Arthur Henry Crook

Eastbourne’s Key Workers

Lizzie Williams

Arthur Henry Crook

Arthur Henry Crook was a doctor who lived in Eastbourne in the early to mid-1900s and worked at the Princess Alice Hospital for over 30 years. Arthur was born in 1884 in Southampton, and studied Natural Sciences at Christ College, Cambridge. He was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London and qualified in 1908. In January 1913 Arthur married Margaret (known as Peg) Witherbee in London. Soon after they moved to Eastbourne, and Arthur set up a practice with Dr Astley Roberts. In 1914 he was appointed the Assistant Medical Officer at the Princess Alice Hospital.

The Princess Alice Memorial Hospital was in Carew Road. It was named after The Princess Alice Memorial Hospital was in Carew Road. It was named after Princess Alice, Queen Victoria’s daughter, who’d spent time in Eastbourne and died four years before the hospital was opened in 1883. In its early days it was a voluntary hospital, funded through local taxes, fundraising, and subscriptions, but became part of the NHS in 1948. The hospital closed when Eastbourne DGH opened in 1977. The site was demolished in the early 2000s, and the Hawthorn’s Retirement Village now stands in its place.

Dr Crook’s Battalion in Antwerp
Image Credit

It was not long after Arthur joined the hospital that World War One began. Arthur was already in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (R.N.V.R.) and was called up almost immediately to fight. He served in various regiments during World War One but saw most of his service in the land-based 63rd Division. This unit consisted of men from the Royal Navy who were not needed for service at sea, reserve units, and volunteers. A group of men from Eastbourne who were in the R.N.V.R. were posted to this Division. Among them were: Sussex cricketer Cyril Browne; the Eastbourne Rugby Club captain Claude de la Mothe; the headmaster of Ascham School Arthur Willis; and Sidney Charles Weekes, the principle boy solo in St Saviour’s choir. Eastbourne was so proud of them that the newspapers regularly had articles about their progress, and pictures the men were on view in Mr Bourne’s photography shop in Langney Road.

Dr Crook in an improvised bomb proof shelter in the trenches
Image Credit

Arthur served as a surgeon, and saw action in Antwerp, Gallipoli (where he was mentioned in dispatches), France and Ireland. While away Arthur took photos of the places he’d been and the men he’d served with. These photos are now part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection.

After the War, Arthur returned to Eastbourne and continued at the Princess Alice Hospital. He was such a valued member of staff that when he was due to retire in 1936 the hospital created the new post of Fracture Surgeon for him and he continued in this role until his actual retirement in 1951! A keen sportsman, Arthur helped found the Eastbourne Sailing Club in 1933 with fellow doctor Ross Taylor.

The Second World War must have been a difficult time for Arthur and his family. Arthur and Margaret had three sons and a daughter, and in 1940 their eldest son, Anthony, was captured at Dunkirk and held as a Prisoner of War. He was only released when the camp was liberated in 1945 by the Russians and returned home in late March.

Arthur found himself in front of the local magistrates twice during World War Two or breaking the blackout. As Eastbourne was badly hit by bombing during the War the blackout in the town was robustly enforced. On both occasions Arthur fell foul of the rules more by misfortune than neglect. On the first occasion in October 1940, Arthur returned home and turned the bathroom light on momentarily before realising the blackout curtain hadn’t yet been put up. In court he remarked that this probably happened to a lot of people, but they didn’t have the misfortune of living across the street from the police-constable! The second mishap happened in May 1943 when, after going downstairs in his house to collect instruments that he needed for surgery, in his hurry to return he left the basement light on.

Princess Alice Hospital

During and after the War Arthur carried on working at the Princess Alice, and when the NHS was formed in 1948, he was appointed Orthopaedic Surgeon to the Eastbourne Group of Hospitals. Arthur was also an active member of the community and was a Sussex Downsman, an organisation that was founded in 1923 to protect the Sussex Downs and Seven Sister’s landscape.

Arthur was a regular contributor to the local paper by writing them letters. He Arthur was a regular contributor to the local paper, writing numerous letters. He wrote in 1935 suggesting that foreign films should be shown at the Devonshire Park Cinema. In 1941 he suggested that the council should remove the ‘great quantity’ of ‘ugly’ metal railings from around the town for the War effort. At the end of the Second World War he thought that holiday makers should pay a surcharge when they visited to help with the town’s recovery. Then in the 1950s he objected to the redevelopment plan to knock down the Wish Tower in the 1950s. He had many other letters published in the Eastbourne Gazette and Herald about many other issues that were close to his heart.

Arthur carried on working as a doctor right up to his death in January 1957. A memorial fund was set up by his friends and raised over £500. This money was used to create a garden in his honour at the Princess Alice Hospital.

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