« Previous | Main | Next »

Tracking Alfred Cottam

Post categories:

Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 17:25 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2012

A couple of weeks ago my blog was devoted to two images I found on my computer while spring cleaning.

By way of an update, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that I haven't even managed to narrow down the Lil Wilson who lived at 10 Mountjoy Street in Newport in 1918. However, I have a cunning plan which involves visiting the Gwent archives in Ebbw Vale to examine the electoral registers, although this plan might be a disaster since women under the aged of 30 did not get the vote until 1928.

But I have good news about to the gentleman in the image below.

Ironically, for someone who writes a blog on the world wide web, if only I had tried searching Google rather than searching my memory I would have found him.

Arthur Cottam

Alfred Cottam was not from Barry or Aberystwyth as I thought. Nor was he a fisherman as I brazenly announced on my blog. He was the mechanic of the Tenby lifeboat from 1933 to 1948 and was awarded the RNLI Bronze medal for his part in the rescue of eight men from the streamer Fermanagh in 1938.

There has also been a book published about Alfred Cottam. 'A Tenby Lifeboat Family' by Avis Nixon.

Avis is the sixth of seven children born to parents Alfred Cottam and Annie Ethel Webb who met and married in London in 1922.

"At about 4.30 in the morning of January 15 1938 the coastguard at Tenby, Pembrokeshire, reported that a small steamer was in distress. She was the Fermanagh, of Belfast, bound light for Llanelly. A gale was blowing from the south west, with frequent gusts at hurricane force. At 5.15 the motor lifeboat John R. Webb was launched and found the Fermanagh had come off the rocks and was drifting before the gale, her stern sinking, her bows in the air. The lifeboat crew could see men aboard her. The second coxswain at once took the lifeboat alongside, handling her with great skill in the heavy seas. She was there only a few seconds. In that time the eight men of the Fermanagh's crew had jumped aboard her. The lifeboat made at once for Tenby, arriving at 8.30am. After landing the rescued men, she put out again to search for the master, but could find no trace of him. The weather was so bad that the lifeboat could not be rehoused until 4.15 in the afternoon" (Ref. Minutes of the Committee Meeting).

For their gallant services Second Coxswain John Rees was awarded the RNLI silver Medal, and mechanic Alfred Cottam was awarded the bronze. The remaining seven members of the crew of the Tenby Lifeboat were awarded the Thanks of the Institution inscribed on vellum.

It turns out that at the launch of her book Avis was reunited with the son of the ship's mate John Macarthur and has also been in touch with John Shanks, both of whose fathers were members of the Fermanagh's crew. There is no doubt that without the Tenby Lifeboat they simply would not exist.

It seemed there was not much I could add to Alfred Cottam's story that his family did not already know. However, Avis Nixon mentioned that the family had had broken up during World War Two and Avis had no idea where her father was buried, or when he had died, or what had become of his RNLI bravery medal.

She also told me that she did not have access to the internet and had not been able to clarify some of the Cottam family history details.

So, these newer details below are especially for you Avis.

Alfred Cottam was born in 1897 in Middlesbrough. He was the only child of Harry Cottam and Catherine D. Johnson who married in the December quarter of 1894, also in Middlesbrough. On the 1901 census the family lived at 151 Stockton Street in the parish of St Hilda's, along with the Johnson family (Nixon's paternal grandmother's family).

By the 1911 census the family moved to 39 Tennyson Street. Their entry confirms that Alfred was the only child born to Catherine Cottam, and that she was from Middlesbrough. It seems that Harry was born in 1871 in Llanrwst in Denbighshire.

A quick look at the 1891 census shows Harry living with his parents George (a furnaceman, born 1825) and Mary (born 1822 in Llanrwst) at 94 Lime Street in Middlesbrough. Also with them are Harry's brother George and sister Emily.

The old electoral registers available online for London via www.ancestry.co.uk reveal that in the 1920s Alfred Cottam had moved to London and was living at 29 Mellish Street in Poplar. In the same house lived Albert Victor Webb and Ellen Webb - these could well be Avis Nixon's maternal grandparents.

The passenger lists provide a further revelation into the life of Alfred Cottam. In 1925 he is listed as a passenger embarking in Calcutta on board the Manora travelling home to Mellish Street, with the occupation of marine engineer. In 1927 he travelled home from Kingston on board the Carare aged 30.

A little bit more Googling resulted in finding an entry for a medal awarded to Alfred Cottam.

Lot number 112 on 25 September 2008 sold at auction in London.

DNW  - RNLI medal

Lot 112, 25 Sep 08 RNLI medal (Image provided by Dix Noonan Webb)

An email quickly confirmed that this was Alfred's medal. The RNLI medal was sold at auction, still in its original case, for the sum of £720.

Although the auction house, Dix Noonan Webb, cannot divulge the name of any buyer they suggested that if Avis or other Cottam family members would like to write a letter or email to the purchaser, then send it to them with a covering note (stating sale date and lot number), they would be happy to pass it on and hopefully the person concerned would reply to them directly.

Which just leaves his death and burial as unknown facts for Avis and her family.

I've found a few people on GenesReunited who have Alfred Cottam and his father Harry in their family trees, but so far nobody has been able to help. Can you?



More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.