Cooper, Sir Astley, 3 St. George’s Plain

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The house where Astley Cooper served the first part of his surgical apprenticeship.


Astley Cooper was the son of the Vicar of St. Nicholas’ Church and came to Great Yarmouth when he was 13 years old.  He was an athletic and fun-loving youngster. One day, he was making faces behind Dr. Turner’s back, causing other students to laugh.  Turner turned around and asked Cooper what was the problem.  He explained that he had pain from a bad tooth, whereupon Turner looked in his mouth, grabbed some forceps and removed a tooth.  Years later, Astley Cooper said he was relieved to see that the tooth was indeed rotten. At the age of 14 years, Cooper was apprenticed to Edward Rigby, surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, and it was here that he witnessed an operation to remove a stone from a man’s bladder.  He said that this was one of the influences that encouraged him to become a surgeon.  At the age of 16 years, Cooper went to study at Guy’s Hospital in London, where his uncle, William Cooper, was the senior surgeon.  However, he periodically returned to Dr. Turner’s house to study with him.  Initially, he showed little interest in his studies, but then developed a passion for dissecting dead bodies. In addition, he carried out experiments on living dogs and other animals.  Cooper became a popular lecturer to the students and a highly successful surgeon, becoming President of the College of Surgeons of England on two occasions.  From time to time he visited Great Yarmouth, but much of his life was spent in London and on his large estate in Hertfordshire, where he died in 1841.