Maria Cockrell – Part 1: a life of extremes

This story follows on from a blog entitled A Bit More on the Felthams which left us with unanswered questions. To recap, Maria was the late Raymond Feltham’s great grandmother, married to James Feltham, and the mother of a single child, Jimmy Feltham who was Raymond’s grandfather.  At first glance it appears that Maria was a lowly nurse and yet her single grave sports a striking tombstone erected in Chitterne by persons other than her family, with no mention of her husband on the inscription. We were intrigued, to say the least.

Since Maria’s letters were discovered by the Feltham family at 98 Codford Road after Raymond’s death, we now know much more about her life. She was born on 1st February 1837, the eldest child of William Cockrell of Chitterne St Mary and Susan Jemima Euphemia Daniels of Imber, known as Euphemia. The Cockrells lived at Chitterne St Mary where William was a carrier and Euphemia a laundress.

Maria letter
part of a letter from Maria

Maria was clearly able to read and write so would probably have been one of the first children in Chitterne to attend the Elementary School opened in 1840 on the site of the present Village Hall. Her interest in education lasted all her life as she constantly sought to improve her own efforts and later, in her letters to her son, encouraged him to improve his writing and spelling by attending night-school. Her words to young Jimmy must have struck home since later Jimmy’s own daughters and his great grandson became teachers, either at Sunday School or in main stream education.

school
Chitterne School early 1900s

Sadly, Maria’s life took a downturn at age four in 1841, when her father William died aged 32 years. By 1851 Maria was working as a servant, and probably nurse, to elderly widower Thomas Hayter, a retired grocer and former Parish Clerk of Chitterne All Saints. In 1856 Maria was 19, and unmarried, when she became pregnant, not an unusual occurrence, but most pregnant women in those days married before the birth, not so Maria.  With interesting timing, her employer Thomas died and was buried just two days before Maria gave birth to her son Jimmy on the 23rd January 1857.

Maria’s mother Euphemia, who had remarried two years earlier to widower Isaac Windsor, took Maria and the baby in. From the letters we can tell that Maria was very close to her mother. Five years later she writes to Euphemia remembering Thomas Hayter’s passing and the birth of Jimmy, always connected in her mind:

“if you had shut the door of your house and your heart, then I might have been outcast on the wide world now”.

Later that year Maria married James Feltham, a coal hawker son of William and Elizabeth Feltham of Chitterne St Mary, who we must assume was Jimmy’s father. But Maria’s luck had not yet turned. The most harrowing of Maria’s letters to her mother concern the trials and tribulations she suffered at the hands of James Fetham, who turned out to be a drunk, often in trouble with the law and treated her very badly.

But Maria was a resourceful woman. To be continued….

 

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Maria Cockrell – Part 1: a life of extremes

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