PRESS NOTICE
 
The Lancashire Evening Post, Thursday, 17th January 2002
 
The shamed mayor
a town tried to forget
By Terry Farrell
 
He was a leading figure in the town Ė a physician, a borough magistrate, a former Mayor and Deputy Lieutenant of the County. But despite all these positions of local distinction, Dr Thomas Monk was a person Preston quickly wanted to forget.

Dr Monkís tragic downfall was a Victorian scandal that shook the town and caused the authorities to try to conceal their shame from posterity by erasing his name wherever possible. Dr Monk was elected to Preston Town Council and later made an alderman of the borough. In 1851 he was made Mayor and was held in high esteem throughout the town. His downfall began when one of his patients, Edward Turner, aged 71, of St Paulís Road, Preston, died without making a will in 1857. The next day Monk called at the bank to draw money from the dead manís account., which he claimed was needed to pay wages to Turners three employees. He sign an oath that the estate was under £100 and claimed he was the principle creditor. He was told that letters of administration would have to be obtained before action could be taken to obtain any money.

A few days later he returned to the bank claiming that he had found Turnerís will which left a small sum to a relative and the rest, about £50, to himself. Suspicions were aroused when the will was inspected and further inquiries were made. Eventually a woman hairdresser admitted that she had innocently copied out the will for Monk who told her to make the writing appear like a manís. She also admitted to writing the names of one or two witnesses. Monk was subsequently charged with forging the will. He claimed Turner owed him for his medical treatment.

He was tried at the Assizes and the hearing attracted so much interest in Preston that a special train was run for the opening of the case. Turnerís housekeeper told the court that after his death Dr Monk took away the deceasedís deed-box and arranged the funeral himself. She also said her master had been attended by the doctor for the last two weeks of his illness.

Monkís council said that because of the persistent rumours that he had poisoned Turner an exhumation was ordered, but a Coronerís inquest resulted in a charge of murder against Monk being dropped.

ďIs my client to be hurled from the highest station to the condition of the lowest and most degrading felon?Ē he asked the jury. Despite his plea of innocence Monk was found guilty by the jury within five minutes and wept piteously.

The judge told Monk: ďIt is as bad an offence as any man could perpetrate. You, who have been a Magistrate and Mayor, could have been sent to the scaffold for this offence only a few years ago. You will be sent to penal servitude for life.Ē Monk, who was 61, gave a deep sigh and was taken below.

He served 10 years hard labour, which, in those days meant solitary confinement and rigorous punishment. He was released for good behaviour and had to report to Preston police regularly until he was almost 80. He lived for a time in Frenchwood Street and continued his medical practice but never returned to public life. He was well liked by his patients and was appointed physician to the Preston Oddfellows. He died when nearly 90. He left £9,097 in his own will, bequeathing £4,000 to his wife and the rest was shared between his godchild and a few friends.

Soon after Dr Monk was jailed Preston Corporation erased his name from the new Fire Station which he had officially opened during his Mayoralty. They also chiselled his name from the base of the limestone statue of Sir Robert Peel which he unveiled in the same year in Winckley Square.

Today, a blank space on the statueís plinth is an invisible testimony to the tragic Mayor that Preston tried to forget.

 
Editors Note
See also, The Ducketts of Preston, a poem by the Preston poet Jake Jackson.
 
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© The Lancashire Evening Post, January 2002