Click here to return to the main site entry page
Click here to return to the previous page
By John Cook, based on research by Elaine Appleing
Ella Appleing (nee Cook)
I Never Knew My Auntie Ella

Walter Cook was born in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, in 1880. By 1901 he was resident and working in Rushden and in that year married Gertrude Hannah Desborough at Felmersham.

During the next eight years Walter and Gertrude lived at various Rushden addresses including 78 Glassbrook Road, 55 High Street, and 100 Cromwell Road (‘The Rock’).

In March 1909 the couple were living at 158 Wellingborough Road. By now they had five children Sarah - or ‘Liz’ as she was known (8), Walter (6), Herbert, my dad, (5), Ella (4) and Lilly (2). Then tragedy struck. On the 9th of March Walter (senior), now a boot factory foreman, was struck down with appendicitis and, we understand, was rushed off to Northampton Hospital in the Rushden Horse Ambulance. Sadly, he died on arrival at the hospital.

Gertrude (age 29) and her young family were left destitute and in due course Gertrude was forced to take desperate measures.

Ella aged 5
Bert the Scholar at Highweek
Evidence gleaned from RDHS-RR (Rushden & District History Society - Rushden Research) and the 1911 Census shows that Liz and Lil stayed at home with Gertrude. Indeed we know that they both stayed in Rushden all of their lives and married and raised families there. However, Walter (Walt) started at Rushden Alfred Street School on the 7th of June 1909 but left there on the 10th of December, that year, to go to a church orphanage (RDHS-RR).

The 1911 Census confirms that this orphanage was St Michael’s Home for Boys at Highweek near Newton Abbott in Devon and that Bert was there with him. The school was not the favourite subject for discussion in the family but I have discovered that it was one of several such establishments owned by the Waifs and Strays Society.
Bert in India
Bert in India & his marriage
Bert & Dora in 1934
Certificate presented to Herbert
Certificate presented to Herbert when he was at Highweek Boys' School

Bert never lost touch with his family in Rushden and his maternal grandparents at Radwell. Indeed, in his late teens, he walked from Radwell to Kempston, near Bedford, where he enlisted in The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment for a twelve year stint.

Much of this was spent in India but on his return he married Dora Kingston of Kempston. They set up home at 30 Crabb Street in Rushden and this was to be our home for the next thirty years.

Recalled to the colours in 1940, Bert spent most of the war years in Monty’s Eighth Army. On his return to Rushden he worked as yard foreman for the Peck family, both in Washbrook Road and later in their Calor Gas operation in Higham Road. His last job was as caretaker at the John White factory in Newton Road.

Only Bert’s extreme ill health forced him and Dora to leave Rushden in 1964. They then went to live near my sister Margaret who was teaching in Stourport-on-Severn. By then I was serving in the Army myself. Dora died in 1966 and Bert in 1968.

Bachelor Walt also kept in touch with his Rushden roots although he lived and worked in London. If we were lucky, Margaret and I would bump into him on the Birch’s bus (when we were travelling to Bedford and him to London). There was half-a-crown in it for each of us.

Ella’s story is even more poignant and dramatic because Gertrude was forced, by circumstance, to allow Ella to be adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Brown of Wellingborough.

Ella aged 5 Adoption agreement
Ella aged 5

Right - The adoption agreement when Ella was four years and eleven months old.
Jesse Brown and his wife were to maintain, clothe and educate her and her mother to relinquish all claim "forever".

A Codicil at the end of the document:
In the event of the death of the said Jesse Brown & his wife the child Ella Cook to return to the said Gertrude Cook.
Or if the said Jesse Brown should return the Child Ella Cook before the age of sixteen years, the sum of twenty pounds shall be paid to the said Gertrude Cook.
The said Gertrude Cook to be allowed to visit the said Ella Cook at ½ yearly periods wither by visit or being visited.  Signed Jesse Brown.

Derek Appleing (Ella’s son) writes: Jesse Brown was a well known figure amongst the townsfolk of Wellingborough where he conducted a millinery business. He was involved in many activities within the town including being a Special Constable and the Secretary of the local branch of the One Man Business Association. In addition, he was for six years the Pastor of the chapel at Grendon village, and it was here that he became aware of the plight of Gertrude Cook. Because of the location of Grendon it is unlikely that she was a member of his ‘flock’ but because of his position she was brought to his attention. This subsequently led to his adoption of Ella to help alleviate the hardship being experienced in the Cook household, and because he and Millie were childless.

There were no adoption laws at the time but an agreement was drawn up between the parties. We are advised that the document was somewhat unusual for the time, and in particular the codicil which generously gave most benefit to Ella.

‘My Lady Molly's Happiest Moment’ Miss Ella Brown, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Brown, of  Earls Barton, was the charming bride of Mr. Norman D. Appleing, of South Chingford, at Earls Barton Methodist Church on Thursday week. It was her sweet soprano voice that delighted Wellingborough audiences during the Operatic Society’s production of
‘My Lady Molly’

Ella as Sweet Molly
We know that the Browns loved and nurtured Ella and that she enjoyed a happy and successful life. She was a gifted pianist and singer, well known in Northamptonshire music circles.

Ella was never forgotten by the rest of the Cook family. Liz named her eldest daughter Doreen Ella (Tebbutt) and my own mother often quoted ‘Ella Brown’ when reminding us that there were musical ‘genes’ in the Cook family. I am sure that Ruby Baxter (Rushden music teacher) would agree that none of them came my way although Margaret was somewhat more successful in her endeavours and, as a teacher, could at least play ‘Morning is Breaking’ at school assembly.

However, Family Cook knew little of Ella’s later life until we were contacted by Elaine Appleing in 2004. Elaine is Ella’s granddaughter and has researched Ella’s life extensively, kindly providing much of the material for this article.

Ella married Norman Appleing at Earls Barton in October 1934.

After their marriage, Norman and Ella lived in Chingford, Essex where their two children, Derek (Elaine’s father) and Patricia, were born. Later, the family moved to Woolacombe in Devon where they ran a guest house before they bought and ran the local newsagents. Norman and Ella retired in Woolacombe about 1975 and Ella died of a stroke in 1981 followed by Norman a year later.

Elaine best remembers Ella for her patience, love and cooking but unfortunately, and with great regret, I cannot possibly comment because ....... I never knew my Auntie Ella

Ella playing the piano
Ella playing the piano

John W C Cook, 2009

Click here to return to the main index of features
Click here to return to the People & Families index
Click here to e-mail us