Dr. Alfred Salter

Statue of Dr. Salter in Bermondsey

Found among the Reeve* papers this portrait of Dr. Alfred Salter (1873 - 1945) medical doctor and Labour politician - still famous in Bermondsey - as Reeve says he was 'the salt of the earth…'


Fenner Brockway says that Dr Salter was the most brilliant medical student of his time. He could have had a nameplate proudly displayed in Harley Street, and ended his days a wealthy, outstanding medical practitioner welcomed by the affluent anywhere he sought his leisure moments. Instead he installed his surgery among the somewhat turbulent extroverts of Bermondsey, where the underprivileged masses suffered a shortage of skilful medical talent; and although the borough's alcoholic content may be proportionately higher than many places in England, throughout the district a sense of rightness, perhaps even a touch of gratitude exists for the services of a man whom people knew was a genuine servant of mankind. The dockers, usually fond of their pints, returned to parliament again and again, an ardent teetotaler who loved his fellow men. Bermondsey is like that.
  It is shrewdly political, and with all its faults, it gives staunch support to the doctor, the parson, the teacher, the nurse, sometimes even to the police. Many professional men and women who belong to old families, stubbornly insist on remaining in the district, simply because they like the people, and the place where they have lived so long. During my ten years’ at Surrey Docks I came across several of them, and I have since heard that ex-guardsman, Major Carr-Gomme, now lives in the district, so long associated with his ancestors.
  Dr A. Salter, M.P., paid a high price for his close connection with the people; for he insisted that his daughter should be educated in a local school. She died young.
  An essentially human man, Salter must have been highly gratified at the success of one of his projects, for he planted trees in every street in the borough. For years I have seen from the train, adults and children sitting in the shade under trees on a sweltering afternoon and have applauded the wisdom of whoever suggested the introduction. Only recently did I know that Salter was one of the chief promoters of the undertaking. One could not fail to notice that many narrow, mean streets were made to look really attractive through their foliage. In 1913 I lived in Manor Road, Brockley. It was a fairly wide bare-looking street. Saplings were planted on either side later on, and now it is called Manor Avenue, embellished by stately poplars. Pioneers of afforestation, like the late Lord Clinton, have my enthusiastic admiration and support.
  I wonder whether Dr Salter ever met the great Sehweitzer. The aspirations of both men ran on similar lines. Each chose to spend his time among the sick, the poor, the needy; and there is something inspiring about those who deliberately turn their backs on opulence, the companionship and splendour of the world of drama, literature, culture; and instead exercise their talents in exalting the underprivileged, unostentatious citizens of mankind.

Dr Salter & his daughter Joyce

  There must be an earthly reward for such people who stoop to conquer. Is it the genuine gratitude of ex-patients who have made remarkable recovery, thanks to the physician? There must be a deep satisfaction in seeing energetic men and women enjoying life, who were once suffering or infirm. Or is it an irresistible sense of duty? Perhaps there are several reasons for their determination to rescue the humble. Whatever the answer may be these two outstanding workers for the poor and needy, would have much in common. One cannot admire certain investigators in early manhood, who for the reasons of self esteem and blatant showmanship, take a hasty look round, and return with sensational criticisms of achievements magnificently pursued during many arduous years.
  Given the opportunity I should have been an enthralled listener to a conversation between the two great men. Salter was one of the few members of parliament, to be liked and trusted by representatives of all parties; and by local councillors, and adored by patients. He was one of the rare ones -- truly the salt of the earth.

* The papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5  - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and  L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.

L R Reeve had, in a long life, met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers,  H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that  many have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." Reeve states that the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions  unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will."

Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association  and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent several typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes… 

2 thoughts on “Dr. Alfred Salter

  1. stevearcher

    The pictured bronze statue of Alfred Salter, which graced the riverbank at Rotherhithe, was stolen by metal thieves a few years ago. A campaign was launched to replace it – and for an additional statue to be commissioned honouring his remarkable and redoubtable wife, Ada. Last autumn both statues were unveiled, together with a touching one of their daughter Joyce, who died aged nine of scarlet fever, and another of her cat. It's a lovely spot to visit with a fine view of the Thames and a pub next door to boot.

  2. admin Post author

    Many thanks Steve. So glad they replaced the stolen statue, even made it better with Ada and Joyce. There is or was an epidemic of such thefts, garden statuary was a target- especially on the front lawn!


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