Bonesetter? What are, or were, bonesetters, you may ask. They were healers, joint manipulators, and setters of fractured bones, long before the advent of X-rays, Plaster of Paris, and now, MRI scans. Often unqualified other than by experience, their ‘trade’ generally ran in families, handed down from father to son or daughter. It used to be said that to be a successful bonesetter, you had to be the seventh son of a seventh son! Their modern counterparts are chiropractors and osteopaths.
In the Middle Ages, boys aged 12-17 were apprenticed for 7 years to recognised master craftsmen, some later entering university training along with physicians. The best bonesetters were approved by royalty, – and could therefore charge more for their services. In Europe, bonesetters belonged to a guild which oversaw training, supported its members professionally and ruled on disciplinary charges. In Britain, traditionally, bonesetters were employed by those who could not afford the much higher fees charged by university-qualified physicians.
George Bennett came from a long line of Oxfordshire Bonesetters, a family tradition which stretched back at least 200 years. He inherited the mantle from Matthews Bennett, an uncle who practised in Leamington and district, and once in business, George adopted ‘Matthews’ as his middle name, advertised widely, holding clinics not only widely in Warwickshire, but in coaching inns all over the south of England, – and latterly, also in London. He was a great publicist: local directories of the time feature many prominent advertisements such as the one below.
GM Bennett’s book, ‘The Art of the Bonesetter’, published in 1884, sought to vindicate “The Art”, beset as it was by contemporary medical professionals’ disdainful attitudes and critical comments. It carried fulsome endorsements from the good and the great as to the efficacy of his treatments.
This vigorous, energetic man was a liberal, a staunch member of the Church of England, – and at the same time, a freemason, a druid, and a forester. He clearly sought to cover every eventuality! He ensured a good professional start for his older son, George junior, by having him educated at a private school in Oxford, and then as a medical student in London. When his father died in 1913, George junior duly carried on the Leamington practice, until his own death in 1940.
Mark Ryan, Spring 2012