Cobblers Cottage (19 The Green)
This old house has been standing centrally between the King’s Arms and Norwich House for over 200 years. It is best known as being Alcock’s, Cobb’s and Cocking’s leather, harness, boot & shoe shop from around 1880 until about 2000 and later as Mountfields haberdashers but its story goes back much further. The front room was a shop entered via a door between the two parts of the building, the back and upstairs being residential. The narrow part to the west side was a workshop come store most of the time. It has probably always had a pantiled roof rather than thatch and there is no felt under it which indicates how old it is. There was only ever a small yard or garden at the rear until about 2000 when extra garden land was purchased from the owners of Norwich House next door.
The actual date it was built is unknown but it appears on the Martham 1812 Inclosure Award map as shown in red on the chart on the left below. A search of possible owners from the 1812 Inclosure Award list results in the most likely being Robert Ward (senior) who was listed as being the owner of the larger adjoining property that we now know of as Norwich House. Robert died in 1829 and his ownership in 1812 becomes all the more likely when the 1842 Martham Tithe Award is consulted and the owner by then was his son, also named Robert, who was baptised at St Mary the Virgin in January 1788.
Robert junior was both a blacksmith and the landlord of the Royal Oak pub. The Royal Oak was situated in the east end of Brooklyn House next door to Norwich House. Robert was married, or lived with a lady, called Martha (surname unknown) who died in 1848 by which time Robert was 65 and seems to have retired because by 1851 he had moved to another house on The Green and had become a carrier of goods.
The 1851 census tells us that James & Eliza Christiana Linford had moved in. The house was not named but was listed between Richard Rogers of the King’s Arms and Charles Purdy of Norwich House on the census return. James had previously been a shopkeeper in White Street and by 1851 he and Eliza had four children and their new abode was used by James as a general store. They did not stay all that long however and by 1861 had moved to Great Ormesby.
1861 & 1871
There is no clear occupier of the house in the 1861 and 1871 census returns but again the most likely people to have lived there were George & Harriet Smith. George was born in Ludham in about 1821 and by the time he moved to Martham he was a master tailor featuring not only in the census returns but also in Kelly’s and the Post Office Business Directories of 1868, 1869 and 1879 at The Green, Martham.
John & Christiana Alcock (or Allcock) were the next occupiers and John was a well-known saddler and harness maker in the village who originally came from Neatishead but lived at various addresses around The Green at Martham practising his trade for the majority of his life. In 1881 he was nearing retirement age and lived at the house with his wife and two of their six children who by that time were adults. John was also listed in many Martham business directories from 1845 to 1883 as a saddler and harness maker. He died in 1886 and was buried at St Mary the Virgin in an unknown plot.
1891 & 1901
Willie Burleigh married Martha Barnes in 1887 at Blofield and by 1891 they were living at The Green. Willie was a travelling boot and shoe salesman who was born at East Dereham in 1864 where his father was also in the shoe trade. The couple appear in the 1891 and 1901 census returns as living at the house and Willie was also listed as being a boot and shoe maker in Kelly’s Directory of 1904. They may have lived and worked from the house for a little longer but by 1911 had moved to Great Yarmouth.
The 1911 census shows that George Albert Cocking (1875-1956) had taken over the business from Willie Burleigh.
George was born on 9th February 1875 at Great Hockham, Norfolk and his parents were Thomas & Mary Cocking. George grew up with his parents at their home at the Shoemakers Shop, Harling Road, Great Hockham where his father was a shoe maker. George was married twice; the first time to Sarah Jane Money on 16th June 1896 and their daughter Grace was born later that year. By 1901 George was already an assistant in a shoe shop at Harleston. The couple had moved to The Green in Martham by 1911 where George traded as a boot maker and dealer as shown in the iconic photograph shown above.
George was listed in the electoral register of 1920 as still being at Martham where he took a full interest in community activities and was a member of Martham Brass Band. George and Sarah moved at about this time and Sarah died in 1926 when they were living at Hackford next to Reepham, Norfolk. George went on to marry Ellen Thirza Garrard in 1927 at Norwich. By 1939 he was still a boot maker & repairer but by then he was in business at the Market Place at Reepham. George died there on 14th December 1956 and his estate was probated on 15th April 1957 leaving Ellen as a widow and his Executor.
Harry Cobb bought the premises from George Cocking in around 1920. Harry was born at Fakenham in 1876 and at 14 was already an apprentice harness maker at Thornham, North Norfolk. By 1901 he had moved to Rollesby where he was a coachman on a farm. He married Martha Howes in 1904 at Henstead and they continued to live at Rollesby until moving to the shop in Martham where Harry utilised his talent as a leather worker mending shoes and saddlery. He operated from the small wing on the west side of the building where there was originally a door to the front street. In addition to his leather work, he also used to cut a few mates hair for them during the war. Martha, his wife, didn’t take part in the business but raised their three children who were Alfred (1905-1909), Sophie (1911-2000) and Olive (1917-2008). Harry also owned Martham Fish & Chip shop which he bought for his daughter Sophie and her husband Reuben Ward after they married at St Mary’s on 2nd March 1932.
Below is an advert for Harry’s Boot & Shoe Store that was published in the 1936 Martham Carnival programme.
Martha & Harry were also listed as living and working at the house when the 1939 Register was compiled.
Some of the poorest local residents were entitled to subsidised or free boots and shoes arising out of a converted 18th/19th century charity run via the Church. Below are two pages of a bill sent by Harry Cobb for recompense from the charity for boots and shoes he had provided. There are several familiar local names listed. Note the invoices are dated 1949 when Harry was still in business.
Local man Barry Miller recalled in 2021 how he worked for Harry Cobb after school in the 1950’s. He remembers Harry repairing shoes in the side workshop and it was Barry’s job to deliver them back to customers. He also remembers Sophie running the shoe shop and working for her in the Fish & Chip shop.
Martha died in 1952 and Harry in 1960 and they are buried together at St Mary the Virgin graveyard section H, plot O10 in the grave shown on the left.
Herbert & Arline Mountfield bought the house from Michael Whitehead in February 1984. Herbert was born on 21st October 1928 in Manchester and was married twice, his second wife being Arline Wiggins who he married in 1963 at Rochdale, Lancashire. It was Arline that ran the shop as a haberdashers and which most local people knew simply as ‘Mountfields’. The shop operated from the front room facing the road and seemed to consist of a higgledy-piggledy range of stock with Arline sitting in the middle, easily able to pluck out anything people wanted. Arline sold the house in 2005 and it became fully residential. Herbert died in 1997 and Arline in 2019 and she had previously lived at Oak Tree Close.
In September 2013 the house changed hands once again and turned full circle when the owner of Norwich House bought it thus bringing both properties back under the same ownership as they were in the first part of the 1800’s
My grateful thanks to Martha Baker, a descendant of the Cobbs and Robin Neve for their help and information.