Postcard of the month - #87 - August 2007
Born in 1852 in Poplar, Will Crooks spent his early life in extreme poverty. His father having lost an arm in an accident could no long provide for his family and they were sent to the Poplar Workhouse in Poplar High Street. Through the hard work of his mother the family were able to leave the workhouse. However this harsh experience of the Victorian Workhouse cast a shadow over his whole life.
On leaving school Will Crooks became an apprentice cooper and worked in the docks as a
casual labourer. He became
interested in politics and started to hold meetings outside the East India
Dock Gates, which became known as “Crook’s College”.
From these meetings came successful campaigns for free public
libraries, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and a more humane Poor Law. He was one of the leaders of the 1889 Dock Strike and helped
to form the Poplar Labour League.
In 1892 Will
Crooks was elected for Poplar to the newly formed London County Council.
This enabled him to become a full-time politician.
He became the first Labour Mayor of Poplar in 1901 and a Member of
Parliament in 1903 for Woolwich. He
was elected to the Board of Guardians of the Poplar Workhouse and campaigned
for a more humane regime there.
His biography written by G Haw was published in 1907.
It is an autobiography really and is aptly called “From
Workhouse to Westminster”.
Will Crooks lived all his life in Poplar and died in Poplar Hospital in 1921. He was buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Bow. His epitaph reads: “He lived and died a servant of the People”.
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