Friday, 17 January 2020

Dr Francis Henry Wilson Iles

This piece has been written in response to a query elsewhere on the website from Mr Les Carpenter under the chapter on Brightwell's Farm, part of which reads:- 


"Many years ago I found a small dark Blue covered book about Watford, in the main Watford Library, it was I think a late 19th century print and which detailed how this most modern sewage system (as it was then) was built and how it operated. I have since tried to find this book but the librarians tell me it no longer exists, at least for public reading. If anyone can find it and re-produce the chapter I am certain many will find it very interesting. The same book describes a certain Dr. Isles who was very generous when treating the poor. The story goes that he treated, for free, a young waif but in the process suffered a tiny scratch. The wound would not heal and he consulted his friends in Harley Street who could do nothing. It was probably a form of blood poising or sepsis, which for in those days, there was no cure. When he died the whole Town is said to have turned out for the funeral procession down the High Street as he was so well known and loved by the townspeople. It is sad that he is not remembered by a street name in the Town".

After some research and input from a member of the group, it was discovered that the book in question is: History of Watford and Trade Directory by Henry Williams. A copy is in the possession of another member and the following, a glowing tribute to the great man following his death, is taken directly from it:

"Great as was the loss sustained by the death of Mr John Sedgwick, still greater was that which occurred on Wednesday 19th September 1883, in the death of Dr F. H. Wilson Iles; and perhaps no event at Watford ever cast so deep a gloom over the place as did this sad and untimely occurrence. The professional duties of medical practitioners are often fraught with danger and, apart from the pay they get for their services, a debit of gratitude is due to them for the promptitude they show in obeying the summons to a bed of sickness, and the risk they run in many cases where the disease is of a contagious nature. Particulars of the circumstances that led to the melancholy death of Dr Iles were inserted in the Watford Observer on the 22nd September 1883, together with an excellent biographical sketch, which I cannot do better than quote here:

'It will be remembered that on Tuesday, the 21st August last, Dr Iles performed an operation known in the medical profession as a 'tracheotomy', a method of effecting an artificial channel for respiration in cases of croup or diphtheria. Whilst so engaged he inflicted a slight wound on his left forefinger, close to the nail, which, we are informed, scarcely amounted to a scratch, so slight, indeed, as to pass almost unnoticed by Dr Iles himself at the time. On the following Friday, however, symptoms of inflammation, portending blood-poisoning, set in, and Dr Iles next morning went to London to consult his friend Mr Rouse, of St George's Hospital, knowing that that gentleman's large experience in such cases rendered his opinions of the highest importance. By his urgent advice he gave up work and immediately resorted to active treatment. For some days there was great pain and swelling, although at this period there was scarcely anything to indicate contamination of the system; indeed; matters progressed favourably until Wednesday in last week, by which time Dr Iles had completed all arrangements for a visit to the seaside, where he hoped to res-establish his health in a short time. But on that day his partner, Dr Stradling, perceived an alarming evidence of impending internal complications, which induced him to telegraph for Mr Rouse at once. The result of the consultation led to the projected visit being put off, and the wisdom of that decisions was demonstrated by the fact that from this time the symptoms increased in gravity day by day to such a degree that Mr Rouse, on the Monday following, took a serious view of the patient's chance of ultimate recovery. This opinion was destined to be verified only too soon, for between none and ten o'clock that same evening, Dr Iles awoke from what appeared to be a comfortable sleep, with paralysis of the palate and organs of speech, which rendered breathing a matter of extreme difficulty. He never spoke again. The whole of the left side became similarly affected and, after lingering for rather more than twenty-four hours, during which he was obviously conscious at intervals, he passed quietly away about midnight.'  (He had contracted diphtheria)

"No words that might might here be set down could evoke such feelings as must have welled up from a thousand hearts when the startling news was borne to them. It would ill become us to intrude on ground so sacred by any conventional phrases."



(The following paragraphs are slightly abridged) 

'Francis Henry Wilson Iles was born in Lincolnshire in 1834. He studied medicine in the schools of St George's, Dublin, and Paris, taking the degrees of M.R.C.S. Eng.; L.S.A., L.M., and subsequently the M.D. of St Andrews. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society and, during the cholera epidemic of 1855, he filled the post of Resident Medical Officer to the Western General Dispensary, New Road, London, where a district was assigned to him. In 1859 he came to Watford and entered into partnership with Dr Spencer Pidcock, whose uncle and predecessor Dr John Pidcock was formerly associated with Dr George Philip Ehret, who founded the practice in the 18th century. During his subsequent career, amongst other appointments, he held those of Surgeon to the West Herts Infirmary, to the Salters' Almshouses and Hon. Assistant-Surgeon to the 2nd Herts Volunteers, of which corps he was a member for twenty-four years. for the last eleven years he was a surgeon to the Foresters' and Odd Fellows' Courts and to the Watford Juvenile Foresters' Court since its commencement some three years ago, to various clubs, and he likewise held temporary medical charge of the Leavesden Schools, pending the appointment of a regular officer.

Outside his profession his public spirit displayed itself in many acts, which would of themselves perpetuate his memory. 

It is chiefly to him the inhabitants of Watford owe the formation of a Volunteer Fire Brigade, about thirteen years ago (1870) at which time he undertook the duties of captain and treasurer and on the death of of the late Mr Alfred Sedgwick, became the vice-president. 

Dr F H Wilson-Iles alongside Dr Alfred Thomas Brett, another celebrated Watford philanthropist, in their Rifle Volunteers uniform. 


With regard to the position Dr Iles occupied upon the Local Board for nearly twenty-one years, the energy with which he has devoted himself to the public good has been abundantly manifested in our reports of their proceedings. 

The Public Library, an institution of incalculable benefit to the town, boast his name as one of its most ardent promoters and supporters. 

Dr Iles was a trustee of Lady Morrison's Apprenticeship and Almshouse Charities, also of Mrs Fuller's Free School. He was manager of the National Schools and for upwards of ten years held the office and assiduously discharged the duties of churchwarden at the Parish Church.  

From the Wilson-Iles Lodge website: 'The Wilson-Iles Lodge (Masonic) was consecrated at The Four Swan’s Hotel, Waltham Cross under the authority of a warrant dated 22nd May 1884.  The Lodge had the honour to bear the name of Dr. Francis Henry Wilson-Iles, Deputy Provincial Grand Master in 1879 and a highly respected surgeon of Watford. He died of blood poisoning, resulting from a scratch sustained whilst operating on a child infected with diphtheria; a grievous loss to his profession, to Freemasonry and the many people who knew him. He is buried in St Mary’s graveyard and in 1993 his grave was restored with donations from Freemasons. The Latin inscription on the Crest adopted by the Lodge is translated to read ‘Life and Honour".

"Never, perhaps, in the history of Watford has the loss of one of its inhabitants caused such general and heartfelt sorrow ... 

Thousands assembled, not simply for the purpose of witnessing an imposing ceremony, but to bear testimony to his worth and to show how much he had endeared himself to them and how deeply they felt his loss. Those who formed the long procession from the late residence of the deceased to the grave were the Rifle Volunteers, with the band playing the "Dead March", members of the Odd Fellows' and Foresters' Clubs, Freemasons, Local Board of Health, medical profession, clergymen, choristers, Fire Brigades of Watford, Watford Brewery and a large number of gentlemen and tradesmen numbering about 600. The body was borne to the grave on the fire engine of the Watford Brigade, which was covered with the Union Jack. Floral crosses and wreaths covered the coffin and sides of the engine; they were seventy in number and were the offerings of relatives and many friends and admirers of the deceased gentleman. In conclusion it may be said that death hath extinguished a brilliant life, but its lustre remaineth."


Written by Lynda Bullock with information taken from:
History of Watford and Trade Directory by Henry Williams, published 1884
Wilson-Iles Lodge website
Watford Observer
Roger Kattenhorn for finding the photograph

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