James Matthew Stocker

Author: Carol Brindley
Date published: 27/04/2017
© Carol Brindley

James Matthew Stocker


b.  19.12.1862

m.  08.04.1882

d.   11.06.1895


John James Stocker from Ecchinswell and Maria Ann Booker Lord from Denchworth, near Wantage married in 1854 and settled in Newbury around 1857/58, initially in Union Chapel Yard, Bartholomew Street.  James was their third son, and 6th child

Selina, Emily, David, Abigail and William were all older than James.  Louisa, Rose and Lillie were born later. 

Three years before James was born, his father, John, had been convicted to 3 weeks hard labour for assaulting Maria, but although an offence of this magnitude never happened again, John’s behaviour remained volatile, as various newspaper reports testified.  He was a sawyer who worked hard but he continued to have a fiery streak resulting in several fights over the years for which he was ordered to pay fines from his very meagre income, leaving his wife and children struggling to survive. 

James’ young life was spent in a typical Victorian court behind a narrow archway in Bartholomew Street, Robeson’s Yard, his parents having moved there in 1859/60.   The cottage in Robeson’s Yard adjoined a tailor’s shop and was auctioned in 1864, with the sitting tenants able to remain.  The Reading Mercury (21.5.1864) stating that the rent of the property was £8 9s per year.  It was one of seven small dwellings in the yard, with no garden attached, but with a ‘piece of garden ground’ behind.  The local Board of Health became concerned about the Yard in 1866 due to the very poor drainage and insufficient privy accommodation (Reading Mercury (11.8.1866).  The same report stated “upwards of £100 were paid out of the poor-rate for the Borough, through smallpox and fever in that yard last year; besides, there were several deaths, which in all human probability might have been saved under proper drainage”; so it seems safe to assume it was not a very pleasant place in which to live. 

Whilst living in Robeson’s Yard, James’ sister, Louisa, died from scarletina (4.8.1865) aged 7 months and his brother David died from epilepsy (12.12.1865) aged 9. 

In May 1867, when James was only 4 years old there was a fire in Robeson’s Yard which would have destroyed all the cottages had the neighbours not worked together to put it out by removing some of the roof tiles, as reported in the Reading Mercury (18.5.1867).  This must have been both exciting and scary in equal measure for the young boy.  His baby sister, Rose, not quite one year old, would probably have been in the house, as well as most of the older children.

Eighteen months later, both the Berkshire Chronicle and the Reading Mercury reported that James’ sisters Abigail, aged 10, and Emily, aged 13, claimed they had been assaulted on two consecutive evenings (5.9.1868 and 6.9.1868) within the confines of the Yard.  The local doctor gave evidence that was too graphic to print but, although the trial for the crimes went to the Oxford Assizes, there was no conviction. However, the Chronicle printed the following summing up (27.2.1869): “The Judge told the prisoner that he must not consider the verdict of Not Guilty as showing that the jury considered him to be innocent”.

When James was about 10 years old the family moved to Speenhamland.  The Reading Mercury (22.6.1872) recorded another assault on Emily, followed by another fight resulting in a fine for her father.  The address given was Play-House Yard.  Just four months later James’ oldest sister, Selina, died of TB aged 21.

Finally the family lived in Shaw Road, in a cottage at the far end of the Crescent.  James and his brother, William, kept Maria on her toes, the Berkshire Chronicle (14.10.1876) reporting that they stole a gate-post from Thatcham and had to spend a few nights in the cells.  But, despite all the sadness, the poverty and the problems, the family stayed together until James’ father John died in 1905 and his mother Maria died in 1909.

James married Mary-Jane King in 1882, the certificate showing that James had never learned to write his own name.  It is testament to his broad and non-judgemental outlook that he asked his Irish, Catholic brother-in-law (Emily’s husband of two years) to be a witness at his wedding; even though the Stocker family had always been baptised, married and buried in Church of England ceremonies; even though being Irish and Roman Catholic was still a marginal place to inhabit.

James and Mary-Jane settled into married life and began a family, having four children in ten years – Alice, James, Ernest and Florence (see 1891 and 1901 census returns).

On Tuesday June 11th 1895, whilst living in Vine Court, off Northbrook Street, James was working as a coachman for Dr Bunny and, following his usual full day’s work, he went home to his family.  The Berkshire Chronicle and Reading Mercury (15/6/1895) both carried the same story:

“He ate a hearty supper and retired to rest about ten o’clock, but had not been upstairs long before he complained of pains in the chest, and before medical aid could be rendered he expired.  Mr Wylie, surgeon, gave his opinion that death was due to heart disease, and therefore an inquest was unnecessary.” 

Following a service in St Nicolas Church, Newbury on Friday 14th June he was buried in Newtown Road cemetery.  It was most likely a warm, dry day, as sunshine “was everywhere in excess of the average” and “rainfall … was very deficient” (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk).

His wife gave birth to a fifth child, Lily Maud, seven weeks later.



James was the brother of my great-grandmother, Emily Stocker.  I discovered his background in the process of researching my great-great-grandmother, Maria Stocker, in order to write a story based on her life.

Carol Brindley, Newbury

see also  www.fnrcnewbury.org.uk/persondetails.asp?PersonID=9723 (David Stocker)

and:     www.fnrcnewbury.org.uk/persondetails.asp?PersonID=9648  (Louisa Stocker) 


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