The Cocker Letters - Hathersage

By Eunice and Ron Shanahan, © Copyright 2004


This page describes a set of 12 letters to “Miss Hannah Cocker - Broom Cottage, Hathersage, Derbyshire” from her brother Joseph Robert COCKER, purchased by British Postal Historians Eunice and Ron Shanahan via eBay from dealer David Shaw in Yorkshire. Whilst they did not buy them for the genealogical interest, they rightly thought the contents were so interesting from a family history perspective, that they deserved a wider audience, so they have very generously provided this transcription and “walk through” of the contents.

The letters cover a period from 25th January 1845 to 1st September 1848, and are all posted from Scotland, where Joseph Robert was away on business. The postmarks are different on most of them, showing the routes taken to deliver the letters from Scotland to Hathersage, via Bakewell; however all bear a ‘penny red’ imperforate adhesive postage stamp.

Editor's Note: Joseph Robert COCKER (‘JR’) baptised at Hathersage on 21 Feb 1819. His parents were recorded as Thomas COCKER, and Betty. Thomas also had a daughter Hannah baptised at Hathersage on 17 Jul 1808. Further suggestions of family relationships are provided in the Additional Notes at the end of this account. Thumbnail images of the second letter are used as illustrations, of which larger versions are available as optional 'popup' windows, which (by way of reassurance for those of you who hate popups) have been designed to close automatically when you leave this page.

1. Edinburgh, 25th January 1845

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  The first two letters are on mourning paper, with black edges. The watermark on the paper is J WWHATMAN TURKEY MILL 1842. Possibly the paper may have been ordered for announcing the death of their mother (believed to be registered December Qtr 1844 - Betty COCKER, Bakewell; Vol 19 Page 269), and Joseph is simply using up the paper for his letters.

The first one is addressed:
Miss Cocker Broom Cottage, Hathersage, Nr Bakewell (Derbyshire)

The adhesive stamp is on slightly blued paper, and has the two letters in the bottom corners G on the left and L in the right hand corner. The cancellation is the standard Scottish numeral 131 barred type which was issued to Edinburgh (Midlothian) in 1844.

The date stamps are a) from Edinburgh a circular JAN 25 1845 with code letters H on the left and N on the right was applied in an orange red ink, and b) the rather smudged and incomplete receiving stamp of BAKEWELL JA 27 1845 with twin arc at the bottom applied in black ink.

The letter was sealed with black sealing wax with a signet ring type of seal with initials which are probably  J. R. C. On first sight the ‘J’ appears to be a ‘D’, but this seems unlikely when he signs his letters ‘Josh. Robt’.

Edinburgh Saturday night Jan. 25 1845
My dear sister,

If I did not know you I should think you unkind - but I feel assured your letters have misled. I have only received one note from you since I left home.

I have had several pleasant days in Glasgow (setting the weather aside),and my evenings I have spent with Mr and Mrs Cocker who were delighted to see me - they had not heard of mother's departure and Mr. C wept much when he heard of it - they are very anxious to have some account of dear mother, and I have promised to write to them from Aberdeen with a copy - please to look in one of the little drawers on the right hand side of the desk and you will find a copy written by brother - and send it to me by return post to the Post Office Aberdeen. Mrs Cocker desired me to present her best love to you and though unknown she knows you well - Mr. C has been laid aside for more than twelve months, I fear he his nervous.

You remember that beautiful bible Sam Cocker had and of which he made such a fuss, he said that no one could buy it and it was very expensive - only think there are thousands on sale and I have bought one for 5/9 very cheap.
[Ed: 5/9 = 5 shillings and 9 pence: about £0.28]

Today Mrs Cocker has been buying you some handkerchiefs with my money which I hope you will like - when you get them Happy day! I wish it was nearer.

Tomorrow morning, I shall hear Mr Mclean who lives in this city, and I pray to God that my strength may be renewed and pray for me that I faint not. You cannot imagine the trials and temptations I have to contend with - my heart says

“Help me to watch and pray and on thyself rely
Assured if I my trust betray, I shall forever die”
In the absence of any news I hope you have enjoyed yourself at Castleton - that you have someone living with you, and that Mr Heard sleeps in the house, how goes the cat on? Ask Brother first time you see him for a little money on my account, I will mention it to him tonight - I have had several very kind letters from home since I left - is it not strange the change?

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you ever more, Amen

Your affectionate brother
Josh. Robt. Cocker

2. Arbroath, 30th January 1845

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  Second letter - same address 1d stamp is on bluer paper and has the corner letters M and H. The cancellation is barred numeral 13, which was allocated to Arbroath in the 1844 list. The date stamps are interesting, the first is a blue rectangular boxed ARBROATH JA 30 1845, next the Edinburgh circular in the orange red colour for JAN 31 1845 with the code letters C and M and then TWO BAKEWELL date stamps one for FE 1 and the second for FE 2 - so it must have been received too late for delivery that day. The letter was also sealed with black sealing wax with a signet ring type of seal with the initials J. R. C.
Arbroath, Jan 30 1845
My dear sister

I hope you got home safe and sound all right. I thought much of you on Friday and wondered how you would go on - I hope you have someone with you - do take much care of yourself.

On Saturday night I wrote to you from Edinburgh and also received your letter. On Sunday morning I went to Chapel expecting it to begin at 11 oclock but found it did not till 12 - finding they were having a Class(?) meeting in the Vestry I went to it - the people were very kind - at 12 a Mr Birks preached, much pleased with him, at ½ past 2 heard a good sermon from Dr. Aitken, and at 6 at night went again to Chapel - and after the service we had a prayer meeting. I should think three to four hundred stayed, and it was well conducted - they seem all alive but without much noise, you will conclude I had a good day, yet never did I feel more humble and in greater need of a renewed application to the blood of Christ - lest having tasted of the good things of Christ, I should become a castaway.

On Monday morning, we had a heavy fall of snow and in coming to Dundee the roads had to be ploughed to enable us to get through - it is bitter cold - but I feel better for it - I intend to be at home on Wednesday next leaving Aberdeen six oclock Monday morning and getting to Edinburgh at about 7 at night and since I shall start for Newcastle (inside) where I shall get on Tuesday morning - at Sheffield at 10 oclock same night and home next forenoon if the gig comes in good time - you shall however hear from me from Aberdeen.

I shall have much pleasure in attending to your trifling wish, do you want anything from Sheffield, if write to me in time addressed to the Kings Head, Change Alley.

Believe me, ever your affectionate brother
Josh. Robt. Cocker

3. Dundee, 23rd July 1845

The third letter is addressed Miss Cocker Broom Cottage, Hathersage, Nr Bakewell (Derbyshire). The Penny red is on lighter paper, but the colour is dense. The letters are hard to decipher because of the cancellation, but the left one is either R or K and the right one is anyone's guess. The barred numeral is 114, which was allocated to Dundee in the 1844 list. There are four date stamps a) boxed 3-line DUNDEE JY 23 1845 with the letter E to the left of the year, signifying the letter would be routed via Edinburgh, b) Edinburgh circular, orange red JUL 24 1845 with code letters M M ; c) circular double arc BERWICK JY 24 1845 in blue, and 4) BAKEWELL JY 25 1845 circular with double arcs in bluish-black ink. No seal on the letter which was fastened with a paper. It has a watermark J WHATMAN TURKEY MILL 1842
Dundee 23 July 1845
My dear sister

I arrived here on Monday night and found your note - it pleases me much to see that you are enjoying yourself and getting out as much as possible.

I find Mr. Riley here from Cocker and Son.

The old saying is that you must go from home to hear news - and the Hathersage people send word here that Old Mr Roy is returned and that James and his wife are on their way.

I had an invitation to spend last evening with Mr Chalmers but could not get time and I suppose I shall not see them.

I must now away to business - you shall hear further in a day or two.

Your very affectionate brother
Josh. Robt. Cocker

4. Glasgow, 14th January 1846

There is a gap of 6 months before the next letter (the 4th) 14 Jany 1846. The penny red is a whitish one with deep colour and the corner letters of T and G. The barred numeral cancellation is 159, which was allocated to the Glasgow office in the 1844 list. The letter was addressed to Miss Hanh. Cocker (of Hathersage) Post Office, Sheffield, and the date stamps are totally different. First the Hexagonal orange-red Glasgow JAN 14 1846 with a code letter S (signifying Sunday? No, checking the calendar for 1846 it was a Wednesday) secondly a circular with double arcs at the bottom of GATESHEAD JA 15 1846 in blue and finally a similar stamp for SHEFFIELD, JA 15 1846 with a code letter D at the bottom . The watermark on the paper is also J WHATMAN TURKEY MILL 1842.
Commercial Hotel Glasgow, 14 January 1846
My dear sister

Once more hath the Lord delivered me from the dangers of the mighty deep and here I am to praise His Holy name for past mercies and to trust him for the future.

I came down to Liv'pl last night and having about three hours I went to see James. I was about an hour in findg his house in consequence of his having changed since he wrote to me however, at last I found them - Jas, Old Roy and Miss Hadfield were in the room and were much astonished to see me. Margt was upstairs with the children who were gone to bed - they all looked very well and each desired their love and remembrance to you - One there was that sighed very much I suppose at remembrances of former days and doings - however your sex being the weaker vessels we must excuse them altho' alas the ‘Lords of Creation’ don't prove much better. We left Liverpool about 10 oclock last night and got here near 6 oclock this evening, a run of 20 hours, which is very good -We had a fine passage - and I was not at all sick which was very comfortable.

I trust you will enjoy yourself at Sheffield and make the most of your visit - not a long one at Mr. Lofthouse's. What a blessing to have a happy and comfortable home - we hardly know what enjoyments we have by our own fireside except we are sometimes deprived of them.

It is about post time, so that I must close with kindest love to sister Ann and all enquiring friends and committing you to the care of our Heavenly Father, praying that he may protect and bless you,

I am, yours till death
Josh. Robt. Cocker

5. Glasgow, 17th January 1846

The fifth letter was also addressed to Miss Hanh. Cocker (of Hathersage) Post Office, Sheffield. The penny red is on blueish paper with the letters G and J in the bottom corners. The barred numeral has missed the edge of the letter but ends up with 59 which is obviously the GLASGOW number for 159. The letter is dated 17 Jany 1846 inside the letter from Glasgow, (which was a Saturday) but the first postmark is the Glasgow hexagonal orange-red dated quite clearly JAN 16 1846, the other two which are poorly struck are for GATESHEAD and SHEFFIELD, but as one is superimposed on the other, neither of them are clear enough to read. No seal on this letter
Glasgow 17 January 1846
My dear sister

I am truly sorry that I forgot in my last to give you my route, however, on receipt of this, write to me at Post Office Dundee - on Tuesday, PO Aberdeen (20th) Thursday, PO Dundee (22nd), and on Sunday PO Edinburgh (25th), and they will all meet me at those places.

This morng your kind note came to hand (I wonder how it is Sis Ann never thinks of writing to me !!) and I note its contents, yes, we never need to fear so long as it is written “The Lord will provide” our bread is provided and our own water will be sure if we continue to serve the Lord faithfully. And if we rely upon Him Gods own word is at stake and He will for His own faithfulness rather ?? safe and help us. Hitherto hath the Lord helped us and we will trust Him for the future.

Mr Hill came up yesterday to see me and returned this afternoon, he made many kind enquiries after you and desired me to present his xian love to you   poor fellow, I never saw anyone so delighted to see a fellow countryman. We had a most interesting evening and he introduced me to a London Lady, one of the sweetest girls I ever saw with whom we spent the evening which of course was very agreeable and today he has gone with me in my rambles - I can assure you I never enjoyed anything more in this cold hearted country - we had lots of old tales over the board and many a hearty laugh. He seems to be getting settled amongst them more but he assures me he has been on the point of packing up and running away several times and he would be delighted to be at Bradwell again. I go down tomorrow evening and spend Sunday with him and I shall have plenty to tell you when I get home.

McLean ran away from his mother yesterday and they cannot find him anywhere, he has been quite deranged and they have had to strap him down - however he is slowly improving and they hope he will ultimately recover - his wife and family have left Edinbro and reside here.

Tomorrow I buy sisters shawl - Mary Ibbotson's is a very very common one you know what I mean.

I will by this post drop a line addressed to you at H. House least you should not meet with this

Hoping that you will enjoy yourself and apply the same advice personally, which you give to me and with best love to Sister,

I am yr affectionate brother + (till Marriage !!)
Josh Robt Cocker

+ I did get sickened with petty coat government the other day JRC

6. Glasgow, 23rd June 1846

The sixth letter is also from Glasgow, but this time 6 months later, 23 June 1846 is addressed to Miss Cocker back at Broom Cottage in Hathersage. This one has an enclosure of another note. The penny red is a pale one with the letters B and I in the bottom corners. The numeral cancellation is completely illegible, but has obliterated the stamp, which was the idea! There are only two postmarks, the hexagonal orange- red Glasgow JUN 23 1846 with a code letter of N? and the BAKEWELL JU 25 1846 in blue-black. Red sealing wax with his signet ring seal.
Glasgow 23 June 1846
My dear sister

My last was from Newcastle [*] which place I left on Saturday night and arrived at Edinburgh at about 1 oclock on Sunday, we had a splendid day or night rather and it was a delightful sight and one I had never before witnessed, to see the sun in all His splendour at 3 oclock in the morning - it appeared from that time to be full day and I think I never spent so long a day in my life - I often looked at my watch to see the time you would be going to the House of God and my feet longed to be travelling the same way for let others do and think as they like ‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness’. On our arrival I dressed and after taking a refreshment went at 2 oclock to hear the celebrated Revd Wm Guthrie - the place was so crowded and hot and myself so sleepy that although he preached a good sermon from “train up a child in the way he should go &c” I got little good.

Afterwards I took an hours rest, dined and went to chapel where I met with Mrs Cocker and a brother of Mr Hills - Mr McLean is quite restored and on Sunday had preached one of his best sermons - he now takes his regular work. - after service I went with Mrs Cocker to her house she made many kind enquiries after you - to lunch for Sunday.

I had the enclosed note from Mr Hill at Edinbro' I have not yet seen him but expect him calling every minnit - when if he has any news you shall have it.

Last night in coming from Edinborough we had a very heavy thunderstorm the lightening was very brilliant and strong and the rain poured in torrents - we have not yet had the effects for it as rained all morning and still continues.

I must away to business and shall conclude this epistle in the evening,
Ever thine Joseph

Tuesday morning

Since this morning Mr Hill has been to see me, he appears thinner “Love has picked his bones” and no mistake - he has told me all about it which you shall know hereafter - he makes many kind enquiries after old friends

I had quite forgotten the Rent Day being so near but you shall have a Post Office Order tomorrow certain.

Have the folks at Leeds acknowledged receipt of £2-4-0 - if your shawl which I shall buy tomorrow does not weigh heavy which I think it will not, you shall have it by post so that you can have it at Castleton to which place you will I hope go on Saturday next and I shall direct accordingly - I expected to hear from you this day but have not probably shall have yours in the morning. Accept my sincere and best love, and believe me very affectionately

Yrs Josh Robt Cocker
This has been more like a November day than June the rain pours all day.

[*] We do not have a copy of a letter written from Newcastle.

Although he mentions a note enclosed from Mr Hill the enclosure is actually another letter from him to his sister as follows.

Glasgow 23 June 1846
My Dear Sister,

I have not heard from you since I got to the “Land o' Cakes” and if you forget me - which I know you do not - I will not forget you. Herewith you have a small token of my love and affection and although it is valuable I thought when buying it of what our dear Mother said “That nothing could be too good for you” May you have many years spared to use it.

I called at Paisley today and find that White Canton Crepe shawls richly embroidered in the corners are the most fashionable shawls for the season and I have bought one for you which I shall I trust have the pleasure of bringing home and then presenting it in return for a kiss.

This letter will be registered and you will have to sign your name to the printed cover sent with it and return the same to Mr Marsden you will see the place where to sign it.

The rent will not be due before the 29th and by the time you will get from Castleton you shall have money - at present I cannot send it.

I am my dear Sister
Yr very aff brother
Josh Robt Cocker

7. Dundee, 25th November 1846

The seventh letter was sent from Dundee like the third letter, but the barred numeral is too faint to read . The 1d red is again on whitish paper, and has the corner letters of A B. It was sent from the Royal Hotel in Dundee and has only 3 datestamps. The boxed 3-line Dundee NO 26 1846 in greyish black , the circular orange-red Edinburgh NO 26 1846 with code letters of C and N and then BAKEWELL circular with two lower arcs with NO 27 or 28 1846 (figures are rather indistinct. Sealed with a red wax seal looks like his signet ring again but it is broken and a bit messy.
Royal Hotel Dundee 25th November 1846
My Dear Sister,

I am favored with yours of the 23rd and if I must answer it as it begins I must tell you that the dress must come from me I shall have no Nay, it ought to have been a better one and some day I trust I shall be able to buy a velvet - nothing can be too good for you Mother used to say - I am glad you like it.

I have been obliged to buy myself a new pair of Trowsers for in consequence of the wet weather I have been in much fear of being laid up with having only one pair with me.

I am so busy this morng (Thursday) that I am obliged to close with best love.
Yr affection Bro
Josh Robt Cocker
Will write tomorrow.

8. Arbroath, 26th November 1846

He did! The eighth letter was also sent on November 27, 1846 but posted from Arbroath. The barred numeral is 13, (see letter 2 for details) still addressed to Miss Cocker, Broom Cottage, Hathersage near Bakewell. The penny red is on white paper and has the letters A and E in the corners. The same three postmarks boxed 3-line ARBROATH NO 27 1846 in blue, circular orange-red Edinburgh NO 27 1846 with code letters M and E and finally BAKEWELL NO 29 1846. It has a very clear seal of his initials again in the red sealing wax.
Arbroath 26th November 1846
My Dear Sister,

I sent you part of a letter from Dundee this morning which I had to close sooner than I intended.

I am sorry to hear that Mr. Talbot looks so poorly - but that nasty complaint makes bad work.

And so after all Caughey will not engage or fix the day for coming - if the Bradwell people would have the collection for our School I don't know whether it would not be better to let all hear him who can - that ticket work will never do - the Gospel was designed for all and whosoever will may come and take of the water of Life freely - so that it would be against the revealed will of God to make a distinction betwixt the rich and the poor - and you may depend would do much harm to the cause of Religion. One may be cheated in the character of an individual sometimes - what you further tell me about Mary Ibbotson looks odd - I don't know but if I had been in your situation when Sister was telling you what Mary had said - I should have produced the note and shown that actions speak louder than words.

It was very kind of Mrs Child to send you the pie etc. and also to come and see you - I hope you will take good care of yourself - are you for Sheffield?

I have a deal of uphill work - trade here is very bad indeed next to nothing doing.

Accept my best love and believe me
Yr affectionate Brother
Josh Robt Cocker
Have you got your bonnet - I am waiting up of the Mail to go on to Montrose at 1 oclock in the morning Aberdeen tomorrow night when I shall hear from you.

9. Glasgow, 13th May 1847

Cocker Satin Piece

"I have bought you a slap up satin dress ... you have a sample - tho' I don't know whether you will be able to judge from so small a piece..." (still in the letter - see opposite!)

The ninth letter is six months later, and is in an envelope with the penny red being hard to see under the barred numeral of 159 for Glasgow, only the left letter is visible, which is a C. The postmarks are an orange-red circular GLASGOW MY 13 1847 with a letter A at the top and a letter F on the right of the circle, then a black MANCHESTER circle MY 14? 184? with code letter B at the bottom, and finally a blue BAKEWELL MY 14 1847.

Glasgow 13 May 1847
My Dear Sister,

Yesterday I sent Mr Eyre Five Pounds requesting him to credit our account with the same - I hope you will have sent a good order for Saturday - not forgetting the sugar as we talked about.

I have bought you a slap up satin dress the best manufactured and through a friend at wholesale price. I hope you will approve it - you have a sample - tho' I don't know whether you will be able to judge from so small a piece - it is likely that I cannot bring the summer shawl. My best love, I shall soon be hearing from you.

Yours affectionately
Josh Robt Cocker

The sample is still in the letter. Perhaps this is why he used an envelope to keep the sample in place. Incredible.

[Ed: Indeed, and it also answers the (possibly unspoken) question of what colour the dresses we see in 19th century photographs might have been, with the only smidgen of colour being in the selvedge!]

10. Edinburgh, 15th May 1847

The tenth letter is addressed to Miss Cocker Broom Cottage Hathersage Nr Bakewell, and has a paler penny red with the letters C D in the bottom corners. The barred numeral is rather faint but is 131 for Edinburgh. The date stamps are an orange-red circular MAY 16 1847 with code letters of Z on the left and M on the right, applied in Edinburgh, and the blue BAKEWELL double-arc MY 17 1847. Red seal with initials
Edinburgh Saturday night 15th May 1847
My Dear Sister,

I have been much pleased to meet with Mr Caughey at Mr Clays tonight I fancy his reception was very cold there and he was not invited to preach tomorrow. He seemed much pleased to see me and invited me to call upon him. Which I shall do tomorrow - and you shall have the result of my wandering.

I have seen Mrs Cocker - kind as usual enquired after you - the last time I shall call at Clays - very distant.

What has become of you good folks I hear nothing from you - have already written eight letters for tonights post - so must conclude more tomorrow.

Your very affectionate
Josh Robt Cocker

11. Glasgow, 7th May 1848

The eleventh letter is a full year later, and is the second one in an envelope, and bears the same address. It has a blue-ish penny red with the corner letters of F and C. The barred numeral cancellation is 159 for GLASGOW. This has the orange-red hexagonal GLASGOW MAY 8 1848 with single code letter M at the top, and a black BAKEWELL MY 9 1848 . However this one has a name stamp of Hathersage across the back fold of the envelope which was torn when it was opened. [I don't know if it would be possible to find out when that name stamp was issued/used by the office, as it has not appeared on the previous letters.

[Like the 4th letter, this is written from (which we have found is at 229 Buchanan St Glasgow]

Commercial Hotel Glasgow May 7th 1848
My dear Sister

The close of another earthly Sabbath brings with it a duty which affords pleasure i.e. in writing to you - but if we truly partake of that eternal day of everlasting joy which awaits the faithful in yonder happy land, we shall not need to remind each other by this mode of our continued love, but may be we shall be ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation and whilst thus communicating pleasure and joy to others we may on the ways of love be permitted to speak of redeeming love and tell each other without care or anxiety what great things God hath done for us - there is one who would give us both a welcome on the blessed shores who herself “went through great tribulation and washed her robes in the blood of the Lamb” and who now is singing salvation for ever and ever - well, may be our Mother's spirit now hovers near to protect and wisper sweet promises of love. “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life”.

I have not enjoyed this day so much as usual, but must candidly confess the fault all lies in me - this morning I went to the Wesleyan Chapel and heard Mr Jones (the brother of Hugh Jones I think) afternoon I heard Dr. Barr of the established Church and tonight I have heard Dr. Wardlow of the Independants - you I guess have had Mr Raynor twice and could I have had my choice with all attending circumstances I should have preferred being with you, however whilst cast on lifes billows we must stand our chance.

All your notes have come safe to hand (namely 3 4 & 5th) and I am glad to hear that there is a prospect of your getting through the cleaning shortly - I only fear you do not take good care of yourself - be very careful on this point.

I have lately been much tempted and nearly come to the disbelief of Gods particular Providence as exercised towards his children. His Ways are so mysterious and his people are so often led apparently in the dark that it requires mighty faith to say “He doeth all things well”. I have often during the last week thought of last Sunday at Castleton whilst endeavouring to speak from “Trust in the Lord and do good so shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed” there is something in my history which eternity alone can reveal respecting that day &c I desire to bless God that he broke the snare of the Devil. I think I was never so happy or had so firm and mistaken trust in God's goodness as then, and I left home assured that a way would be opened for us but altho' I have toiled hard yet to the present temperol affairs look extreamly gloomy and it now appears that our Heavenly Father was strengthening me for new trials - I could then exclaim “Though thou slay me yet will I trust in thee”, but alas! How weak when we are placed in the furnace and our faith becomes tried - in so short a time, I have to change to the experience of the Psalmist “Why are thou cast down oh my soul and why are thou disquieted hope thou in God for thou shalt yet praise him” yes I praise Him now for unnumbered mercies and again praise the Lord my soul for precious promises

“There is a land of pure delight
“where saints immortal reign
“Eternal day excludes the night
“and pleasures banish pain
“Could we but stand where Moses stood
“and view the landscape o'er
“Not Jordans streams, nor deaths cold flood
“could fright us from the shore.”

Tomorrow night I leave from Edinburgh so you will see I am exact with the route I left in your hands - do not send me the new envelope but plain ones the reason if worth knowing on my return.

I should like to say something to you but hardly know what - but try your faith and amidst the storm cling to this promise as the wrecked Mariner clings to the floating mast determined not to let it go. God himself has given it - listen “Trust in the Lord Jehovah for in the Lord is everlasting strength”

I am much concerned to hear of Brother's leg breaking out again. I hope however, that with care all will soon be well - he ought to live well but I feel assured Sister would skin a mouse and pine her husband to please the Ibbotsons - however peace be with them - No parting with Maria on any account

You will now be quite tired of my long scrawl and especially so much of a selfish character

May grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you daily - Accept my best love
Your affectionate Brother
Josh Robt Cocker

12. Edinburgh, 1st September 1848

The last one is almost 4 months later - the penny red is rather pale but the letters are very clear at the bottom K and I - the barred numeral is only partially struck but is obviously the 131 for Edinburgh, as the postmarks are the orange-red circular Edinburgh SEP 2 1848 with the code letters Z on the left and M on the right, then a black circular BAKEWELL SEP 3 1848 and this also has the name stamp of Hathersage, but it is only partially struck and was again torn when it was opened. The paper has a watermark showing a Fleur-de-Lys and the name FONWEN 1846. Check on the Papermakers site for information.
London Hotel, Edinburgh 1 Sepr 1848
My dear Sister

I have just arrived here and hasten to inform you that the symptoms I had yesterday have with active measures been dismissed - and to night I am nearly quite well - I assure you I expected I had commenced with the Typhus - thank God for his mercies - it would have been awkward to have been laid up from home.

I yesterday sent you £1 enclosed to Brother in a note.

Having three hours to spend in Sheffield on Thursday I called at the Globe - colder and colder - the last time this year I think that they will see my face.

I have had a delightful though rather long ride today - it is much before ten besides being a saving in time and money.

I trust you will have a glorious day on Sunday - I think I asked you to write to Dundee on Monday - if not please do so - I shall get it there.

Give my love to Bell and Sam - accept a large portion yourself
I am Dear Sister
Your Affect Brother
Josh Robt Cocker
PS Write to me according to the route given. JRC.

That is the final letter in this correspondence from an incredibly affectionate brother. He must have had replies to his letters, and obviously they trusted the mail service, as they planned the route and the sister Hannah addressed her letters to the post offices in the towns he visited.

The Shanahans have asked David Shaw (the dealer from whom they purchased them) about the provenance of the letters, and his reply was surprising. He has informed them that ‘The Cocker Letters’ have been on the collectors' market for at least 20 years now, with odd ones turning up here and there, so possibly there was a larger quantity originally which is now circulating in small groups or singles. Nothing is known, however of when or how they were salvaged.

His own collection certainly includes more, and (he says) he plans to submit one to eBay in September (2004) posted from Hathersage to J R Cocker in Paris. He also reports having a couple of other envelopes bearing a blue Exhibition Prize Winner frank, which naturally will be of great interest for collectors generally.

As it happens, the latter item is of great relevance since it was recorded in Hathersage's Millennium Project book - Hathersage: Images of the Past [1] that the Cocker Family won medals at the Paris Exhibition of 1855 for their work at Atlas Mill.

This same book records the substantial manufacturing capability of one Henry Cocker in the Dale in 1840s, mentioning both a needle mill, and wire works. The needle mill was where Eastwood Cottages are now, and the wire works (‘Dale Mill’) directly opposite; the building it was in is now converted into flats. The Cockers also operated Atlas Works (where Hood and Dale Brooks meet), making needles, wire products and later umbrella frames and bicycle spokes. The business prospered into the 1880s but then went into decline and closed in the early 1900s. The building was largely demolished in 1907, but some of the structure was retained and incorporated into the Wesleyan Institute which replaced it. [Ref: pp35-6]

Hathersage, Broom Cottage
Broom Cottage, Hathersage
Click to see larger version
Broom Cottage itself has a date above the doorway of 1825, but according to a Sheffield Year Book, it existed in 1822, when it was the home of a Robert Cocker.[2]; whereas in 1852 [3] , it is listed as Jph Robt Cocker's house. Details from previous censuses are not known, but in 1861, the Cocker household were living at Outseats in a house named “Belle Vue” by which time ‘JR’ was married to a lady named Margaret then aged 41 and born in Manchester. He was described as ‘Needle Manufacturer and Merchant employing 43 hands’. He had a son named John A Cocker, aged 9, and his sister Hannah, aged 50 was also living in the same household.[4]

They were still there in 1881, ‘JR’ listed as 62, ‘Retired Merchand and Steel Manufacturer’; wife Margaret, aged 64; John A.aged 29; Hannah, sister aged 72; and servants Harriet EDGOOSE, 22, b. Swineshead, LIN and Sarah BOWERS, b. Eyam.[5]

[Ed: My thanks to Marjie Bloy for the photograph(s)]

Thanks to information provided by Michael Edgoose (who contacted me shortly after the initial publication of this page) we also know that John A (John Armstrong) Cocker married Harriet Edgoose 2 years later, in 1883. Their extraordinary story, with transcripts of other letters, can be found in Michael's database of EDGOOSE and related families of England &c.[6] John Armstrong was to die young, and Harriet was remarried to the Rev. Marmaduke RIGGALL, a Wesleyan Minister.

Amongst many other items of interest Michael's site quotes an extract from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph 7 May 1932: “Joseph Cocker built Belle Vue to be near the works, and moved there from Rock House... (his son) married his mother's maid (who) remarried the Wesleyan minister. It was they who sold the mills to the needle combine...the entire village was thereby thrown out of work, and the old tradition of the needle-making village broken.”

More detailed family history research may reveal even more about others mentioned in these letters. The IGI provides the information that a Thomas and Betty COCKER also had a son John on 3 Jan 1813 (‘Brother’?), but who was ‘Sister Ann’? A daughter Ann of Thomas COCKER baptised in 1797 would be too early for the obvious marriage of Thomas COCKER to Betty THORPE at Hathersage on 6 Sep 1807 - unless the marriage was Thomas's second, in which case Ann would have been their step sister.[7] Meanwhile, several Cockers were married to Ibbotsons; and we can't help wondering which one of the family in particular caused Sister Ann so much grief! Michael Edgoose's site does however provide us with the information that John Armstrong COCKER's Will leaves Mary, wife of Joseph IBBOTSON, postmaster at Hathersage an income from his estate.

Also worthy of note is ‘JR’s mode of transport. In describing his means of travel in Letter 4, he went to Liverpool, making a boat journey to Glasgow, but other journeys appear to have been by road - for instance in Letter 2, from Aberdeen, via Newcastle, to Sheffield - no doubt following the track of today's A1/M1 - the ‘Great North Road’.

Other members of the Cocker families were also well-travelled, or at least their influence was felt elsewhere in the country:- "Records from Redditch show that their needle makers were obtaining wire from Hathersage by at least 1790; in 1798 one of the Hathersage suppliers was Thomas Cocker."[8]


[1] Historical Hathersage Millennium Project - Hathersage: Images of the Past. Read more in this Review of ‘Hathersage: Images of the Past’. (note: it doesn't have an ISBN)

[2] Smith, Barbara M. - "My Ancestors, The Furniss, Wilson, Collins Families", published privately in 1989, Chapter 4.

[3] White, William - Gazetteer and General Directory of Sheffield and … Twenty Miles round Sheffield (1852).

[4] PRO Ref: RG9/2543 Folio38 /Page 10/Schedule 50.

[5] PRO Ref: RG11/3452/33/5.

[6] Information provided by Michael Edgoose - see his EDGOOSE One-Name Study, and Edgoose and Related Families' Genealogical Project.

[7] Later (2006) research has proved this was the case. Thomas was married previously to Ann IBBOTSON, who died (was buried) 18 Mar 1806. And Thomas's Will (1834) names his children from both families. Note also Barbara A. Buxton's book ‘Hathersage in the Peak’ records that Thomas's son John, b. 1812 died in 1830.

[8] Bygone Industries of The Peak: Sharp Practice at Hathersage - an account of the Needle Making industry.

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