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Author Topic: Lilian Alice Cooley - 150 year old mystery to solve  (Read 704 times)
Deborah Ford
Posts: 4

« on: January 15, 2022, 11:23:02 AM »


How and why would a young married mother abandon her two little boys?  The disappearance of Lilian Alice Bartram (formally Cooley) remains a mystery four generations later. 

The story starts sometime shortly after the 1911 Census, when Lilian dropped the two boys, Ernest and Albert, at their grandparents, Ernest Bartram and Harriet Mary Bartram (formally Simpkins). Lilian told them she was going into Bedford shopping and would return later to pick the boys up, but she never came back. Despite stringent efforts, we’ve been unable to find out where she went and what happened to her, and we’re hoping that you will get involved and help us solve the mystery.

Lilian Alice Cooley was born on the 15 October 1883 at 36 Ray Street, Maidenhead, Cookham in the County of Berkshire.  The daughter of Peter Palmer Cooley (DOB: 05/05/1844) and Catherine Mary Cooley (formally Lawrence) (DOB: 1851), Lilian was one of their ten children recorded in the 1881 / 1891 Census.

In 1898, at the age of 15, Lilian was recorded as the informant of her father’s death on 21 November that year.  Peter Palmer Cooley had lived in the village of Cookham for many years.  His obituary suggests that he was well known in the area as a Marine Store Dealer and was a member of the “Pride of Maidenhead” Lodge of Oddfellows (Grand Union Order) for 21 years.  He was also a member of two clubs, Sons of the Ark and The Diamond Jubilee Slate Club.  Each of these sending representatives to his funeral.  He was also well known by the younger generation of the local area for his coconut pitch on the moor and at local fetes and school treats.  We are hoping that detailing information about him may prompt other Cooley relatives to get in touch and share what they know about the family during this time.

In June 1900, during a period when she was working as a servant for a Mrs Saunders in Market Street, London, Lilian, then 17 years’ old, appears in the newspaper archives as having been assaulted by a local lad known to her.  For some reason this case was subsequently dropped, and the next we hear about Lilian is in the 1901 census where she is recorded as an inmate at the Servants’ Training Home Charitable Institution, Kennet Road, Newbury, Berkshire.  Where she was for the next eight years, we don’t know, but by 1909 Lilian was again working as a Domestic Servant at 22 York Street, St Marylebone, London. 

On the 21 March 1909 Lilian gave birth to Ernest Cooley at 1 Northumberland Street, St Marylebone, London.  Little Ernest was to become one of the two boys later abandoned by Lilian. There is no father registered on the birth certificate, and we believe the address may be that of the Union Workhouse, although we have not established a record of this to date. 

1910 is a busy year for Lilian. 
At first, she is known to be working as a Domestic Servant at 2 Bushmead Avenue, Bedfordshire, but she marries Ernest John Simpkins Bartram (DOB: 18/01/1887) on the 28 April 1910. On the marriage certificate her address is given as 6 Castle Hill, Bedford, and Ernest is shown as a bachelor and farm labourer living at 5 Willington.  Later that year, on the 17 November 1910, Lilian and Ernest have a little boy called Albert Edward Bartram. Baby Albert is to be the other child abandoned by Lilian. Her husband Ernest’s parents, Ernest Bartram (DOB: 1867) and Harriet Mary Bartram (formally Simpkins) (DOB: 1868), are the grandparents with whom Lilian left the children on the day she disappeared.

The young family, Ernest, Lilian and their children Ernest, and Albert are next found on the 1911 Census in Bedford, although there are some major inconsistencies between Lilian’s details here and on her birth and marriage certificates.  Her year of birth is given as 1887, and her birthplace as Ireland Cork. She is also shown as being married for three years instead of one and has the years of birth of the boys the wrong way round. We wonder whether this was deliberate misinformation, either as a preliminary preparation for a planned disappearance, or part of a politically motivated action in support of the Suffragette movement’s ‘No Vote, No Count’ campaign. 

It was after this Census that Lilian disappeared, and on the 25 January 1912, both Ernest Cooley, then aged 2 years and 9 months and Albert Edward Bartram then aged 1 year and 2 months, were admitted into the Bedford Union Workhouse. Their notes confirm that they were the deserted children of Lilian Bartram and of Lilian and Ernest Bartram respectively. Unfortunately, no reasons are given as to who had the children admitted, or why.

On the 9 May 1912 Ernest Cooley was sent to Kempton Lodge children’s home and on the 16 August 1912, Albert Bartram was boarded out. Some good news came when we discovered that both the children were back together by 21 September 1912 when they were found in the records as being moved permanently to the guardianship of Mr William Goodship (DOB: 14/02/1867) and Mrs Harriet Sarah Goodship (formally King) (DOB: 17/03/1870).

I am looking for any help or advice to continue the search to finally understand what happened to Lilian after she dropped her little boys off with their grandparents to go shopping.
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