Willenhall History Society

Dr. Tonks and the memorial clock



doctor tonksIt is now one hundred years since the Memorial Clock in the Market Place, Willenhall was unveiled as a memorial to Doctor Joseph Tonks M.B.C.S. a local lad, who in his short lifetime grew to be one of the town's most popular and well loved sons.

Thousands of local townspeople pass the edifice regularly as they have for a hundred years on their way about their daily business and yet how many of them know anything at all about the life and work of the man in whose memory it was erected. It is this story that we propose to tell in this small publication.

Joseph Tonks was born in Spring Bank Willenhall on May 5th, 1855, the son of Silas and Lucy Tonks (Nee Pritchard). Silas being shown on Joseph's birth certificate as a Master Padlocksmith. Local legend has it that the family moved shortly after to the Forge Tavern where his father became the licencee, but this cannot be verified from local records, what is known is that by the 1880s records show that Silas was the licencee of the Spring Bank Tavern where he stayed until his death in 1888 a the age of 61.

On the death of her husband the licence was taken over by Lucy Tonks and she held it until her death in 1896 when her daughter Emily Handley took over.

Both the Forge Tavern and also the Spring Bank Tavern still exist today largely in their original form but h the case of the Spring Bank Tavern the name has now been changed to the Rushbrooke Fathing. So it is certain that, although it seems that Joseph was not actually born in the Pub, yet he did spend the early years of his life there.

Where he received his early education is not known, but as the days of compulsory education and state schools was still a long way off it is almost certain that he received his early education at one of the local church school probably either St Annes or the National School which stood at the corner of Doctors Piece and Lower Lichfield Street.

Joseph spent 5 years training with Doctor Moses Taylor, a Cannock Surgeon, and at the same time studied medicine at Queens College Birmingham where he graduated in 1879, becoming a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

At this stage he could have had his pick of any of the more lucrative medical practices which were available and thus enjoyed the comfortable lifestyle which was the norm in his profession but instead Doctor Tonks preferred to return to his roots and spend the rest of his life ministering to the poorer people of Willenhall for a mere sixpence a visit, although no doubt his practice also included those who were more affluent a well.

Shortly after he had qualified, Doctor Tonks set up his first practice in Wolverhampton Street and began the work which, in such a short time, would endear him so much to the local people.

In January 1881 Doctor William Pitt, another local surgeon died at the early age of 46 and shortly afterwards, Dr. Tonks took over Dr Pitt’s practice at 3 Walsall Street, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. Acting as his Medical Assistnce at that time was Richard Dudley who, according to the 1881 Population Census, shared the house together with his wife and four children and a 14 year old servant named Harriet Hatcham.

Doctor Tonks worked unsparingly to improve the lot of the poor people of the town, work which was to earn him the title of "The Poor Man's Doctor". He worked tirelessly to relieve suffering in the town and was always ready to help in forwarding any religious or philanthropic cause and his cheerful disposition, unfailing courtesy and good humour endeared him to all those with whom he came into contact.

He found time to be a member of the Bilston "and other" societies as well as becoming a Medical Referee for the Prudential Assurance Company. He was also a member of the local Liberal Club and threw a great deal into the life oft that institution. He also contributed several volumes of political works to the club towards the setting up de political library.

He was for a number of years a Vice President of the club and although he took little active part in politics, largely no doubt because of his very heavy work load, yet his views were known to be of a radical nature and way ahead of his time.

On October 30th, 1888 Joseph married Miss Clara Banks at St Annes Church, Willenhall. Clara was 18 years old at the time, came from the Little London area and was the daughter of Jonah Banks and his first wife Eliza Thompson. Jonah was a bolt manufacturer with premises in Little Clothier Street where his family, having arrived from Great Wyrley about 1756, set up in business in 1780 and have been trading ever since. They are one of the oldest established companies left in the town.

The marriage produced two sons, Reginald Ernest who was born on November 5th 1884 and who was baptised at St Annes Church, on December 4th, 1884.

Herbert Joe followed, he was born on April 13th, 1886 and he also was baptised at St Annes Church on May 6th, 1886.

Doctor tonks household

In 1888 Doctor Tonks was involved in an accident which, although h appeared at the time to be not too serious, yet was to have far reaching consequences in the following year and which was ultimately to result in his early and untimely death.

On Wednesday, August 29th, 1888 the Willenhall Horticultural Society was holding its fifth annual show in the grounds of the Central Schools in Stafford Street and one of the attractions was to be a balloon ascent in a balloon owned by a Captain Morton of 0ldbury. It had been agreed that Doctor Tonks and another local man, Mr. Joseph Baker, a plumber who lived in nearby Stafford Street would accompany the aeronaut Lieutenant Lempriere on the flight. The balloon was named "The Countess of Dudley".

The balloon arrived at the showground at nine o’clock in the morning, and was at once inflated. The arrangements for the ascent progressed favourably, the weather being entirely suitable. At the last minute it was considered advisable that only two persons should make the ascent instead of the three which had been planned. Accordingly Mr Baker stepped out of the car just before the "Let Go" was announced by the captain. The doctor exclaimed as a gust of wind caused the silk to go in an oblique direction, "You can say what you like but it is safer on land than in this car".

As soon as the word of command fell from the aeronaut’s lips, the balloon rose to a height of about ten feet, but owing to a strong wind, it descended a couple of feet, catching the boundary palisading of the grounds. This caused a great commotion among the sightseers, especially among the ladies. No sooner did the "aerial structure" get free again than the car caught the chimney of a shop occupied by Mr John Perry, a Press Toolmaker, pulling it down. However, it was thought that, notwithstanding the obstacles which had been met, the ascent would be made, but the fates were against it.

The chimneys, back and front, of the house occupied by Mr William Wallern were knocked down. When the car hit the first chimney Dr Tonks was hit in the thigh causing an ugly cut, and one of his shoulders was badly injured. The balloon rose a third time, only to come to grief through catching the chimneys of a house belonging to a Mr Collett, a lock manufacturer. This time the balloon rent asunder, the parts being wrapped around the chimney, and the car, with its occupants, was left suspended by the netting, about ten feet in front of the house.

The doctor, although injured, managed with difficulty to descend down the grapnel rope to safety, whilst the lieutenant descended by means of a ladder. The doctor himself described his injuries as a wound in the fleshy part of the left thigh about 2 inches long and an inch broad, and a bad bruise by the left knee and left shoulder. The lieutenant, although badly shaken and bruised, otherwise escaped unhurt.

Great excitement prevailed and a great deal of anxiety was expressed for the safety of the occupants of the car. The remains of "The Countess of Dudley" were, with much difficulty, removed from the building and packed up. The occupants of the house of which the chimney was demolished had a narrow escape. The house was occupied by a family named Haden and at the time of the occurrence Mrs. Haden and her three children were in the yard watching the ascent. Directly the chimney fell, Mrs. Haden made a rush for the house, carrying with her one of the children. Before they could gain the shelter of the house, both were knocked down by the heavy discharge of sand from the cab of the balloon and had not a sister of Mrs. Haden's been able to drag them into the house, they must have sustained serious injury from the falling bricks.

It was later ascertained that the balloon which was capable of holding 30,000 feet of gas, had a this occasion only 27,000 feet in it.

The doctor, having first visited the marquee to assure his friends that he was alright, then returned home in a conveyance loaned by a friend. His injuries, although appearing at the time to be only superficial, were such as to ensure that he would be incapacitated for some little time.

The doctor told a local reporter who visited him at his home on the following day that this was his second flight, having undertaken a similar mission at the same fete three years before and in the same balloon, although it had undergone some slight modifications. He was quite emphatic however that it was definitely his last attempt.

Meanwhile the flower show continued with entertainment from Professor Somerfield, who provided what is described as a ventriloquial entertainment, The Willenhall Templar Prize Band was also in attendance and under the able conductorship of Mr. Joseph Summerfield, played choice selections of music. The unfortunate balloon accident detracted somewhat from the pleasure of the visitors, but the show, which had been a great success, terminated with a grand display of fireworks by Mr Wilder of Birmingham.

The amount of money taken at the gate was 43.8.ld, a not inconsiderable sum for those days and it was decided that the show would be kept open on the following day with additional entertainment and the Templar Prize Band would also be in attendance.

Doctor Tonks continued to add qualifications to his name and in 1889 be was able to add the letters L.A.H. to his name when he became a Licentiate of the Apothecaries Hall, Dublin on passing their examination. He also continued to add to his already considerable work load when he accepted the appointments of Medical Officer for the Guardians of the Poor and also Public Vaccinator for the towns of Willenhall and Short Heath.

Following the accident however the doctors health was beginning to show signs of deterioration and was giving rise to some alarm among his family and friends and despite the fact that he was able to receive the best medical attention which was available at that time, his condition continued to worsen and shortly after nine o'clock on Thursday, May 2nd 1891 he passed away. He was just a few days short of his thirty sixth birthday and left his wife Clara, still only 27years of age and two young children.

He was buried five days later on Tuesday, May 7th at Wood Street Cemetery. The service being conducted by the Reverend Henry Edwards who was at the time curate at St. Giles Church.

The townsfolk of Willenhall, shocked and saddened as they were by the death at such a early age of the doctor who had done so much in his short lifetime to endear himself to the community, began to think of how they could best commemorate his life and work.

At the instigation of the local Friendly Societies, a meeting was held at the New Inn in Walsall Street near where Doctor Tonks had lived, at which it was decided to form a Memorial Committee in order to seek ways of raising funds to provide a suitable memorial. The following officers of the Memorial Committee were elected.

Chairman: Charles Henry Pinson

Hon. Treasurer: William Johnson

Hon. Secretary George Parker

The licensee of the New Inn (Now known as the County), Mr. Bickley, agreed to make a room available in which the Committee could hold their meetings.

At this stage the Committee approached Mrs Tonks to see if she would be agreeable to the erection of a drinking fountain in her husband's memory and she readily gave her support to the project.

Things were moving fast and at their meeting on May 11th The Willenhall Local Board of Health received a letter from the Secretary of the Memorial Committee Mr. George Parkes asking if they were prepared to accept a drinking fountain in memory of Doctor Tonks, to be erected in the Market Place or some other public place and to be kept in order and supplied with water by the Board. The Board decided to form a sub committee consisting of Messrs. Kidson, Walker, Cluley, ad Nicholls and that they be empowered to confer with the Memorial Committee on the matter.

As the appeal gained in momentum and the money began to pour in it became obvious that something more than just a drinking fountain would be possible and it was decided to incorporate a clock with four faces in addition.

Designs were applied for and the ultimate selection fell on the design of Messrs. Boddis, a firm of sculptors and stonemasons from Birmingham. The design being for a memorial "of handsome structure" in Hollington and Bath stone, consisting of a Drinking fountain, a drinking trough for cattle and dogs and a four dialled clock. The clock to be supplied by Messrs Smith of Derby, surmounted by an ornamental frame. The total cost was at first estimated at 225 but this figure increased to 250 on account of advertising, printing and other necessary expenses.

By October plans had been drawn up and on October 26th Mr. Parkes attended a meeting of the Board of Health with plans for their consideration when it was decided by the Board to consider the plans in committee.

On November 9th the clerk told the Board that a meeting of the General Purposes Committee had been held and the following resolution had been passed:-

"That subject to all details being considered to the satisfaction of the Board and without expense to them, the Board be recommended to allow the proposed memorial to be erected in the Market Place".

The Chairman proposed and Mr.Wolverson seconded that the resolution be confirmed and adopted and this was carried.

On December 7th the clerk to the Board was directed to apply to the Wolverhampton Corporation for the "gratuitous" supply of water for the proposed fountain and at a meeting on December 21st the clerk stated that he had received a letter from the Town Clerk of Wolverhampton and the matter was left in the hands of the Chairman and Engineer. Nothing more is recorded but it must be assumed that the Chairman and Engineer used their discretion favourably and agreed to the request

Events were moving rapidly now and on April Ilth, 1888 Mr. Parkes asked the Board if they would arrange for the prompt removal of the existing lamp together with the foundations as soon as possible to enable work on the erection of the memorial to begin. It was agreed that the surveyor should arrange for this to be done.

It was also agreed at this meeting that Tuesday, May 10th l892 was the day appointed for the inauguration of the Doctor Tonks Memorial clock and that the day should he observed as a General Holiday.

At a meeting on April 25th a letter from Mr. George Parkes was read in which the Memorial Committee asked that the granite corner stones round the lamp might be used by the committee for the protection of the memorial. The Board readily agreed to this but for some reason or another this does not seem to have been done until some time after the unveiling.

On the eve of the unveiling, the Memorial Committee invited the Local Board of Health and its officers to attend the unveiling as a body and of course they agreed, Messrs. Richard & Company offered them the free use of a brake in order that they could travel to the ceremony in the Market Place as a body and in the style expected of them and this also was gratefully accepted.

The ceremony of unveiling was due to take place at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and the last resolution passed by the Board at their meeting on May 9th was that the Market Place would be closed to all vehicular traffic from 2 p.m. on May 10th until after the ceremonies were completed. The police had also been enlisted to give every assistance on the day.

And so the stage was set and all was ready for the big day. All that remained was for the weatherman to look down with favour on this great occasion in the life of the town.

memorial clock ceremonyTuesday. May 10th l892 arrived and more favourable weather could not possibly have been experienced for the ceremony. The sun shone gloriously as large crowds gathered in the Market Place and along the route which the procession would take. Many of the shops and factories closed their premises and from numerous windows flags and banners were flying.

The procession was very long and was due to start from Stringes Lane at about 3 p.m. Members of the local and School Boards had been invited to take part, and the Local Friendly Societies, including Oddfellows, Free Gardeners and Foresters who had played such a large part in raising the funds for the memorial were in attendance, together with the "D' Company of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment under Lieutenant Pratt.

The Fire Brigade and other organisations were also in attendance and the procession was headed by Summerfields Templar Military Prize Band and the Temperance Military Prize Band. The whole procession was of an imposing character with members of the various orders adding colour to the proceedings by wearing their colourful regalia.

On time the procession set off along the gaily decorated thoroughfares, namely Albion Street, Walsall Road, Walsall Street, Church Street, Lower Lichfield Street, Union Street, Stafford Street, Wolverhampton Street, Peel Street and New Road before entering the Market Place where a large and enthusiastic crowd awaited their arrival.

A temporary platform had been set up in the Market Place to accommodate the Memorial Committee, town dignitaries and other guests and amongst those assembled on the platform were Mr Lawson Tait, who was to perform the unveiling ceremony, The Reverends, J.E. Whiteley, T. Rea, W. Latimer Ward, and H. Edwards. Doctors Bott, Martin (Birmingham), Deakin, Henderson (Bilston) Wilkes (Wednesbury) Fox and Shelley.

Messrs C.H. Pinson, G. Perkes, W. Johnson, J.C. Tildesley, L Pedley, C. Tildesley, J. Tildesley, D. Knowles, H. Wolverson, B. Baker, G. Baker, W. Trubshaw, G. Reynolds, H. Hall, J.H. James, T. Nicholls, J. Cluley and G.H. Drury were present on the platform.

Mr. J.C. Tildesley an ex Chairman of the Willenhall Local Board of Health presided at the invitation of Mr C.H. Pinson who was acting on behalf of the Memorial Committee and the Reverend W. Latimer Ward the vicar of St. Annes church offered prayers.

After an opening speech by Mr. James Carpenter Tildesley, the unveiling ceremony and official handing over of the Memorial to the keeping of the Local Hoard of Health took place and that, for the majority of the ordinary townspeople, was the end of the proceedings as far as they were concerned. For the Dignitaries, Guests, officials and members of the Memorial Committee however there was of course still the official banquet to come. More speeches, and wining and dining, but of this the man in the street knew nothing and played no part.

For the records, the inscription on the memorial reads as follows:-

"Erected by the Friendly Societies of Willenhall and his fellow Townsmen

May 10th 1892

In memory of Joseph Tonks F.R.C.S. L.A.H. whose generous and unsparing devotion to the cause of the alleviation of human suffering has been deemed worthy of this public record.

Memorial Committee

Chairman: Charles Henry Pinson Hon. Treasurer: William Johnson Hon. Secretary: George Parkes"

At a meeting of the Board of Health on May 23rd the Chairman formally reported to the meeting that he had attended the unveiling and had accepted from the Memorial Committee a gift of the Fountain and Clock.

The clerk then produced an agreement from the makers of the clock undertaking to keep it in good repair for a period of 3 years, providing the Board obtained the services of a competent man to wind it regularly, and it was agreed that the clerk advertise for tenders from person willing to wind the clock for a period of 12 months and on June 3rd the tender of Mr. L. Edwards for 2 to wind the clock for 12 months was accepted by the Board. There were three other tenders.

Meanwhile Mrs. Tonks and her two children moved from 3, Walsall Street to enable Doctor Bott, previously Doctor Tonks's assistant, to take over the practice. She continued to live in Willenhall for many years ad never re-married. She is believed to have lived in Harper Street for a number of years, but by 1904 she had moved to a address in Clothier Street where she remained until the 192O's. In her later life she lived with her younger son Herbert Joe at Cemetery Drive, Merridale Road, Wolverhampton where she died on February 27th, 1946 at the age of 82. She was buried in the same grave as her husband in Wood Street Cemetery on March 2nd, 1946.

Her son Herbert Joe died the following year on March 11th 1947 aged 62 and he also was buried in the family grave on March 15th 1947.

The medical journal "The Lancet" in its issue dated 29.4.l893 carried the following article:-

The Tonks Memorial

The first anniversary of the unveiling of this memorial at Willenhall has been fixed for Wednesday, May 10th when a dinner will be given in celebration of the event. It is understood that the whole of the cost incurred by the erection of the memorial has been met, whilst the balance remaining will be divided between the Wolverhampton Eye Infirmary and the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire General Hospital. We may take occasion to refer in this connection to an annotation published in "The Lancet" of May 14th last yea and headed "0ur Gldeons Gray's" in which the virtues of the late Mr. Tonks, "The Poor Man's Doctor”, were set forth. Perhaps we cannot do better than repeat a passage which forms a part of the short article to which we referred: "Not by the Gold and Silver of the rich, but by the infinite multiplication of the poor man's copper and the widows mite, had the memorial fund been subscribed, until the monument itself had reached an amplitude that, seconded by artistic design and execution made it a work of art in a community in which works of art were not too common".

No more fitting tribute could be found with which to end this short story Of Doctor Joseph Tonks, whose memorial still dominates the Market Place of Willenhall today 100 years on.

Willenhall History Society Website 19/1/08