The Cocker Letters (2)

Hathersage to Paris (1851)

Contributed by Eunice and Ron Shanahan, © Copyright 2005


This page describes 2 letters written to Joseph Robert COCKER in Paris by his wife Margaret, and his sister Hannah, whilst he was on a business trip there in 1851. They were purchased by British Postal Historians Eunice and Ron Shanahan via eBay from dealer David Shaw in Yorkshire. The purchase follows on from an earlier bundle of Cocker Letters which were written by Joseph Robert to Hannah whilst he was on business in Scotland over the period 1845-1848.

Both letters were sent in the same envelope, and it was addressed to:

Hotel de Normandie
Rue St. Honore 240
Fr. J. R. Cocker Esqre

The postmarks trace the journey: Hathersage to Bakewell, Jul 11; to London, July 12; to Calais, July 13; finally arriving in Paris on July 14th, which for the time is remarkably good going!! Cost was marked as 8d. and then crossed out and increased to 10d. (about £0.04), and Joseph would be expected to pay the postage, as quoting from “The Port and Carriage of Letters”Letters for France only may be dropped into any Post Office Letter Box without paying the postage. … The postage rate was increased to 10d. from 1843, but it is not clear why it is still marked in pence - if the postage had to be collected in Paris, should it not have been in centimes? Perhaps the Agreement between France and Britain in 1836 may have spelled out some arrangement. At the time there were 12 different ways a letter could be costed, with variants of fully paid in advance, partly paid or totally unpaid. Meanwhile let us consider how much 10d. actually meant to them - an average week's wage might have been as little as 3s.2d. (a rate quoted for labourers in 1891), and 10d. would have been just over one quarter of that.

From Margaret Cocker to Joseph, her husband

Broom Cottage, 11th July 1851

I cannot tell you my dear husband how very thankful I feel that you have arrived safe in Paris, nor can I give you an idea of the mingled sensations of pleasure & pain which your account of the accident, which occurred on your transit from Calais to Paris, gave me - How much cause for gratitude we have that loss of life was confined to the horses - It is quite evident that crossing the shoals is not the only dangerous part of your journey - I thank God that He has preserved you from evil and accidents so far, and I trust He will bring you safe home.

I am thankful to be able to say we are all well - nothing has occurred to vex or perplex us particularly - We have many mercies and but few trials comparatively.

This evening, I was intending to go down to meet Sister S who was expected to pass through the village by the Buss, but just before I went up stairs to dress for the purpose Mr. Cocker called upon us. He told me he had had a return of TIC this morning and he had just left Dr. Moor who was preparing some medicine for him. He told me also that he expected Mrs C. Branson by the Buss for Mrs Cocker had received a letter from her today announcing her intention to visit her Aunt for a day or two - so as Mr. C had to meet the Buss I got him to convey a letter to sister Sarah, for I was very busy and I felt glad to be excused the walk and the necessary preparations for it.

We have almost succeeded in turning the house upside down, and I think we have quite succeeded in effecting an improvement as well as a change - we shall be quite ready to receive you and very happy to do so by the time you return which I trust will be punctually.

Today I have had a letter from Castleton and from it I learned that T. Morrison has filled up the pier of the Bridge and also partially covered it. From your description of the service you have purchased I think you have made an excellent bargain - we are much pleased you have purchased it, though it was more than we calculated on this journey.

I am glad you have such beautiful weather, and especially as I think it will not be so hot as to enervate you - It has been very gloomy here, but I suspect that it has been confined to this locality, as I believe it has been fine at Sheffield.

Accept my very best love, Johnny's too and I remain your affectionate wife.
M. Cocker

P.S. I have written this evening because I think I shall probably be so much engaged tomorrow that I shall be unable to do so then, but should there be anything of importance to add I will steal a minute to do so.

The second from his sister covers some of the same subjects, so apparently, neither of them would have read what the other had written.

From Hannah Cocker to Joseph, her brother

My dearest brother

At the close of a very busy day I wish to acknowledge your letter received this morning and to say how thankful we were on reading it you escaped without accident- how thankful we ought to feel to our Heavenly Father for His protection, care and acts by land or sea in our travellings. May He who never slumbers or sleeps whatch over you.

In some respects you would be glad to be away from us - we are all commotion and earn our bread by the sweat of our brows, sometimes, but we take care of ourselves, or try to do.

Brother has been up tonight and told sister this morning they had had a letter from Mrs C. Branson to say she would be with them this evening by the Bus. Clark is coming from Newton to spend a few days with them

Miss Jinks also called this evening, she told us that Mr and Mrs Cook went to London on Tuesday last - C. is for the Continent. All is going on well from what we hear at the works. Our men are pleased you are off before Cook. From what you say of the Chamber service it will be cheap and I am glad you have got it. You will find it such an improvement.

With respect to Sister Ann, it would be foolish to think of visiting L (London) this year, as it would be no treat without plenty of money, and another thing, I don't like to play a second fiddle to any one.

I am very tired and must conclude with best love
Your affectionate sister Hannah Cocker
Thursday night

The letters raise a few queries:-
Q. What was Joseph doing in Paris in July 1851 when the Great Exhibition was on in London?
A. Joseph Cocker's business at the Atlas Mill in Hathersage is known to have won medals at the 1855 Exhibition in Paris.[1] Perhaps it was for business relating to both.
Q. What was the accident which occurred between Calais and Paris which resulted in the death of the horses?
A. We don't know: perhaps it was such a common occurrence as to be unworthy of note? A team of horses were likely to be changed every 15 to 20 miles anyway, and so (for instance) to get to London from Hathersage, they might have needed something like 150 horses! In that context, I suppose the loss of one or more matters only to those who may have the horse's welfare at heart! Change of horse were at certain livery stables, so it was like renting cars today, when a car can be returned anywhere within the same franchise; one also wonders if the nearest ‘garage’ would have sent out its “breakdown truck”, and the same would have applied about reimbursing the rental company for the loss!!!
Q. What was the Chamber service Joseph bought whilst he was there, this sounds like one of those Jug and Basin sets...
A. That seems likely - we hope it provided Joseph much relief... well presumably he'd need something for those long coach journeys...
Q. Who was Dr Moor?
A. A Methuselah Moore, Surgeon in Hathersage is mentioned in a White's Directory of 1852.
Q. Who was Miss Jinks?
A. George JINKS was priest at the Catholic Chapel in Hathersage from 1824 to 1833. He had a sister Lucy, from whom George “borrowed the sum of £83.3s.2d.”[2] for building a cottage and shop. [said to be the present No. 1 Downing Row.] So we might presume Miss Jinks was a lady benefactor.
Q. Who was Mrs C. Branson?
A. We have no definite identity for her at the moment. It is not a common surname in the locality. However, the second son of Dr. Edward Mason WRENCH (of Park Lodge Baslow - see his Will, 1912) was named Edward Branson WRENCH. The Wrench Collection at Nottingham University Library has numerous letters to and from Bransons, and there are references to a Dr. Ferguson Branson amongst others. [3]

Some other comments:-

Joseph Robert COCKER was married to Margaret ARMSTRONG, who was born c.1814/5 in Salford, Lancashire. Their son John Armstrong COCKER (“Johnny”) was born 15 Nov 1851, in Broom Cottage, Hathersage, and married Harriet EDGOOSE at Hathersage in 1883 - q.v. Michael Edgoose's study of Edgoose and Related Families, Note [3] below.

The two sisters-in-law appear to get on well.

Hannah says “Our men are pleased you are off before Cook” Some indication of the rivalry between Joseph's firm, and that of Robert Cook? Also indicating, perhaps that Hannah took an active part in running the business?

Some things haven't changed... “London would be no treat without plenty of money”!!!

And, it appears that Hannah did get her trip to London after all, as on the 1871 Census she was in London, accompanying Joseph, who was staying at 20 Thavies Inn, at the boarding house run by Maria Fildes. They were 2 of a total of 11 visitors. Isn't it wonderful what can be found from so many transcriptions now available via Ancestry UK!


[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. - “A History of the Catholic Chapel at Hathersage”, Published by Hope Valley Press, 1987. ISBN 0 9512614 0 1.

[3] Information on Branson/Wrench provided by Michael Edgoose - see his EDGOOSE One-Name Study, and Edgoose and Related Families' Genealogical Project.
Nottingham University Library Collections (where the Branson/Wrench references may be found) can be searched via TNA's Discovery (formerly Access to Archives) website.

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