James Cook returned from Newfoundland in Tweed to anchor at Spithead on 29 November 1763. He hastened to London in order to be with Elizabeth, his wife, and their first child, James, whose birth he found he had missed. The baptism of young James Cook was recorded in the register of St. Paul’s, Shadwell, on 1 November (though he was born 19 days earlier on 13 October).
The Cooks’ home was still at 126 Upper Shadwell, about half way between the junctions with Golds Hill and Love Lane. The house, on the north side, backed on to one of the many rope walks in the district. It was owned by John Blackburn, the stepfather of Elizabeth Cook, who had moved to live in Starr Street behind Wapping Wall.
Cook settled into his new life as a father while organising the material he had assembled in Newfoundland into charts and sailing directions.
The uncertainties caused by the Seven Years’ War had slowed the building of new houses in Britain but, immediately the war ended, builders began again in earnest. Mile End Old Town lay to the north of Wapping and Shadwell, astride the main turnpike road leading out of London to Essex and, in 1764, Ebenezer Mussell made land available for building on the south side of the main road, close to the junction with Stepney Green. Various builders, including John Sawyer, purchased plots and, over the next few years, built three-storey houses in a terrace.
Wishing to be independent of the in-laws, James and Elizabeth Cook purchased a 61 year lease on 7 Assembly Row (as the terrace was called). They bought it by an Indenture of Assignment on 24 February 1764 from John Sawyer. Derek Morris in his book about Mile End describes the house.
The site was 139 feet deep and 15 feet wide, and the rack rent of £16 implied eight rooms, which is confirmed by the plan recorded in 1958 before the house was demolished. On 5th March 1764 he insured his brick house for £200 with the Sun Fire Office. On 23rd June 1768, just before sailing on his first voyage to the Pacific, he re insured his house for £270 but now added his Household Goods for £200, the apparel for £50, the Plate for £25 and a timber shed behind the house for £10, all signs of his increasing prosperity.1
The Cooks’ house was near the western end. It was one of the smaller houses in the terrace. Their neighbour to the east (number 6) was David Witherspoon, a baker. To the west (number 8), and separated from the Cooks by a passage, was William Honychurch, a watchmaker.2 He was related to Joseph Shank who would sail for the first part of Cook’s second Pacific voyage as lieutenant in Adventure.
James Cook started paying land tax on the house only in 1765. The delay may be due to the time taken to build the house and Cook being away in Newfoundland. Added to which, Elizabeth was pregnant during 1764 with Nathaniel and it was his baptism on 8 January 1765 at St. Dunstan’s in Stepney that marked the Cooks’ move to a new parish. Cook would have expected to move the family and belongings and not leave it to Elizabeth while he was overseas. After Cook’s death in 1779, Elizabeth Cook continued paying the land tax until 1787, when she vacated the house and moved to Clapham. The house was later renumbered as 88 Mile End Road and was demolished in 1958.
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