Leeds Vets Practice: our first clinic
On Vicar Lane in Leeds, there was a large haberdashery shop run by the Woods family. Christine, the eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Woods, was a gifted scholar. She also loved animals.
In those days, it was frowned upon for girls to study past school age. But this didn’t put Christine off, and when she finished school she left home to go to university veterinary school.
To put this in some context, back then, female vets were rare. The first-ever female vet to practice in the UK was called Aleen Isobel Cust. She completed her studies in Edinburgh in 1897 but (as a woman) was not allowed to sit the final exam. She moved to Ireland and ran a practice there with her male colleague William Augustine Byrne MRCVS for many years. It wasn’t until 1922 that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons finally recognised her right to practice on her own in Britain.
It was just fifteen years later in 1937 that Christine Woods qualified from Liverpool University Veterinary School.
Christine returned to Leeds and set about establishing our very first practice. To begin with, Christine cared for sick animals from her parents’ living room. Then the Woods family built a small veterinary clinic in the garden of their home in Cleasby Road, Menston in Leeds.
In 1939, Christine was joined by her university friend, Mary Dalby. Mary was a church minister’s daughter and had also qualified from Liverpool University.
Throughout the 1940s, Christine and Mary ran a mixed practice as Woods & Dalby MsRCVS from the Cleasby Road clinic.
Christine and Mary were said to be “a formidable duo with a phenomenal reputation for caring for animals”.
The all-female team became a big asset when the war began, as many male vets went away to war. Christine and Marys’ main interest was in small pets like cats, dogs and rabbits. But during the war there was a shortage of vets, so they diversified and began looking after all species of animals.
After the war in 1950, they began to specialise in small animal practice again. During that decade, Christine Woods was elected as the 1st ever female president of the Yorkshire Veterinary Society. Soon afterwards, Mary Dalby followed suit and became the 2nd ever female president of the society.
In the 1960s, Christine and Mary opened a branch surgery on Parish Ghyll Road in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. They were joined by Pam Braithwaite, an Ilkley resident and Edinburgh graduate of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. The practice was then known as Woods, Dalby and Braithwaite. The surgery later moved to Regent Road, Ilkley, where it ran successfully for many years.
Sadly, in 1973, Christine Woods died, and Mary soon began experiencing ill health herself. In 1975, Craig Harrison (who had qualified in Edinburgh in 1971) joined the practice to help out during Mary’s illness.