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{$text['mgr_teal1']} Cook 3

A Cook's tour of my family

by Eva Unwin

Walter and Elizabeth Cook

My grandfather was called Walter Cook and he was born in a small village in Buckinghamshire in 1853. He worked on farms and with farm animals. Sometime shortly after 1871 he moved to the village of Lubenham near Market Harborough on the border between Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. There he met Elizabeth Burditt and they were married on November 9th 1874. Elizabeth was about four years older that he was. By 1881 the couple had set up home in Leicester and between 1877 and 1889 they were to have two sons (one died in infancy) and four daughters. This article is their story and some of my memories of them.

Walter Cook and Elizabeth Burditt
Walter Cook
Elizabeth Cook

Walter Cook and Elizabeth Burditt: left about 1875; centre and right early 1900s

When they moved to Leicester they lived initially at 62 Friar's Causeway and their first three children were born there. His first employment was as a waggoner. By 1891 the family had moved to 51 Jewry Wall Street (the Jewry Wall is the second largest piece of surviving Roman construction in the country (1)) - close by the old Norman church of St Nicholas and within earshot of engines as they approached Great Central Street railway station. The census return of that year listed him as a grocer's assistant.

The next ten years saw a considerable expansion of the town of Leicester westwards across the West Bridge and the River Soar. New streets of terraced housing, schools and factories were built to the north and south of King Richard's Road. One such establishment was a large boot and shoe factory which occupied the block on Tudor Road between Nugent Street and Vernon Street. By the beginning of the new century Walter and his family had moved again into a house at 35 Tudor Road. In 1901 he was employed locally as a foreman stableman while Elizabeth kept house for him. Also during that decade he worked as a driver for Roberts & Roberts who were wholesale grocers merchants and whose premises were at 89 High Street, Leicester.

Walter Cook, delivery driver

Walter Cook, delivery driver

The family moved again to a house at the top of the hill in the adjacent Bosworth Street. Walter Cook was an imposing man who grew a large moustache and ginger beard which was said to be the origin of the auburn tint to many a descendents head of hair. He was a devout Methodist and was a dedicated childrens Sunday school teacher. He died around 1920 when I was very young. Elizabeth lived on at No. 103. Unfortunately she developed cancer and she suffered a long and, towards the end, painful decline. She was looked after by her daughter Elizabeth and husband Ted but the whole family cared for her until her death in 1928.

Walter Cook at Hinckley Road Methodist Chapel, Leicester

The Minister

Jesse Haddon Cook and Elijah Benson
The Benson family

The Bensons

Auntie Jesse was born in Leicester in 1877. Her name appears as Jane in the registration indexes which is a bit confusing but she was called Jesse by the time the Census forms of 1881 were filled in. I never knew where her middle name 'Haddon' came from. {Her maternal grandmother's maiden name was Haddon - Ed} After she left school she took up work as a fitter at the boot and shoe factory in Tudor Road. She was quite a forceful character, similar in nature to my own mother and being the older one she would look after her. They would work together whenever there were childrens parties to put on.

She met and married Elijah Benson in 1901. Indeed the census of that year notes that he was living with the family in Tudor Road. Elijah was born in 1876, the son of David and Elizabeth Benson from Kidsgrove in Staffordshire. The family had lived at the same property at 27 Napier Street since the 1870s and his parents were still there at the turn of the century. He had three older brothers (one of which, William, became a school teacher) and two sisters (I think one died while still a baby). David was a miner and Elijah followed him into the industry as a pit boy when he left school at 14.

After he moved to Leicester he became an insurance salesman. Following their marriage they moved to Tyrrell Street, not far away from Tudor Road. They had one son, George. I remember Elijah Benson mostly for his waxed moustache in which he took great pride. He had a special cup which let him drink without damaging it. We kids were fascinated by it but we hated kissing him! However we were always delighted to visit because George was always good for a sixpence!! Auntie Jessie died in the 1960s.

I know that cousin George married and I think he had two daughters. I can't remember the name of the older daughter, but the younger one was called Pat and she married a painter and decorator from Bolton. They moved away from Leicester and I think they eventually settled in Norfolk. Unfortunately the families finally lost touch with each other.

Mary Ann Cook and Thomas Skelding

Mary Ann Cook

Mary Ann Cook

I never knew Mary Ann although she was always referred to by the rest of the family as Auntie Polly. She was born in 1881 while the family were still living at Friar's Causeway. She went to a local first school and by the time the family moved to Tudor Road she was making a living as a tailoress. She was quiet and gentle in character, rather more akin to her sister Elizabeth.

Living close by, at No. 120, was photographer Thomas Skelding with his wife Georgina and three children Thomas junior, Inez and Alick. Thomas was born in Warwick; Georgina in Coventry. The family had been much travelled by 1901. Daughter Inez (born in 1873 in Warwick) was a hosiery and gloves machinist employed at the Bow Bridge works. His son Tom had been born in Hinckley, Leicestershire in 1878 and was working as a mechanic servicing machines at the boot and shoe factory. Alec, born in Leicester, was aged 14 in 1901 and was also working at the boot and shoe factory as a clicker.

Mary and Tom started courting and they were married in June 1904. Their married life was short and within two years she had contracted tuberculosis. Thomas was blamed for her contracting this virulent disease which in those days was called 'galloping consumption'. Mary died in 1907. After her death Tom continued to live with the family although they did not get on very well with him. In fact my own mother was the only one who would have much to do with him. I believe that he emigrated to Canada about 1915 and made a new life for himself there.

Thomas' brother, Alec Skelding

Alec Skelding

We had no further news of him but I can tell a scary little story. I went to a spiritualist meeting with a boyfriend who was very keen on that sort of thing just after the War (WWII). The medium approached me directly and said there was someone standing behind me and proceeded to describe him. I didn't recognise him at all. He was supposed to be saying that my mother had been kind to him and he would look after me. When I went home I told my mother about this and straight way she said "That's Tom Skelding!".

His brother Alec became a first class batsman and bowler playing for Leicestershire Cricket Club in 1912 - 13. He became a celebrated umpire, controlling matches from 1931 to 1958 and was well known for his pithy comments and ribald humour (2). He died in Leicester in April 1960.

Before I leave the subject of the Skeldings it is also something of a coincidence that Thomas' eldest brother Albert married a Louie (or Louisa) Cook in Leicester in 1897 and then in 1901 they were living at 47 Catesby Street. We never knew that Cook family and haven't been able to trace a link back to ours.

George Cook, Miriam Naylor and Ethel Goodall

I know that Alan and Brenda have written lots about George and Miriam on other pages in this magazine. So I won't repeat their work. My uncle George was a kindly and a lovely man. I know that he had his share of tragedies in his life. His first wife, Miriam, died after giving birth to Hilda, Alan and Brenda's mother. This happened before I was born.

George Cook and Ethel Goodall

George and Ethel

Uncle George married again in 1918 to Ethel Goodall (she was christened Kate Ethel). I do know that Miriam and Ethel had been friends and had probably worked together in the same shop - Miriam was a draper's assistant and Ethel a milliner. It has been suggested that Ethel had her own designs on uncle George and was jealous of Miriam when they got married. Ethel was the manager of a hat shop at one time. I remember going to a Christmas party there when the shop had been cleared out to make way for the celebrations. Ethel was a very forthright person and could have a sharp tongue if you incurred her displeasure. George on the other hand was very tolerant and easygoing.

I don't remember much of Hilda when we were children. She was a couple of years older than me but there are some photographs taken of her with my brother Jack. I next met her when I was on leave from the Army during the War. I was enrolled into looking after her. She lived with her aunt and uncle (William and Mary Ball) in Oadby who had brought her up. Her aunt died shortly after Hilda married her husband, George. They had been out together shopping in Leicester and had got onto the bus to go home when she had a heart attack.

I didn't know much about George's mother and father (James and Esther Craxford) although I do remember one funny little incident. George and Hilda went on their honeymoon (May 1940) to Blackpool. Almost as soon as they arrived George insisted that they went down to the local Yates Wine Lodge for a drink. When they walked through the door, Hilda was confronted by George's parents - unknown to her he had taken them on honeymoon with him! He was called up into the Army shortly after that.

Continued in column 2...

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Page added: August 3rd 2006
Last update: May 18th 2017

Elizabeth Cook and John Edwin Putterill

Elizabeth Cook

Elizabeth Cook

Edwin Putterill

Edwin Putterill

Elizabeth (my Auntie Betty) was born on January 30th 1889. She was a gentle soul and throughout her life she was a very timid person. She had an affinity with Polly who was of a similar nature and who tended to look after her. She worked as a machinist at Corah's (the huge factory in St Margaret's (3) which was built in 1865 by Leicestershire industrialist Edwin Corah). Even there mother had to intervene at times to fight her battles for her.

The Corah Factory, Leicester (3)

Corah Factory

She married quite late in life in September 1923 to John Edwin Putterill (she was 34, he was 41) - a postman who had been born in Lubenham, the same village where her mother was born. He had served in France during the first world war and had suffered some long term effects from the gas. Grandpa Cook had died by this time and Auntie Betty and Uncle Ted continued to live with Grandma Cook in the family home.

They had no children but Hilda Dible (see below) was left with them and they brought her up as their own. When I used to go and stay with them Hilda and I would go to the Methodist Chapel which still had a picture of Grandpa Cook hanging on the wall. I remember that Hilda had a passion for Siamese cats. She had one which was supposed to have been acquired from someone conected with royalty. Anyway this cat was sent away to be mated but managed to get out. The natural thing happened and the cat had a single tortoiseshell kitten (very pretty it was too!) But there was one heck of a row and compensation to be paid.

They remained in Bosworth Street after Grandma Cook had died and lived there for the rest of their lives. Uncle Ted could be a character - cantankerous at times - but I think his heart was in the right place.

Nellie Youle

Nellie Dible with Hilda and Fred

Nellie Dible with Fred and Hilda

Auntie Nellie came into the family because the old lady looking after her was always drunk so Grandma Cook took in the baby and was paid to look after her. I gather that her father belonged to a well known Leicester family and her mother was the wife of the steward at the Conservatives Club. There was also some connection with a baker's firm. Nellie was the best educated of them all and because because Mum, Betty and George were quite a bit older than she was and already working they contributed to put her through grammar school.

Nellie Dible

Nellie Dible

She caused Grandma more trouble than all the rest. She married Reginald (known as Roy) Dible in 1919 who had a lot of personal and social problems. He even served a term in prison. They had two children: a daughter, Hilda born in 1922 and a son, Fred born 1924. Poor Fred was moved about all over the place. When he grew up Fred married and had a boy and a girl. Sad to say he committed suicide when the details about Auntie Nellie came out.

I don't know when it actually happened but apparently Auntie Nellie had applied for a copy of her birth certificate in the name of Cook and of course there wasn't one - I don't know if she was officially adopted by the Cooks - but Uncle George had got her original birth certificate and he had to explain the history to her. Her name is recorded on the 1901 census as Nellie Youle, a boarder and scholar aged 6 years, when she was living with our family in Tudor Road. Her maiden name was recorded as Cook on her marriage certificate and both the certificates of the children. Despite exhaustive searches we haven't found a birth certificate in her name born in Leicester. The nearest to a possible birth date is for Ellen Youle of Sheffield. So that still remains a mystery.

Ada Annie Cook and Arthur Unwin

Arthur and Annie were my parents and I had a brother called Jack. The family moved away from Leicester to Manchester. I have already written about my father, Arthur Uniwn, (the article Quite a character was my dad) and I have talked about my mother, Annie Ada Cook, in the first part of my autobiography A long and winding road from Barton to Barton.

A gallery of certificates

Below are the relevant certificates for many of the Cook family which have been referred to in this article. More will be added to the database over the course of the next few weeks.




Update 1: February 20th 2009

After the release of the 1911 England Census archives, we were able to piece together Nellie Youle's history. Her story is recounted in Auntie Nellie's Story: Nellie Youle Swann (1894 - 1970)

Update 2: May 18th 2017

Albert Ernest Skelding and Louisa Cook were married at St Paul's Church, Leicester, on June 21st 1897. Their marriage certificate confirmed that her father's name was Thomas who worked as a brewer. Various census records show that he was born in Leicester although his father, William, a licenced victualler, came from Newarke in Nottinghamshire. Further confusion in the records came about by many labelling the family as Cooke. With this new information we can conclude that the Skelding brothers did not marry Cook girls with any family connection.

Further research has shown that Thomas Samuel Skelding emigrated to Australia in 1907 (not Canada). He died in a Sanatorium in Melbourne in March 1912 (4).

A Vote of Thanks

The editors would like to express their thanks to suzard at the Leicestershire Forums at RootsChat.Com for the help in untangling the conundrum of Louisa Cook and for demonstrating that there was no connection with our own Cook family.


It is with great sadness that we record that Eva, the author of this article, died in September 2008. We know that she would have been fascinated by these latest revelations.


1. The Jewry Wall: Leicester Museums and Galleries
2. Alec Skelding: Cricketer and Umpire: CricInfo: Players and Officials
3. The Corah Factory: 24hr Museum: The National Virtual Museum
4. Medical Officer's Report following the death of Thomas Skelding A Post Mortem Speciment: The Sanatorium Incident The Age, Thursday March 14th 1912. Trove, The National Library of Australia

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