Dr. Tom Wilks

The Doctor on Horseback

Dr Thomas MacFarlane Wilks

Little is known about Dr Tom Wilks but local residents old enough to remember, recall him as a larger than life, plain speaking man with a heart of gold. Records show he was born in Cardiff in 1896. However, by 1927 the Medical Register shows he was living in Gillingham in Kent, where he stayed until approximately 1931. He then moved to ‘Strathmore House’ London Road, South Benfleet. Again the Medical Register shows that he remained at this address until 1951 when he moved to Thundersley.

The ‘surgery’ (resembling more of a shack than a building) was within the grounds of his home at ‘The Cottage’ Kiln Road, Thundersley and it was from here that Tom spent the last years of his working life, before retiring to Cornwall with his wife. During this time Tom and his wife Frances, known by all as Frankie, raised their daughter Victoria, who in later years moved abroad and their son Frederick.

The newspaper cutting below shows Tom Wilks on his ’rounds’ some time around 1930, when at this time his surgery was ‘Strathmore House’. The photo was taken close to the junction of Kents Hill Road and High Road, although at this time High Road was known as London Road. In the up-to-date photo below this, the church and the house to the right of Tom Wilks, can still be seen today.

In the picture Tom Wilks appears to be wearing a suit and bowler hat but in later years, locals, myself included as he was in fact my doctor, remember he used to wear his riding gear of long leather boots, a heavy, belted overcoat and riding breeches.  He smoked a pipe, which he would keep puffing even when examining his patients.  Topping this off he wore a monocle, which was used to great effect with his constant grimacing and scowling.

I personally remember he visited my family on many occasions. Sometimes on horseback but often in a Land Rover.  He was an excellent doctor, somewhat bereft of bedside manner but a man to be reckoned with.  If he told you to take the tablets, you did.

During his lifetime Tom served in the Cavalry as a Medical Officer. Tom was also a serving Brother of the Order of St John and in 1955 an Officer of the Order of St John.   In addition he was promoted from M.B.E. to O.B.E in the Coronation Honours list of 1953 where he was commended for ‘services during the recent floods in the Eastern Counties’.

In later years, Dr Vincent Tyndall used ‘Strathmore House’ as his surgery and Tom Wilks moved up to a building at 123 Kiln Road (probably the property known as ‘The Cottage’).  It was a small, shack of a building within the grounds of Tom’s home, described verbally by one of his colleagues, Dr Norman Sutcliffe.

The surgery at Tarpots was manned by Dr Tom Wilks, Dr Ralph Taylor, Dr Douglas Acres, eventually Dr Vincent Tyndall joined them and in the early 1960s, the new recruit Dr Norman Sutcliffe.

After Tom retired, Norman Sutcliffe and his wife visited Tom and Frankie at their smallholding in a tiny hamlet in Cornwall and Norman recalls that the Wilks’  found their new home idyllic.

Records show that Tom died in Cornwall in 1972.

Benfleet - Kents Hill Road, Tom Wilks 'A Doctor on Horseback' c. 1930
Roger Tyndall
This picture taken approx the same place as the 1930s picture. Note the church and the house are still there.
Christmas Card from Mr & Mrs T M Wilks 1938
Mary Acres (Dr Doug Acres daughter)
Extract from 1929 Electoral register for South Eastern Division.
Extract from the British Medical Journal, June 1953
Extract from London Gazette - June 1944. In the Birthday Honours List, Tom was awarded an M.B.E. for 'Gallant and distinguished service'.
Page from The Medical Register for 1939
With thanks to Janet Penn
Peter Freeman remembers Dr Wilks horse. Peter's home backed onto the field where Dr. Wilks kept his horse. Dr. Wilks completed his rounds on horseback and later retired to the West Country. 5 mins
Peter Freeman remembers Dr Wilks horse.
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  • I’m 72 now, but still one of my earliest memories is, aged 3, giving my Mother the slip at the bus stop opposite Dr. Wilke’s house, into the field opposite, hoping to play with the good Dr’s grey mare. She looked down at me running around her legs, lifted a hoove and booted me squealing out of her way. I was taken over to the surgery and examined through the famous monocle. “A horse, you say, which one?” “Yours, Doctor” “Ah, she won’t have hurt him much……”

    Alan Marsh

    By Alan Marsh (28/04/2017)
  • I remember Tom in his later years. Gone was his Bowler and riding jacket, and his horse was now a huge white one. He wore a flat cap and hacking jacket with his monocle on a string in his top pocket. We lived over in the ‘plot lands’ and he loved to ride over when necessary although his Land Rover had it’s fair share of use in inclement weather. Mum would see his horse first through the bushes as he came down the hill. On went the kettle and tea was ready for him by the time he arrived. A great Doctor and a well earned OBE after the Canvey floods.

    By Doug Mansfield (06/02/2014)
  • Dr Wilks often attended our house and neighbours in Clarence Road (65) on Horseback or sometimes in his very early model Landrover. He was brilliant to us and was absolutely totally shocked and emotional when he discovered I was Diabetic at age 14, having misdiagnosed my illness as Laziness or Hypochondria for several months! Blood tests not being so easily available in those days.

    Giving his Horse a sweet or handful of grass was all the treatment I or my brother Graham ever needed until then.

    By Michael Reed (22/11/2013)
  • I well remember Dr Wilks who in the 1950s would regularly come to visit my disabled father. The doctor would often come on horseback and hitch the horse to our gatepost before walking round the back and come straight in through the kitchen door. 

    As has been said, he was a very good no-nonsense doctor but he also had a great sense of humour. He arrived one day to find my mother putting the washing through the wringer and when she asked why my younger brother was so small in height compared to myself (there was a five year age gap), Dr Wilks said she should either put my brother through the wringer to stretch him out or alternatively make him stand in a bucket of his best horse manure to make him grow quicker! He then went on to say that sons are never smaller than their mothers when fully grown so she was not to worry and, sure enough, by the age of 18 my brother was taller than both my Mum and myself.

    By Eileen Acreman (21/01/2012)
  • Dr Tom Wilks once came out to Canvey on horseback to attend a patient at the London & Coastal Wharf, where Morris worked at the time. (This comment from Morris Johnson as told to Ian Johnson).

    By Eileen Gamble (12/12/2011)

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