The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Henry Cook, the Handy Handless Man

We salute one man's courage in the face of extreme adversity. He achieved a happy life even with a severe disability, so successfully that he could claim that he “was as happy as any man in the parish”. 

from the Halstead Gazette December 18th 1940. 

The late Mr Henry Cook. Gestingthorpe’s handy handless man.

Our obituary column last week recorded the death of Mr Henry Cook which took place at St Michael’s Hospital, Braintree, on November 30th, at the age of 77 years. 

 He was a native of Gestingthorpe and resided in that parish for most of his life, being admitted to hospital about three years ago. For three weeks previous to his death he was confined to his bed. 

 Mr Cook was well known in the district to which he belonged. From his early years he was afflicted, having the misfortune to lose both hands and portions of his arms to within two inches of his elbow. The first accident occurred when he nine years of age and was helping to cut corn. Then when he was sixteen he lost his left hand while employed at a steam chaff cutter. 

Many men would have despaired of being able to work after this double misfortune, but Mr Cook, horrified at the idea of becoming a pauper, persevered and with the help of friends was fitted with “iron hands” by a London firm. Later, publicity resulted in new equipment, known as “bottle arms”, being fitted by the Surgical Aid Society, straps being utilized for fixing the arms by the shoulders.

Gradually he found he could adapt his “hook” hands to various jobs, and after a while he took over complete charge of a small flour mill at Belchamp Walter, then he found the hook convenient for opening the furnace door, gripping the sack when the corn had to be hoisted to the hopper. In the case of shovelling, a leather “eye” at the handle of the shovel enabled him to place the right hook in the eye and the other in the centre of the handle, the force being supplied by the right, whilst he lifted by the left. By this means he claimed he could shovel with anyone. In the same way he was able to do gardening and was able to stack. 

He drove carts to the market and eventually learned to drive a traction engine, his “hands” he said were well suited to the steering wheel. In an interview some years ago he did not question his ability to drive a traction engine from Belchamp to Bermondsey, Mr Cook was able to fill and light his own pipe and a mealtimes he unscrewed a combined knife and fork in place of the hook; for drinking he had to he had to place his lips on the edge of the cup, balance it and drink. When half empty, he to grip the cup with his teeth and drink in that fashion.

 He was also able to ride a tricycle and for writing he had to unscrew one of his hooks and stick a fairly thick pencil in the cavity. Despite his great handicap, his will power and ingenuity enable him to enjoy life and to use his own words he “was as happy as any man in the parish”.

The funeral took place at Gestingthorpe Parish Church on Tuesday last week, the service being conducted by the Rev C.P.Flatt (vicar). The mourners were Mrs A.Deal, Mrs E.W.Cant, Mrs E.Broyd and Mrs R.Wallis, nieces. An old friend Mr Geo. Rippingale was also present. Other nieces and nephews were unable to attend. There were lovely floral tributes from his Nieces and Nephews, Mabel and Gordon, Beatie and Lloyd and Jack, Ted and Maidie.


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