the disease.
He persuaded the Stockton Health Committee to supply dried milk and cod liver oil to poor families and also vitamins to pregnant women. He worked with the child welfare clinics to advise families on diet. Due to his efforts there was a drop in the number of rickets cases in Stockton.
In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Stockton was going through a phase of slum clearance and the building of new council estates. It was thought that the better conditions on the new estates would improve peoples’ overall health. Dr McGonigle as our medical officer decided to study the overall health of people in both areas, however his resulting report to the health committee about his findings was not what everyone expected.
He was comparing the Housewife Lane Area, this appears to be the area now between the Police Station and the Peugeot garage, and the modern estate was Mount Pleasant which is the location of the former Swainby Road. Dr M’Gonigle found that comparing deaths rates showed a 46% increase in mortality on the new estate compared with the remaining slum area, also health was worse in the Mount Pleasant families. He investigated and found that rents on the new estate were 9 shillings a week compared to 4s 8d in the slums, this meant that the families that had been rehoused had much less money to spend on food so their health suffered and many suffered from malnutrition.
His report was published nationwide and appeared in the press both in this country and abroad, this in turn influenced housing policies in this era, worldwide. Dr M’Gonigle sat on a BMA committee looking at diet and income and his findings helped the committee convince the Ministry of Health to change their dietary standards. Dr M’Gonigle expanded on his report by writing a book’ Poverty & Public Health’ (1937), he also took part in a film ’Enough to Eat’ in 1936. When food rationing was introduced for WW II the government followed Dr M’Gonigles findings to ensure a balanced diet for all, rationing also gave mothers and small children orange juice, cod liver oil and milk. As a result many people’s health actually improved during the war. Due to the years that he carried on with his work on child health and the effects of poverty, the Evening Gazette named him ‘Housewives Champion’.
Dr M’Gonigle died 30 July 1939 of pneumonia at home in Norton, there is a plaque on his former house situated opposite Mill Street. He was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, his wife lived until 1980 and was buried alongside him. In 1948 a film called One Man’s Story was made about his work in Stockton to show the work of an officer of health.
Slums and Redevelopment: Policy and Practice in England, 1918-45, By J.A. Yelling
Poverty & Public Health – G McGonigle & J Kirby 1937
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Image Source: Picture Stockton Archive
Stories from the High Street participant: Diane Moody.
The ‘Stories…’ project is part of the Council’s wider “Grants for Heritage Buildings’ programme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Council, to help promote awareness and understanding of the town’s heritage.
Visit www.stockton.gov.uk/grantsforheritagebuildings for further information on the project.