OLD PLYMOUTH . UK
www.oldplymouth.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 29, 2019
Webpage updated: January 04, 2020

        

WHO WAS WHO IN OLD PLYMOUTH

ALFRED ROOKER (1814-1875)

Alfred Rooker was born at Tavistock on April 1st 1814, the son of William Rooker, a Congregationalist minister from Bridport in Dorset, and his wife Elizabeth.  He was christened at the Brook Street Independent Chapel at Tavistock.

Educated privately by his father and the Reverend William Evans of the Abbey Chapel at Tavistock, he he soon developed a robust and vigorous constitution and an active, well-balanced mid.   During this early education he travelled widely on the Continent.

He was articled to Mr Christopher Vicary Bridgman, a solicitor, in Tavistock, and continued his studies in London, where he was instrumental in the formation of the Articled Clerks' Law Debating Society.  After completing his exams in 1836, he came to Plymouth to become a partner with Mr George Coryndon.  He became a member of the Plymouth Institution in 1837.

Later, he founded the practice of Messrs Rooker, Lavers, Matthews and Shelley, which following the departure of Mr Shelley afterwards became Messrs Rooker, Matthews and Harrison.

Such was the recognition of his high qualities in the Town, that he was made a member of the Corporation without either standing for election or representing any ward.  He was immediately elected an Alderman in 1848 and was chosen as Mayor for 1851-52.  

Although he had no parliamentary ambitions, he was persuaded to stand for election in 1871 when the Member of Parliament, Sir Robert Collier, was appointed as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and had to vacate his seat.  As a Dissenter (he was a member of Sherwell Congregational Chapel), he was not the favoured Liberal candidate but he was selected instead of Sir George Young.  Rooker was defeated at the ballot on November 22nd 1871 by Mr (later Sir) Edward Bates by just 242 votes.  His name was often suggested by he never stood for election again.

Even when the Conservative Party won all the Council seats, he was given the honour of remaining as an Alderman.

When the prospect of a new Guildhall was put forward, Alfred Rooker was chosen to be the chairman of the New Guildhall Committee and when it came to the time for the opening ceremony, no one was more fitting to be the Mayor of Plymouth when His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, in his capacity as High Steward, came to the Town to perform that happy duty.  The Prince was the guest of Alfred and his Mancunian wife, Elizabeth, at their home at Mount View, Pennycross.

In addition to these civic duties, Mr Rooker had been the honorary secretary of the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital for many years and superintendent of Sherwell Sunday School for some 32 years.

Upon concluding his term as Mayor, he decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and on December 3rd 1874 he left Plymouth with his wife and two daughters.  Throughout his life he had never known what it was like to be ill for even a day but on May 22nd 1875, while journeying between Damascus and Baalbeck, he was struck by Syrian fever.  Wishing to push on as quickly as possible to Beyrout [now Beirut], eight men bore him on their shoulders in a litter to a point where they could meet the horse-diligence that would complete the journey.  At Beyrout [Beirut] he was attended by the resident English surgeon and his health appeared to improve but the following day he worsened and an American physician was called for consultation.

Sadly, Alfred Rooker died at 12 Midday on Thursday May 27th 1875.

A subscription was raised and 1,500 collected.  It was decided to erect a statute in his honour and place it in Guildhall Square as he was one of the principal promoters of that project.  The sculptor was Stephens, and Rooker appeared robed as Mayor, with a chart of the Guildhall in his hand.  It was unveiled on Friday September 20th 1878 by the Mayor, Mr Joseph Wills, and the panegyric was pronounced by Mr W J Square, who led the group of subscribers.