John Edward Cotgrave was about 60 when in 1930 he published The ABC of Roofing, described in the subtitle as Practical Construction in Common Workshop Language. Cotgrave had, he claimed, “endeavoured as far as possible to treat this subject matter in its simplest form” and he wrote, “I firmly believe that the book will not be beyond the intelligence and capacity of the ordinary carpenter”. Forty-four pages of instructions and diagrams that would supposedly make it straightforward to construct a roof, “whatever the covering may be,” with examples given as tiles, lead or copper.
Born in 1869 in Chorlton in Manchester, the son of a bricklayer, John had obviously felt a strong connection with his mother because he used her maiden name, Wint, as a middle name when he signed his name in the marriage register in 1893.
But it was his father’s occupation in the construction industry that he aimed to perfect, at various times being described as a bricklayer, a mason and a builder, but finally specialising in his 40s as a “joiner and cabinet maker”.
On several occasions, he thought the opportunities might be greater on the other side of the Atlantic, arriving in the USA and listed as a permanent immigrant in 1906, again in 1907 and yet again in 1914. He and his family may have stayed for some years (they do not appear to be listed in the 1921 UK census) but by 1930, he was back in Manchester, where The ABC of Roofing was published by John Heywood, a specialist in practical books that ordinary people could use to improve their skills, knowledge and opportunities.
They would need also need tools. “It should,” said John Cotgrave, “be the aim and ambition of every carpenter and joiner to possess a complete drawing outfit, comprised of a decent size drawing board, a T-square, also two set squares – 45 and 60 degrees – also a moderate set of drawing instruments”. Armed with these, and with a copy of The ABC of Roofing, “then the deeper will be your research and interest until you become the master of your work”.
The book must have proved reasonably popular because a a new version appeared in 1948, reprinted again in 1956. Although billed as a “Second Edition,” the contents were in fact unchanged and the only difference was a newly-designed cover.
But John was dead by the time the new edition appeared. On 18 November 1943, his family recorded John Edward Cotgrave’s age as 70, but he was actually 74 when he passed away where he had been born in Manchester, of heart degeneration, chronic bronchitis and high blood pressure . His “Rank or Profession” was recorded as “formerly a joiner”.
Ellis Island Index (available on FamilySearch)
Census of England and Wales 1871-1921
Passengers Leaving the UK 1890-1960 (available on FindMyPast)
Parish Register for Manchester (available on Ancestry)
Death Certificate 18 November 1943