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Page 3b. Cottingham: A Village Genealogy

The anthropological petri dish

ADC, site administrator

Alan Craxford Site Administrator

In his introduction to the book, "The Mountain of Names" (1), by author Alex Shoumatoff, English anthropologist, Robin Fox (2) reports: "In a population of between three and five hundred people, after six generations or so there are only third cousins or closer to marry. During most of human history, people have lived in small, isolated communities of about that size, and have in fact probably been closer to the genetic equivalent of first cousins, because of their multiple consanguinity. In nineteenth-century rural England, for instance, the radius of the average isolate, or pool of potential spouses, was about five miles, which was the distance a man could comfortably walk twice on his day off, when he went courting- his roaming area by daylight. The bicycle extended the radius to twenty five miles. "

Professor Claudia Nelson notes (3): "For most of the Victorian period, England was full of villages in which generations of intermarriage had resulted in a community tied together by a complex network of blood relationships."

In these two short quotes, the history of Cottingham and the complex, entangled relationships between the families who lived there over the centuries has been encapsulated. Cottingham, and its historically adjacent and now conjoined neighbour, the hamlet Middleton, did indeed have a fairly constant population of just over 600 during the nineteenth century. The villages which crop up time and again in our researches are indeed within a five mile radius of Cottingham, even though county boundaries probably meant little to the average inhabitant.

It is not quite true, however, that our families "just stayed put". As we shall see, because of changing social and political circumstances, many individuals and family groups were caught up in mass migrations both near (to the nearest big town 25 miles away) and far (to the other side of the world). Even there, though, their sense of kinship and family bonds appear to have persisted.

The first page of this section, Welcome to the Welland Valley, served as a general introduction to this area of Northamptonshire, which borders on the counties of Leicestershire and Rutland, and indicated some of the historical factors which shaped its development. The "Featured Articles" presented there are dedicated to aspects of the village itself. This second page concentrates on the stories of the individuals and the group of families which go to make up this part of our extended family tree.

A closer look at the families.

My own family, the Craxfords, can probably be considered the "Johnny-come-latelies" on the Cottingham scene, the surname spending a mere century and a half in the village records. Even then, there is still some doubt over the earliest appearance (see our discussion paper The Will of John Craxford, Labourer of Middleton) in the mid 1700s. We do know that prior to that date, they had been present in Gretton, a village some five miles away, for 150 years; and around that date branches of the family were moving on to pastures new. The last Craxford, by marriage, in Cottingham died in 1930.

Over the three centuries - 1700 to 2000 - the Cottingham archives regularly record perhaps 25 surnames resident in the village. My study of the Craxford line quickly showed recurrent entanglements with seven families (Beadsworth, Binley, Claypole, Crane, Jackson, Tansley and Tilley) with several others cropping up less commonly. The most obvious linkages were the straightforward unrelated family marriages. Close behind numerically were the consanguineous unions: marriage between second and third cousins were quite common and two or three first cousin marriages were also found. We then came across the phenomenon of "affinial relinkings" (4) - where there may be one or more intermediate marriages between the union of members of two family trees. In an attempt to assess these relationships in greater depth we have paid particular attention to female lines of descent and to what became of the quite large number of illegitimate children born within these familes.

Rural life may have appeared simple but there was grinding poverty and rampant disease for the peasantry to contend with. Attitudes to class and crime were far different to the present day. Nineteenth century families were typically large; double digit numbers of offspring were not uncommon. A casual observer might conclude that it was de rigueur for a young female to have at least one child before she entered marriage.

Study of the records can be complicated by variations in the spelling of surnames. This was often caused by the scribe recording what he thought he heard and the subject not being able to read to confirm what had been written. Apart from my own (Craxford may have been an early seventeenth century variant of Croxford), the Beadsworth and Crane names were particularly affected. The Crane family became established in Cottingham about 1800 but the others on our list can be traced back to at least 1700. There are still descendents of most of these families living in the village today.

Alan D. Craxford - Site Administrator

Cottingham online

If you would like to find out more about the history of the village of our ancestors, I can recommend having a look at the following site. Edited by Jane Smith, this is a wonderful resource of photographs, anecdotes and historical data of the village of Cottingham in Northamptonshire.

Jane also edits the Cottingham and Middleton Newletter. Published every other month, it features news and current events within the two villages. It has been in operation since the Summer of 2004 and back issues are available on site.

Continued in column 2...

Meet the editors

Carolyn Paisley

Carolyn Paisley Associate Editor

Family history is my consuming passion!

Born and raised in Leicester, I left the city in 1970 for post-secondary education in Reading and teaching on Merseyside. I thought I had no roots in England and would find emigrating to Canada easy. It didn't take long to realize that I did, in fact, have deep English roots and that I needed to investigate them.

That was back in 1982, and genealogy has changed a lot since then. Thanks to technological innovation, the digitization of historical records, and the willingness of the genealogical community to share information, I have succeeded in exploring my family history to a depth I hadn't thought possible. I have discovered poverty and financial ruin; families devastated by death and disease and split by crime; ancestors who were black sheep or pillars of the community. One man was a vicar in Restoration England, another a soldier at the Battle of Waterloo. Although most of my forbears were farm labourers or small tradesmen, all, when seen in their historical context, put my own life into perspective and make history come alive.

It's unfortunate that my husband's eyes glaze over as I begin yet another sentence with "John Ould" or "Lois Bamford", but I can't complain, because he has plodded through workhouse records and scrabbled round graveyards with minimal "Are we nearly finished?" pleas. The genealogy group I teach in my home meets my need for genealogical discussion and camaraderie, and websites like the Craxford Family History Magazine give me a venue to tell the wonderful stories that come from the huge range of historical documents that are available to us: newspapers, wills, parish registers, education records, apprenticeship indentures, to name just a few.

The more genealogical contacts I make, the more I realize what a small world we live in. What a surprise it was to discover that one of my Canadian work colleagues is the descendant of a man who owned the land on which my house was built in Neston, Cheshire, for example. Furthermore, what quirk of fate led us to a Canadian city which, unknown to us, was home to a cousin my father-in-law hadn't seen since the 1920s ? Then, of course, there is the "Bottle Green" connection between Alan and I. Little did I know, when I contacted Alan to tell him how much I enjoyed his website and that I thought there was a connection between his ancestors and mine, that we would discover we were both from Leicester and we had both donned the bottle green uniforms of Alderman Newton's Grammar School around the same time!

Cottingham research has further demonstrated what a small world this is. The stories that are emerging not only help to recreate the historic village and invite us to meet its inhabitants, they also demonstrate a surprising and fascinating interconnectedness between its families. In fact, at times, it seems as if the parish is one large extended family, infiltrated now and again by outsiders! Further research will, I am certain, yield more stories that will lend credibility to this theory. Who knows what gems are waiting to be revealed?

Carolyn Paisley, British Columbia, Canada
March 2012

Further reading

The book 'Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective'
Book cover 'Family Ties in Victorian Britain'
The book 'The Mountain of Names: A history of the human Family' with introduction by Robin Fox

The book covers

We would like to thank Robin Fox for his kind words of encouragement and for his permission to use the quotation from his introduction to the book "The Mountain of Names" by Alex Shoumatoff. Robin is an anthropologist, historian and author of many books on kinship systems. His work, "Kinship and Marriage" is recognised as an established classic in the literature of social science. He is Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.

The authors would like to thank Dr Claudia Nelson for permission to quote from her work and to reproduce the book cover here. She is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English, Texas A&M University.


1. Shoumatoff, Alex: The Mountain of Names: A history of the human Family with introduction by Robin Fox; Kodansha International, New York, USA (1995). ISBN 1-56836-071-1 Cover image reproduced with permission
2. Fox, Robin: "Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective" (Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology): Cambridge University Press (1984): ISBN: 978-0521278232 Cover image reproduced with permission
3. Nelson, Claudia: "Family Ties in Victorian England (Victorian Life and Times)" Praeger Pulishers, Inc. USA. (2007) ISBN: 978-0275986971 Cover image reproduced with permission
4. "Affinial relinkings" TIPP Kinship and Computing InterSciWiki

Page added: March 9th 2012
Last update: September 15th 2019

Continued in column 3...

Family stories from Cottingham

St Mary Magdalene Church, Cottingham: The story of a murder DEATH FOR THREEHA'P'ORTH OF SUCKERS
"Cottingham is situated in one of the loveliest districts of the county of Northampton ... but not the most beautiful spots on earth can enjoy an immunity from crime."

Game Laws THE CRANES OF COTTINGHAM. 1: Victim or Villain?
"What a terrible month it's been. First, Mam died. We weren't surprised. She's been really ill for a while now. Something to do with her woman's parts."

Crane brothers THE CRANES OF COTTINGHAM. 2: Those who left and those who stayed
John was Henry Crane's third son and, from the historical records, closely followed his father's example. Although the case was dismissed he had a brush with the courts as a 15 year old in 1871."

Infant retrieved from the river: Access the article MARY CRANE AND HER 'MISBEGOTTEN' CHILDREN
She disposed of the body before she had really thought about what to do. How could the jury prove otherwise, unless several witnesses testified that they saw her kill the baby or throw it whilst still alive into the water?

Princess Mary box: Access the article THE SORROWS OF MARY ATKINS
"The water was often toxic and caustic through the dissolved chemicals from the frequent use of mustard gas. "

Arthur Beadsworth: Access the gallery A COTTINGHAM CRAXFORD ALBUM
Photographs of the descendents of John and Sarah Craxford

"There is a village called Binley in the parish of St Mary Bourne in Hampshire which is mentioned in the tax-roll of Edward III of 1327 as Bynleigh."

St Peters THE COTTINGHAM TANSLEYS: Two brothers who moved to Leicester
"The seed of this project was the chance finding of three references to the wills of a Tansley married couple on the same page of the Probate Calendar and the discovery that the named beneficiary did not actually appear to exist."

"His experiences left such as lasting impression on him that he named his first daughter, born in 1918, Suvla."

Louisa Craxford: Access Iris' Letter MURDER MOST FOUL? IN COTTINGHAM???
Grandma Craxford found the poor child hanging behind the door with his throat cut...

Silhouette: Access the article IN SEARCH OF JAMES ERNEST'S OLDER SISTER
"This was either a mis-spelling of her second name Alice or whether it referred to a missing father ... "

In 1881, whilst the Exeter Arms and the old bakehouse were still in operation, proprietorship of the bakery had passed to another (and as yet totally unrelated) Tilley family who were descended from a line of master bakers.

The family of James Tilley and Martha Hector: children and grandchildren who stayed in the village and those who emigrated.

The family of Samuel Tilley and Mary Ann Tilley (who were cousins): their association with the Jarvis and Jarman families and how that letter came to be written.

The house was built of stone, roofed with slate and had a water supply from its own well. The shop frontage housed a grocer and general dealership.

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