Cowper`s father, Benjamin Cowper, was born in Hereford in 1796, but
Ruyton in 1810 where he married Mary Lloyd of Great Ness, in Ruyton
They were to have six children, three boys and three girls, all the male members of the family worked as agricultural labourers and later, bricklayers .There was one exception, James their second son, who seems to have been a remarkably gifted child. Born in 1818 he was to come under the patronage of the Kenyon family of Pradoe, and continued with their friendship until old age. Thomas Kenyon sent him away to be educated and when he came back in 1838, aged 19, he took over the position of School Master, following the retirement of Mr. Davies.
His salary was £10 per quarter, plus a new watch, at a cost of £5.5s and the use of the School House in School Road. James married Lydia Edwards the same year and they moved to the School House, where they lived until 1872.
their time there, Lydia served as school mistress as well as raising
six children. Emma1840 ~Rose1843~Julia1848~Clara1850~
Before 1871 the system of teaching was, largely, one developed by Dr Andrew Bell (1753-1832) which was the Monitorial System. The brighter children were taught by the Master and Mistress in a module style. These Monitors then taught other groups of children.
In 1871 a new Act of Parliament was issued, which required all school teachers to have a formal qualification, if not, they could not continue to teach. This meant that at 53 James and his wife would have been too old to return to college to qualify.
In the minutes of a meeting of the Trustees which took place on 23rd March 1871, it was noted that ”The Chairman is requested to send a notice to Mr. and Mrs. Cowper , the present Master and Mistress of the School, that in consequence of the changes now rendered necessary by recent legislation and the requirements of the Privy Council their engagement as schoolmaster and schoolmistress must terminate at the commencement of the next summer holidays”. signed J.R.Kenyon. The school board had no option but to dismiss them.
As James and Robert Lloyd Kenyon were also friends, this caused a great deal of unrest in the village, but it was not something that anyone could do anything about. The people in the Parish raised a petition, asking the Trustees to provide the Cowper’s with some sort of pension from the school endowments. Mr. Richard Brown of Ruyton Hall Farm, presented the petition, being supported by Messrs Humphreys, Basnet, Oswell, Williams and Rogers, all prominent employers and Parishioners. The petitioners testifying their due respect for the faithful and trustworthy servants. Others signatures were Richard Philips of Ruyton Hall, eight farmers, a surgeon, two millers, a brewer and a shopkeeper.
In August of 1871 Mr. and Mrs. Cowper were presented with £52.10s (50 guineas), in consideration of their past service. James was also found a new position, as Librarian and Caretaker of the Oswestry ‘Town Library’, which was a ‘Subscription Library’ housed in The Public Hall, which stood at the corner of Oswald Road and King Street.
The first ‘’Free Library’ meeting was held on7th June 1890 when arrangements were made with the owners of The Public Hall for its future management and for the purchase of books for the ‘Free Library’. By the 23rd June it had been agreed to pay £24 as a yearly rent which included £4 for rates, but excluding cleaning and lighting. Mr. Cowper was to be paid £30 a year (to include cleaning) to act as Librarian and Caretaker for one year, providing that he was appointed caretaker to the remainder of the building by the Directors.
On 1st August the first stage of the new ‘Free Library` ‘arrived with the opening of the Reading Room. By the end of 1890 plans were well in hand for the building of the new Guildhall in which the ‘Free Library’ was to occupy the top floor. The new premises were not to become available until 1894 and between 1892 and 1894 there were various changes of Librarian.
In 1892 James Cowper resigned on the grounds of ill health but was permitted to withdraw his resignation, and a boy was employed at 2s per week to assist him, but in December of the same year he was forced to resubmit his resignation, possibly due to the death of his wife Lydia, in the last quarter of the year. In January 1893,Mr. Charles Burroughs was appointed to take his place.
After his resignation, James Cowper moved to live at Clay Cross in Derbyshire, the home of his eldest daughter Emma and her husband John Smith, who was a prosperous chemist in the town.
He spent his last days writing to the Kenyon family about his boyhood memories of Ruyton and telling stories of his own adventures or those related to him by others in the village.
He died on October 12th 1904 aged 87 and is buried in Clay Cross cemetery with his daughter Emma and her husband.
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