Dr Benjamin Cooke, organist and composer, is buried in the west cloister of Westminster Abbey, together with his wife, ten of their children and his mother in law Mary Shelvocke.
On the wall is a white marble tablet with a representation of an open page of a manuscript lettered "CANON by Twofold Augmentation Prize 1775". The inscription was written by Thomas James Mathias (treasurer to Queen Charlotte):
Near this place are deposited the remains of Beniamin Cooke Doctor of Music in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and Organist and Master of the Choristers of this Collegiate Church for above thirty years. His professional knowledge, talents, and skill were profound, pleasing, and various: in his works they are recorded; and within these walls their power has been felt and understood. The simplicity of his manners, the integrity of his heart, and the innocency of his life, have numbered him among those who kept the Commandments of God, and the faith of their SAVIOUR IESVS CHRIST. He departed this life on the 14th day of September 1793 and in the 59th year of his age
He was born on 28th November 1734 in London, son of Benjamin Cooke (died 1743) and his second wife Elizabeth Wayet. His father was a music publisher and seller. Young Benjamin studied music under Dr Pepusch and succeeded him as musical director of the Academy of Ancient Music. At the Abbey he was deputy organist in 1746 and succeeded Bernard Gates as Master of the Choristers in 1757 and was also appointed organist on 1st May 1762. He was also a Lay Vicar in the choir. As a member of the Catch Club he composed many catches, glees and canons and belonged to the Madrigal Society. He was one of the directors of the Handel commemorative festival held in the Abbey in 1784.
On 22nd May 1758 he married Mary Jackson who died on 19th March 1784 aged 52, one of his pupils. Their children (all of whom were buried in the west cloister) were George died 1759 aged three weeks, Elizabeth died 1760 aged sixteen days, Dorothy died 1764 aged eight months, Margaret died 1765 aged seven months, William died 1766 aged six months, Benjamin (born 1761) died 1772, Mary who died unmarried in 1819 aged 56, Henry, who worked for the Post Office and died unmarried on 30th September 1840 aged 74 and Amelia died unmarried 1845 aged 76. Son Robert Cooke succeeded his father as organist of St Martin in the Fields church and organist of the Abbey in 1802. From 1806 he was Master of the Choristers. He published a collection of chants for use by the Abbey choir and also composed glees. He was drowned in the Thames in August 1814. The inscription on the family gravestone is now very faint.
Further reading for Benjamin and Robert
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 for Benjamin Cooke and Robert Cooke.
The advancement of music...Benjamin Cooke and the Academy of Ancient Music by Tim Eggington, 2014
This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library
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