‘Lead, Kindly Light’

This article was written by guest blogger, Con. My thanks to him.

Dr Morris Blasker (M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.) was born in Stepney in London’s East End on 28th May 1904. He was educated at King’s College and Charing Cross Hospital, where he qualified as a Doctor in 1932. After a house appointment in Charing Cross, he started in general practice in Millwall, on the Isle of Dogs.

Morris Blasker

Morris Blasker

As student, Morris was a competent pianist and violinist, and to help pay for his studies he played part time in cinemas in the silent film era. He described being seated at the piano as a small boy in a blue satin suit, his hair in corkscrew curls, with pennies balanced on the back of his hands to ensure they were correctly positioned.

He was also a talented amateur boxer and represented the United Hospitals from 1927-34. He held the bantam and featherweight titles of the universities and hospitals boxing championships of Great Britain and Ireland. His interest in boxing lasted throughout his life, he was medical adviser to several East London boxing clubs and taught local boys in the Dockland Settlement.

‘Doc’ Blasker succeeded Dr Malay and took over his old surgery at 89 Manchester Road. This was damaged in a Second World War air raid so neighbours took the young doctor him into their home in nearby Manchester Grove. One bedroom served as a waiting room while his surgery occupied a second bedroom. His friends fixed him up with a patient bell and they even slept in one room while ‘patients tramped up and down the stairs with their ailments’.

The house next door became available and Dr Blasker moved into No. 2 Manchester Grove, where he remained for the rest of his life. He shared the house with his brother Michael, sister in law Margaret, and their daughter, whom Morris adored. His surgery was upstairs and had a red television permanently switched on during surgery hours, which he ‘seemed to be watching as he spoke to you’.

2 Manchester Grove (corner house)

2 Manchester Grove (corner house)

An Islander recalls ‘I can remember going to his surgery and seeing his telly. It was always on and looked as if the red tones had been brightened up. Everyone and everything was red-coloured. I asked the reason once; he said it was so the blood showed up when he was watching international boxing’!

Morris loved opera and could often be found in the late night bus queue at the ‘Eastern Hotel’ in Limehouse, enthusing about that evening’s performance at Sadler’s Wells or Covent Garden.

Neighbours noted that he ‘didn’t have any of the material things of life’. A local man met ‘Doc’, as he was affectionately known, on a particularly cold evening on his way home from work. Doc was frozen and with no overcoat. When challenged about this, he explained that he had given his only coat away to a man in his surgery ‘in more need of it than me’. It was noted ‘his hand often went into his pocket when a hard luck story was poured into his ears’.

‘Time held no meaning for Doc’, continues one of Doc’s friends. ‘He often turned up an hour or more late for surgery, having been to the dogs or to watch wrestling at the Mile End Arena. This often made him the recipient of some good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon verbals from his patients but he never appeared to be ruffled’.

Tales of his kindness and generosity are the stuff of legend on the Island. He would walk miles to visit patients at their home, usually refusing payment or, if accepting it, discreetly passing it back to the patient’s children on his way out. It was not unknown for him to walk to a distant all-night pharmacy to get an urgent prescription. His keen and dry sense of humour lifted many a spirit. Visiting one particularly dark and dreary house, he was led upstairs by an elderly woman to her bed-ridden husband. On the way up, she was accompanied by Doc whistling ‘Lead, Kindly Light’ behind her.

There are published accounts that Doc removed bullets and pellets from members of the East End criminal community, on the basis that he could trusted not to inform the police. In his book ‘Notorious – The Immortal Legend of the Kray Twins’, John Pearson alleges that Doc was regularly called upon by the Krays in several such incidents and describes him as their ‘medico emeritus’. The truth of these allegations is difficult to establish.

There are however recorded appearances before the Medical Board where he was accused of wrongly providing medical certificates and making false statements. He successfully argued that he was trying to help people who were in financial need and charges were dismissed.

General Medical Council Report.

General Medical Council Report, 1963

Dr Blasker died on the 28th December 1974 aged 70. He was at work on the day he died, after being taken ill suddenly in his surgery. His obituary in the British Medical Journal described him as ‘a unique character in the East End of London. Devoted to his work, it is said he never took a holiday. Visits with him often included some to ships in the docks, the Dockland Settlement, or to methylated spirits drinkers from bombed sites in Stepney, where he helped with a hostel. Above all, he looked after the dockers’ community. Knowing the East End as he did, he knew where help was needed and how to give it’. 

In 2010, a campaign run by two Island ladies, Daisy Woodard and Bessie Boylett, resulted in a new riverside road being named ‘Blasker Walk’ after their much-loved doctor. They also organised a substantial fund-raising effort which paid for kidney machines to be donated in his name for the Royal London Hospital. Daisy said at the time ‘I did not have to ask for money. It just came in from people who lived on the Island or had moved away. Word had got around and that was enough’.

The final word goes to Daisy Woodard regarding ‘Blasker Walk’. ‘He spent his life walking and working for patients. Now his name will live on forever’.

Blasker Walk, on the river behind Burrell's.

Blasker Walk, on the river behind Burrell’s.

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15 Responses to ‘Lead, Kindly Light’

  1. mike pye says:

    Thanks for the information. Dr Blasker was our family doctor and i can remember going to see him as a child.

  2. Christopher Woodard says:

    I can remember going to doctor blasker and having to go and get is raceing papers from the news agents opposite the fire station before he would see me,

    Chris Woodard

  3. Gillian Bird says:

    Does anyone remember a Dr Kelly, also of Manchester Rd?

    • Micky Lemons says:

      I do, he was my GP, doing his stuff at the health centre on Roserton St.

      • Gillian Bird says:

        Is this the Dr who died in 1966? Who took over from Dr Cardale ? My grandmother was the receptionist at the Manchester rd surgery. Thank you

      • Micky Lemons says:

        I just realized I was thinking of Dr Keys, not Kelly, sorry. But I do have the following records for GPs on Manchester RD.

        1939 Blasker, Maurice 89 Manchester Rd Physician & Surgeon
        1915 Cardale, Henry Jasper 451 Manchester Rd physician & surgeon
        1915 Cardale, Henry Jasper 531 Manchester Rd physician & surgeon
        1921 Cardale, Henry Jasper 531 Manchester Rd physician & surgeon
        1972 Jenkins 519 Manchester Rd Physician
        1939 Kelly, William 229 Manchester Rd Physician & Surgeon
        1972 Keys, 519 Manchester Rd Physician
        1972 McConchie, 519 Manchester Rd Physician
        1921 Miles, William Charles 89 Manchester Rd physician & surgeon
        1914 Millea (or Miles?), William 83 Manchester Rd physician & surgeon
        1915 Millea (or Miles?), William Charles 89 Manchester Rd physician & surgeon

      • Gillian Bird says:

        Thank you so much, this is very helpful. I love the island history blog- it brings to life and adds to the information I have been told about.

  4. Linda Owers (nee Ross) says:

    Dr Blasker was a wonderful doctor, he always had time for us on the Island. I remember him well. he was my doctor from when i was a toddler & was still my doctor until the day he died

  5. Denis Field says:

    Denis Field.Dr Blasker was our family doctor,we lived at 33 Manchester rd when I was a kid I can remember what was to us a giant size 21″ black and white tv in his office on which he used to watch the racing.He frequented the savoy fish shop in Manchester Rd and was often seen walking along with a bag of chips.He was so well known on the island and also had the ability to stop the 56bus mid stop by holding up his hand on his frequent trips around the island.A truly wonderful doctor and character.

  6. Rose Hamilton says:

    I remember Dr Blasker when I was child living at 475 Manchester Road. I have so many memories. It was a very poor neighbourhood and he often went unpaid – my father who had a radio, record and cycle shop, often gave him classical records and my mother frequently cooked a fish and chip meal for him. When I was admitted to Homerton hospital with diphtheria Morris came to see me and brought me comics and chocolate. My eldest brother was run over by a bus in East Ferry Road in 1937 and Morris showed such compassion. Like us, he was Jewish. He came to the prayers and took me on his knee and told me to cry as much as I liked. We moved to Twickenham in 1940 and lost touch but after the war I went back to Cubitt Town to find him. He then became a regular visitor to us. When he learned that I shared his love of opera, he began to take me to Covent Garden and other London theatres and, like as not, to Freddie Mills Chinese restaurant afterwards. It was a great disappointment to me that he was held up by a patient on my wedding day and missed the service and reception. After my marriage,we moved to the Midlands and again lost touch again but my parents still saw him now and again until their deaths in 1968 and 1971.

    • That’s interesting, Rose. Your dad must have been Mr. Clements (not that I knew him, I just have a lot of information about old Island firms, shops, etc).

    • Con Maloney says:

      @ Rose Hamilton – Rose, read your memories here with interest. I helped Mick with this piece on Dr Blasker but would like to write something more substantial about his life. I wondered if you would share any more memories of our beloved Doc? If you read this, would you leave me a message and a way of contacting you, I’d be most grateful, thanks, Con Maloney

  7. Con Maloney says:

    @ Rose Hamilton – Rose, read your memories here with interest. I helped Mick with this piece on Dr Blasker but would like to write something more substantial about his life. I wondered if you would share any more memories of our beloved Doc? If you read this, would you leave me a message and a way of contacting you, I’d be most grateful, thanks, Con Maloney

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