Cobbold & kin: life stories from an East Anglian family
by Clive Hodges, Boydell, 2014, £25
With an introduction by John Blatchly, this volume - intended to be the first of several on different aspects of the Cobbold dynasty - has chapters on industry & agriculture, faith, the arts, empire, public service, science and academia, sport and military service. This gives us a flavour of the huge range of personalities to be found attached to the Cobbold family tree. The family so intimately associated with Ipswich and its history is deserving of study both penetrating and sympathetic and we find both here.
Going back to Thomas Cobbold (1680-1752), the founder of the once-famous brewery, the Cobbolds are definitely 'trade', that is, 'new money'. Growing in commercial success, wealth and power over the decades these Cobbolds had the knack of diversifying into politics, religion, banking and many other activities and marrying into all strata of society. Thus it is that we find Lady Evelyn Cobbold (1867-1963), daughter of a Scottish Earl and the first British-born Moslem woman to make the Hajj, rubbing metaphorical shoulders with the actress Lillie Langtry, who was - by the by - also mistress of Bertie, Prince of Wales.
Cobbold family members spread to parts of the Empire and distinguished themselves (or otherwise). Horace William Cain (1831-1914) became a builder, benefactor and Mayor of Melbourne. Charles Cobbold Farr (1851-1914) was, after many misfortunes, a pioneering venturer and founder of Haileybury, Ontario. Which one of us hasn't wished we could say the same? His statue - and his dog's - was belatedly erected in Haileybury in 2004 to celebrate the town's centenary.
This is a book rich with anecdote and arcana. Harry Smith Parkes (1828-1885) was a diplomat in Japan when that country was leaving the era of the Shogunate and only beginning to open up to the outside world. It isn't so much Harry's meteoric rise through the consular service which impresses, but the fact that his three daughters and their governess (their photograph is in the book) climbed to the summit of Mount Fujiyama in 1880, following in the footsteps of their mother Lady Parkes, who was the first woman to achieve the same feat in 1867.
It was not always crystal clear to this reviewer just how every character is related to the Cobbolds, but this turned out to be a flaw in my concentration (and eyesight). Referring back to Anthony Cobbold, I learnt that: "Lillie Langtry (Emilie Charlotte Le Breton) is my first cousin, three times removed (1C3R). The three removes is, of course, just three generations. If you have the tree in the book you need Big John's second wife and the sequence in the Hammond / Le Breton table, bottom right is: my mother, Mary Selby Parkin to Laura Annie Hammond to Lawrence Nicholas Dijre Hammond to Jane Penrose Le Breton to William Le Breton and then down to William Corbet Le Breton and hence Emilie Charlotte Le Breton. My mother had Lillie's bright violet eyes!" So, remember to consult the family trees on pages x-xi, O Best Beloved... and this book becomes even more splendid.
Anthony Cobbold, Keeper of the Cobbold Family History Trust, will no doubt be touching on some of these and other Cobbold-related characters in his Winter Illustrated Talk to the Society on Wednesday 17 December 2014 at the Museum Street Methodist Church, Ipswich.