Updated October 2013 with some new information and corrections
Origins of the family
William's parents were William and Jane and he was probably the 3rd of 4 children: There are no records online before 1800 to back this up but William's birth in 1797 and christening in 1798 (at St George's Southwark) was recorded by the family. Suggestions that any of the children listed below were baptised at St Mary's Lambeth have been removed as inaccurate - the church was only opened in 1798 so the first three at least would also have been baptised at St George's, then the only 'local' parish church for Lambeth.
Nothing is known of these other children but perhaps Samuel Cope born about 1792 who married Zilpah Clake on 4 May 1817 at St George's was also a member of this family. Samuel and Zilpah had 7 children, all but one of whose names recur also in William's family, but not listed here to avoid confusion as they are not known to have played any part in the events that follow. (Details on request)
During his life William is known to have attended at least four churches - St Mary's, St John's and St Andrew's, Lambeth, and Christchurch Southwark - none built when he was born, but all within walking distance by the end of his life. Notes on these churches - and other features of the area - can be found on the Sources page. The story of the Cope family coffee shop begins in the early years of the nineteenth century. In 1814 one of his early experiences which he used to tell his grandchildren about was the great freeze-up of the River Thames and the last Frost Fair held on it.
About 1822 William married Sarah Phipps, then aged about 19. The place and date of the marriage is so far not known. Sarah came from the quiet hamlet of Cockpole Green in Berkshire, midway between Henley and Maidenhead. She was however christened at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Hurley on 3 Jul 1803 as Cockpole Green was too small to have its own church. It was a long way from Lambeth but probably Sarah herself had found work in London.
They had ten children - all except the first two were baptised at St John the Evangelist - 6 died in childhood
The full family history of the children can be found on the Cope family page, the main focus of these pages being William, his son Henry George - briefly - and then, to his death in 1934, Henry George's son, Henry George jun'r, who is referred to as 'Harry' (his family nickname) to distinguish him from his father, Between them William and Harry were the official owners of the business for about 100 years. The family page also includes details of the three of William's children, 1.Sarah, 6. Henry George and 8. Mary Ann, who returned home to help, but includes more about the times when they were not living at no.35 Commercial Rd, their marriages and their children (details which are not relevant here).
The particular subject of this study is the story of the 'eating house' at 69 Cornwall Rd, and the move to the 'coffee shop' at 35 Commercial Rd (now renamed Upper Ground St presumably to avoid confusion with the more well-known road of that name in North London). Some repetition is inevitable but is kept to a minimum to avoid having to keep switching between the two.The fortunes of those not involved in running the business, shown above with no link, can be found on the Cope family page.
For more detail on the social background to family life see Lambeth
The first few years of marriage for William and Sarah were very hard. As can be seen above, in sixteen years William and Sarah had ten children and buried four of them, Emma, George Henry and John William before they were two and then William, the eldest boy, at the age of 7, all by 1832. By the end of 1861 they had buried 2 more.
The most likely cause of death was bronchitis turning to pneumonia but those years were rife too with outbreaks of cholera. The crowded south bank of the Thames and the dockland area was not a healthy place to live. It is hardly surprising that William and Sarah's young growing family succumbed to something.
In John Snow's history of the Lambeth Waterworks he states that "London was without cholera from the latter part of 1849 to August 1853. During this interval an important change had taken place in the water supply of several of the south districts of London. The Lambeth Company removed their water works, in 1852, from opposite Hungerford Market to Thames Ditton; thus obtaining a supply of water quite free from the sewage of London." The implications of changes like this were slow to be realised.
As the birthplaces of their children reveal, as this was before the censuses began in 1841, the Cope family moved frequently in the first few years, perhaps looking all the time for larger living quarters. They lived first in Henry St, then in Princes St (now renamed Coin St, a large car parking area) which joins Commercial Road opposite Princes Wharf and another sawmill. Later they moved yet again, into Cornwall Place on the west side of Stamford St and then into Cornwall Road. They had so far never stayed in one house longer than a couple of years.
William and Sarah's first two children were christened in Christchurch,
Southwark, there being no convenient church in Lambeth at the time. The church
of St John the Evangelist, Waterloo Road, was built in 1824. There was still
no railway or station and no bridge nearby for crossing the Thames until the
Hungerford Suspension Bridge was opened in 1845 from an Act passed in 1836,
but there was a halfpenny toll on it, quite a lot of money in those days. The
most convenient route to the city - and cheapest - was to cross the river by
boat. The Copes in fact had a boat of their own which no doubt they used to
cross the Thames.The two brothers, Henry George and his brother Edwin, the only
surviving sons, were nearly drowned when Henry was sucked into the mud up to
his armpits at low tide and Edwin was nearly trapped too as he struggled to
save him but the date of this episode is unknown. (Assuming they were in their
teens it could be in the 1840s).
More on the churches in this area can be found at Sources. Use your back arrow to return to this page.
It is fairly safe to assume that William was working as a sawyer all the time. Although this is not quite the area usually referred to as the 'London Docks' it was a dockland area with wharves stretching all the way from Waterloo Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge. On the nearer side Broadwall marked the boundary between this area and Southwark. The larger boats could not come beyond London Bridge but the Thames watermen came with their heavy-laden barges ferrying goods from the ships or docks down-river, which were always busy. Apprenticeship records show how this probably affected William's grandson, Henry George b. 1859 (son of Henry George, no.6 above).
It is unlikely that William spent much time without work but it had always been common practice to have some other project going, one wage never being enough for a large family to live on. In William's case it was an eating-house. By 1832 the family was living at No.63 Cornwall Road, described as an 'eating-house' in the 1841 Census. William may have been the 'proprietor' but it would have been Sarah who ran the eating-house, doing all the cooking and serving and cleaning. They were to remain there for the next twenty years or so.
The known history of the family catering business began with 63 Cornwall Rd, and the move from Cornwall Place. Cornwall Rd now is quite long extending north from the end of The Cut just off the junction where that road joins Waterloo Rd, but at that time the southern end of it was called St John's Place. By following the houses along Cornwall Rd on the 1851 census, No 63 appears to be at the northern end near to 'New Barge' Wharf which was next to Gabriel's Wharf and Prince's Wharf, not at the southern end of the road as previously thought. (It meets Commercial Rd, now renamed Upper Ground St, between the National Theatre and the South Bank TV Studios),
Along with 'Princes St' and 'Prince's Wharf' the names are significant - Cornwall Rd, Prince's St, Duke's St (now Duchy St) because the area is part of the Duchy of Cornwall and belongs to the Prince of Wales who is of course the Duke of Cornwall, and it explains how William's grandson Harry met the then of Prince of Wales who had come to visit his properties. (The story is told in coffee3, all about Harry and his family) John William was born in Cornwall Rd in 1829 and in 1831 presumably died there, the other five children also being born there. Last of all was Ellen born in 1848. Willim is named as an 'eating-house keeper' in 1841 and in 1851, still at no.63, both William and his wife Sarah, were listed as 'eating-house keepers'. The P.O Directory mentions "eating & groceries" and then again from 1845 onwards, "eating-rooms" (They were still selling groceries into the 20th century) They now employed a servant, Elizabeth Freeman, aged 19 (about whom no other information is given - whoever spoke to the enumerator obviously did not know where she came from, but probably only the last place she was employed.) There were then four children surviving out of eight. Sarah, the eldest, was 17 or 18, being old enough to have been in service for a number of years. Henry George was 10, Edwin Alfred was six and Mary Ann Eliza was three or four years old. It was a family with a great age range, for by 1848 when their last child was born, Sarah, the eldest, was about 25.
Cornwall Rd is now very obviously changed from the way it would looked in the 19th century, but perhaps some of the photos online taken in neighbouring streets showing old terraces, e.g. Roupell St, may suggest how Cornwall Rd once looked.
It seems like a 'step up' from an eating-house, to now run one as a 'coffee shop' but a look at no.63 Cornwall Rd in 1911 shows that the occupant then described himself as a 'coffee shop proprietor' by then, so perhaps that was simply a fashion change! However Commercial Rd - now renamed Upper Ground St, presumably to distinguish it from the other road of that name in North London - could have been larger, only by one room, five instead of four, but perhaps larger rooms. It was probably also busier, ensuring a larger and a more regular clientele. Grandchildren, helping with the steak and kidney pies etc in their school holidays in the early 20th century remembered the rush to have them ready in time for lunch and the steady stream of people from the printing works which were then opposite.
In the Post Office Directory for 1853 William is described as a grocer (on Cornwall Rd) This would of course have been a year out of date. It must have been about the mid-1850s when William and his family - children Henry, Edwin, Mary Ann, Charles and Ellen - moved round the corner into no.35 Commercial Road, (now Upper Ground St) which ran parallel to the river from Waterloo Bridge, eastwards from Lambeth into Southwark.
Location of No.35
The whole area belonged to the Duchy of Cornwall so presumably William either bought a lease or rented it. At no.32 were Spencer & Co, builders, and at no.36 was the public house the Dover Castle, one of many of that name in London. No. 36 must have been next door to no. 35 as all the numbered dwellings appear to face north towards the river. No.35, like most of the houses in the area, was a three storey building but it also had cellars below at the back as the ground shelved away quite steeply on the south side. In fact it is known that they kept a pony and cart there which they used for Sunday outings to nearby commons. There was a timber yard between Commercial Rd & the river; at no.32 Commercial Rd was Spencer's, the builder's and there were numbers of printing works in the area. The coffee shop was very convenient for the printers and they were still frequenting it - with its tables and check tablecloths where Ethel, Ada's daughter, used to ride her bike up and down (presumably only when it was empty!) - well into the 20th century. Locating the position of no.35 now is equally difficult as that area is full of multi-storey buildings, one of which - perhaps on the same site - now even extends right across the road, over the through traffic..It could have been near where the Coin St car park is (originally Prince's St), or if the present-day numbers are roughly right it was nearer to Broadwall though still in the registration district named as 'Waterloo Road First'.
|Below - a short look forward in time 100 years, to the Centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition and a school visit to the area almost opposite the coffee shop! Frequent changes to the whole of this area since the 1930s have obliterated old landmarks and created new ones. The old Shot Tower was incorporated into the exhibition in 1951 but has since been demolished|
Above - crazy designs by Roland Emmett, South Bank Exhibition 1951 - part of a day that included 3D 'Telekinema' and a netball match cheering on our own school junior team - across the road from the Post Office (since demolished, but site of no.35), taken on my first camera, an Ensign box camera and printed at 2" x 2". (There are plenty of photos of that area as it is today, and of the 'more serious' parts of the 1951 Exhibition online) The old Shot Tower which was used in the manufacture of lead shot (the molten lead being dropped from a height in the tower to turn it into a round ball) was still there in the middle of the exhibition. (It could be the shadowy tower behind the model in the left-hand photo...) It's a prominent feature on a mid-century view of London made from a balloon flight, but no longer exists.
The road begins by the National Theatre and runs alongside part of
a site that was used for the 1951 South Bank Exhibition, planned for
the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. The Copes
must surely have been among the millions who went to see the huge Crystal
Palace made of glass and iron, 1,848 feet long and 408 feet wide with
two huge towers, fountains with 1100 jets, just as their descendants
went to Lambeth in 1951, and - unbeknownst to them - back to their roots!
Some of these descendants had even visited the Crystal Palace, which
had been moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham but unfortunately it had many
fires and other problems and finally burnt down completely in 1936.
There were some exhibits and part of it was preserved (with Grade II
listing) along with a 'dinosaur park'.The remains of the building were
demolished in wartime as it was thought to be too much of a landmark
for German bombers. The park has since been used for pop concerts but
there have been several plans to rebuild the palace, the latest (in
2013) by a Chinese company ......
Many of William's children helped at one time or another in the running of the coffee shop, but there are servants listed, in 1861 a 'house servant' Ann Philips, 21, born in Lambeth, and more later. The number of rooms listed in 1911 as five would include the kitchen but 'not a scullery, landing, lobby, closet, bathroom nor warehouse, office or shop'. So possibly the ground floor shop - dining-room and kitchen - wouldn't be counted at all, all five 'living rooms' being on the upper floor(s). As there were five no information is given in 1891 or 1901 as only those with less than five were marked as such. It was left to the householder to say how many rooms so it's not an exact count but does indicate that they had above average space available. (Many families along the road would have had to share one or two rooms)
Henry George Cope was born in 1831 at 63, Cornwall Rd, Lambeth, and his first memories would have been of the eating-house, especially at lunchtime! ' As he is listed as a 'carpenter' from at least 1851 at the age of 20 he may have spent some of the intervening years between 1841 and 1851 living away away from home with a master carpenter. At present this is still unknown. He married Sarah Alecia Arrowsmith the following year on 25 Jun at St Pancras, and may even have set up on his own during that year of 1851-2. Their first surviving and known child was not born until 1859 though whether they had lost any in the years between is unknown. Their lives turned out to be rather short but eventful and are continued on coffee2
Mary Ann had married Leonard Goodson in 1860 and by the time of the census, they had set up home at 110 Brook St , their first child being born at the end of 1860 and dying there in the spring. The rest of the their children were born in the Christchurch area so they probably moved to have a little more space, but were never very far away.
Mary Ann and her Goodson family
It was then that the first disaster struck the Cope family when Sarah (née Phipps), William's wife, died on 27 Apr 1866. At the age of 69 William was perhaps no longer working as a sawyer, but even with one servant he would have found it hard to run the coffee shop on his own - he probably knew nothing about cooking! He may of course have had some servants who came in for the day - the census only records those who lived in. Mary Ann now had 3 children, Laura aged about 4, Leonard 3 and Ellen nearly 2. The 1871 census shows the Goodson family living with William at the coffee shop but it seems very likely that they must have moved in when Sarah was ill (if it was not a sudden death) or after she died. In the Sep Q 1871 Leonard senr also died. He was only 38. There were then two 'domestic' servants living in according to the 1871 census, Catherine Ray, 20, from Christchurch and Catherine Well 11, from Middlesex (over the river), but none are listed in 1881. Domestic service was quite normal at ages like 11 for many young girls, a kind of female 'apprenticeship', but it was usually very hard work and not very skilled! Both Laura,9. and Ellen Goodson, 5, were at home with their mother in 1871 but are listed as servants in 1881.
Mary Ann and her Lack family
With three children still so young Mary Ann was not in a position to take over the coffee shop; even with the two servants. Within weeks or a few months, in the Dec Q Mary Ann remarried, her new husband, John Lack being much older, born in 1816 and a widower with two grown-up sons.. At the time of the 1871 census John senior (54) a coal weigher, and his elder son (18), waterman, were living in Stoney St, Southwark. No doubt the coal weighing would have turned John senr quite black with the coal dust and needing a daily bath in a hot tub in the kitchen - if at all or considered necessary! The newly-weds, John and Mary Ann, may have stayed for a while on Commercial Rd but then moved to Chelsea where Mary Ann's son Frederick (Lack) was born in 1873. They later returned to Lambeth, their son Charles being born on 10 May 1877 at 52 Paradise St, Lambeth, the other side of Waterloo Station and near Lambeth Palace. (It was around this time that Leonard Goodson junr 'disappeared' until of course he was found alive and unmistakeable as Leonard Lack aged 17 and a turner in the 1881 census - perhaps another apprentice, just 7 in the previous census and the 'right' age to be apprenticed.
John Lack sen'r and Mary Ann seem to have moved to Chelsea as it was there that their son Frederick was born in 1873, but in 1877 they were definitely back in Lambeth as their son Charles was born there in 1877, probably at 52 Paradise St on the other side of Waterloo from the coffee shop. By 1891 they had moved to 'Lydia Buildings' in Cornwall Rd so perhaps Mary Ann was called on to help in the coffee-shop sometimes, though the situation had changed with Harry and his family in charge. By the turn of the century they had moved on elsewhere.
A record has been found on FindMyPast of a 'Henry George' (i.e. Harry) being apprenticed in 1877 to a Thames Waterman, who it turns out could only be Harry's aunt's stepson, John Lack junior.. This is curious for a number of reasons but a search for any other possible 'Henry George Cope' of any age, though one would expect him to be about 10 or less, (and not 17), has produced only two who are certainly not the apprentice and lived in quite different areas of London. Two others of the Cope grandchildren definitely did become apprenticed as watermen or lightermen later on, their boats being 'lighters'. This for Harry would have to have been a second apprenticeship as he had surely been apprenticed before even if only under his father. but of course he would have had to abandon it - perhaps at some cost - soon after as other events took over. (As this concerns Harry the main account of his life can be found on coffee3 . Any futher information on this would be very welcome)
Henry must, however briefly, have became personally involved with the eating-house/coffee shop for it was on 18th Oct 1878 that his wife, Sal, Sarah Alecia, died in St Thomas's Hospital. (the old building being nearer than the newer one by Westminster Bridge). He could have moved from Bedfordbury to Lambeth already. His mother, Sarah, née Phipps, had died in 1866 and as the eldest surviving son it was perhaps his responsibility to keep the coffee shop running. Within a few months, at the beginning of 1879, he married again, to Sophie or Sophia from Oxfordshire who was then about 40. Harry was just 19, Lizzie 16, Thomas about 13, Frank about 12, Ada 11, and William was just 8.
Henry's was a marriage not destined to last as he himself was the next to fall ill after barely 18 months and died, only ten days since terrible floods which must have affected the shop.
Owners of properties on the riversides were obliged by law to keep their embankments at a particular level - 17 ft 6 ins in 1880. In 1881 the tide reached that level on January 18th . The Times newspaper reported the next day that a "calamitous high tide" had resulted in extensive flooding to the low-lying areas between Blackfriars and Westminster Bridges. It was the area of Commercial Road and Waterloo which suffered most, many buildings being flooded to a depth of 5½ ft. It is highly likely that the coffee shop was one of those that suffered from it. Family members who knew it describe the front of the building as one storey higher than the back, so the land must fall sharply away not far from the river.
Henry died of pneumonia on January 28th 1881 having been ill for two months. Both Sarah and Henry could be said to be victims of their environment like William's family before them.
For a while Sophia, as Henry's widow, seems to have acted as the coffee house keeper, being listed as such on the 1881 census, while William was only named as a 'retired sawyer'. Harry was 21 at that time, and listed as a joiner (which implies an apprenticeship!) who is known to have worked later on at least in that capacity for Hall Bedall's. In his will Henry left just under £300 to Sophia (worth in today's money well into a five figure sum). Most of the work in the coffee shop should now have depended on her and she is listed in 1881 as the coffee house keeper. William is described as a retired sawyer and Harry was not yet 21
Towards the end of his life William's eyesight was beginning to fail.. Though he was not listed on the 1881 Census as officially blind - though he was so described by his granddaughter Ada - his sight was presumably too poor for him to find his way about the streets. (The area must also have been very subject to the notorious London fogs, especially being low-lying). Ada was delegated to take him to church on Sundays, a task she disliked as she feared being nicknamed 'Little Nell.' especially as the route often took them past the Marshalsea, the debtors' prison which would have been a very forbidding place with 'shady characters' often lurking around the entrance. William also had a habit of changing churches quite often if he didn't like the preacher!
Ada's subsequent history can be found on the Barnes page as she was married before the next census, 1891, and the rest of Henry's family are listed on the Cope family page. When asked about her family however Ada preferred to remember her grandfather from when she was three, about 1871, sitting on his knee and playing with his watch and chain - that is, her first memory when asked, not her last! There was no way she could have confused him with her other grandfather, father of Ada's mother Sarah Alecia, as Nicholas Arrowsmith is listed on Sarah's marriage to Henry in 1852 as 'deceased')
William died on 15 Sep 1883 at the age of 86 leaving £100 in his will (close on a 5 figure sum in 2012) but it is not known for sure who would have received the money without a copy (not easily available being after 1858). Did it go to his grandson Harry, not yet 'head' of the household in 1883, or to Edwin as his eldest surviving son? Or to Sophia who might have been hoping....?
The coffee shop business passed then to Harry as eldest son of Henry, probably after his marriage to Alice Pemberton, in the Jun Q of 1884, being then aged 24 [Go to coffee2 for more details, Harry's family and subsequent history] What happened to Sophia is not known, whether she remarried, wanted to run the coffee shop or not, or when she died.. She has not been found again either on any censuses or on marriage or death records. No doubt the arrangement was just as before - Harry was legally the 'proprietor' as married women could not then own property which automatically passed to their husbands. It would have been the womenfolk who mainly ran the coffee shop for the next fifty years, including another three years after Harry died in 1931
No. 35 was demolished in 1934 when the coffee shop finally closed and it was replaced by a large Post Office. This was in turn demolished after 1945 and the area, close to the National Theatre, is now believed to be part of the Coin St complex, a car park!
Probable records for the last two children have been traced recently, Charles having turned up alive on the 1861 census with a death record for later in 1861- the only one found - and two Ellens being recorded as dying in 1852 in Lambeth. Death certificates have not been obtained for either of these (the priority being for those surviving and on the 'main' family line). Ellen only appears 'at home' on the 1851 census and probably did die at the age of four. A death of a Charles Cope is recorded in Lambeth in the Sep Q 1861 [Vol 1d p.182] but ages were not included at that time. There is also a record of a marriage in the Mar Q 1867, when he would have been 21, to an Ann or an Eliza [Lambeth Vol.1d p.462] but neither of these have produced a match in 1871 and the names are far too common to look further beyond Lambeth or Southwark.
The London & Southampton railway was extended to Waterloo Road and the new Waterloo Bridge Station built in 1848. No 35 Commercial Rd was in 'Sub District 1, Waterloo Road First' - the station is in fact on Waterloo Rd at the western end of Commercial Rd (now Upper Ground St) and must have had a considerable impact on the area, with the branch line to London Bridge crossing Cornwall Rd.
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