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 1925 he was living in Kent and it was in Maidstone in that year he married his first wife, Kathleen Frances Warren.  Tom and Kathleen had two children during their marriage, Patricia who was born in 1926 and Frederick born in 1931.

The family then moved to ‘Strathmore House’ London Road, South Benfleet and in 1943 Tom married his second wife, Frances Mary Osborne and they had a daughter, Victoria, born in 1945. Their next home was the surgery in Kiln Road, Thundersley.

The ‘surgery’ (resembling more of a shack than a building) was within the grounds of Tom’s 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 Frances.

The newspaper cutting below shows Tom Wilks on his rounds, sometime around 1930, when 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 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 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 the building in Kiln Road. It was a small, shack of a building within the grounds of Tom’s home.  Click on this link to hear Dr Norman Sutcliffe’s verbal description of the surgery and working with Tom.

Just two interesting tales Tom’s wife Frankie told Norman.

“One time when she was out on her horse with Tom, they came across a man lurking in the bushes somewhere down Fane Road. Tom shouted at him and waved his riding crop and bellowed ‘I told you to rest at home, go back to bed!’ and he scuttled off into the undergrowth”.

“Another story she told me was when one afternoon a woman rang the doorbell and said to Frankie ‘Six weeks ago the doctor told my husband to rest in bed, and he hasn’t told him he could get up yet. Would you ask him please if he can come downstairs now?  His word was law! Wonderful memories”.

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’ had 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
St. John Veteran Honoured
Brian Porter, Heritage Lead, East London District, St John Ambulance.
Dr Tom Wilks
Brian Porter, Heritage Lead, East London District, St John Ambulance.
This picture taken approx the same place as the 1930s picture. Note the church and the house are still there.
Location of Strathmore House surgery
National Library of Scotland
Location of Kiln Road surgery
National Library of Scotland
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.
'The Cottage' 123 Kiln Road

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  • I remember Dr Wilkes coming to our house on horseback in Arundel Road. There would have been no other way to get to us as it was all unmade roads then. I also remember my mother taking me and my brother to his ‘surgery’ when we were ill. You sat round the perimeter of the little building and just waited your turn. He was a wonderful man and was really missed when he retired.

    By Patricia White (nee King) (27/06/2021)
  • Lovely article in the Echo about Tom Wilks. I joined the medical practice as assistant in 1961 to ease his workload before he retired, particularly to help with home maternity deliveries, as I was more ‘up to date’. In my first week he sent for me, as a woman in labour was having a difficult delivery. He was sitting next to her bed, wearing his riding gear and puffing his pipe and encouraging her to push. Fortunately I was able to help and delivered a baby boy .We were all relieved!
    Shortly after he gave up riding his horse and I used to ride it , with Frankie on her horse, so we all got good exercise !
    Tom was a wonderful doctor, senior partner and friend and remembered with much affection by his patients and friends in Benfleet.

    By Norman Sutcliffe (25/05/2021)
  • 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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