This week, we look back at the achievements of a diminutive man who had great influence over Winsford towards the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th.

John Henry Cooke was a lawyer, scholar and, above all, a gentleman who gave his life to helping others and improving conditions within the town of Winsford.

He was born on October 14, 1848, at Bank House, Over Lane, Over (later to become Winsford). Bank House stood by Four Lanes End, now known as Over Square.

It was eventually demolished and replaced by a block of flats, also called Bank House. He came from a family of nine children, seven boys and two girls.

His family had lived at Bank House since the 1830s, and his father was a local solicitor.

John Henry was first educated at a local school in Over and then later at a boarding school in Nantwich.

He was considered a good scholar and gained awards for his conduct and work. John Henry left school and went to Wesley College in Sheffield to study law.

He was articled to his father and undertook conveyancing work, including a parcel of land given to him by Lord Delamere off Swanlow Lane, which would become the land where Crossfield House was later built.

Knutsford Guardian: Wesley College, SheffieldWesley College, Sheffield (Image: Rose Hurley)

John Henry took offices in Kinderton Street, Middlewich, where he practised each day, travelling by pony and trap from the family home. During the 1870s, John Henry continued his practice in Middlewich, and in April 1875, he married Martha Kemp of Audlem.

In September of that same year, John Henry was appointed clerk of the newly formed Winsford Local Board of Health.

Winsford comprised then of Over, the Winsford bridge area and Wharton. The area had no public water supply, no sewerage system, and no street lighting.

People obtained their water from a water pump opposite Well Street. Under the guidance of John Henry Cooke, the town gained running water with its own waterworks, provision of street lighting and better paving.

Knutsford Guardian: Crossfield House, WinsfordCrossfield House, Winsford (Image: Rose Hurley)

The formation of the Winsford Urban District Council in 1895 was considered a great success built on the foundation of improvements made by Cooke.

By 1881, John Henry’s father moved from Bank House to Crossfield House, and John Henry was living with his own family in Elm View, Swanlow Lane.

At the same time, John Henry began to dabble in politics by becoming involved in the Cheshire Salt Districts Compensation Bill, the purpose of which was to ensure that those pumping brine paid compensation for any subsidence that occurred as a result.

The strength of the salt proprietors, the railway companies, and others involved in the industry meant that the bill was not passed at that time, but it succeeded some years later. The Salt Union was formed in 1888, and Cooke acted for them.

Knutsford Guardian: John Henry authored a book detailing Cheshire’s celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which took place in 1897John Henry authored a book detailing Cheshire’s celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which took place in 1897 (Image: Rose Hurley)

John Henry joined the Liberal Unionist Party and was agent to Robert Verdin, who won the Northwich election against Sir John Brunner in 1886.

Unfortunately, Robert only had the role for one year before he died suddenly at the age of 53, and Sir John won the subsequent by-election.

Following the deaths of his mother and father within three years of each other in the mid-1880s, John Henry moved into Crossfield House, with its large orchard, gardens and stabling, with his family. Nowadays, Crossfield House is split into three private dwellings.

John Henry was an author who wrote a number of books, including Ida: The Mystery of the Nun’s Grave about Vale Royal Abbey.

He also authored the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, detailing Cheshire’s celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which took place in 1897.

John Henry was also the Clerk of the Over School Board and was instrumental in developing the educational needs of Winsford residents and their families.

He encouraged donations from dignitaries to several buildings that benefit the town, including the Albert Infirmary Winsford.

During the war years, John Henry established a Families’ Association to help people deal with any temporary financial difficulties.

Knutsford Guardian: John Henry Cooke's gravestones at St Chad's ChurchJohn Henry Cooke's gravestones at St Chad's Church (Image: Rose Hurley)

He did a considerable amount to support those soldiers who were injured and arranged convalescence and retraining.

His work locally influenced the provision of war pensions nationally. John Henry Cooke died on May 29, 1928.

He is considered a local hero with great respect for his contribution to the vast improvements in the town of Winsford. He is buried in St Chad’s Church graveyard alongside many members of the Cooke family.