First-ever Black Santa is honoured

The Very Rev John Mann continues the Black Santa tradition started by Dean Samuel Crooks in 1976
The Very Rev John Mann continues the Black Santa tradition started by Dean Samuel Crooks in 1976

As St Anne’s Cathedral began staging its annual Black Santa charity drive yesterday, the man who began the tradition was honoured with a permanent plaque.

A Ulster History Circle was unveiled on Friday in memory of the man who invented the annual Christmas “Black Santa” sit-out for charity at Belfast Cathedral.

Dean Sammy Crooks, Belfast's first Black Santa, is to be honoured by a Blue Plaque at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast

Dean Sammy Crooks, Belfast's first Black Santa, is to be honoured by a Blue Plaque at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast

Dean Crooks, who died in a road accident in 1986, staged his first Christmas sit-out for charities in 1976, establishing a tradition continued by all his successors.

The Blue Plaque, erected by the Ulster History Circle, was unveiled at the west front of the cathedral in Donegall Street, Belfast, when the present dean, the Very Revd John Mann, began the 38th annual sit-out.

Samuel Bennett Crooks was born on January 20 1920 in Killough, Co Down, where his father was rector. In 1970 at the age of 50, Archdeacon Crooks was installed as dean and vicar of Belfast in St Anne’s Cathedral. He was awarded the OBE in 1981 for services to charity.

Alan Boyd, secretary of the Ulster History Circle, is a parishioner at the cathedral and worked alongside Dean Sammy Crooks from 1970 to 1985.

Black Santa starts his sit out for this year at St Annes

Black Santa starts his sit out for this year at St Annes

“I nominated this plaque for him because I though he was a very worthy of it,” he said. “It is traditionally used to honour people of achievement across the counties of Ulster,” he said.

He added: “It was Dean Crooks who initiated the famous annual Black Santa appeal in the 1970s, he was the first Black Santa on the steps of the cathedral in 1976.

“Initially he started the first appeal near Christmas the year before in aid of a serious flood in Bangladesh. Then the next year he thought it would be helpful to make it an annual event in aid of local charities.”

Mr Boyd said:”It was thought he was first dubbed Black Santa by a child who saw him coming down the Cathedral steps and exclaimed – ‘Oh! It’s a black Santa’.”

He added: “Someone in the media overhead it and used it and it has stuck ever since.”

He described Dean Crooks as “gregarious, hard working, larger than life and someone who didn’t suffer fools or time wasters gladly”.

The plaque was unveiled on Friday by Dean Crooks’ son, Sam Crooks, who now lives in Milton Keynes.

“I had mixed feelings today at the event,” he said. “Obviously I was filled with pride to see it happen, but seeing my father on video 30 years ago, I was filled with emotion and many happy memories came flooding back.”

His father was full of life and loved to joke around, he said.

“He loved cricket and sport and he was always the centre of what was going on around him. He enjoyed a very rambunctious type of discussion.

“A good friend of his said that he did not take prisoners. He felt you got better decisions if you had a direct discussion. So often now it seems to be normal for people to glide over their differences.”