“By Penny Post to Hathersage”

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper on 29th November 2004, reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting. It was written in response to “The Cocker Letters”, described elsewhere on this site.


Following our article Sharp Practice at Hathersage (14 June 2004), we have been told how a bit of Peak District history has found a new home on the other side of the world. It consists of 12 letters written between 1845-48 from Joseph Robert Cocker to his elder sister, Miss Hannah Cocker, at Broom Cottage, Hathersage. The letters were posted in various towns in Scotland and bear a red one-penny stamp with the head of Queen Victoria. The collection was recently put up for sale by its Yorkshire owner on eBay, the Internet auction site, and the successful bidders were postal historians Eunice and Ron Shanahan of Queensland, Australia - their first purchases relating to the Peak District.

The Cockers were major players in the Hathersage wire drawing industry and it appears that Joseph was acting as a travelling salesman. His correspondence with Hannah is very affectionate and in January 1845, writing from Edinburgh, he says that he has bought her some handkerchiefs, hopes that she enjoyed herself at Castleton - and asks about the cat. Five days later, now in Arbroath, Joseph is preparing to return to Hathersage and intends to complete his journey by gig from Sheffield, promising to offer Hannah ‘much pleasure in attending to your trifling wish’ and adding ‘do you want anything from Sheffield ...?’

The following winter he is in Glasgow, meeting up with a fellow Peaklander named Hill, who '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.' Even worse is the state of a Mr McLean who ‘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 ... they hope he will ultimately recover ...’ Five months later, Joseph reports to Hannah that ‘Mr McLean is quite restored and on Sunday preached one of his best sermons’. As for Mr Hill, Joseph observes:‘'he appears thinner “Love has picked his bones” and no mistake - he has told me all about it which you shall know hereafter.’ A new shawl is on its way by post from Joseph to Hannah, ‘so that you can have it at Castleton to which place you will I hope go on Saturday next’.

Brother and sister apparently led very pious lives and the letters are full of references to their religious wellbeing. The following refers to the sale of admission tickets to hear a certain preacher in connection with a fund-raising collection at Bradwell for, presumably, Hathersage school: ‘... if the Bradwell people would have the collection for our School ... that ticket work will never do - the Gospel was destined for all ... so that it would be against the revealed will of God to make a distinction betwixt the rich and the poor ...’

An envelope posted in Glasgow still contains a piece of satin referred to in the accompanying letter: ‘I have bought you a slap up satin dress the best manufactured ... I hope you will approve it - you have a sample - tho' I don't know whether you will be able to judge it from so small a piece’.

The last two surviving letters from Joseph to Hannah date from 1848, bringing to an end a remarkable link with a family which held business interests in Hathersage for many years. The letters can be read in full, along with some illustrations and a photograph of Hannah's piece of satin online.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 29th November 2004.

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