Thursday, 20 April 2017

From New York to Well Hall, the story of the Cooper family in the 1850s

Well Hall in the April of 1844
I am fascinated by the people who history has neglected.

The rich, the powerful and those of influence have had their lives inspected, their achievements judged and their homes open to the public gaze.

But the poor and the ordinary have not fared so well.  They have been consigned to walk on parts in the great events of the past, living out little lives in great centuries.

And this pretty much sums up all we know of George and Francis Cooper who lived in Well Hall with their five children in the April of 1851.

In total they have left just two official documents to mark their existence but they are enough to shed an interesting light into the couple.

In the spring of 1851 they appear on the census and may have lived in one of the six cottages just north of Kidbrook Lane.  Neither had been born in Eltham, George who was 42 came from Surrey while Francis who had been born in 1815 came from Hove in Sussex.

Well Hall Cottages in 1909
Now this was not unusual and gives the lie to that old school book myth that few travelled far.  Just under 30% of the people here in Well Hall in 1851 had been born elsewhere.  Had you walked the lanes around Well Hall in that spring you might well have heard the accents of the Home Counties mixing with those of Yorkshire, Ireland and the far south west.

And it might just have been possible to pick up a slight North American influence in the words spoken by George and Francis’s eldest two children who had been born in New York in 1839 and 1842.

I don’t suppose we will get to know why they went to America or why they returned.
Perhaps the clue is in the fact that George described himself as a servant so perhaps they crossed the Atlantic with an employer.  Either way they were back here in Greenwich by 1844 for the birth of their third child and there they still were in 1849.

And two years later they were in Well Hall but not for long, because by 1861 they are missing from the census record.

Well Hall Cottages in 1909
In fact the family disappear completely until 1891, when Francis shows up in the census return for that year living in two rooms of a six roomed house in Greenwich as a sub tenant of a Mr Read who was a Railway guard. She lived alone describing herself as a widow and “living on own means.”

I suspect there will be more, and there are tantalizing hints about the fate of the children.

But at present I shall leave Francis in her two roomed house near Ravensbourne Road determined to follow up the address on the OS Map of London for the period and to check out the Rate Books for Well Hall to pinpoint the time the family were in Eltham.

Location; Well Hall, Eltham, London

Pictures; Well Hall in 1844 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, Well Hall Cottages from The story of Royal Eltham,  R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,, 

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