Saturday, 16 November 2013


It’s my birthday this month and there’s times when it’s grieved me that I wasn’t born in Liverpool. The blame can be laid at the door of the Luftwaffe for having bombed Mill Road hospital, so Mam was evacuated and I was born in Blackpool. I have thought since tracing my ancestry that my being born in Blackpool could have baffled anyone looking for me. Mam returned home to Liverpool after the birth to be reunited with my brothers as Dad was away in the army. Most likely they were being looked after by her sister, Aunt Flo. When searching for someone on Ancestry, when and where they were born and lived is naturally extremely important.

In a previous post I mentioned getting back to why my Milburn great-grandparents left Liverpool for London in the 1870s, but I realise that I’ve been neglecting the Cookes. For those who aren’t interested in my ancestry and Liverpool history, skip this blog. Of course, you just might find it interesting. My mother was a Milburn and it was her great-grandparents who came to Liverpool from Cumberland in the 1830s.

It was my father’s mother who was a Cooke (or Cook) which is a common name and that can make your search for the right ancestor confusing. 

Fortunately in my case I knew from my grandmother Ada Florence’s marriage certificate that her father James Cooke was a baker and that she was born in Toxteth in 1876, so I searched the 1881 census for Ada Florence and found her living with her parents, James and Mary Ellen and sister, Emma, and discovered that both were born in Liverpool.

I wanted to know when the Cookes - and also Mary Ellen’s parents came to Liverpool, so I travelled back ten years to 1871 and there was James living at No 1 Court, Rutter Street, Toxteth Park, with his parents and siblings, Charles, Emma, Laura and Caroline. Head of the household was 47 year old Charles Cooke, cotton porter, who was born in Coventry in 1824. Bingo! His wife’s name was Jane, born in Liverpool in 1826.

I felt sad, thinking of the Cooke family living in one of the dreaded courts, sharing a communal privy and - if they were lucky - with a water tap between something like eight families. It did not cheer me up either that Rutter Street was not far from St Thomas Hospital for Infectious Diseases.

The Cooks lived a few streets up from Brunswick Dock, built in 1832, to cater for the timber trade. I find this interesting because Rutter Street was also close to Mann Street where Ada Cookes’ future husband, William Nelson’s mother, Mary Harrison, had grown up.

It almost goes without saying that Liverpool was a very different place in the late 1820s when Ada’s grandmother, Jane was born and spent her childhood. I have this book that son, Tim, bought me called HERDMAN’S LIVERPOOL that I treasure. Inside are copies of drawings of old Liverpool. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Liverpool was a popular bathing resort and there’s a drawing of the North Shore in 1830 that shows bathing machines on the site which is now the bottom of Chapel Street. In the background can be seen windmills and buildings and on the left sailing ships on the Mersey. Apparent the shore stretched as far as Seaforth sands which I mentioned in my last post. So no docks to the north but stretches of sand all the way at that time. By 1857 the windmills had disappeared, and with the arrival of the railway in Lime Street and the growth of the docks to cope with increasing trade, the town was really growing. St George's Hall was build and opened at the same time as the Albert Dock, named after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort.
     Where the statues of the lions are now, there used to be two pillars known as the Candlesticks and the beautiful sands of Seaforth is now a Free port, involved in the container trade, close to Gladstone Dock.

                     Part of the old dock wall - Nelson dock in this case.

But I’ve gone off at a tangent, so I’ll get back to Jane’s parents and when did they come to Liverpool? And what of Charles, born in Coventry? I needed a copy of Jane and Charles’ marriage certificate, as well as that of James and Mary Ellen, my grandmother’s parents, to help me get a better image of them. Hazarding a guess that most likely my great-great grandparents Charles and Jane had married in the 1840s, I started searching and eventually found that a Charles Cooke had married a Jane Woolley in 1847 in St Peter’s, Church Street, Liverpool. Her father’s name was Thomas Woolley and he was a warehouse porter. As for Charles, his father was John Cooke, a ribbon manufacturer.

Despite having ribbons in my hair from an early age and into my teens, I had never given any thought to how ribbons were manufactured. I remembered visiting Miss Fairhurst’s children and baby shop on Whitefield Road. She sold skeins of knitting wool, as well as kiddies clothes and ribbons. I used to enjoy gazing at the different colours and patterns of the ribbons which were in rolls. My mother used to generally buy it by the yard for me and my sister.

So Charles' father was a ribbon manufacturer. Why hadn’t Charles followed in his father’s footsteps? What could have happened to cause him to leave his birthplace?

Anyway, I turned to Google.

Did you know silk used to be produced in the Coventry area? Half the population were involved in the silk and ribbon trade which included dyers. The term ‘true blue’ hails from Coventry. In 1829 the Government reduced tariffs on foreign imports due to a desire for Free Trade. This led to a slump in the silk trade as French ribbons flooded into Britain. Over 4,253 Coventry weavers and ribbon manufacturers were unemployed at one time and this resulted in such poverty that outdoor relief and soup kitchens proved necessary for their survival. In 1832 the weavers rioted and destroyed steam powered looms in the city. Before then a lot of weavers worked from home.

The railway came to Coventry in 1838 which no doubt led to some who could afford it to leave the city to find a living elsewhere.

No doubt news of Liverpool’s growing prosperity had spread and there would have been those in Coventry with connections to the port due to exporting their wares to America, Canada and the Caribbean islands.

That Charles should become a cotton porter must have meant that his father’s business had collapsed. No doubt it was in a warehouse down by the docks that he met Jane’s father, Thomas Woolley, who was also a warehouse porter.

With a bit more detective work I discovered that Thomas, had been born in Shropshire. According to the 1841 census, he was a widower living in Toxteth with his four children at that time. I haven’t been able to trace his wife’s name or when she died. I feel it’s possible that she was born in Liverpool but when and how had Thomas come to Liverpool from Shropshire.

It must have been before Jane’s birth in 1826 and perhaps he walked all the way. But he could have travelled via the Shropshire Union Canal. This industrial waterway was intended to connect the River Severn at Shrewsbury with the Port of Liverpool. The various canals involved in the Union ran through Staffordshire, Shropshire, part of Wales, Cheshire and the Wirral, not forgetting that Liverpool was also linked to Manchester via the River Irwell and the Mersey as early as 1721.

Manchester, sometimes regarded as rivalling Liverpool. Despite it’s closeness I never visited the city until I was in my forties. But I’ll get back to Manchester another time. Right now I'm more interested in Mary Ellen, my father’s grandmother.

Having sent for a copy of her marriage certificate, dated 1872, I discovered not only that Mary Ellen and James Cook could write their own names but that her father was a bricklayer called Stanley Gregory. It didn’t take me long to trace Mary Ellen and Stanley in the 1871 census. I felt I was really getting somewhere fast. Although he now lived in Toxteth, he had been born 1821, in the ancient market town of Ormskirk, just 10 miles from where I live now.

But his wife Eleanor was no Lancashire lass, her mother having given birth to her on the Isle of Anglesey, where John and I and our sons had spent so many happy holidays years ago. Just like the Lake District, Anglesey had always felt like a second home.   Could there be some truth behind the idea of Ancestral memory?




1 comment:

  1. I'm writing regarding your observations on your grandmother, Ada Florence Cooke and her parents James Cooke (baker) and his young first wife Mary Ellen Gregory Cooke (who died in early 1885). Although I am not related to your family, I have a close friend of some 56 years, Edward Cook of Massachusetts, whom I believe is your second cousin. Edward's grandfather was James Cook/Cooke (junior), the son of a James Cook/Cooke senior who (according to James Cook junior's Dublin marriage record of 4 March 1913), was a baker. James junior claimed to be born in Lancashire in about 1883. Through all my genealogical research, the ONLY James Cook/Cooke I could find with a father named James who was a baker in Lancashire was your grandmother's father. Your grandmother Ada Florence Cooke indeed had a younger brother named James...probably the last child of Mary Ellen Gregory Cooke. Have you ever heard any family stories about your grandmother's brother James. For a variety of reasons, I think James was the black sheep of the family...and possibly disowned.