Monday 28 November 2022

Tough Assignment - Harry Cook

Harry, aged 4, in his Sunday best
showing his early love of cricket.

On September 30th, 1985, a brief story of his life was told by a man who has lived in the village of Eton Wick all his life, and has been associated with the chapel since his boyhood. This man is a very rare person and for those who know him and whom he has helped, (and there must be very many), and for those who have heard him pray at the Chapel Prayer Meetings at 6pm Sunday evenings, he seems to have a special 'closeness with God', and that relationship is reflected in his daily life.

He epitomises what the disciple Peter could well have been like - a very human person with a loving heart, far bigger than most. He truly walks with his God.

Harry Cook was born on May 14th, 1911 at the house where he still lives - 18, Inkerman Road. He recalled that when only a few months old, and in his mother's arms, the house called Busane, which stood on the site where Bryanston now stands, (and originally called Farm Belle), was burned down. His father lived at Busane while still a bachelor. He was a 'fly driver', or a registered horse drawn cab driver. His father was also a keen gardener and in the grounds of Busane he had 21 cold frames and 2 greenhouses. He was an artistic gardener and prepared hanging baskets and displays for boat houses and house parties etc. In the cold frames he grew many violets. When the Chapel was built his father collected £10 towards the costs - a large amount of money at that time.

Harry had one brother and one sister, the sister sadly dying when very young. He attended Eton Porny School and walked most days along the roughly made up Eton Wick Road which had no kerbs, and played football as he and his friends ran to school. There were very few cars at all, and when a horse drawn cab came along, they would get behind it to sit and ride on the axle. This was called 'whip-whip-behind', with the cab driver throwing the whip back behind him over the cab, to deter such naughty boys! Harry's father died when Harry was five.

Harry remained at school until he was 14. His first job was as an office boy for Harvey and Squelches. A year later when 15, he became apprenticed to Streets the builders. His apprenticeship lasted for 5 years with a further 2 years as an 'Improver'. A total of 7 years apprenticeship. As an Improver he earned 17s a week (85p) and before that 9s a week (45p), with increases of is a week each year. He would leave Eton Wick at 6.45 am each morning and walk to work at Slough to start at 8am. He finished at 5pm and walked home. On Saturdays he worked from 8am until 1pm. His neighbour then, and now, Mr Jack White, walked continously in this pattern for some 30 years while working, and still enjoys walking.

While very young Harry was taken to the chapel by his mother and passed through the Sunday School. He was eventually taken in as a Sunday School Teacher by Mrs Tough. Harry remembers her as a stern lady, but she had a lovely face. "I think she was a lovely lady". Harry's father would take her in his cab to meetings at Queen's Street and Cookham Dean and would wait to take her home to Eton Wick. This information was passed on by Harry's mother.

Harry's first preaching appointment was at Dedworth in Windsor Baptist Church when he was 22. Preachers were in short supply and often took six or seven services a quarter, travelling by bicycle as there were few cars.

In 1932 while working as a plumbers mate with a man called Calder, they decided to go into business on their own. Pay then was ls.5hd an hour, London rate, and ls.4hd an hour, local rate. Calder and Cook, plumbers and hot water fitters, were based in Alpha Street, Slough. After about 2 years they separated, because 'his wife wanted to run the firm, and I wasn't under no pettycoat government!'.

From 1934 Harry worked from Eton Wick, and, but for the war, continued active work for the next 50 years in and around the village.

When the school room (Tough Memorial Hall) was built in 1934, Harry was asked by Mr Chew to be clerk of works (unpaid). There were many problems during the building, with the builder not too particular with materials used. Harry insisted, for example, that the wood covering the lower walls around the schoolroom were of pine. It was Mr Chew who persuaded Harry to become self-employed.

At this time there was a small isolation hospital in Eton Wick which had belonged to the Eton Board of Health, and it was proposed to change the hospital into two bungalows. 'The hospital had lovely 18" brickwork'. The conversion was wanted to house a cowman for Bell Farm. Harry submitted a tender and was given the job. During this year of 1934 he saw Bobby Calvert of Eton and arranged for timber on monthly credit. 'You couldn't get loans from banks then'. Harry received a whole lorry load of timber for the conversion at a cost of £20. The two bungalows had to be reconverted into one bungalow as Mr Wright the cowman thought it too small.

Harry continued to preach until the outbreak of war. After the war, Tom Seymour, George Ives, and Harry, were invited onto the Plan as local preachers. Harry felt that he could not accept unless he completed the examinations.

Harry inherited a love of gardening and was an allotment holder from the age of 13. His first plot was on the area or 'slip" on the field to the left of the foothpath enroute to Cippenham. Harry served on the Eton Wick Allotment Committee between 1949 and 1984, as secretary; treasurer; and vice chairman. Over those years he organised 15 village horticultural shows on the Wheatbutts (which was then an old orchard), or in the Village Hall if wet. These generated much interest in horticulture.

Harry has always been interested in dogs, and during a 30 year period owned an alsation and two golden retrievers. Until recently he arranged all the plumbing for the annual Windsor Dog Show. He also had a great love for cricket, and before the war the village team played on the Warren at Saddocks Farm amongst the cow packs and all! - real village green stuff. 'We went round with barrow and shovels before play started. They don't know what it is today. Tailor made cricket. Tuesday's and Thursday's was pitchwork'. When you look at Harry's hands today they are still rough from manual labour with several fingers misshapen from injuries received as a wicket keeper. This, and some arthritis now prevent him from gripping as powerfully as before. If only those hands could tell all their work!

A love of flowers and flower arranging was passed on to Harry from his father. He never received any training, and simply 'chanced his arm' at shows. "I just seemed to have a natural gift". 'Chuck 'em into a vase and let them fall into place'. Harry's gift of flower arranging was a natural talent which led him to be acknowledged as a judge of this art form. During the period of 1956 and 1979 (23 years) Harry was almost solely responsible for the flower arrangements in the chapel - a service of love to the Lord which left the congregations sometimes gasping at their brilliance and innovative skill. It was a privilege to see the displays which were remarked upon by all the visiting preachers for their expression of colour and pattern. It is very doubtful if any church anywhere in the country had such regular displays of pure floral genius. 'It's because I love flowers and put them to best advantage, into the way the Lord arranges them. They seem to arrange themselves. If you go into it, it's amazing - a petal from a seed like a grain of dust'. Harry has always produced exceptional vegetables, particularly onions. At one Harvest Festival several years ago, the Rev. Leslie Groves glanced over the lectern looked at the display and retorted, 'Good heavens, those onions remind me of the Brighton Pavillion'.

Harry entered the Army in 1941 when called up. Until then he had been involved in the war effort building air-raid shelters. He joined the 66th Field Hygiene Section and was attached to a Battalion of the 7th Army in the Middle East. Malaria was a particular problem and part of his work was to investigate where the mosquitos were breeding and decide action to be taken, like the fitting of 'fly doors'. The Bedoins who lived in the area often left their dead animals unburied, and these were breeding grounds for the flies. These Bedoins would be given an ultimatum - either bury the animals or not receive any water from the Army. 'At night there would be so may mosquitoes on the walls that it was impossible to put a penny piece between them".

Harry spent four years in Egypt/Tel Aviv/Syria and Allepo on the Turkish border. When demobbed, he returned to his work and being much involved in and around the village. "I never went pubbing". Harry was then asked - what he considered to be the most important thing in life.

"Caring neighbourly for other people brings contentment. Doing the Lord's work. But he leaves you to do it. No other hand but mine. If you live just for self, can't be any happiness in it. Always pray that the Lord will use me each day. Caring for one another is the greatest thing you can do. Help whatever way you can. Cares. Show that caring. Lord Jesus come into my heart each day. I often prayed with Sylvia and Joyce, the three of us together. 'Use us today Lord'. Then later would say -'He hasn't half used me today - I've been in all sorts of trouble!'.

The Eton Wick History Group is most grateful for the kind permission given by the Eton Wick Methodist Chapel to republish this history, Tough Assignment on this website.

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