THE COGMANS

The Cogman family were the blacksmiths in the village of Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk for seven generations, from the 17th century until within living memory. They lived in Queen Anne Cottage for most of this time. The house was next to the forge; it had been built in (or soon after) the reign of the last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne (1702 – 1714). It is a quietly elegant house, though not a large one, but it is definitely not the low ceiling dwelling one usually associates with the term cottage. It has been extended since being bought by new owners. The forge was demolished many years ago, after standing empty since the war. The forge was hard to date; with such a basic structure there is little to go on, but judging by the picture below it was probably built in the 17th century.

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The village of Caistor is but a shadow of its former self; in Roman times it contained Venta Icenorum, the capital of East Anglia, and was the equivalent of a city. In the Anglo-Saxon period, when much of the county was rural and sparsely populated, Caistor had a substantial population; this we may deduce from the large number of Saxon cremation burials in the village. At some unknown date (but long after its Roman heyday) it had a water-mill on the river Tas. Flour from the locally grown grain would have been carried to Norwich, not far away. In the eighteenth century it had a school for the sons of gentlemen, possibly attached to the Rectory. There was a building firm in Caistor in the nineteenth century, employing several carpenters and bricklayers. Even during the Second World War there was a village shop, a post office and of course there was still Mr Cogman’s smithy. All these facilities have now gone, and although you may take afternoon tea at Caistor Hall Hotel, this establishment caters for those from outside the area, not for the people of Caistor.

The member of the Cogman family who first moved to Caistor was Benjamin, born during Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth in the City of Norwich. This was not a long journey for young Benjamin to make to his new home–it was less than four miles away, along the Stoke Road. For nearly 300 years the business passed down from father to son, although this was not always to the eldest son. One eldest son became a commercial traveller in gentleman’s clothing fabrics. This took him to Oxfordshire, and another the Cogman sons became a builder in London.

Anna Maria Cogman was an unmarried daughter who lived in the middle years of the 19th century. In middle age she was employed by her brother John Sheene Cogman (the blacksmith in Caistor for 30 years) as school governess to his children.  When her nephews and nieces had been taught to read and write and were too old to require a governess, Anna Maria moved into the household of Jeremiah and Caroline Colman in a similar capacity. The Colman family of mustard fame moved from Stoke Holy Cross to Carrow Abbey in Norwich at about this time. Stoke is the next village to Caistor and the Cogmans and Colmans would already have been acquainted. The first child was born to the young couple at the Abbey, and among their domestic staff they employed Anna Maria.

John Sheene Cogman seems to have had a sudden outburst of religious fervour in 1858. This feeling had apparently not troubled him in earlier life, and he had not been much of a church goer before then. His children were nor baptised. However in the late 1850s he became the churchwarden of the parish. He had all his children baptised in Caistor St Edmund church; the eldest of his children was 21 at the time of her baptism. Not only that but one of his daughter became cook to the Rector. This interest in church affairs was maintained by the Cogmans thereafter; his great grandsons Claud and Eddie were both prominent members of their local congregations, although by then they had transferred their allegiance from the Established Church to Nonconformist chapels.

John Sheene Cogman employed two smiths at Caistor but the high point of the business came in the next generation, when his son (also called John) employed six men at the forge. There must have been a lot of work in late 19th century Caistor; the shoeing of horses and replacing the tyres of carts and no doubt other pieces of farm equipment needed making and mending.

In the second half of the 19th century two more unmarried Cogman sisters were shopkeepers of a grocer’s store at 149 Ber Street in Norwich. This building is no longer there, having been bombed in the Second World War. Another unmarried woman, Margaret Cogman, became a nurse, and after working in various parts of the country (including fashionable Kensington in London) retired to spend her final years back in Caistor. She died aged 92 in 1969, by which time the Cogman forge had been demolished.

Eddie Cogman’s green Ford Zodiac outside Framingham Earl Methodist chapel (which he built); the former chapel is now the hall adjoining it. 1964.

Eddie Cogman’s green Ford Zodiac in 1964 outside Framingham Earl Methodist chapel (which he built),

The last Cogman to run the forge in Caistor was William, who retired in 1944 and died in 1962. When he retired the forge was left empty. His second son, Edward (Eddie), had been apprenticed to Henry Taylor, the blacksmith in the next village of Poringland. In 1924 he was 14, but by then the blacksmith was a dying trade. However Henry Taylor also ran a carpentry business and the local motor garage, and his wife was the Poringland Post Mistress. Eddie and a partner learned the building trade while working for Henry Taylor, and started their own building firm before the Second World War. This business is still going in Poringland as Woolnough and Cogman Ltd.

Eddie’s elder brother Claud Cogman became a farmer in Caistor St Edmund and lived in Stoke Holy Cross. Unlike Eddie who was married with children, he remained a bachelor. His sister Cissie was married, but was childless. She lived in a large bungalow built for her by Eddie in Caistor Lane. My Auntie Olive was friendly with Cissie and would visit her from time to time.

Those who wish to see more pictures of the forge and of members of the Cogman family should visit the Poringland archives web page.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage @gmail.com

FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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