• Doctor Who...?

    Dr. Robert Herbert Mills-Roberts M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.
    Later Lt.Col.RH Mills-Roberts C.M.G., F.R.C.S. (Ed)

I have been asked if I knew anything about the famous doctor who once played for Preston North End back in the 1880's. Check this out.

Born in Penmachno, Caernarfonshire, Wales in 1862, Mills-Roberts was to lead an eventful life with his love of both the medical profession and sport. He fought in two wars and played in two FA cup finals. His family had a good, respected medical background stretching back many years, as his father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle and cousin were all medical practitioners. This famous Welshman, a goalkeeper of some renown, first turned his attention to football whilst at Friars' School, Bangor. From school he graduated to University College, Aberystwyth, where he captained both the soccer and rugby teams. From 1882-1887 he studied medicine at St. Thomas' Hospital, London. Whilst at St. Thomas' he represented the hospital as their goalkeeper, and as such, his talent on the pitch was spotted and he was chosen to play in goal for his country, Wales in March 1885. As a resident in the South of England he is on record as keeping goal for a number of amateur clubs, such as Barnes, Crusaders, Casuals and the celebrated Corinthians. He also represented Middlesex and Surrey in county matches.

As one of the best goalkeepers of his era, Major William Sudell duly signed him for Preston North End, during December 1887. The doctor, an amateur, in status, was only signed as cover for North End's regular professional custodian, James Trainer who himself was a Welsh international of some repute. Trainer was ineligible to play in North End's FA cup games due to the Football Association introducing a 'residential qualification period' clause for professionals whereas Fred Addison, the reserve goalie, was deemed to be too small in stature at 5' 1" for the 'big' games. Ironically, the week after signing for Preston North End, Mills-Roberts played against North End, for the top London-based amateur team, the Corinthians. He eventually made his North End debut on 30th January 1888 versus Sheffield Wednesday in that seasons FA cup quarter-final. The decision to sign him was an astute, shrewd move by Sudell as Preston North End, with Mills-Roberts in goals, played in two consecutive FA cup finals, losing one and winning one. In all, Mills-Roberts only made thirteen appearances for Preston North End, eight were FA cup ties, two were league games and three were 'friendlies'. His final game for 'Proud Preston' was ironically, the 1889 FA cup final, when he won his coveted winners medal and with it, the first league and cup double winning feat. During his brief spell at Deepdale the 5'8" tall goalkeeper was capped twice by Wales. In March 1888 he was appointed House Surgeon at Birmingham General Hospital after serving in the same capacity at the Stroud Hospital. During his stay in the Midlands he made brief appearances as goalkeeper for the County teams of Warwickshire and Birmingham and Mitchell St. George's.

He served in the Boar War in South Africa, with the rank of Major, R.A.M.C., and for his services was created a C.M.C., mentioned in dispatches, and received the two medals with three clasps, which was quite an achievement. At the outbreak of World War One he was second in command of the 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers from 1906-1915. He reverted back to a medical role, and as Lieutenant-Colonel, commanded the 131st Field Ambulance (1915-1918) and latterly the 41st Stationary Hospital (1918-1919). For his war services in France he was mentioned in dispatches once again. He was a Member of the British Medical Association and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and an author of several medical papers during his distinguished medical career. He became the surgeon of Llanberis Hospital, which cared for men employed at the Dinorwig Quarry in North Wales. It has been recorded that he was one of the first surgeons in Britain to use the newly-invented x-ray machine. His father, Robert Roberts, had been a surgeon and former manager of the large Oakeley Quarry in Ffestiniog. Both he and his son were J.P's in later life. Dr. Mills-Roberts was appointed Deputy Commissioner for Medical Services under the Ministry of Pensions, and served in this capacity in North Wales and Shropshire from 1919-1924.

Robert, a bachelor, died in a Bournemouth nursing home in November 1935, was cremated and his ashes taken back home to Plas Meini, Ffestiniog, Wales.

Like I mentioned in my opening sentence, he led an eventful life.

  • Ian Rigby PNE Official Historian March 2013