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Death of Thomas Alderson Cooke



Thomas Alderson Cooke was born into a rich family in Salford. He moved to Peterborough where he became a local magistrate, Sherriff of Northamptonshire and later High Sherriff. He married Julia Image, the daughter of the late vicar of St John's church John Image. Together they had 12 children, 10 of whom survived childhood. He had 4 wives in total, including a very public annulment of the marriage to his second wife Charlotte Squires. She was from a successful merchant family, but was many years younger than him. Thomas Alderson Cooke is best remembered for commissioning a large mansion on Priestgate in 1816, on Neville Place, which is home to Peterborough Museum. He is also credited with building the Dower House on the corner of Trinity Street. It was built in the 1840s for his fourth wife Mary. It was a church for some years, which is how it gained a spire, and is currently a nursery. A well-respected magistrate for many years, he continued to preside until the week before he died, despite being incapacitated. He died in December 1854, after which his house was bought by the Fitzwilliams in an auction and gifted to the city as an infirmary.  

Mary Cooke’s Dower House



Several buildings on Priestgate are worthy of merit through age and architecture, but none are as unusual than Mary Cooke's Dower House. The house is correctly credited to the hand of Thomas Alderson Cooke, owner of Priestgate Mansion. However, it has been incorrectly associated to the divorce of his second wife Charlotte Squires. It was originally believed that the dower house was given to Charlotte when she and Thomas divorced. But newspaper reports from the time reveal that Thomas had the marriage annulled. Because they did not divorce, no money or property was owed to Charlotte. Furthermore, documents kept in Northamptonshire Archives reveal that the dower house was not built until 1840's, over 20 years after his annulment! By this point Thomas had moved on to his fourth wife Mary. His will of 1854 reveals how he had left the house for his 'dear Mary' to live in upon his death. A later conveyance from 1863 from Mary Cooke detailed: '[Thomas] Cooke devised to his wife for her life the mansion house he had lately erected next door to his mansion, together with land he had lately purchased extending southward from the garden wall.' Sadly, there is no evidence that Mary lived in the house. Thomas died in 1854 and by the 1861 census she was already living in London with her daughter and son-in-law (who was also her step son) and conveyancing relating to the house gave her address as London too. References: The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2204 Abstract of conveyance from Mrs Mary Cooke and others to William Vergette, ref ZB1826/01 accessed via (Northamptonshire Records Office)