Wednesday - 30 July 2014

Familiar window on the past for buyer and his father

04 January 2012Written by Ivan Macquisten

WHEN three beautifully illustrated diaries dated 1871, 1881/2 and 1896 were advertised for auction by Chilcotts of Honiton recently, they stirred vivid memories in a 90-year-old retired solicitor.

Not only did he remember the diarist, who died at the age of 90 in 1936, but as a small boy aged five he had also been his fishing companion.

What's more his own father had bought the Wincanton offices that had housed the diarist's solicitor's business, continuing the legal tradition in the Georgian building as a solicitor himself. And the diaries and accompanying sketch book depict those very offices, among other scenes from Victorian life.

With all this in mind, it was hardly surprising that he sent his own son - a practising solicitor in the very same offices today - to bid for the lot, which he secured on December 10 at £700 against a £150-200 estimate.

George Henry Cooper (born 1846) was a resident of Wincanton and the diaries give a vivid daily account of his life as a country gentleman and solicitor, as well as details of world politics and historical events.

An active cricketer (he was a founder member and first president of Wincanton Cricket Club), the diaries list monies spent on cricket goods and white paint. He was also keen on country sports and describes days spent racing (George Cooper was also involved in the early Wincanton Races), hunting and shooting, listing the number and type of game bagged, his shooting companions and the weather conditions.

Further entries chronicle his cycle rides to the surrounding towns and descriptions of what he ate and drank, as well as his money worries.

The entries are accompanied by detailed watercolour drawings of the events as well as of his friends, family and interiors.

At the front of the 1881 diary written in pencil and underlined in colour is the entry: N.B. This diary was at Marlborough House in 1882 for the young Princess of Wales amusement GHC.

The sketchbook is bound in a tooled and embossed maroon hard cover and is dedicated at the front by Edward Yalden Cooper 1863 (George Cooper's father, also a solicitor in South Street, Wincanton). The stuck-in sketches show a family holiday in Kirkcudbright as well as scenes of his family life and events.

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Above: a diary entry illustrating a day's shooting.

Liz Chilcott, from the auctioneers, is delighted that the diaries and sketchbooks have now returned to what would have been their original home.

"What's interesting is that the buyer and his father can identify their own father's office in the sketches, albeit as it would have appeared in Victorian times."

She is also interested in the diaries as a social document, because of the details they give about specific individuals, such as shopkeepers, who can be traced using other local records via the internet.

One of the people who Cooper wrote about was a Mr Sweetman, she said, a stationer from whom Cooper bought a music box in 1896 to give his father as a Christmas present.

The buyer's premiumwas 17.5%

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