There is a small cottage in the High Street in Thornbury. It is so small that it does not seem to have qualified for a house number. It is owned by the Town Council of Thornbury and let out to a local person for use as a workshop and storeroom.
It is often referred to in Council documents only as “Miss Saise’s Cottage” and yet it qualifies to have a plaque on the front (see below). The plaque says that Handel Cossham MP was born in the house and describes him as a Non-Conformist Preacher, Industrialist, Geologist Politician Educationalist and Public Benefactor. It is an impressive list but even this does not quite do justice to contribution that Handel and his family made to life in Thornbury.
The photograph above is the building as it is now. We also have a thumbnail image below right of a sketch. We do not know how accurate this sketch is of the old house, but some of the features are still discernible. Please click on it for a larger image.
It will require much more research to establish a picture of the original size of the property which comprised not only the house but also the garden and orchard behind it and to trace the history of the buildings that have been on it. What we appear to have established so far is that it is (or at least part of) a property called the The Fraternity. References to this property seem to go back as far as the fifteenth century.
The value of the orchard and garden behind (and at that time next to) the house was presumably the reason why the Cossham family bought this property in 1782. The extract on the left shows that the house now known only as “Miss Saise’s Cottage” was allotted number 102 on the Tithe Apportionment Map of 1840. It can be clearly seen that the house had an extension on the back of it and at least one out-building in the narrow part of the garden immediately behind the house. The garden then opened out into a much larger area behind the Wesleyan Chapel (number 106 on the Tithe Apportionment. However we know that at the time when George Cossham bought this property it included a whole acre of ground called the Town Orchard and that part of it was used by members the Cossham family who were carpenters to build five houses that became numbers 73 to 81 High Street.
A lot has been written about Handel Cossham, a major benefactor of the Town. Biographies of him often include the statement that he was born in the same house as his grandfather and his father. Indeed the entry on Wikipedia at present claims that even Handel’s great-grandfather was born in the same house. As few records state in which actual property a person was born, we can not confirm whether this is true. Indeed from what we know so far it seems unlikely that Handel’s grandfather Richard was born in the house. Richard was born 36 years before the cottage was bought by George Cossham (although we have not yet seen all the records showing the tenants of the property). It does seem however that the house and land were owned by the Cossham family for four generations. The first of these owners was George Cossham.
George Cossham – George bought the property from James Tyler on 1st/2nd October 1782. He is listed as the owner in the 1783 land tax record. When George wrote his will in 1785 he left his son, Richard Cossham, ‘the messuage wherein Robert Facey doth now dwell with garden and orchard in the High Street which I purchased (with other premises hereinafter devised to my son Jesse) of James Tyler‘. We don’t think George ever lived in the house, certainly not after he bought it. Click here to read about George
Richard Cossham – Richard Cossham was born in 1748, one of the nine children of George Cossham and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Witchell).
We found a handwritten note in the Gloucester Records Office which appears to be an attempt at recording an abstract of title for this house (now Miss Saise’s Cottage). Presumably it was written in the early 1800s when Richard Cossham owned it. The note says that George Cossham bought this property from James Tyler with a lease and release of 1st and 2nd October 1782. By 1783 the land tax records confirm that the property was owned by George Cossham but show that it was occupied by Robert Facey with a tax of 4s 8d. George Cossham died in 1789 and was buried on 6th May.
This means that we know Richard Cossham’s father owned the little house in the High Street. We also know that Richard inherited it from his father. In 1790, after the death of George Cossham the land tax records show only that it was owned by the devisees of George Cossham. The entry also describes the house and garden as “premises in the High Street formerly called The Fraternity and occupied by one John Baineham, and since belonging to John Hughes and now (belonging) to devisees of George Cossham deceased” and occupied by Robert Facey butcher. The amount of rent payable was two shillings. By October 1799 the annual rent charge of 2/- payable under the terms of the terms of the Fraternity confirms that Richard Cossham was now the chief tenant. However, it also indicates that the property was in the occupation of Thomas Walker senior.
In the excellent little booklet about the Cossham family written and published by Susan Dean she says she hasn’t found any trace of Richard’s marriage. He is known however to have had at least two children: Jesse was born in 1799 and baptised at Thornbury Independent Chapel on 18th July 1819. Richard also had a daughter, Ursula born about 1803. We note the IGI has an entry of a marriage of Ursula Shepherd Cossham (see below) which might indicate the maiden name of Richard’s wife.
Richard died on 11th March 1829 and left the house to his son, Jesse. s executor. The will also makes clear that he was living in this house with his son Jesse as it says; “I give and devise all that my messuage or dwellinghouse wherein I now dwell with the garden and appurtenances thereto adjoining and belonging situate in the Borough of Thornbury aforesaid on the east side of the High Street alias the Fore Street unto Jesse Cossham now residing with me.”
Jesse Cossham – was born on 18th October 1799, the son of Richard Cossham (see above). His father left Jesse the house known as Miss Saise Cottage and Jesse made this his home, although they did moe away for a time. Click the link above to read about Jesse.
Jesse died on 20th May 1887. In his will dated 10th March 1886, Jesse made various financial bequests to the Deacons of the Independent Chapel, his housekeeper, Esther Saise, his niece Elizabeth Thomas and his nephews Edward Richard Woodham and Samuel Woodham, and other local people. He left to Esther Saise his freehold messuage garden and premises now known as 10 Upper Bath Road and if she was still in his employ at the time of his death she would be allowed to remain in the house in the High Street until her death.
Handel Cossham – Handel was born on 31st March 1824, the son of Jesse Cossham and his wife, Sarah. It was often said that he was born in the same house that his father, grandfather and great grandfather had been born. However as we have explained in some detail above, we have no evidence to prove or disprove this assertion.
Although Handel moved away from Thornbury and became rich and famous he never forgot his birthplace and early home. Handel had a new British School built in 1862 at the cost of £700 and this later became Gillingstool Primary School. In 1888 Handel bought the old Wesleyan Chapel in Thornbury for £150 and he gifted it to the a group of trustees for use of a public hall. This became The Cossham Hall.
In 1890 he was in process of gifting the Town another property, the one known as Miss Saise’s Cottage, whilst ensuring Esther Saise’s life interest in the property. This would have provided the opportunity to expand the Hall and provide an alternative access to it directly from the High Street. However Handel died before the conveyance could be completed. As pressure mounted on the Parish Council (who had taken over the management of The Cossham Hall from the trustees) to expand the Hall, they attempted to find ways of achieving this. They finally agreed to purchase a sufficient area of the garden of the cottage to allow the new buildings to be erected, thus protecting Esther’s life interest in the cottage. Handel died on 23rd April 1890 in the National Liberal Club in London. Click here to read about Handel Cossham’s life.
In Jesse’s will Esther is referred to as his housekeeper. She was in fact also a relation, his niece by his marriage to Sarah Shepherd. We had understood from the book ‘The Cossham Story’ that Esther was the daughter of Jesse’s sister, Ursula, who married Thomas Saise, a builder from Bristol. However we are extremely grateful to Vicki Matthew, a descendant of the Saise family, for her research which allows us to correct the misunderstanding over Ursula’s marriage and the relationship of Esther to Jesse. Vicki has shown that Esther (or Hester) Saise was the daughter of Thomas Saise, a carpenter from Haverfordwest, who settled in Thornbury with his wife, Elizabeth Shepherd, before moving to Bristol. Thomas and Elizabeth married in Bristol on 23rd July 1837. Thomas and Elizabeth had two children, Esther (or Hester) and James. Esther was born in Thornbury on 19th May 1838 and James also born there on 1st February 1840. Although the couple have not been traced in the 1841 census, their son James was living with his aunt, Jane Shepherd, in Thornbury. Elizabeth died at East Street, St Pauls, Bristol on 2nd February 1841. Thomas married again – his second wife was Jane Millard. In the 1851 census Thomas, Jane, Hester, James and another son, William, are living in Narrow Weir, Bristol. As regards to the explanation of the relationship of Jesse and Esther, we believe that Hester was the niece of Jesse’s wife, Sarah (nee Shepherd). Esther’s brother, James, joined the Royal Navy in 1855. Click here to read about James
Esther continued to live at Jesse’s small house in the High Street. This house between 67 High Street and 69 High Street, became known as “Miss Saise’s Cottage.” It is surprising to see that in the 1911 census the cottage was said to have six rooms.
On 26th September 1898 the Parish Council approved a scheme for developing the Cossham Hall and authorised arrangements for a loan of £500 to fund the work. In order for them to undertake the work they needed some of the land belonging to the cottage. On 5th November Miss Kate Robinson, who was entitled to the reversion of Miss Saise’s cottage as a result of the failed conveyance in 1890, agreed to complete the conveyance and on 16th January 1899 Esther Saise surrendered her life interest in a piece of her garden sufficient in size for the proposed extension for £30 in compensation.
Esther died on 22nd December 1914. In her last will dated 11th July 1906, Esther left her home to the Parish Council and devised her other real estate to her trustees, William Davis Canning and William John Allen, to sell. William Davis Canning died before Esther Saise so it was left to William John Allen to sell the property.
The Thornbury Chronicle of 19th January 1915 had an article to the effect that the Clerk reported that Miss Saise recently died and her house and premises in High Street now come to Parish Council in connection with the scheme to enlarge the Cossham Hall. We understand from newspaper reports that the Council’s initial plans were to demolish the house and build a new one, but the Government announced an order preventing the demolition of any cottages.
The cost of redeveloping the existing building was expensive and the Council failed to agree on the plans. At a crowded Parish Meeting in June 1924, Frank Symes, a Councillor referred to the building as being ‘a white elephant’ and ‘a noble gift which had become a burden on the community’. He was concerned that the creation of a passageway through the small cottage would make the rest of the cottage untenantable and therefore unable to produce any rental income to pay back the cost of the work. Councillor Leonard Pitcher asked whether the property was any benefit to the town in its present state and was it just an ornament. A motion to forget the scheme was approved by 49 votes to 24 against.
We don’t think that anyone has lived in the cottage since Esther’s death. Since that time, the building has been forgotten, mainly used as a store. Although it displays the plaque alerting people to the historical connections of the property, few people in Thornbury appreciate the full significance of its history. In the future, the building may be incorporated in plans being developed for a modern arts and community facility. If this is the case, then it is hoped that the building can be used sympathetically and regain a place in Thornbury’s history.