The lives and loves of occupants of Rattle Row, Wymondham

A row of weavers’ cottages in Wymondham was demolished in the late 1970s following a public enquiry in 1977. The cottages were replaced by retirement bungalows which remain to this day. While the street name has lingered, the houses are certainly very different to those they replaced.

The cottages made up ‘Rattle Row’ named after the racket of the handlooms operated by the inhabitants. 

In 1851, a household of ten lived in one of the cottages, headed by my 5xGreat Grandparents, James Gooch and Agatha Fisher. Seven of their children (Lucy (my 4x Great Grandmother), Maria, Rebecca, George, James, Mary Ann and Providence) shared their home, together with their three month old grandson, William Coman Gooch, the illegitimate son of daughter Lucy.

I have seen some weavers’ cottages of Wymondham described as ‘ruinous hovels’. Certainly, the family was poor – Agatha was noted as a pauper in 1851, while James, Lucy and Maria are all recorded as weavers, an industry which, by then, was in serious decline. George, at 13, was already labouring in the fields. Rebecca, otherwise old enough to work, is noted on the census as blind.

A hundred years before, according to Mr Cremer’s Census of 1747, almost a quarter of families in the town were headed by a weaver – 155 of 686. By the late 1700s however, competition from the cotton producing north and loss of trade to America and France was having a negative effect on the Norfolk woolen industry.

By the time of the 1841 census the handloom industry was ‘in crisis’ but the industry still employed a sixth of the male population. The Wymondham Heritage Society’s wonderful “Wymondham: History of a Norfolk Market Town” (2006) quotes the following from a local weaver:

“A parent tries to get his boy to anything rather than weaving. There are no boys learning to weave now, nor have been for some time past. Anything is better than weaving. Some boys have taken to agricultural employment”

This certainly fits for my own family – as we have seen, only the girls and their father were in the weaving industry in 1851, while George was employed on the land.

White’s Trade Directory notes that there were less than 60 looms in Wymondham in 1845, while ten years earlier there had been 600. 

Twelve households are recorded on Rattle Row in 1851, two of whom are Coman households. The sharp-eyed among you may remember little William Coman Gooch mentioned earlier. Sure enough, William’s father, also William, is living just five doors away from Lucy in 1851. William is also a weaver, this time in silk, as are all the other occupants of his home over 11 years old – just five of the 336 weavers recorded in the census that year in the town. The couple married on Boxing Day of the same year at Wymondham Abbey. 

Lucy and William had five more children, the last in 1865. Around the same time the family moved to Norwich, possibly as the weaving industry collapsed around them – 132 weavers remained in Wymondham in 1871 and just 23 in 1881.

It seems the hard life wasn’t over for Lucy because by 1871 she is recorded as head of the household, scraping a living as a washer woman to support six children in the yards of Pockthorpe in North Norwich. It is not clear whether William accompanied them to Norwich or not. He disappeared between 1861 and 1871 – I hope one day to discover whether he died, emigrated or started a new life elsewhere, or whether he was imprisoned, transported….the possibilities are almost endless.

Lucy died in 1913 at the age of 82, working as a charwoman and laundress in Norwich almost up until her death. Sadly, she outlived her eldest son William, who died at Norwich Lunatic Asylum in 1905. 

My Great Great Great Grandmother Eliza’s life mirrored her mother’s to a certain extent. Like Lucy, she gave birth to a son before marriage, and lived next door to her son’s father, who she later married, during 1881. This time, rather than Rattle Row, history played out on ‘Sidney’s Row’ now somewhere underneath Sewell Park College’s playing field.

Two years ago I moved to Wymondham -150 years after Lucy left with Eliza and her other children. No member of my direct line lived here in the intervening century and a half but in many ways I feel like I belong.

I cannot help but wonder, every time I pass Rattle Row, what life must have been like then. Were she and William happy together, or were they forced to marry? Where did he go? Did she choose to leave for the city? Although only a few miles distant, she could hardly have jumped on the number 13 bus back again if it didn’t work out.

Depending on her memories of the place, perhaps most of all, I wonder whether she would have celebrated the demolition of the cottages or mourned their loss….



If you have connections to Rattle Row, or the Gooch and Coman families of Wymondham, please do get in touch.

0 Responses

  1. Lovely to read about my very distant Gooch relations. Wymondham is a special market town, steeped in history. The way people lived then, will always be fasinating to me and knowing that a number of Goochs still live in Wymondham – very close to where their weaving ancestors lives, seemed incredible. Thanks Emma

  2. Hi there,
    Interesting to see your details about James (b1805) and Agatha Gooch of Wymondham. My direct ancestor is Thomas Gooch c1766 who I believe was a half brother to your James c1772 who was the father of above James. I lived for several years in Wymondham in the 70s and my daughter has recently moved to live in Silfield! Her daughter has joined the choir at the Abbey where her 6 and 7x great grandfathers were married in the 1700s! It is indeed a lovely town and long may the family connections continue.
    Best regards,
    Gill Mathews nee Gooch

  3. Hi Gill,

    Thanks for posting your message. Sounds like you know Wymondham really well anyway, but if you ever have any other queries about the Gooch family in the area or if there's anything you need checking (or could help me with!) feel free to email whenever you like.

    Best of luck with your research, and to your granddaughter in the choir!


  4. Thank you for your post.
    I have been researching my link to Lucy and William too. My great-grandfather was their son James Coman, who married Susan Ong. I have found a William Coman in prison in 1867 in Norwich, but do not know if it is our William. Apparently when Eliza married a John Miller in 1885, she registered her father as dead, if this is true he must have died before then! I noticed that in the censuses 1871 & 1881 Lucy states that she is married but in the 1891 she states that she is a widow. So I assumed that William died between 1881 and 1885. Apart from that i have no idea where he disappeared to either!

  5. I don't think it is 'our' William, the 1867 chap is very possibly a relative but newspaper reports that match the 1867 criminal register don't seem to link to 'our' man. Oddly enough, before I saw you'd posted here I've been doing some work into William Gooch Coman today. He didn't die at the Asylum, he died at the Workhouse at Heigham on 10 November 1905. He was also in prison for three months in 1881 after he separated from Elizabeth – it was arguments with her that saw him in court. I have a contact who thinks 'our' William was nonetheless a felon, with the possibility that he ended up in a prison hulk abroad after being sent into the forces. I have no evidence of this so far however, so for now at least – we still don't know!

  6. Great to read of others looking for my great great grandfather William Coman and his wife Lucy. He was baptised with his sister ELIZA ON 11/5/1831 at Norwich Wesleyan Tabernacle, Calvert Street, Norwich. Eliza born 13/2/1829 William 21/12/1830. My notes form the records of Bridewell House of Correction, Wymondham (now a museum).

    No 736 – 18/11/1862- taken into custody 18/11/1862 – 12 o’clock discharged 18/11 4pm William Coman, Wymondham aged 32 5’8” – Can read – Charge – Drunk & Disorderly – Charge: Remanded to Norwich Castle Hill Tuesday 25th instant.

    No. of charge 1040 – Taken into custody 7/6/1865 – 3pm discharged 8/6/1865 10am William Coman, Wymondham – Weaver- Aged 34 Height 5’6 ½”, wrote imperfectly – charge deserting his wife and family – Person Charging – The Guardian of the Union. Charged how disposed of: Committed 21 days to Norwich Castle. Remarks 4 ½ d – one knife. This is my last info. On William seems to be quite a handful!!

    I also have on record Eyethia Coman age 24. On February 10th 1864 – Assault – No 864 in Bridewell Book pos. son Ezekiel born 1840 to Stephen and Eliz. Coman.

    I am a descendent of Ann Marie daughter of Lucy and William. A relation also from that family (Carol) from Australia tells me William Coman, driver in the Royal Artillery, was court marshalled in Umbrella, Bengal, India. The charge was drunk and striking an Acting Bombadier. Trial was held on 1st October 1874, sentence was 5 years and fined £1. Information was received at the War Office on 2nd February 1875. I Wonder!! She also supplied me with information that a William Coman – Weaver – Bridewell Admissions was admitted 6th March 1852 – charge- assault no further action. I live near Wymondham, hope one day we will all catch up on our William’s final days.

  7. Thanks for your post Christine, I'd got some but not all of that information since the blog – I too have heard from Carol, and am very interested in her story, but so far haven't proved it. It's certainly on my to do list but I don't know when I'll actually be able to follow it up. It does seem strange that with so many people researching him, we still don't know what happened to him towards 'the end'! However, I've had other brick walls that have taken years to break down, so I hope this will turn out to be one of them!

  8. I have just discovered i am related to Steven Coman( my 4th great grandfather). Any further information would be great!

    1. Thanks for your comment Matt; you and I are among a very many descendants of his! I am yet to look into Stephen’s life in detail (I am assuming you mean Stephen 1790-1861 rather than his son, who is an uncle of mine) but the usual census records and parish registers are relatively easily accessible. I am sure there is more to be found in local newspapers (directly or indirectly) and in other material. Best of luck with your research.

  9. This was wonderful to read, Eliza Coman born 1829 was my 3xgreat grandmother and I’ve only very recently started looking further into the life of The Coman family. I know Elizas father Stephen ( my 4xgreat grandfather) was a silk weaver and that they lived in rattle row and can’t wait to discover more. Your blog was so full of information, reading it seemed like I was there. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments. One of these days I will get back on the trail of William Coman – the family has so many descendants and yet I’ve not been in touch with anyone that knows what happened to him!

  10. My cousin has been researching the Gooches and tells me that James Gooch was my Great – Great – Great – Grandfather, Samuel Gooch, was James’s eldest brother! My father had told me many years ago that our family had come from Wymondham. His grandparents moved from there I think to Nottingham where my Grandfather George Gooch was born (Bulwell). They were all teachers I think. I am currently moving to Norwich!

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