Wednesday, 4 November 2009


A few years back I traced my dad's side of the family (the Coolings) back to 1696. It wasn't difficult. They lived, worked and died (but for one brief migration down to Peterborough) in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. Most had unremarkable lives but I was re-reading all this stuff this morning and with Christmas approaching, thought the following, dated Boxing Day 1839, rather poignant. Just imagine what this family would've been going through.

The letter concerns my, George Cooling, father of 6, who on being made redundant from a local hosiery mill in 1839, threw himself on the mercy of the Guardians of the Southwell Union Poor Law Commission. The board ordered he should be granted 3 stone of bread, value 8 shillings, whilst he sought work. I have a copy of a letter dated 29th December 1839, written by Edward Senior, which states:

'The relief given may be sanctioned, it might be well to state to the Guardians that the Commissioners believe much evil is occasioned by granting out door relief in a District where labour is usually well rewarded and where no want of Employment is general, by keeping up the feeling, that the Parish is bound to make up for lost time, and state that the real motive for granting such relief is the Commissioners apprehend the pecuniary interest of the Parish and advise that in similar instances in future the Workhouse only be offered'.

On the reverse of this letter is a draft letter back from the Poor Law Commission to the effect that they will not withhold such sanction from the outdoor relief given to George Cooling as his becoming unemployed was no fault of his as the mill where he'd worked had fallen into bankruptcy.

I assume George did find employment soon after as I can find no mention of his family having gone into Southwell Workhouse.

I've been promising myself that one day I'll take the guided tour. It's only a few miles away and we did go to Southwell recently so I could take some photos and get a 'feel' as to where I'm from, so to speak. However we didn't get to see the workhouse from the inside as it was closed season. Maybe next year. And I'll take along my notebook in case any story plots present themselves. Probably ghostly ones!

I did have a spooky experience whilst looking around the village. We'd just come out of the minster and I was standing by a row of terraced houses imagining them on a book cover of my first historical saga (no, don't laugh)and when I got home and checked the address, where I'd been standing was next door to the actual house one of my rellies had lived! Okay, maybe coincidence, after all the village isn't that big, but nevertheless..


Martin H. said...

Hi Sue

Interesting, isn't it, how family history research really can help you to see where you fit in the scheme of things? I've managed to trace various lines back to the late 1700s and when I think of what I share with those ancestors, the names on the census returns become people, for real.

Good luck with your future delvings.

Sue Houghton said...

I'm wishing I hadn't come across the file now, Martin, because I've picked up on an old ancestry search that's had me bashing my forehead on the desk!
The elders in my family have always believed we're linked to G K Chesterton (from ancestry forums it seems half the country thinks they are too!)and...wait for it... Sir Isaac Newton, would you believe?
I'll post the results of years of trying to prove/disprove it in another post!

Teresa Ashby said...

That's fascinating Sue.

I think we definitely get a feeling for places that have meant something to our ancestors.

Happy Writer said...

Wow, that's amazing Sue. Fancy being able to trace back to the 1600's! Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing.