John McTimoney, one of four children, was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, and was only nine months old when his father died during the First World War. The family has a history of artistic and musical talent, and John qualified for the Birmingham School of Art at the age of 11. He became an engraver, and it was while learning silversmithing jewellery at school that he met his wife, Hilda, whom he married at 18. John and Hilda moved to Swerford in Oxfordshire, making pottery and engraving, their ambition being to establish a jewellery-making business working from the countryside rather than the city. During the Depression, however, this ambition was side-tracked and John took on other work, mainly on farms in the area. His artistic career then developed as a technical illustrator, of Spitfire aeroplanes and exploded views of components for Vickers Armstrong in Southampton. At the start of the Second World War he returned to Oxford to work as an illustrator for Pressed Steel, the Ministry of Works and the Air Ministry. At an early age, however, he had shown the tendency towards the healing arts which became central to his later life. His sister suffered polio in childhood and again as an adult, and he massaged her limbs with olive oil to ease the hurt. He often said he would love to be a doctor. A fall from a ladder, while working as a farm labourer during the Depression, caused injuries from which John McTimoney gradually lost the use of both his arms. Walking had also become increasingly difficult. X-rays revealed no reason for the paralysis and the treatment suggested was a risky operation to the spine to remove ‘cervical ribs’.
Fortunately, his wife introduced him to Mr Ashford, a Birmingham chiropractor trained in the USA by the originator of chiropractic, D D Palmer. He had treated her successfully for deafness in one ear – chiropractic was little known in Britain at the time, but she had known him as a child in Birmingham through Catholic/Apostolic Church connections. John McTimoney’s first treatment consisted of an adjustment to one bone in his neck, after which he was able to walk the five-mile distance home, an impossible feat before. Mr Ashford treated him over a period of three years and John became intrigued with the method of treatment. He reinforced John’s growing belief in chiropractic, in a climate of general opposition to any unusual medical practice. The profession appealed to him but at that time Britain had no college for training chiropractors.
Some years later (around 1949), he met Dr Mary Walker of Oxford, an early graduate of the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Iowa who had trained under B J Palmer, the son of D D Palmer. She was then in her seventies, wanting to train others in the skills she practised, to carry them forward to form a profession in this country. An innovator and a pioneer herself of considerable dedication to chiropractic, Mary Walker recognised a kindred spirit in John McTimoney. She set out to develop his formidable talents. She ensured that he kept to a strict training schedule, in spite of the long journeys by bicycle this entailed. John was unable to pay the £200 fees, but Dr Walker trained him in the basics of chiropractic and he qualified in the early 1950s.
The McTimoneys were then living between Great Tew and Enstone in Oxfordshire, it is believed. Mrs McTimoney became incapacitated with neuritis during this period, which seriously affected one arm and thereby her work in the jewellery trade. In time, John was able to treat her successfully, restoring the dexterity to produce her intricate silverwork. Dr Mary Walker is fondly remembered by members of John McTimoney’s family as a very special person and the bedrock of his chosen path. She was an most unusual woman for her time. Using the proceeds of selling a nursing home to fund her education, she went to America in the 1930s to train in chiropractic, and brought the method back to this country. She also used Bach Flowers, homeopathy and radionics in her practice of medicine. She built her own neurocalometer, a device to detect inflammation indicating areas of the body requiring attention. However, she discovered that such devices were less effective than had been thought, and that palpation (feeling by hand) was a more accurate method of detecting misaligned bone. In Oxford she taught Joan Nind as well as John McTimoney and, but for lack of finance, would have realised her dream of establishing a chiropractic college in that city. John McTimoney opened a practice in Banbury in 1951, first in Marlborough Road and later in Dashwood Road, and was soon drawing patients from all over the UK. Mary Walker helped him to set up, providing some essential equipment, which was difficult for him to afford with a growing family to support. Development of the chiropractic technique was his great passion and he continued to innovate throughout nearly thirty years as a practitioner. Based on Mary Walker’s teaching and D D Palmer’s original insights, his approach was founded on the belief that the main cause of dis-ease and pain in the body was the misalignment of bone. In the quest for an effective, natural and non-invasive treatment of disease he devised a holistic (whole body) chiropractic method. He used his innate intelligence – primarily the sense of touch in his hands and fingers – to analyse a patient’s entire skeleton in order to detect misalignments, however slight. Applying engineering principles to this detailed examination of the skeletal structure, he refined the process of choosing and making skilful adjustments to allow the patient’s structure to normalise. Mainly though not exclusively through the use of high velocity thrusts, and in particular the toggle recoil thrust on the vertebrae, he sought to achieve realignment that would be both comfortable for the patient and thorough at every treatment. A further innovation was the formulation of a chiropractic analysis and treatment for animals, in 1954, and he is believed to be the first chiropractor to do this. The demand for treatment steadily increased and in 1969 John McTimoney suffered a severe heart attack brought on largely by overwork. He had already trained his son, Russell, who continued the practice in Banbury during his father’s recovery. Through the persistence of his early followers he was persuaded to turn to teaching others, in order to increase the availability of his treatment and safeguard the survival of its techniques and philosophy. In 1972, already with 20 years’ experience in practice, he founded the Oxfordshire School of Chiropractic and took on a small group of pupils. He adopted the figure of Cheiron to represent the skills and qualities he felt were essential for a healing practitioner. After a further illness in 1974 he devoted himself full-time to the School, and by the time of his death in 1980 had graduated 14 practitioners, most of whom were trained in the treatment of animals as well as people. John McTimoney was a charismatic character, something of a performer, with a great sense of curiosity and the determination to achieve what others believed impossible. His early students remember “Mac’s” tremendous sense of humour and kindly support of their endeavours and training. He could be stubborn on some points, but was always willing to listen even if he did not share their views. They were welcomed into the family by his wife, “Mrs Mac”, who maintained the training course and provided encouragement and practical help wherever she could. As the number of practitioners and patients grew, the McTimoney Chiropractic Association (MCA) was established in 1979 to look after this new branch of the profession – to further the technique, support the training facilities of the School and maintain high standards of practice. The MCA is now the second largest professional chiropractic Association in Europe. The School was taken over after John McTimoney’s death by three of his original students and the McTimoney College of Chiropractic, as it is now called, has expanded to be one of only three colleges in the UK offering recognised chiropractic qualifications.