Architect Joseph Crook was a man of many ‘firsts’

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Architect Joseph Crook was a man of many ‘firsts’

June 24, 2019

Joseph Crook was a man of many firsts. He followed George Wharton as architect for the Old Colonists’, completely changing the layout and look of the village in Fitzroy, he allegedlybuilt the first house in Chapel Street in 1849, and was a member of the party which discovered the Eaglehawk goldfields. The party lost their packhorses for three days and were unable to claim the gold.

In 1884, Crook joined the Association. By 1887, he was commissioned to design the Jubilee Cottages. The idea came from the then Governor Sir Henry Loch who wanted Queen Victoria’s jubilee to be linked with colonial success. The cottages were still designed like a row of alms houses but were built in polychrome brick, a fact appreciated by the Council.

The Jubilee Cottages in Coppin Avenue (which have since been demolished) were a group of eight cottages – the first four built in 1888 from donations by Sir Henry Loch, clergyman Canon Perks, Francis Henty, Francis Clarke, A G Young, Mr and Mrs Mark Moss, John Halfey and the Venerable Archdeacon W G Hindley. Two pairs were added either side in 1889, and were known as the Reid, Bruce, Pearson and Brooks cottages.

Crook was not a professional architect, unlike Johnson and Wharton. Arriving in 1849, he settled in Prahran with his father. There he began his career as painter and decorator, before advertising himself as an architect in 1871. For the next 20 years, much of his work was done within Prahran, Windsor, St Kilda, South Melbourne and Malvern including the Prahran branch of the Melbourne Savings Bank.

From the start of his time with the Association, it was evident that Crook was going to break away with the rigid approach taken by his predecessors. For instance, his design for Sumner Hall was quite unlike the typical alms house ‘hall’, instead it was disguised as another cottage set back from the entrance gates. Similarly, Felton Cottage’s placement on the curve of Coppin Avenue was a break with tradition.

It was as though overnight Crook had turned the ‘institution’ from alms houses to being a picturesque English village, with a central green and curved streets. In this, it is believed that Crook drew inspiration from John Nash and Humphrey Repton’s Blaise Hamlet near Bristol, UK.

Crook was honorary architect for 18 years until his death in 1905. He was too ill to inspect his last designs, the James and Young Cottages. His plans and specifications were transferred to the Association.

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