John Cooke – “Cookie
1930 – 2013
John Cooke (Cookie) was born on the 14th November 1930 at Revesby Park where at that time his father John Herbert Cooke was Stud Groom to Lady Beryl Groves. On leaving school at fourteen Cookie went to work at an auctioneers office. This certainly was not his scene and he moved swiftly on to the South Wold (West) Kennels as general factotum which was much more his cup of tea! This was when the South Wold had been split into two and the well respected Mr Leslie Butcher was Master with the hounds being kennelled at his home at Edlington. It was here that Cookie started to learn the groundwork of kennel life which was later was to prove invaluable to him, as he developed his own very high standards. After four seasons he took up his National Service with the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery. Cookie then progressed to whip in to the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire in Scotland, the nearby Burton and the Newmarket and Thurlow, where eldest son Johnathan was born. From here he went to the Wilton near Salisbury, with his next stop being the Meynell in Staffordshire under one of the best known Huntsmen of that time, George Gillson, who was born at the South Wold Kennels, at Belchford.
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It was whilst at the Meynell, Nicholas, Cookie’s youngest son was born. Shortly after his birth he was held high above the bedroom window of the whipper in’s house for all to see as they return from a lengthy hound exercise! It was with great pride to Cookie that at seventeen Nicholas took up a career with Sussex Police serving his full thirty year term before retiring two years ago.
Cookie left the Meynell to return to the Wilton as Huntsman where he was to stay for four seasons. It was in his early time hunting the Wilton Hounds that Mr Gillson’s words would be ringing in his ears. “Never lie to your hounds and they will never lie to you, trust them and never kid them!” These were the best words of advice for any young Huntsman. After four successful seasons at the Wilton it was time for a move to the Eridge in Sussex and it was here in 1980 that they celebrated their centenary. All morning was spent shampooing the hounds and everything had gone according to plan until such time that they decided to walk them out. Of course what should appear, but a fox and in a flash they were gone! Eventually they returned looking rather weary and somewhat dirty, Cookie then turned round and had to bath them all again!
After thirteen seasons at the Eridge, Cookie came back to his native Lincolnshire. This time it was to hunt the South Wold which, some considerable time before had returned to being a single Hunt, with their hounds being kennelled at Belchford, near Horncastle. At that time they were lucky enough to have a strong Mastership of well respected Lincolnshire farmers. This stood them in good stead for the many enjoyable days which were due to follow either high up on the Wolds or down on the Marsh towards the coast.
With his son Jonathan whipping in to him, who he had originally taught to ride on a donkey, the Cooke duo were now in their element, and as Jonathan explained “Dad certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly”! This part of the country has changed very little over the years. The only real difference being that the Marsh, which was undoubtedly one of the best grazing places in the country for fattening cattle, has succumbed like so many areas to the plough. However nothing whatsoever was going to stop Cookie and Jonathan showing the best of sport.
There were many great days to come, however, it was on the way back from one of them that Jonathan and his father had a narrow escape. They had just started to descend Cawkwell Hill, probably the steepest hill in the Wolds when the lorry’s breaks failed, with two horses and a pack of hounds on board. Just managing to ram it into first gear they were able to get to the bottom in one piece but in some sort of sweat for a while afterwards. I am sure Cookie’s expression, “ooh yer b…… “could be heard loud and clear on that occasion!
Cookie retired in 1988 due to a change in Mastership. However he will be remembered as Cook a shining example of a true and dedicated huntsman who will be greatly missed by all who knew him. Whether it was his ability to teach and encourage up and coming hunt staff, or how he made us laugh and smile as he blew gone away from the empty barrels of a twelve bore. Our lives have certainly been enriched by knowing him. It is, we are sure, unheard of for the last words about an outstanding professional huntsman, to be left to a hunt saboteur, who spent a lot of his time badgering Cookie. However, Mick Camplin told Jonathan when they met in Horncastle shortly after his death had been announced. “ I was so sorry to hear about your Dad, he was a really good bloke.” All of us who knew him would wholeheartedly agree.
Although living in Gloucestershire for the last thirty years of his life, this part of Lincolnshire was always his home and it was his family and friends still living here that he continued to care greatly about. To them and his extended family we offer our deepest sympathy.