The Creative Energy of the other Mr. Hooker

Bill Curtis

Though I never knew John Hooker, I have talked to plenty of people who did, and who remember him with affection and admiration for his talents in so many disciplines and his passion for early transport, clearly inherited from his parents.

Born in Westerham in 1904, the eldest son of printer Alfred James Hooker and his wife Alice, John was the grandson of Charles Hooker, the proprietor and founder of Hookers Steam Printing Works on the corner of the High Street and Stratton Terrace. Unlike his father and cousins, John did not join the family printing business, being more interested in engineering, electronics, film, the arts and music. He attended Hosey School and by all accounts, did quite well, involving himself in many of the after school activities which he continued to support long after he had begun his working career.  His interest in music and performance led him to support and film several of the HOBA holidays and early Gala Whit Mondays. In the late 1920s John  joined the ‘Westerham Country Dance Society’, started by Granville and Lucy Deane Streatfeild.

John Hooker is in the back row, just off-centre holding the cup they had recently won
On leaving Hosey boys school, John took an apprenticeship with the General Post Office and went on to become the telephone engineer for Westerham and Biggin Hill. He is seen here, circa 1936, astride a ‘G.P.O. engineering department’ motorcycle combination. The family lived at Merle Cottage in the High Street. John had one younger brother Reginald, who took over the printing works in 1948 when Alfred James died. Reg was always known in the firm as ‘Mr. Reg’ and he worked alongside his cousin Arthur, who was always known as ‘Mr. Bob’. John was an inveterate collector of ephemera - film, photographs and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a huge collection of Hooker Bros. printed work including billboard posters photo-postcards, newspapers and stationary, much of which survives to this day, representing an important chapter of Westerham’s social heritage. Although an expensive hobby at the time, John was a keen and prolific cinematographer and several of his films still exist on 9.5mm, and then later, 16mm. His greatest love was collecting butterflies, and he was said to have a large display collection, though nobody knows where that is now. Working with his younger brother Reg, John lit the Hosey Evening School production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ performed in the W.I. hall in 1934, the first time an amateur production had ever been lit in the town.
An early picture of John shows him aboard his first mode of transport, a large and rather splendid tricycle, shown here in the back garden at Merle Cottage with his brother Reg and their mother Alice.
He progressed through a couple of second-hand motorbikes until in 1925, when only twenty-one, he purchased his first brand-new ‘bike from Ernest Blackton at Wolfe Garage on the Green. This was a Triumph model P with electric lighting and a bulb horn…
The invoice from Ernest Blackton at Wolfe Garage. In 1925, £54-9-6d was a lot of money for a young man working for the G.P.O.
By 1928, as many motorcyclists do, he added to his ‘stable’ in the form of a second-hand 350cc Ariel which he bought for £40, but that was only a stepping stone. In June 1929 at the Sevenoaks dealership of Mr. S. Wells, John had seen an Aero-Morgan three wheel sports car for sale for the princely sum of £75...
As this invoice shows, John had traded-in his Ariel for exactly the price he had paid for it, leaving him with a balance of £35 to pay. for the Aero Morgan.
What a beauty! The Aero Morgan seen here in Mill Lane by the stepping stones, with the Mill cottages in the background.
He retained the Aero Morgan for some years, but once again, added to his stable in 1931 with the purchase of a second-hand Austin Seven for the rainy days and travelling with friends - with room for only one passenger, it could be a tad lonely in the Aero Morgan, even if it was fun to drive…
John in his baby Austin in the late 1930s
John retired early from his position as Chief Engineer at the telephone exchange due to ill health, but continued to buy and sell his motorcycles. In the early 1970s he began work on his pride and joy - a rare 1914 Hazlewood of which there were only three others known of in existence! He had originally purchased the machine in 1923 and had ridden it for a year before taking it apart to restore. In the meantime, forty-four years of his life had crept by… By now living on his own at Merle Cottage, it was not surprising to those that knew him, that John’s burgeoning collection of ephemera, memorabilia and old motorcycles filled not only his workshop, but most of the house too.
Through the Vintage Motorcycle Club John discovered that members of the Hazlewood family were still alive, and in 1970, he began conversing with them by letter about design details for worn-out components of his elderly machine.
Geoff Morris knew John Hooker for the last thirty years of John’s life. “He was very interested in cinematography and had lots of cameras and projectors. He originally worked in 9.5mm and 16mm, but later in ‘standard’ 8mm and ‘super 8’ as well. When he joined the local branch of the Vintage Motorcycle Club, he organised film evenings and showed ‘Betty Boop’ cartoons that he was very fond of. He would give talks on the films and show us how clever they were, with not just the main character moving, but every character in shot moving and doing something. In 1939 John wrote and directed a feature film called ‘Rogues Routed’ which he and Jack Taylor shot with the H.O.B.A. scouts in the sand pits at Covers Farm. John was into anything mechanical, electrical and to do with telecommunications, but was also very interested in the arts, music and theatre. As the chief GPO engineer for the area, he was out in all weathers doing repairs".
He seemed to spend all his waking hours on his interests and dealing with social issues around the town; to me he was ‘Mr Westerham’. He was very musical and ran a local band called the ‘Kent Cobbs’ and they used to play at square dances and country dances in the local towns and villages at least weekly, if not more than weekly.
I suppose he was slightly eccentric, in a good way, and the whole house was cluttered with collections of paperwork, books, music, theatre posters, wirelesses, clocks, motorbike bits and three lathes - not in the shed, but in the house! It took a long time to sort out his estate because there was so much stuff there. He was always sure he was going to finish restoring his 'special' motorbike, the Hazlewood, but unfortunately died before it was completed. I had often said if he wanted to sell it he should just name his price, so I bought it off his estate in the end, and have now completed the restoration.

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