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Arthur Binns Crookall

Epithet: MLC, JP, caterer and philanthropist (1873-1935)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

On death of Arthur Binns Crookall the Isle of Man Times declared: '... the Isle of Man has lost a very big man, if not the biggest man of our day. He was big physically, which is a detail and an accident, but he was biz in mind, character and outlook. He _lad great business capacity and an intense sense of the practical, combined with immense personal energy and the power of stimulating energy in others; and, having a desire to be of practical help to his fellows, he took pains to find out his duty, and when he had found it, to perform it to the letter.'

In 1922 he had been made mayor of Douglas, a post he was to hold for five years - a record no-one else has ever achieved.

Arthur Crookall was born at Blackpool in 1873 and came to Douglas with his parents in 1886. His mother kept the Grand View boarding-house in Peveril Buildings.

Arthur set up in business as a painter and decorator in Drumgold Street, but was better known as the proprietor of a restaurant in Victoria Street which he ran with his first wife, Jane. He was elected to the Douglas Town Council in 1911. Three years later war broke out and alien internment camps were established at Knockaloe and Douglas. 'AB' obtained the contract to feed the internees, together with the civilian staff and Royal Defence Corps stationed there. He fed 28,000 men every day for over four years, but his organising ability was up to the task and although the profit on each meal was minimal, the huge quantity ensured that he made a tremendous fortune. When the war ended he was one of the richest men in the Island, but no suggestion was ever made that he had not given fair value.

In 1921 he was persuaded to stand for the House of Keys at a by-election in North Douglas. Schoolchildren were singing 'Crooks is the man and we'll have him if we can and we'll throw old Gussie in the soup' (Gussie being Walter Clucas Craine, the Labour candidate). Whether this chant had any effect on the result is a matter of conjecture but Crookall was elected with a majority of 466 votes.

Jane died aged 49 on 15th May 1922, the year he first became mayor, and the duties of mayoress were performed by his elder daughter Gertrude until he married again. In 1925 he was made an alderman. Whilst mayor, he established a distribution of Christmas dolls and toys to poor children, which continued after he completed his service. He was not cast by nature for the role of Father Christmas, but each year he donned the red robes and false beard and personally handed out the presents. Every Christmas Day he visited Noble's Hospital and delighted the children there as well, after which he would proceed to the Children's Home and enjoy the pleasure of carving the turkey. Not until then did he consider it right to go home to his own Christmas dinner and to be husband and father to his own family. Besides this, he would find out by devious ways which families could do with a little seasonable help, and the parcels distributed anonymously must have run into hundreds.

Although he constantly helped deserving causes, chief amongst his philanthropies was the Jane Crookall Maternity Home. Many women gave birth to children in appalling home conditions, and in 1927 Arthur Crookall solved the problem by buying a house in Demesne Road, fitting it out and assuring it of future financial support. He formed a management committee, appointed staff and named it the 'Jane Crookall' in memory of his first wife.

Around this time the laws on consanguinity which had prevented people from marrying their deceased spouse's sibling were relaxed. Arthur and Alice Crookall were the first couple in the Island to benefit from this change; not only was Alice AB's dead wife's sister, she was also his dead younger brother James's widow.

Throughout his service on the Douglas Town Council AB proved to be a very active civic head. During his mayoralty and at his personal suggestion, the June Effort was inaugurated. When there was talk of moving the TT Races to Belgium he was one of the Manx deputation which interviewed the ACU General Committee and stopped the move. As a precaution a new race, the Amateur TT (later the Manx Grand Prix) was started, and A.B. Crookall provided a magnificent trophy for the Senior Race.

He was an imposing figure as he walked the mile and a half from his home at Woodlands to the Town Hall each morning, with spats and walking stick, often smoking a cigar; he was well-built and carried himself erect.

While chairman of the Amusement Committee he was responsible for the establishment of the Open Bowling Competition which brought many visitors to the Island. He was also a prime mover in the establiment of the corporation golf course at Pulrose and the widening of Douglas Promenade. He retired from the Town Council in November 1932 after 21 years of outstanding service to Douglas and its people.

Meanwhile, in 1924, he had been re-elected to the House of Keys, repeating the performance in 1929 when he polled over 4000 votes and had a 1440 vote majority over his nearest rival. In January 1934, following the death of Joseph Qulatrough, he was elected to the Legislative Council.

Arthur Crookall became a director of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and the Isle of Man Railway Company when both concerns were facing difficult problems. He persuaded the Railway Company to buy out the rival bus companies, and on the death of Hugo Teare he became chairman of both the Railway Company and the Road Services Company. The Isle of Man Electricity Board had been formed and Lieutenant Governor Hill nominated AB as director and chairman, despite the fact that he had opposed the government having any hand in it. He was a member of the Highway Board, vice-chair-man of the Publicity Board and a member of many other bodies such as the Orphans' Home and the Motor Race Committee. He had been a Justice of the Peace since 1921 and in 1935 had become Captain of the Parish of Malew.

He was a lifelong Methodist and attended Rosemount Church in Douglas.

As mayor he was interested in a proposal to bring large parties of Manx people from over-seas in a specific 'Homecoming'. He crossed America addressing Manx Societies wherever they could be found, and out of these efforts the North American Manx Association was founded. The successful 1927 Homecoming, when over 300 Manx people sailed direct from America to the Isle of Man, was a tribute to his efforts. He worked hard to discover contacts for young Manxmen seeking their fortunes abroad, and was a member of a committee of the World Manx Association set up for this purpose.

Arthur Crookall was a considerable landowner, having purchased Ronaldsway and part of Derbyhaven, where he built a number of villas. He also purchased the Castletown Golf Links at Derbyhaven and made extensive improvements there. Other agricultural properties included Vaaish and Lhergy-Dhoo near Peel which were farmed by his sons Willie and Ramsey.

In his younger days he had been one of the best Association footballers on the Island, playing for Wanderers and later for Old Douglas.

He was the first man on the Island to have a Rolls Royce and, driven by his chauffeur, he enjoyed touring round England.

He had taken an active part in Masonry, holding lodge and provincial ranks.

Early in June 1935 he travelled to Harrogate with his wife Alice and younger daughter so that his wife, whose health had been poor for some time, could have treatment. On 9th June, after attending a concert, he developed a chill and as it got worse a doctor was sent for. A specialist from Leeds confirmed that he had pneumonia. He died six days later. His funeral was held at the Douglas Borough Cemetery and was one of the largest ever seen on the Island.

The funeral address was given by the Revd John Webster, who had been Mayor's Chaplain during AB's term of office. 'No needy person, no worthy cause, ever appealed to him in vain', he said. 'Helping others was to him a delight; serving others was to him a privilege. A life of such eager and restless energy must have had a deep and inexhaustible spring as its source. His life was founded on simplicity, and faith in God'.

Biography written by Victor Kneale.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.138-40.)

Culture Vannin


Nationality: English

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1873

Place of birth: Blackpool

Date of death: 15 June 1935

Place of death: Harrogate


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