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Celebrating Hampshire's Historians

Cooke, John H

29 November 1862 – 7 December 1933

Lieutenant Colonel Cooke had a diverse career, including the military, early aeronautics and the geology of Malta, before settling in Southsea in 1921.  Once there he devoted his considerable energies to studying the early history of the area and communicating it widely, not through the medium of the Field Club and academic publication, but rather by lectures, newspaper reports and the formation of the Portsmouth Geological and Archaeological Society.

John Cooke was born in Weymouth, schooled in Liverpool and trained at St Mary’s College of Catholic Teachers in Hammersmith. His early career saw him in Malta, where he taught English, and founded and edited The Mediterranean Naturalist, to which his particular contributions were papers on the geology of the islands. He also excavated at the cave site of Ghar Dalam. Some of his finds are accessioned in the Natural History Museum collections. His efforts were rewarded by being made Fellow of the Geological Society.

A return to England (for the sake of his wife’s health) saw spells as an Inspector of Schools and a military career which began in 1901.  He played an important part in the early years of aviation and with the advent of war achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1918.

With the war over, came the move to Southsea. The first mentions of his involvement in local cultural activities occur in 1921, with the rebirth of the Portsmouth Literary and Philosophical Society.  His intention was to broaden its brief to cover archaeology, local history and natural sciences and adapt it ‘to the intelligence of the man in the street’.  It was not long, however, before Cooke and a fellow member, Dr L S Palmer, had broken away from the PLPS to form the Portsmouth Geological and Archaeological Society. This may have been in response to a critical review of one of their geology papers in the Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club. It apparently led them to turn their back on the ‘establishment’, publish their findings in newspapers and brand themselves ‘The Innominate Club’.

As well as arranging lectures (on site) at places of interest and writing newspaper articles Cooke began to excavate locally. His first Hampshire foray was at Chark Common in 1923 and three years later he was busy on Portsdown Hill where the investigation of Gob’s Barrow became his most important contribution to the archaeology of the area. This Neolithic burial monument contained a contracted burial with Beaker and flint dagger, in addition to other finds.

John Cooke is a relatively unknown figure in Hampshire archaeology and local history, mainly because he turned his back on the Hampshire Field Club, preferring to use local newspapers to report his activities.  He may well have had an ulterior motive in favouring the local press. In broadcasting his discoveries and the activities of The Innominate Club in this way, he was more likely to attract a wider audience.

For a fuller account of Cooke’s endeavors, see Needham & King (below)

Sources

  • Needham S & King J (2022) Gob’s Barrow and Lieutenant Colonel John H Cooke, Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 77, 1-24

Portrait

John H Cooke

Image present in the HFC article, see above, © Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History

Contribution to county’s history

Lt-Col John Cooke was an enthusiastic and energetic educationalist who provided the populations of Portsmouth and Southsea, and further afield, the opportunity to learn about local archaeology, geology and history. He was also a strong advocate for museum provision in the city.

Relevant published works

  • Cooke J H 1926a Interesting discoveries on Portsdown, Hampshire Telegraph and Post, 2 & 9 April 1926.

  • Cooke J H 1926b Tales of Ancient Wessex; links with the past, privately printed

  • Cooke J H 1926c Rambles round the Portsdown, Portsmouth Evening News 29 June 1926.

  • Cooke J H 1928 Portchester Castle: its romance in tradition, privately printed

Critical Comments

Other Comments

Contributor

Dave Allen March 2024

Keywords

Southsea, Portsmouth, Gob's barrow, geology

Any queries or further suggestions for this part of the list should be addressed to celebrating@hantsfieldclub.org.uk.

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