Reference NumberP/TYC
TitlePapers of Paul Tyler concerning Will Crooks ("Tyler-Crooks papers")
AdminHistoryPoplar-born Will Crooks experienced adversity early in life, however, he evolved into a distinguished campaigner and constituency MP. As his family endured the rigours of the Poplar Union Workhouse, young Crooks witnessed bread riots during the winter of 1866, as hundreds of men waiting at the workhouse gates for their rations, refused to allow the baker's waggon through, and fought each other for the meagre rations. Much of his formal education came via a Poor Law school. In adulthood, he became a highly-skilled cooper in the London Docks, and belonged to the Coopers' Union for over 50 years. Largely self-educated, he was deeply committed to local issues.

In the late 19th century, he lobbied for political representation for the working classes, just as Labour organisations were making headway via local government. In 1889 he was a candidate for the Progressive Party, the combination of Fabians and British liberals which won control of the first London County Council. The administration embarked upon an ambitious programme of municipalisation, which covered housing; green spaces; the modernisation of London's sewerage system and upgrading London's road network.

Crooks was a familiar sight at the East India Dock Gates where he addressed regular Sunday gatherings. Audiences were so impressed by his fervour, that these meetings came to be known as "Crook's college". The Poplar Labour League had its roots in these meetings, which were another campaigning platform for, inter alia, public libraries; the building of the Blackwall Tunnel; old age pensions; reform of the Poor Law and workhouse systems and the municipalisation of the water supply, tramways, docks and the police. His evangelical style made him a popular speaker at religious and temperance events.

Most famously he led the London Dock Strike in 1889, but inspired by his early experiences, advocated many causes through, membership of the Poplar Board of Guardians and Poplar Borough Council. As a founder member of the London County Council he promoted legislation to end baby farming. His parliamentary career began with his election on the Labour Representation Committee ticket in 1903 in Conservative-held Woolwich, to be re-elected in 1906. He did not always toe the party line but was returned as MP in the newly created constituency of Woolwich East in 1918.

Sources of Information:
G. Haw (3rd edition) 1909 - "As A Child In The Workhouse ": Chapter 2 in From Workhouse to Westminster (
East London Observer, 3rd August 1895
The College at the Dock Gates ": Chapter 8 in Haw (1909)
East London Observer, 31st August 1895
Access StatusOpen
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