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Home > Serendipity > Marlborough Cottage and  Thomas Hancock

 We do not know when Thomas Hancock moved to moved to Marlborough Cottage, Green Lanes N4 but it was probably soon after he arrived in London and probably between 1815 and 1819. He died there on March 26th 1865. Unfortunately Hackney Archives Department has not been able to identify  ‘Marlborough Cottage’ so where did he live?

Update 2008. Recent studies have shown the statement in red above to be incorrect. Maps showing the development of Stoke Newington make it clear that Marlborough Cottage could not have been built before the middle 1820's. In fact the first record in 'official' papers relating to it suggest it was only built around 1840. However the Hancock family archives contain an insurance policy on the property dated late 1836. It must have been a new build at that time, probably incorporating design modifications suggested by Thomas such as the private staircase between his laboratory and bedroom mentioned below. The date corresponds with Thomas taking responsibility for the upbringing of his brother's children after John died in 1835.

  Tithe map of the northern end of Green Lanes,    Stoke Newington. Related documents show Thomas Hancock to be in possession of three plots with No.60 containing his house.

Census records of 1851 show Thomas, together with four neices (sic), Frances, Harriet, Catherine and Mary Ann, two nephews, Thomas and Francis, a ‘general servant’ and a gardener all living at 82 Green Lanes. Thomas Hancock was born in Marlborough and his occupation was given as ‘Caoutchouc manufacturer’. This is the man we want but where was no. 82? Certainly not where that number is today. Fortunately the archives do have a tithe map of that area dated 1848 and here we can find Thomas in possession of a large house (land reference 60) with a circular carriageway entering the grounds through a central pair of pillars, a formal garden and two meadows, one to the north and one to the east running towards New River and the reservoir. In total the holding was about 3.5 acres.

  This second illustration is believed to show some of the steam carriages manufactured by Thomas’ brother, Walter, drawn up on the carriageway in front of the house, known by the family as Marlborough Cottage

 Walter should also be remembered in the story of the birth of Britain’s rubber industry as not only was he a pioneer of the steam road carriage industry, he also built Thomas’ first masticator (or pickle) and later enlarged it and adapted it to be driven by steam at both the Hancock factory in Goswell Road and also in the Chas. Macintosh & Co. factory in Birmingham. Indeed, all the Hancock brothers contributed significantly to the history of this industry.

John developed a successful rubber and gutta percha surgical goods business using process and manufacturing equipment built by Walter but died in 1835 of consumption. His nine children then moved to their uncle’s house, Marlborough Cottage.

Charles founded the ‘Gutta Percha and India Rubber Company’ which, inter alia, manufactured the first telegraph cable coated with gutta percha, again using a machine designed and built by the engineer of the family – Walter. Charles died in 1877 and Walter in 1852.

The eldest brother, James, married Elizabeth Lyne who duly gave birth in 1815 to James Lyne Hancock, to whom Thomas transferred his business in 1842 and who ran it until his death in 1884 when it passed to Thomas’ grand-nephew, John Hancock Nunn.

To return to the story of Marlborough Cottage. For a more detailed picture of the house we are indebted to a memoir, as yet unpublished, which was written by the great great nephew of Thomas, the Revd. J.L.B James, and also to his son, Frank, for providing me with a copy and allowing me to quote from it.

Writing of his visits to the ‘cottage’ as a schoolboy in the late 19th century his beautiful and emotive description of the property matches in every detail those gleaned from the tithe map but of particular interest to the rubber historian is his description of Thomas’ laboratory: "To the left of the front door were the ‘iron-door room’ and the drawing room. The former gained its name from the corrugated metal door painted in oak graining. This room was of some interest, it was the laboratory of Thomas Hancock, the friend of Faraday and the partner of Charles Macintosh: it was in this room that he discovered the process of vulcanizing India-rubber. It remained exactly as it had been at the time of his death in 1865. From this room a private staircase ascended to his bedroom, and as the idea for the crucial experiment occurred to him whilst he was in bed, he came down at once, made the experiment and thus came about one of the great discoveries of the world".

After Thomas’ death, three of his nieces remained unmarried and in residence, the eldest, Maria (who was not present at the time of the ’51 census), Frances and Harriet. They continued the life of early Victorian ladies through Frances’ death in 1895, Maria’s in 1902 until Harriet’s demise in 1909.

The house then became empty and remained unoccupied until its demolition in 1945. Perhaps its last claim to fame was that in the adjacent meadow to the north a V2 rocket landed on January 10th 1945. It took the life of only one person but must have considerably shaken the old building. After its demolition the London County Council built a block of flats on the site - Banstead Court.

    On October 8th 2003 the Plastics Historical Society placed a plaque on Banstead Court to celebrate the life and work of Thomas Hancock. It was unveiled by one of the four great great great nephews/nieces of Thomas (who never married) who attended the ceremony.  

Sources for much of this document were Ted Rogers at Hackney archives and Thomas Hancock’s descendents, David Eustace and Frank James. Their help has been invaluable and is acknowledged with appreciation.

  Since this 'chapter' was written, a picture of Marlborough Cottage has been discovered and is reproduced here