John was born in 1938 to a close knit farming family with three elder sisters. He was educated at Charterhouse, after which National Service took him to Malaya with the King's Dragoon Guards, where his troop formed part of the personal escort of the Chief Minister of Malaya.
John returned to the UK to read Land Economy at Cambridge, and became a member of the Chartered Land Agents Society. He joined Cooke & Arkwright in 1961 as the firm opened its office in Haverfordwest, West Wales. This office was primarily set up to look after the Bush Estate, Hean Castle and Slebech Estate, whom John advised on the large Farm Improvement Scheme grants available at the time. His counsel around the shrewd and effective management of capital expenditure and investment resulted in tax flowing back from the Inland Revenue to many happy landowners.
Four years later, after a year’s stint in the Bridgend office under senior partner, Henry Knight, John moved on to the Hereford office, where he managed estates including How Caple and Lydney Park. Around this time the firm was instructed by Mainline Pipelines Ltd, operated by Esso, to handle the routing of a pipeline from Milford Haven to Manchester and Nottingham.
John and a colleague, Robert Young took on the route from Llandeilo to Market Drayton. This involved negotiations with 600 landowners and occupiers in what amounted to an almost military-style operation over a period of about five years. The bulldozers were covering a mile a day and sometimes John and Robert would be one field ahead of them trying to get the record of condition finalised.
After this, John moved to Cardiff to help develop that office further and worked there for the rest of his career. Soon after the move, the same engineer John had worked with at Mainline Pipelines twenty years earlier, contacted him out of the blue and invited him to go to London to meet the MD of Brown & Root, a US construction company and one of the largest in the world. He was asked if he could provide advice on the routing and cost of acquiring rights on five different pipeline routes to serve the Beatrice Oilfield, fifteen miles offshore in the Moray Firth. After ‘glibly’ saying yes, he could, John then found out the whole project had to be delivered within a fortnight.
A furious work schedule ensued, and the report was finished in record time, thanks to help from John’s wife Miranda. John delivered the report after travelling from Scotland on the night sleeper to London, and a suitably impressed MD of Brown & Root awarded the main contract to Cooke & Arkwright, a major project that kept John busy for two years.
Further work for the oil industry followed at a variety of sites, including acting for the British National Oil Corporation (later Britoil Ltd) in the routing of the pipeline to serve the Beatrice Oil Field, and the acquisition of land required for the Nigg Oil Terminal in Cromarty Firth, major projects on which John and Richard Anning, now of Sydney & London Properties, worked together. John also carried out work for the British Pipeline Agency and the Department of Trade & Industry, to route a line from Walton-on-Thames to Gatwick Airport.
John had become a partner at Cooke & Arkwright in 1973. At the time the firm was operating out of two separate premises in Churchill Way in Cardiff, which was less than ideal. In 1975, John and Robert Knight saw a ‘For Sale’ sign on 7/8 Windsor Place and John went on to make a successful bid to purchase the remainder of the leasehold interest. The huge W H Cooke & Arkwright sign on the front of the building became a local landmark and the freehold was subsequently acquired in 1982.
In 1988 John retired from the partnership but continued working with the firm as a long term consultant. At the start of the ‘90s, John was appointed to manage The Crown Estate’s Marine Estates interests in south and west Wales, a hugely diverse portfolio of assets and a full time job that lasted over fourteen years. Under John’s control and in partnership with members of The Crown Estate, the estate’s income from its south Wales interests increased eleven-fold. He provided extensive advice on high profile projects such as the proposed £100m waterfront development at Martello Quays in Pembroke Dock and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals at Milford Haven, where 30% of the UK’s gas requirement is now piped into the country.
John gradually relinquished his role with The Crown Estate, which is still managed by Cooke & Arkwright’s Land Agency, and decided to bow out after 50 years’ extraordinary service. Far from putting his feet up in retirement, John kept himself more than busy together with Miranda in looking after his 42 acre smallholding in Pentyrch.
He said at the time, “To remain with one firm for so long may sound boring, but I can assure you it has been great fun! Many firms in this part of the world have disappeared, but Cooke & Arkwright has been around since 1900 and I am confident that the staff will look after it and that it will flourish for many years to come.”
John had a wealth of knowledge across a very broad property spectrum, something increasingly rare as people specialise. He was a stickler for detail and always worked to the highest professional standards, commanding respect from colleagues and clients alike. He was always pleased to help those grappling with problems or just down on their luck, but totally intolerant of pomposity or arrogance. He also had a huge capacity for friendship, for enjoying life and having fun, and as many who knew him can attest, was a great practical joker.
John was a highly valued colleague and friend to all at Cooke & Arkwright, and he will be greatly missed. He leaves a legacy and lasting impression that will live on as the firm continues to evolve and grow into the future. Our condolences are with Miranda.