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.