William Cooper, 3x Great Grandfather & London Goldsmith – Part 1: At A Brick Wall.

We’re going to leave 2x Great Grandfather William James Cooper, the soldier, for a while now. I will return to him at a later date, but before I do, I want to take you to the point that was as far back as Dad was able to get, before the advent of online genealogy. So, here we are, back at that brick wall in Victorian Clerkenwell, London, with William Cooper, 3x Great Grandfather, a London goldsmith / gold chain maker.

From here to generations further back have been very difficult to research. Conflicting records, no records or too many similar records owing to the fact that there were dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of Cooper’s in London at that time have made things slow and difficult. What follows are some facts and a little speculation, showing some of my theories and in most cases confirming I am going in the right direction.

Percival Street sign

The record that took us back here was the birth certificate of 2x Great Grandfather, William James Cooper, the soldier, which as I’ve already stated in previous posts, showed that he was born at 7 Percival Street, St James Clerkenwell, London (remember that address – it will make an interesting appearance in a later blog) in 1839, to William Cooper, a gold chain maker, and Sarah. Dad being from Burnley, Lancashire, where his father was also born and where William James Cooper was stationed as a soldier, had no knowledge of these southern English roots. With that birth certificate, things changed, and it introduces us to William & Sarah and where they were living in 1839.

Percival Street, London
Greater London
Percival Street, London 2
Percival Street, London 3
Clerkenwell & surrounds
Percival Street, London. Estimation of #7
My estimation of #7 Percival Street

About the location of 7 Percival Street today, looking east & west

7 Percival Street east7 Percival Street west

Percival Street
Percival Street, approximately where I believe #7 was.

Two years later, in the 1841 census, William Cooper, wife Sarah & children William (William James – the soldier) & Eliza are now living in Rosoman Street, Finsbury borough, St James Clerkenwell.

1841 Cooper England Census,2

In this census William & Sarah are both listed as being aged 25. With the 1841 census, adult ages were rounded back to the nearest 5 years, meaning William & Sarah may have been born between 1811-1816. Their residence is Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell. We don’t know which number yet, but we know they have moved from #7 Percival Street. It’s about a 5 minute walk to both Percival Street and St James Clerkenwell from here. Children present are William (William James), 2 years old, who we have already met & Eliza, a new discovery, 7 months old. Both William’s appear simply as Wm.

Rosoman Street sign

The photo below shows Rosoman Street & Percival Street in relation to each other. There’s not much of Rosoman Street left anymore. Most of it has been renamed (see following paragraphs) and there is only a small stretch that retains the name ‘Rosoman’. There are some old buildings there, but I’m not sure exactly how old. This area was a slum district, and it’s where Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist was set, but there’s not much there today to suggest what it was once like.

Rosoman & Percival Streets

All four of our Coopers are born in Middlesex. That’s all we are given, no exact location, as per most, if not all 1841 census results. Now, are they most likely to be born in or around Clerkenwell? We know William James was born in Percival Street a year or so earlier, so it’s probable that young Eliza was born around here somewhere, and maybe William & Sarah as well. That’s the way I went when I began my research. There are many other records for William Cooper’s born about that time in many different areas of Middlesex, which basically covered most of greater London. So in theory, he could be any one of them, but I hope the facts below may show I am going in the right direction.

Further research shows that Eliza is actually born on the 28th Oct 1840 at 13 Lower Rosoman Street. What I know about Eliza, which isn’t much, will also be covered in a different post, but having the address she was born at helps pinpoint on a map where the Coopers may have been living when that 1841 census was taken, although we don’t know this for sure. They were at least living at #13 Lower Rosoman Street eight months before the 1841 census was taken (1841 census taken on 6th June). Lower Rosoman Street is more difficult to trace as most of the street has gone completely. What’s left has been renamed Northampton Road and there is no Lower Rosoman Street today. Amwell Street appears to have been known as Upper Rosoman Street. Sometimes the whole street appears just as Rosoman Street.

Rosoman & Percival Streets 2

Rosoman & Percival Streets 3

Clerkenwell 1862,2
This excerpt from an 1862 map of Clerkenwell shows the old streets in detail. Compare this to the photograph above.
Rosoman Street
Looking up Rosoman Street, towards Amwell Street

Searches also reveal that William & Sarah also had another child – their first child – also called Sarah, baptised at St James Clerkenwell on the 14th February 1836, born in Coppice Row, Clerkenwell on the 20th Oct 1835. Coppice Row is visible on the map above. Her parents on her birth certificate are named as William Cooper, a Goldsmith and Sarah, so we appear to have the correct people, even though the address has changed again. Coppice Row was a long slum district, bulldozed when they build the London Underground Metropolitan Line in the 1880’s. It was pretty much follows the path of the railway line to where Farringdon Station is today. Little Sarah doesn’t appear in the 1841 census because she died about 8 June 1837. Residence at the time of her death was Plumber Place, which is also visible on the map above, adjacent and roughly parallel to Rosoman Street.

Coppice Row

So William & Sarah are married, but who is Sarah? Where and when were they married? This record, from ‘St Boltolphs without Aldersgate’ church answers those questions. The signatures are in their own handwriting.

1834 Marriage, William Cooper & Sarah Robinson,2

William Cooper & Sarah Robinson were married in St Boltolphs without Aldersgate, 13th July 1834, by Banns. (‘Without’ simply means ‘outside’. In this case, it basically means ‘St Boltolphs outside Alders-gate’. Aldersgate was one of the gates in the wall around the City of London. Just to make things more confusing, there is also a ‘St Boltolph’s without Aldgate.’) Banns means they had appeared at the church three consecutive times over three weeks before the date on the final marriage paper. Each appearance is called a bann. It gave people a chance to object, I suppose. The marriage document is signed by them both in their own hand writing. Other names present on the paperwork are: Sophia Cooper, William Robinson & James Robinson? Who are these other people? I am sticking with the Cooper side for now, but let’s say that with William Robinson & James Robinson – it’s likely that one is Sarah’s father and one her brother. Or maybe both brothers? Or Uncles? (Cross referencing later appears to show that James is Sarah’s father and William is her brother – more about that on a different post.)

So, who is Sophia Cooper? I would speculate that she is either William’s mother or his sister. If she is his mother, she may be a widow, as no male Coopers are named on the marriage papers. If she is his sister, she is unmarried and using her maiden name.

St Boltolphs without Aldersgate is a reasonable distance away from St James Clerkenwell and Rosoman Street, (Rosoman Street is just around the corner from St James) heading back towards the city of London. I wonder why they were married there? It may appear that as we go further back in time we are moving away from Clerkenwell.

St Boltolphs

A virtual walk around St. Boltolphs without Aldersgate (just across the road from the Museum of London):



So, this is where we find ourselves for the time being – at a brick wall in Victorian Clerkenwell. Granted, this is not the kind of brick wall that there is no way through. With time and careful research, we’ll make some slow progress. We believe we have found his mother or a sister (Sophia), but we’re not entirely sure at this stage. We’ve found his wife and three children (Sarah Robinson, Sarah, William James & Eliza). Despite numerous searches, William can’t be found in the 1851 census. He may have died between 1841 & 1851, but no death records are forth coming.

When the 1851 census does finally appear, minus William, we will find that there may be one more son – Charles. Searches through birth records using this new information will reveal that Charles is also born at 13 Rosoman Street. This will be covered in more detail in a following post.

The search for William Cooper’s birth records, the discovery of and confusion surrounding his parents and a little of his life and what became of him, will also be the subject of a later blog or two.


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