In early March, a lucky coincidence brought the nephew of the last owner of Bideford Black Pigments Ltd to the Burton Gallery. Ken Cookes was visiting the area to look into his family history when he arrived at the Burton to see our posters requesting any information about Bideford Black. Talking to exhibition and collections officer Warren Collum, Ken recalled how his slightly wayward uncle, Howard St Louis Cookes, a black sheep of the family, had been sent to Bideford from London in 1935 to help liquidate the struggling Bideford Black Mining Company as part of his job as a well-to-do chartered accountant. However, ‘Uncle’ Howard had seen potential in the business and, despite lack of support from his family, had decided to buy it and bring it back to life. Howard's move started a lifelong obsession with mining and he spent many years travelling around the south west prospecting for other sites and making himself to other mining projects in the area. Ken remembered how Uncle Howard was reputed to have lived a playboy lifestyle from his Westward Ho! flat until his marriage and had owned a black convertible Riley sports car in which he would drive the Devon Lanes.
‘Howard Cookes was rather eccentric & Edwardian in outlook & manner.’ Ken Cookes (nephew)
Howard Cookes’ connections in the Ministry of Defence had secured business as a supplier of paint for tank camouflage, boat anti-foul and something to do with ammunitions(?). He later married an ‘Avon Lady’ who despite much speculation had no connection to the MAX FACTOR cosmetics company, who already had a factory based in East the Water, another lucrative avenue for business - Bideford Black being used in the production of mascara. Eventually Howard Cookes had folded the company in 1969, after a brief period running a wood yard and manufacturing wooden sheds at Chapel Park that were sold in Southampton.
Mr Tony Cookes after his trip down the mineshaft with ‘Uncle Howard’, Chapel Park Mines 1955 (Courtesy Tony Cookes)
Ken’s brother Tony, who now lives in Australia, was old enough to be taken down the mines but Ken never got the chance to go down himself.
Many thanks to Ken and Tony for their contribution.