The Local Historians: 3 Edward Cooke

Our third 18th century historian is Wolverton-born Edward Cooke, or Edward Cook, as he appears in the parish register of Holy Trinity. The “e was probably added later.

Edward Cook was born at Wolverton Park Farmhouse in 1772, possibly in a house that preceded the present house at Wolverton Turn as that house dates from the 1780s. His father, also Edward, farmed about 300 acres in the central Wolverton farm known as Park Farm. Edward Cook senior farmed until his death in 1795 and his widow, Mary, carried on until her death in 1809. After that the farm was parcelled up with other farms and the farmhouse was rented out. It became the residence of J  E McConnell during his stint as locomotive superintendent from 1847 – 1861 and in the 20th century post WWII period it was the home of the military historian Basil Liddell-Hart.

His father was comparatively well off and able to send his young son to Berkhampstead School and later to Exeter College at Oxford. He proved to be a diligent student and took his master’s degree in 1790. In 1799 he was awarded a law degree. He was given the living of Haversham in 1802 and lived at the rectory until his death.

There are some parallels with William Cole. Both men developed their antiquarian interests while at university and both men remained single all their lives and devoted themselves to collecting and recording.  Cooke also built up an extensive library. Like Cole he did not publish, but this may rather due to not living long enough to finish his work. He died in 1824.
Fortunately his friend and contemporary George Lipscomb inherited his library and notes and went on to compile his History of Buckinghamshire, and this will be discussed in the next post. Edward Cooke was perhaps the first great historian of the Wolverton area, yet he is largely unknown and unrecognised. Were it not for Lipscomb we may have remained unaware of his work.
What follows is Lipscomb’s own account of the life of Edward Cooke.

He was succeeded in this Rectory by Edward Cooke, A.M. and LL.B., instituted 6 April 1802, on the presentation of Thomas Kitelee, Gent., of Castlethorpc, hy grant for this turn only, from Alexander Small, Esq., of Clifton Reynes. He was horn at Wolverton, near Stoney-Stratford, 18 March 1772, being the son of Edward Cooke, an opulent Yeoman, of that village; and received the rudiments of his education at Bcrkhampstcad School, Co. Herts; was matriculated at Oxford; of Exeter Coll. 19 Nov. 1780; took the degree of A.M. 19 April 1790; and LL.B. 13 June 1799: was ordained Deacon 31 May 1795; and Priest 22 May 1800, on a title to the Curacies of Haversham and Hardmead. He was a man of plain and unaffected manners; a diligent Parish Priest; a good neighbour; a cheerful contributor to the relief of distress; and a liberal encourager of honest industry. He erected at his own expense, a Sunday-school, and provided for the instruction of all the poor children in his parish: and was the principal instrument in the establishment of a very extensive and beneficial Society, for the mutual support and advantage of the neighbouring villages and parishes of Haversham, Castlethorpe, Hanslape, Paulerspury, Stoney-Stratford, St. Giles and St. Mary Magdalen, Wolverton, Shenley, Loughton, Bradwell, Stanton-Barry, Great Linford, Little Linford, and Cos-grove (Co. Northampton;) of which Institution, he personally superintended the management and regulation, until prevented by illness, in the year immediately preceding his death. His attainments as a scholar, were of the first order. Few amongst the most eminent literary characters of the age have united to great strength of intellectual penetration and acuteness, so remarkable a degree of zeal and industry, as distinguished him in his literary pursuits. His inclination led him more particularly to the study of the Laws of his country; and he was so intimately well versed in every thing which relates to its history, antiquities, and jurisprudence, that upon these subjects, his mind was regarded a complete dictionary of useful knowledge, over accessible to those who desired bis advice or assistance; and it was well remarked, by a good and experienced judge of character in his neighbourhood, that, although he passed the far greater portion of his time in seclusion and retirement, there was scarcely any individual in the County who had so much advanced the public good: and it might be truly adduced, in support of that opinion, that during the whole course of his residence in a district abounding with contrarieties of opinions, both political and ecclesiastical, scarcely any instance occurred of bis mild and sensible interposition between contending and conflicting parties having failed to effect friendly reconciliation: and that very few instances (if any,) occurred during his constant residence of twenty years, in which the expence of a law-suit was incurred by his parishioners; so that it would only he a honest, not a complimentary tribute to his worth, to apply to him those beautiful lines of a distinguished poet:

Does lacerated friendship mourn?

Does grief, or want, or age, or sickness ask relief? The good Samaritan allays the smart,

Binding up the wound, and heals the breaking heart!

He was a large contributor to many of the periodical publications of his time; and though not the avowed author of any published work bearing his name, is known to have afforded his co-operative assistance to many distinguished writers;  some of whom have not had sufficient gratitude to acknowledge their obligations to his pen. He was an assiduous collector of books; possessed a very extensive library, particularly in the departments of theology, law, history, antiquities, and classical literature; and including Hint immense collection of books and manuscripts relative to the history of his native County, of which, by his generous beneficence, the writer has so largely availed himself in the compilation of this work. “The History of Whaddon Chase,” which, if his life had been spared, was in such forwardness, that the single sheet which had been printed a little before his death, might have bad the benefit of his corrections and completion, is but a very insufficient specimen of his style of composition; clear, nervous, and precise, without affectation or redundance. He died at his Parson age-house, after a very long and severe illness, 27 Feb. 1824; and was buried in the Churchyard, under a plain flat stone, with the initials “E. C,” and date of the year, according to his own directions: and having a small tablet of white marble affixed over the door of the Church porch, inscribed with the following words:



Rev. Edoarui Cooke, A.M. et LL.B.
Haversham Rector. 

qur ob. 27 Feb. 1824, aet. 52.