Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Cook, Francis

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COOK, Sir FRANCIS, first baronet (1817–1901), merchant and art collector, born at Clapham on 3 Jan. 1817, was second son (in a family of seven children) of William Cook (1784–1869) of Roydon Hall, Kent, by his wife Mary Ann (d. 1862), daughter of John Lainson (1779–1844), alderman of London (1835–43), and of Silchester, Hants. The father, descended from a family settled at Wymondham, Norfolk, started in business as a retail linen-draper at 7 Great Warner Street, Clerkenwell; he traded with a partner as Cook & Martin from 1807 to 1812, and continued this business there and at Fish Street Hill in his own name until 1830. By 1819 he had opened a wholesale warehouse at 89 Cheapside, where he took into partnership his brother James in 1822 and a Mr. Gladstones in 1825. The wholesale firm removed to 21–3 St. Paul's Churchyard in 1834, when the style became Cook, Son, & Gladstones, the last-named partner disappearing in 1843. The concern became one of the largest of its kind in the country, both as a manufacturing and distributing house, doing an immense trade with Great Britain and the colonies in all classes of silk, linen, woollen, and cotton goods. The founder, William Cook, left a fortune of over 2,000,000l.

Educated at Totteridge and Frankfort, young Cook started in the print department of the firm in 1833, and in 1843 became a partner, the style of the firm being altered to Cook, Sons & Co. On the death of his eldest brother, William, in 1852 the firm assumed its present style of Cook, Son & Co., and Francis on his father's death in 1869 became its head, greatly contributing to its prosperity by his business capacity and tact in the selection of his assistants. Despite other interests he actively superintended his business till the end of his life.

In 1841 Cook paid a first visit to Portugal, where his first wife's father was settled, and he subsequently spent there parts of the spring and autumn of each year. In 1856 he bought for his residence the palace of Monserrate at Cintra near Lisbon, renowned both in history and in literature. He entered with enthusiasm on a complete restoration of the building and the formation of its world-famous gardens. By gradual purchase he acquired much land near Cintra, many square miles in extent, and renewed the prosperity of the district, where villages and gardens had fallen into decay. In recognition of these services and of his benevolence to the Portuguese poor Cook was created Viscount Monserrate in 1864 by Dom Luiz, King of Portugal.

About 1860 Cook acquired for his residence Doughty House, Richmond Hill, and there formed one of the finest collections of pictures of his time. His most important purchases were made between 1860 and his death, from Italian, Spanish, and English collections, under the advice of (Sir) J. C. Robinson. All schools were well represented, including the early Flemish masters (especially Van Eyck), Rubens and his successors, Rembrandt, the Dutch landscape and genre painters, the French, Spanish, and Italian schools, and (by fewer examples) the English school. Italian majolica, bronzes, ivories, tapestries, and antique statuary also formed part of the collections. A generous owner, the Doughty House gallery was always freely open to genuine students, and many of the pictures were lent to various exhibitions here and abroad.

Cook was elected F.S.A. on 16 Jan. 1873, and in 1885 he established at a cost of about 80,000l., as a tribute to Queen Alexandra, then Princess of Wales, Alexandra House, South Kensington, a home for lady students of music and other branches of art. He was created a baronet on 10 March 1886.

Cook, who continued his almost daily attendance in the City until within ten days of his death, died at Doughty House, Richmond Hill, on 17 Feb. 1901, and was buried in Norwood cemetery. He left a personal estate valued at 1,500,000l. net. The picture and art collection was divided, part passing by will to his younger son, Wyndham Francis (d. 1905); this is now in Cadogan Square in trust for the latter's son, Humphrey. The main portion, including the pictures and statuary, was entailed on his elder son, the present baronet.

Busts executed by lady students at Queen Alexandra's House are preserved there, at Monserrate, and at Doughty House.

Cook married (1) on 1 Aug. 1841, Emily Martha (d. 12 Aug. 1884), daughter of Robert Lucas of Lisbon; (2) on 1 Oct. 1885, Tennessee, daughter of Reuben Buckman Claflin of New York, a prominent advocate of women's rights. By his first wife he had surviving issue two sons and a daughter; the elder son, Frederick Lucas, at one time M.P. for the Kennington division of Lambeth, succeeded to the baronetcy.

[The Times, 19 Feb., 13 Mar. 1901; Drapers' Record, 23 Feb. 1901; Thames Valley Times, 20 Feb. 1901; Richmond and Twickenham Times, 23 Feb. 1901; P.O. London Directories, 1807–38; Lodge's Peerage and Baronetage, 1911; Register and Mag. of Biog. vol. 1, 1869; private information.]

C. W.