Wednesday, April 10, 2013

William Cook Senior and the Case of the Purloined Ferret

from Wikipedia Commons
posted by Mika Hiltunen

(First, a warning to my gentle readers: I hope you will not be too dismayed by the following tales of assault, drunkenness, thievery, and outright mendacity in Victorian England).

I have not yet written much about my three times great grandfather, William Cook Senior, father of my great great grandfather William Cook Junior, who emigrated to Canada and homesteaded in Saskatchewan. This is because early on I was focusing more on my forebears who came to Canada, and when I wrote about anyone else born in England, it was because I had a picture of them or they had an interesting story to tell. In his case, I had neither.  However, I recently was given access to the newspaper database section of, and was able to find some articles pertaining to him and to William Junior.

William Cook Senior was born in 1827 in Timberland, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, and was baptised in St. Andrew’s Church on August 20, 1827. He was the son of Thomas Cook and Elizabeth (a.k.a. “Betsy”) Cook. I now believe that she was born Elizabeth Pearson, in Metheringham, Lincolnshire, daughter of William and Elizabeth Pearson, due to some sleuthing and record comparing I did this weekend utilizing and the records I already possessed. William Cook’s mother was nine years older than his father, and so far I have only been able to find two other children of theirs, Thomas and Rebeccah, both older than William.

William married Ann Squires in 1848, and at least nine children were born of their union: William, Anne Rebecca, Mary Elizabeth, Sarah Jane, Harriet, Elijah, Alfred, Emma and Martha. William Senior lived his whole life in Timberland, where he worked first as an “agricultural labourer”, and then as a “carrier”, i.e. the driver of a horse-drawn carriage for the transport of goods, usually employed by a railroad for transporting items over a shorter distance. Finally, he was a “coal higlar”, a seller of coal by horse and carriage.

The first news item I found for him was from the Stamford Mercury, dated July 20, 1858, when William would have been thirty years old. A John Vickers basically accuses him of having stolen his ferret and of being a liar:

This is clearly our William—lives in Timberland, is a carrier, and has a brother named Thomas. I have since discovered that ferrets were useful for coaxing rabbits and other small animals out of their holes. I checked the England and Wales, Criminal Registers 1791-1892 on Ancestry, and was able to find the following entry:

It appears that this entry may refer to a criminal court case against William for "larceny", particularly as the time frame matches that of the newspaper item, and the venue of  "Kesteven" and "Bourn" fits the general district where he lived. (You can click on the above image to see it enlarged). Fortunately, if this is him, he was found "not guilty". It is also interested to note that the newspaper item was dated "June 28, 1858"--the same day that the William Cook larceny case was before the judge. Maybe the outcome of the case, in addition to the "warrant against" him, is what prompted John Vickers to submit the notice.

The next article I was able to find was from the Lincolnshire Chronicle, dated August 12, 1870, when he was forty-three, which reported that “William Cook, sen, and William Cook, jun, were charged by William Potterton with an assault, at Timberland, on the 1st inst. Settled out of court”. Strangely enough, what William Cook, jun, had in common with his future wife, and my beloved great great grandmother, Emma Green Cook, is that they both had been charged with assault along with their same sex parent prior to their marriage! Imagine my surprise. (She is depicted on every page of this blog reading a book, demonstrating her gentility). Five years earlier, on November 25, 1865 the same newspaper reported that “Elizabeth Green and Emma Green were summoned by Phoebe Bassett for assaults, at Helpringham, on the 12th inst., and were each fined 5s and costs”. Emma would have been sixteen at the time, and she is, of course, not here to explain herself.

Next, I find William Senior as a victim of a crime. In the Grantham Journal, on February 10, 1877, when William is forty-nine, it is reported:

As was previously noted, William was a purveyor of coal. It seems to me that William was robbed of a substantial amount of his product, as “one bag and one hundredweight” is quite a bit, considering that a “hundredweight” would have been about one hundred and twelve pounds. I am given to understand that the “Union”, where the “girl”, Louisa Elkington, was sent, would have been a workhouse.

The next instance I found of a William Cook appearing in the press, could have been William Cook Senior or Junior, but I tend to think, based on family lore, that it was Junior. The Grantham Journal reported on September 26, 1885: “William Cook was summoned by P.c. Bonner for drunkenness at the “Drayman” Public-house, Timberland, on the 7th inst. Defendant admitted the offence, and was fined 5/- and 9/6 expenses”. Family lore has it that William Junior’s wife Emma went around to all the pubs in the “town” and convinced them all not to serve her husband. If this was Timberland, where they were living in 1885, then one of these pubs may have been the “Drayman”. I have since learned, via the website: Martin Timberland Community Website,, that there were three pubs in Timberland: The Jolly Drayman on Station Road (now called the Penny Farthing Inn), the Six Bells in Church Lane, and the Houghton Arms in Main Street. Perhaps these were the obliging establishments of the family story.

The Penny Farthing Inn, formerly the Jolly Drayman,
Timberland, Lincolnshire
courtesy of Wikipedia Commons,
submitted by Ian Carrington

Finally, there is a notice of the sale of the property where William is living, dated two years before his death. The auction is to take place at the "Houghton Arms", just mentioned. The notice was published in the Lincolnshire Chronicle, February 27, 1894:

He had been living there since at least 1891, when the address “Fen Lane, Timberland” appears in the census. It is wonderful to have a description of where he was living. William died in the first quarter of 1896, at the age of sixty-nine, (and I will now have to order his death record). His wife, Ann, passed away in Pendleton, Lancashire, in 1901, at the age of seventy-nine, where she was living with her daughter, Mary Elizabeth Cook Ferrer.

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