January 14th marks the 80th anniversary of the death of Sir Robert Jones, aged 75.
Born in Rhyl in 1857, he was a pioneer of orthopaedics in Britain, a master surgeon and wise teacher, healer and friend of disabled children.
Before this second article on the life of one of Rhyl’s most famous sons, here is a brief resumé of his life:
1857, born in Rhyl. 1873, commences medical training at the Liverpool School of Medicine. 1878, qualifies as a doctor and becomes professional assistant to his aunt’s husband – Hugh Owen Thomas, renowned Liverpool bonesetter. 1887, appointed Honorary Assistant Surgeon to Stanley hospital, Liverpool. 1888, appointed Surgeon Superintendent of the Manchester Ship Canal. 1889, awarded Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. 1889, Appointed Honorary Surgeon and Dean of the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool. 1903, first meeting with Agnes Hunt when she first consults Robert Jones about her hip condition. 1904, becomes Honorary Surgeon to Agnes Hunt’s Baschurch Home. 1916, appointed Inspector of Military Orthopaedics. 1917, receives a Knighthood. 1921, the Baschurch Home moves to Oswestry and becomes The Shropshire Orthopaedic Hospital, Sir Robert Jones continues as Honorary Surgeon. 1933, Sir Robert Jones dies on January 14th, aged 75. 1933, The Shropshire Orthopaedic Hospital is renamed The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital.
This second post about Sir Robert Jones will look at his background in Rhyl and his early life.
Sir Robert Jones’s grandfather, also Robert Jones, was born in 1818 and was a leading member of the district, a builder and architect, successful businessman, a man of strong religious views and an elder in the Welsh Calvanistic Chapel. He was married to Eleanor Humphreys of Rhuddlan and had four children, Robert b.1836, Mary b.1837, Elizabeth b.1839 and Susannah, b.1842 and d.1842.
Robert Jones, the grandfather, planned that his only son, Robert, should receive a sound education and become an architect. He was disappointed. At 19, Robert fell in love with Mary Hughes of Rhuddlan – a beautiful girl of 23. They married in Liverpool in 1856 and Robert obstinately refused to obey his father’s wishes and go into the business.
Robert and Mary’s first child was (Sir) Robert Jones and he was born in Rhyl on June 28th, 1857. Robert Jones tried various endeavours to support his family in Rhyl but “having decided to take even greater risks, he assembled his young family and, leaving a deeply aggrieved father and mother and two extremely electrified and envious sisters boarded the train for London”. (Sir) Robert was then five years old and for the next ten years became a Londoner.
In London, with his growing family, Robert obtained work at a publishing house. Their London home was a happy one, Robert embraced life and encouraged curiosity and freedom of thought in his children. However, his relationship with his father was still not good. Robert Jones, the journalist, had “the courage to know that financial stringency is to be envied in comparison with the parochial stagnation of a rural community”.
In 1864, Robert’s sister Elizabeth married a young doctor called Hugh Owen Thomas. Cordial relations with the Jones family in London were soon established and so it was that as a small boy (Sir) Robert met his uncle by marriage who was so “profoundly to influence his whole life and thought”. Uncle Hugh, son of a celebrated bone setter, was an eccentric genius, renowned bone setter and an exceptionally well trained orthopaedist in Liverpool.
Hugh Owen Thomas, by Hermann Fleury (National Portrait Gallery) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Eventually there was a reconciliation with family in Rhyl, “it must have been a curious experience for the old people to receive the bunch of excited and extremely unconventional children”.
(Sir) Robert was educated at Sydenham College after which he accepted an offer of a home in Liverpool from his Uncle Hugh in order to study at the Liverpool School of Medicine. In 1873, father and son set out for Liverpool to be welcomed by Hugh and Elizabeth.
Photo shows Hugh Owen Thomas, left, with his nephew Robert Jones.
In 1875, at the age of 39, (Sir) Robert’s father died of typhoid fever. The wonderful family life was ended. The book* says “No happier couple ever parted in comparative youth. To his wife his last words were characteristic, ‘had I the chance I’d buy you another ring and start our married life all over again‘,” also “gradually a portrait takes shape of a man who broke with a narrow tradition and set his feet on the highway of the world. And if heredity and environment mean anything there will be discovered in his indifference to money, in his liberty of thought, in his balance and optimism, the sources of his son’s attitudes towards the conduct of life”.
The next article about Sir Robert Jones will concentrate on his days as a student and a young surgeon.
*Information is from “The Life of Sir Robert Jones” by Frederick Watson.
To learn more about Hugh Owen Thomas and the Anglesey bone setters click the links below: