The Johnson Family at The Cottage

The Cottage, Needham 1966

The first direct evidence of the Johnson family living in The Cottage comes from a newspaper advert dated 1796 for the auction of the property with about 8.5 acres of land and Thomas Johnson named as tenant. Thomas was still resident when John & Sarah Kemp became owners in 1813, but died on 30th May 1815 aged 79. An entry in Charles Souter’s ‘Brockdish Diary’ dated the next day reveals tragically “Was buried at Needham: Thomas Johnson – his wife died the next day.” After his dad and mum’s deaths Joseph Johnson (42) clearly took over the cottage, marrying his wife Esther (31) shortly after in November 1818, with their first child Thomas arriving just 3 months later in Feb 1819. Joseph is described as being a ‘carrier’, whilst Esther is the daughter of Joshua Smith, landlord of The Fishmonger’s Arms located right opposite The Cottage!

In 1841 Joseph, now aged 65, was living with Esther (50) and his two sons – 22 year old Thomas and Robert aged 12. Ten years later Esther was widowed, Head of the family and a farmer employing one man; Robert is there too and listed as being a bricklayer rather than working the land. Clues as to why he might have chosen this career are to be found nearby, as there was a large brickworks on the northern border of the Parish with a number of brickmakers and bricklayers who were employed there living in the village. This was the time of the mid-Victorian building boom and so working in that business may have seemed a more secure bet to Robert than the precarious nature of agriculture.

Parish Register Burials of Thomas & Lydia Johnson Crown Copyright
Johnson Family 1871 Census Needham. Crown Copyright National Archives

Robert Johnson was still at home with his mum in 1861, but had married Caroline Raynor and they had two young sons: Thomas (6) and Robert (4), plus baby Esther. In March 1866 matriarch Esther died, and a few months later Robert demonstrated that he had prospered sufficiently in his new occupation to take out a mortgage for £50 to buy his home. He went on to borrow a further £20 and then another £30, so by the time he passed away in 1894 there was an unpaid loan outstanding of £100. His son Robert Joseph Johnson, himself a bricklayer, then found himself having to bid for The Cottage when the executors of his dad’s Will auctioned it to pay off the mortgage. He had to pay £200 for his own home, and then take out his own mortgage to be able to afford it!

A year later Robert J, aged 38, married a local widow Kate Heath (36), but they had no children of their own. However, by 1911 they were looking after their nephew Fred (13), son of Robert’s sister Kate who had married fellow bricklayer John Spinlove whose family had lived next door at 109, High Street for the past 30 years. Kate died in 1921 at the age of 62 and a few years later in 1927 Robert Joseph sold their property and ended his family’s 130 year long tenure of The Cottage.