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Cobbold book, author biography

Rector of Wortham, near Diss in Norfolk, from 1825 to his death in 1877, the Reverend Richard Cobbold, M.A., achieved tremendous success with his popular historical novels.

He was born in 1797 in Ipswich into a large and affluent family who made their money from the brewing industry. Indeed, their name lives on in Ipswich in the form of Tolly Cobbold. Having been educated at Cambridge he entered the church, starting at St Mary Le Tower in his home town before moving to Wortham in the 1820s with his wife and three sons. One of his first tasks on moving from the comparatively bright lights of Ipswich to the rural life in Wortham was to build the rectory, which he did in 1827.

For more information, see the ever reliable Simon Knott's entry for Wortham church.

Margaret Catchpole
(New! December 2003 — as part of their "Legacies" section on local history, the BBC have compiled this feature on the story of Margaret Catchpole, with particular emphasis on the tale told by Richard Cobbold)

In his lifetime he was best known for his historical novels, his most popular work being "The History Of Margaret Catchpole". This was the (true) story of an unfortunate Ipswich girl who had previously worked as a nurse for the Cobbold family in the latter part of the 18th century. In love with a smuggler by the name of Will Laud, she left the employment of the Cobbolds, but then stole her former employer's horse to travel to London to meet him.

Found guilty of theft, Margaret Catchpole received the death sentence, but this was commuted to transportation for seven years. However, in prison, she escaped and went on the run before being recaptured. This time she was sentenced to transportation to life. In Australia she became a housekeeper, then a midwife and nurse, and wrote many letters back home to England. These letters formed the basis of the Rev. Cobbold's book.

The Biography of a Victorian Village
During his time at Wortham, more significantly, he recorded the daily lives of his various parishioners, both in words and pictures. His four volumes eventually found a home at the Suffolk Record Office, and have become an invaluable source of information about everyday life in the countryside at that time. In 1977 a book entitled "The Biography of a Victorian Village" was published, in which Ronald Fletcher presents Richard Cobbold's account of 1860s Wortham.

His works include:

However, the anonymous author of "Public Men Of Ipswich And East Suffolk", published in 1875, poured scorn on Cobbold's work:

"...the ancient town of Ipswich...has never been heard of except as the scene of some of the chief adventures of Margaret Catchpole, and...the name of the river Orwell has become, in a manner, immortal because upon its banks have wandered the fictitious characters of that widely circulated romance Freston Tower."

If you've anything to add to the above, get in touch.

      Richard Cobbold, 1797-1877
Richard Cobbold

Wortham church
Wortham church

Amended 3-Dec-2003 by EFB