Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knight of Grace's set of insignia, comprising neck Badge and breast Star, silver and enamel, maker's mark to reverse of Star;
Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Honorary Associate's Breast Badge, silver;
St. John Medal for South Africa 1899-1902 (Chief Surg. J. B. Wilkinson. Oldham Corps.);
Jubilee 1935; St. John Service Medal, clasp, 5 Years Service (Chief Surgeon J. B. Wilkinson, 10. July. 1908.),
James Bates Wilkinson was born on 4 July 1857 at Godmanchester, Huntington, the eldest of eight children and son of a farmer. Educated at Huntingdon Grammar School, he won the senior mathematical prize in the sixth form before studying at the University of Edinburgh and Royal College of Surgeons, graduating Bachelor of Medicine and Master in Surgery in 1883 and Doctor of Medicine in 1885 after writing a dissertation on the 'Relation of Puerperal Fever to other Infectious Diseases'. He also took the first prize amongst his contemporaries in ear and throat diseases.
Initially working for the University of Edinburgh as Demonstrator in Pathology, Wilkinson subsequently went into private practice in London, Peterborough and Manchester. At Peterborough he was appointed Deputy Medical Officer for the town and the workhouse, after which he worked three further years of private practice in Harpurhey, Manchester. In 1887 Wilkinson relocated to Oldham where he acted as Deputy to Dr. Tattersall. At that time, Dr. Tattersall lived in a Council-owned building and in circumstances which Wilkinson found somewhat baffling:
'The Medical Officer of Health was, before my time, housed in a building which was considered insanitary. It is still his home, but has, at least, been freed of objectionable inhabitants.'
Apart from routine work, infectious disease always required constant investigation, especially when smallpox was prevalent:
'The biggest outbreak I had to deal with started on a Wakes Monday afternoon when, fortunately, I had not gone for my holiday, as was usual. A doctor rang me up and asked me to see two of his patients who, he thought, had smallpox. I went and found the two had that disease and told the mother so and that they would have to be removed to hospital. She rather disputed the diagnosis and then said, "Well, there are some more next door." I visited these and found four more cases, and on telling the second mother, she too said, "There are some more next door." There I found three more cases. By inquiries, I traced a number of other cases, and by the Friday, I had 37 cases in hospital.'
In 1894 Wilkinson was granted the Diploma of Public Health of Victoria University. He became a Member of the B.M.A. and Fellow of the Institute of Sanitary Engineers, being later appointed President of the latter in 1901. In January 1898, Dr. Tattersall took on a similar role at Salford and Wilkinson was promoted Chief Medical Officer of Health for Oldham in his place. It was a role which he relished, the Oldham Chronicle noting:
'He proved an able administrator and under his advice and supervision there were hospital and sewage works extensions, new destructors, and many other minor works. He instructed the town's very successful welfare work for expectant mothers and babies and throughout his long career kept thoroughly up-to-date in the development of public health services, the result being seen in a much lower infant mortality rate and a reduction in the general death rate in the borough.'
A man with a professional and firm character, Wilkinson was later able to offer some interesting anecdotes to the Rotary Club of Oldham regarding dealing with patients who had contracted smallpox:
'It was amusing to remember chasing a patient down King Street and then marching him off to hospital. Then there was an elderly Irish woman who refused to take a bath. She said she had never had one and she was sure it would kill her. The attendant, after failing to get the woman to undress, said she would send for me, when the woman said, "Well, if you are sending for him I'll have the bath. I would rather face the devil than face him."
Wilkinson took an active part in sending out ambulance men to the Boer War and later became School Medical Officer for Oldham from 1906-1936. He was made an Honorary Associate of the Order of St. John on 25 April 1899 and was promoted to Knight of Grace on 21 October 1921. During the Great War he repeated his previous training endeavours for ambulance men and by 1930 had signed over 10,000 certificates and approved 13,000 awards in his capacity as Secretary for the Oldham branch of the St. John Ambulance Association. In later life, it appears that Wilkinson was perhaps a little unwilling to divulge his age to a rather zealous Mr Collins of London who was collecting information to form the basis of a report on Corporation Management. Always 'most conscious' to perform his duties, Wilkinson, by now an elderly gentleman, requested to know who was this man who wished to know his age? Drawing a very definite line between public and private affairs, the doctor insisted his age was for him to know and him alone. There the matter ended.
Wilkinson retired in 1936 and died on 22 February 1941. He bequeathed his home 'Keri', at Alderley Edge, to his daughter and rewarded the kindness of his daughter-in-law Winifred Wilkinson, by leaving her £400 debenture stock in Wilson's Brewery Company. His obituary in the Oldham Chronicle, dated 1 March 1941 noted:
'He will long be remembered as a courteous and gentlemanly public servant of the old school'.