The Revd Francis Hooke (1875-1931)

Vicar of Christ Church, Epsom Common, 1923-25

Francis Edward Yarborough Hooke was born in Croydon in 1875, the first of seven children born to John Hooke and his wife Avis, née Cooke-Yarborough. John Hooke was a London-based merchant in tea and cocoa who, in 1876, was granted freedom of the City of London and later rose to become Master of one of the Livery Companies. It was a prosperous household with, in the 1881 Census, four domestic servants.

After his schooling, Francis attended Keble College, Oxford (gaining a degree in Modern History) and then Wells Theological College. After ordination, he served as Curate at All Saints, Acton (1899-1901) and then at Romsey Abbey (1901-06) - where his maternal uncle, Canon James Cooke-Yarborough, was Vicar. In a somewhat radical change of direction, he then went to southern Africa.

For 1906-07, he was Sub-Warden of the hostel for students at St Paul's theological college in Grahamstown (in modern South Africa - then the Cape Colony) that had opened in 1902. Alongside these duties he was also an itinerant missionary. In 1907, Francis moved 600 miles northeast for a couple of years as Priest-in-Charge of Lourenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa (modern-day Mozambique) - additionally becoming Chaplain not only to the local Bishop of Lebombo but also to the Missions to Seamen for the Port of Delagoa (now Maputo) Bay.

After four years abroad, he returned to England - for 1910-12, serving as Curate of All Saints, Houghton, eight miles west of Winchester. In 1911, the 35 year-old Francis married the 29 year-old Madeline Furnivall in her church of All Saints, Acton - where he had presumably first met her during his time there as Curate some ten years previously. In 1912, he and his new wife moved 20 miles south to take up his first post as Vicar, at St John's, Hythe on Southampton Water. Their first child, Richard, was born there in 1913, followed by John in 1916 and Roger in 1921.

In 1923, Francis was posted across the then vast Diocese of Winchester to become Vicar of Christ Church - a parish in shock at the tragic and untimely death of the popular Revd Neville Stiff after only two years in post. Shortly after coming in Epsom, the couple's fourth and final child (Francis, after his father) was born.

Christ Church's centenary history in 1976 included some reminiscences by Andrew Risbridger, Verger in the early 1920s, who recalled that Francis Hooke "was a sad man in many ways and had a very difficult task following after Neville Stiff. He had a great love for the Book of Common Prayer and was himself a man of prayer . . . who spent hours in prayer for his people." Andrew remembered particularly "the wise and interesting things" Francis had said during a "three-hour Service when he gave a course of addresses on the Seven Words of the Cross adapted to the Visitation of the Sick in the Book of Common Prayer". (Those underlined words are the subtitle of the book of sermons Francis had published in 1919, while at Hythe - with the main title: "Death in the Light of the Cross" - so the addresses are likely to have been those sermons.)

Sadly, Francis was not the right man for Christ Church at that difficult time in the life of the parish, and he left after only a couple of years. So, 1925 found the family moving back to Hampshire for Francis to take up the post of Vicar at Holy Trinity, Colden Common, a few miles south of Winchester. While he fared better there, his tenure was cut tragically short after six years.

On 18 March 1931, the 55 year-old Francis was, while cycling to visit a parishioner, knocked off his bike by a motor-car. Among his injuries was a fractured skull, from which he died in the Enniskerry Nursing Home, Winchester on 23 March 1931. The subsequent inquest returned a verdict of accidental death, finding that Francis had turned into the path of the passing car without warning. The driver, Mr Croft, was thus exonerated; indeed, he was praised by the Coroner for all that he had quickly done to get Francis to a doctor for emergency treatment. In a most generous gesture, the widowed Madeline had also written to Mr Croft to sympathise with him over the shock of the accident.

The report of all this in The Western Gazette for 3 April 1931 also noted that the grief over Francis's death was deepened by the fact that, on hearing the sad news, his 82 year-old father collapsed and died.

Roger Morgan © 2015