On this day … 5 February 1853

Report in the Times of London of the trial of Thomas Monk of Preston in 1858
Report in the Times of London of the trial of Thomas Monk of Preston in 1858

The Preston Chronicle carried a lengthy article recording a celebration of Dr Thomas Monk’s year as mayor. It was to be the height of his career, for five years later he would be jailed for life for forging the will of one of his patients.

It was a devastating fall from grace for the man who was Preston’s senior alderman and a respected medical practitioner in the town. He had been appointed a county magistrate in 1852 and was about to be appointed a borough magistrate. He was a deputy lieutenant of the county and president of the Preston District Order of Oddfellows.

As mayor he had visited Queen Victoria at Balmoral along with Robert Townley Parker, the MP for Preston, to invite her to visit the town.

The trial was extensively covered in the newspapers, including the Times of London (pictured), which provided the following glimpse into the courtroom at Preston town hall when Dr Monk was formally charged. One of the prosecution witnesses, a Mrs Ann Edna Pipe, wife of John W. Pipe, hairdresser and perfumer of Fishergate, was so overcome that, ‘… on appearing in court she wept bitterly and fainted. The windows of the building were opened to admit more air. The unfortunate woman was at length carried in an apparently lifeless state into an adjoining room.’

At the trial in February 1858, the judge said Monk had been convicted ‘of about as bad an offence as any man could perpetrate, and it is coupled with everything that could render such an offence disgraceful.’ He told him he was lucky that he had not been convicted a few years earlier when forging wills was a capital offence and ‘so sure as you stand there a living man, so sure would you have been hanged for this offence’.

Monk’s ruin was total and was documented in the town’s papers. Within days of being charged, he resigned as alderman. And within days of his conviction, he was no longer a county magistrate when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster ‘issued his fiat for the erasure of the name of Thomas Monk from the commission of the peace for this county’.

The following month his property in the town was put up for auction. This included a block of ten houses on the west side of London Road and other properties in the district.

And in the same month it was reported that he was no longer a borough magistrate: ‘The name of “Thomas Monk” has been erased by order of the late Chancellor of the Duchy from the commission of the peace for this borough as it had previously been removed from the county commission’.

A more physical erasure came in the first week of March when on the Wednesday his name was chiselled from the front of the Fire Brigade station, which was erected during his mayoralty, and on the Thursday it was chiselled from the Sir Robert Peel monument in Winckley Square, which it had been one of his duties to unveil as mayor.

He was released from prison in 1868, after serving ten years’ hard labour, returned to Preston and resumed his medical practice, becoming physician to the Preston Oddfellows, the organisation of which he had formerly been president. His wife and his son had died while he was in prison, and the 1871 census found him living at 5, Friargate, alone except for a housekeeper. Later he was pardoned and he died in 1888 aged ninety.

See also Keith Johnson’s article: https://www.winckleysquarepreston.org/heritage/thomas-monk/

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