The community of West Berkshire has much reason to thank the late Rosemary Rooke. Much of the funding for the West Berkshire Community Hospital, which opened in 2004 between Newbury and Thatcham, came from a legacy left by her.
Behind the main hospital site is Hillcroft House, home to West Berkshire Community Mental Health Team, which has Rookes Way as part of its address.
But little is known about Miss Rooke.
Rosemary was born in London in 1907 and moved to Newbury in 1913, with her mother Edith, a Crux Easton farmer’s daughter, and her father, who was a dentist. Rosemary was educated at Newbury Girls’ Grammar School, then Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Her father died sometime in the 1950s; thereafter she lived with her mother Edith in a house called Little Mead at Wash Water, continuing to live there alone after Edith died in her 100th year in 1975. Rosemary made her living from farming. By all accounts, she was very attached to her animals – each one of her cows had its own name. It was through farming that she met Nick Galbraith, who was her vet for many years.
Rosemary was a regular contributor to the letters page of the Newbury Weekly News, where she berated the authorities for their many and various shortcomings. She gained a reputation as an eccentric. An avid radio listener, she frequently corresponded on a wide range of subjects, receiving support from a number of well-known personalities. Nearing the age of 80, she tried to get the village of Wash Water ”properly signposted”, without success.
Failing eyesight caused her to give up farming, but she retained her interest in animal welfare. Rosemary died aged 80 on 15 November 1987, at the Highlands Rest Home. Her short obituary in the Newbury Weekly News said she was “a character, much missed by her friends and animals”. The funeral was held at Enborne Church.
Rosemary’s mother Edith had taken a keen interest in the Stock Exchange and regularly read the business pages of the national newspapers. So perhaps it should have come as no surprise when in April 1988 Rosemary’s will revealed her to have been a lady of considerable financial means.
She left estate valued at £638,880 gross; or £595,007 net. In addition to other personal legatees, £2000 was left to the National Anti-Vivisection Society, and £1,000 each to several other animal welfare charities, including the Cats Protection League and Battersea Dogs Home. The bulk of her estate, including the 35 acre farm and her home, was left to Newbury and Sandleford Hospitals Helpers League, whose chairman was Nick Galbraith, “for the benefit of health care in the town”.
The following year Nick Galbraith stood down as chair of the Hospital Helpers’ League, in order to devote more time to administering Rosemary’s legacy; thought in 1988 to have development potential of between 7 and 12 million pounds. It was largely through Nick Galbraith’s efforts that the money was held in trust till after the decisions on the route of the Newbury bypass had been taken.
Thereafter the land was sold for development, including an estate of 31 David Wilson new homes known as Rookes Meadow, built in 2002. The money raised went towards the funding of the brand new hospital, which continues to serve the people of West Berkshire so well, and Miss Rooke’s legacy lives on.