Something happened to Thomas Cotgrave in 1793 and it’s hard to work out what. Born in Chester in about 1740, he had taken over the dancing school of his former teacher William Pickmore in 1767. By then he was married to Susannah Farrell, the daughter of a wealthy customs officer. For some reason, he had given himself the middle name Clayton when he signed the marriage register, but he had never done so before and never did so again.
At this point, money does not seem to have been a problem – Thomas was the eldest son of a successful local doctor and his wife and her sisters inherited substantial property from her family. He had accounts with local tradesmen and those from father afield, apparently spending time with his family in Bath. He had the funds to set up his children in professions – Jonathan became an army surgeon, George an attorney, for example.
And he bought for himself and his growing family a newly-built house in Nicholas Street in Chester, which came with stabling in the mews and a variety of outhouses and “appurtenances”. Each year, he paid the rates – known as the land tax – associated with the house. He was well known about town as a dancing master, and once his eldest son, William, was old enough they jointly ran the business, teaching fashionable youngsters on their own account and at other local educational establishments, such as Mrs Franks’s Boarding School for young ladies. Each year “Mr Cotgrave and son” advertised a ball in the largest local hotel for their pupils to show off their skills.
But in 1793, Thomas Cotgrave suddenly sold his house in Nicholas Street and moved a couple of hundred yards to Watergate Street.
And in doing so, he released a huge amount of equity, selling the old house (to his brother in law) for £860, but paying only £420 for the new one.
It is difficult to believe he was hard up, but less than two years later, he borrowed a further £300 against the value of the Watergate Street property, so he must have needed (or wanted) the cash for something. By this time, he may have been unwell – he went with his wife and daughter for a break to the up-and-coming resort of Hoylake three weeks after signing the mortgage. And just a few weeks later in July 1795, the Chester newspapers were reporting sad news.
By 1800, the house in Watergate was standing empty, and although it was subsequently rented out, eventually, Thomas’s son William borrowed a further £200 using it as security and then took out another £100 mortgage. In the end, his only option was to sell it.
A hint about what may have been swallowing up the cash had come just a few days after Thomas’s death. A notice appeared informing interested parties that, just two weeks later, a farm in Tarvin that had belonged to Mr Cotgrave would be auctioned off. All the household goods and furniture, four horses, four cows and two colts, various pieces of farm equipment, the larger post-chaise cart and the two-seater that the horses had pulled and also a large quantity of hay, both stored and standing grass ready to be cut. Perhaps the farm had been a money-draining hobby.
College of Arms: Howard MS
Chester Archives and Local Studies: WC Thomas Cotgrave 1800; Parish Register of St Peter’s Church; WS Frances Catherall 1781; ZC2C/11/12; WS William Earle 1780; DSA/229; CAS/2
Manchester Mercury, 3 Feb 1767
Ormerod, G, History of the County Palatine of Chester, Vol 2, p.676
The Chester Guide, 1781, p.83 and 1782, p.86
The Directory and Guide for the City and County of Chester, W Cowdray, 1789
Saunders News-Letter, 12 Jan 1789
Chester Chronicle, 11 Dec 1789, 10 Dec 1790, 24 July 1795
Cheshire Courant, 2 April 1795, 30 June 1795, 21 July 1795, 28 July 1795, 7 Aug 1795
Collection of title deeds in private hands