Our History

In the 1930s, amid the rolling hills of Tunbridge Wells, the seeds of what would become the Culverden Veterinary Group were sown by George Paton MRCVS. This tale, reminiscent of James Herriot’s cherished stories, unfolds a narrative woven with compassion, wartime resilience, and the ever-evolving tapestry of veterinary practice.

World War II cast its shadow over the horizon, beckoning George Paton into the Royal Navy in 1940. Left with a single-handed practice, he foresaw the need for a thriving business upon his return. Thus, he enlisted Peter Sutton, who had earned his veterinary stripes at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) qualifying in 1936. Prior to joining the family practice, Peter lectured at the RVC and worked in his father’s veterinary practice in Church St, Kensington in London.

As the spectre of war loomed in 1939, pet owners feared food shortages and the devastating impact of bombings. Fearing for the disappearance of horses from London and foreseeing a decline in work for a horse vet, Peter sought refuge in rural pastures.

His initial locum position in Ashford led to George Paton inviting him to be a locum in Tunbridge Wells for the war’s duration. Thus, in 1939, Peter and his wife Heather, one of the UK’s first women veterinary surgeons, arrived in Tunbridge Wells. The practice found its home at 14 St John’s Road, a building that still stands today, exterior unchanged since 1940.

Peter and Heather immersed themselves in their roles – Peter focusing on farm work, cattle, and horses, while Heather pioneered the small animal practice, a novel concept in those times. Petrol shortages dictated Peter’s rounds, often undertaken on a motorbike, with emergency calls delivered by telegram boys cycling from the old Post Office down by the railway station.

After an initial stint at 14 St John’s Rd, Peter and Heather rented Speedwell in Farnham Lane, Langton, while the practice continued at 14 St John’s Rd. The war years were not only about veterinary duties but also about community service. Peter took his turn patrolling with the Langton Green Home Guard. He became part of the highly secretive ‘stay behinds,’ tasked with noting German troop movements if there was an invasion.

Later in the war, the Tunbridge Wells area became a target for German V1 rockets, which fell short in the countryside around the town. The explosive heads were wound with steel wire, causing issues for cows that ingested the wires. Diagnosis was challenging, and the army eventually provided a mine detector to check if cows had steel in their stomach. This detector was still in the office in the 1950’s!

In 1944 Peter and Heather Sutton acquired the practice from George Paton. In 1948, a new chapter unfolded as they acquired the premises at 11 Culverden Park Road for £1500 (which is our Tunbridge Wells hospital to this day). This private house, formerly owned by a retired Major, came with expansive grounds extending down to Culverden Park. The lower garden housed a tennis court (which is now housing along Culverden Park), and stables at the far end kept the family horses.

The late 40s brought a memorable incident when Peter confronted a thief at the chicken house robbing eggs one night. The ensuing scuffle ended with the thief being knocked out by Peter with an iron bar. Years later an elderly visitor recounted this tale to Peter & Heather Sutton’s son James. He gazed transfixed out the window into the garden during the evening surgery opening a bridge in his mind between the past and present. The now elderly gentleman explained he attended this address during the war as a police officer and arrested an escaped prisoner who had been knocked out by Peter Sutton.

In the early 1950s, Peter’s college friend Harry Thonger joined as a partner. Living arrangements were reflective of a close-knit practice – Peter and Heather in the top flat, Harry and his family in the ground floor flat. The practice, bustling with farm work and Heather’s dedicated small animal care, necessitated additional assistant vets.

The 1950s marked a pinnacle with over 500 dairy herds on the practice books. However, tragedy struck in 1968 with Harry Thonger’s stroke and subsequent passing. John Millett joined as a partner in the same year, taking over the Wadhurst branch from Marcus Rodgers.

As farm work thrived, Tuberculosis Testing for the Ministry of Agriculture and attendance at Wadhurst market were integral. The Tunbridge Wells Show, a significant annual event, saw the practice as official Veterinary Surgeons until its closure in the late 60s. The 1967-68 foot and mouth outbreak led to assistant Tom Barr’s loan to MAFF, a role reprised by James Sutton during the 2001 outbreak.

Through the 70s and 80s, all species were covered, but the winds of specialization were beginning to blow. The farming generation, accustomed to horses as working animals, saw them fade into history with the advent of the tractor. Subsidies and government support kept farm work abundant, expanding into TB and anthrax testing. Brian Rosevear, whom had been an assistant for many years, became a partner in the late seventies while Heather and Peter Sutton retired.

By 1982, a changing landscape welcomed James Sutton and Michael David as partners. Small animal practice surged, equine work increased, and the seeds of decline in farm work were planted. The 1975 involvement in a sheep export abattoir in Lamberhurst was a significant venture but was relinquished in the early 2000s. Culverden expanded into Crowborough and opened a branch headed up by the new partner John Baldry.

The 1990s brought changes – Marcus Rodgers retired in 1990, and Brian Rosevear took the helm of the small animal practice. John Millett assumed the role of senior partner, continuing to manage the Wadhurst branch, which focused mostly on farm work. Culverden vets mourned the untimely passing of John Baldry in 2013. We remember his dedication and strong work ethic. Staff still remember John going on a home visit Crowborough in the snow with a sledge.

As veterinary specialization deepened, each partner delved into their interests while maintaining the practice ethos. The 1997 retirement of John Millett marked a strategic move, with a new practice premises in Sparrows Green opening in 1996, adding a fresh chapter amid lively ceremonies and James Sutton returning to celebrate its opening.

Brian Rosevear’s retirement in 2008 signalled a new era. Farm work dwindled, equine practice faced competition from specialists, and the spotlight shifted to companion animals. James Sutton assumed the senior role, welcoming Duncan Mitchell and Tom Doyle into the partnership.

The trend of declining farm and horse work persisted, juxtaposed with the rising tide of companion animal care. James Sutton and Michael Davids’ retirement in the 2010’s marked a decline in equine work and embodying the practice’s resilience through changing times.

Duncan and Tom have overseen the continued growth and development from challenges during COVID to Tunbridge Well’s extension and beyond. They welcomed Natalie Harley and Philip Cusack as partners in 2023. This is the first female partner since Heather Sutton retired in 1979 and something to celebrate.

(Heather Sutton, James & Janet in the car park)

(Mark, Guy and James Sutton in front of reception)

(Janet Sutton, Sutton family donkey, Ailsa Thonger on donkey, James Sutton, Rodney and Nigel Thonger on the lawn outside the now staff room).

1948 accountant’s letter one of our oldest documents.

(Guy & Janet Sutton with the now dog ward in the background)

Culverden Staff photo from the 90s          

Culverden partners old & new