Irene Bennison recently asked1 whether the young James Cook lodged in Grape Lane, Whitby, during his apprenticeship to Captain John Walker, after she had read the book by Stephen Baines.2
The claim that Cook lodged with his master in Haggersgate is not new. Around 1890, the anti-quarian GF Waddington noticed correctly that Walker was the occupier of a house in Haggersgate during Cook’s apprenticeship. He concluded wrongly that it was impossible for Walker to have lodged Cook in Grape Lane. Beaglehole and others have echoed Waddington.
Waddington was wrong because he assumed that master mariners were contractually obliged to lodge apprentices in their own homes. That was not so, and is proved by indentures of the period that contain clauses inserted to defeat any such obligation. Apprentices were to provide for them-selves in winter when the ships were laid up. One such indenture, dated 1735, hangs on the wall of the Whitby Room at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum for all to see.
So, when Walker wanted to retain Cook’s services ashore, it is most likely that he was free to lodge him in his home, in the town, or anywhere convenient. What could have been more conven-ient than the large house in Grape Lane that he and his brother owned, and was occupied by his widowed mother? Nothing stands in the way of the accepted Whitby and Walker family tradition recorded by George Young in 1836.
For more detail, please visit our website, and click through to a full discussion of the topic.<3
Chairman of Trustees,
Captain Cook Memorial Museum
Mrs Irene Bennison recently asked “Did Mary Prowd work at Grape Lane or at Haggersgate” in Whitby?1 The answer is fairly straight-forward, namely that she probably worked at both. I imagine most people who have tackled this question would not doubt that John Walker junior was living in Haggersgate by 1733,2 with his wife Dorothy and daughter Esther, born that year. It seems very likely that Mary Prowd was employed as a housekeeper/nurse then, and I expect she was there when Dorothy died in June 1737,3 while her husband was away at sea in Freelove.4 Mary Prowd’s husband died a month later, and she lost her son Mark in January 1738—all her close family were dead by the time Mary was 31. The John Walker junior family were certainly still living in Haggersgate in 1743.5
Certainly during the years of 1746-1749, James Cook, as a three-year apprentice, lived in the house of John Walker Junior and his family, probably with some (but not all) of his other apprentices; and that Mary Prowd, and other servants, lived there too. George Young6 mentions that “In the course of his apprenticeship, he [Cook] spent several intervals at Whitby, chiefly in the depth of winter, when the coal vessels are laid up. At those times, according to the general custom among ship-owners in Whitby, he lodged in his master’s house. Here his sober habits and studious turn made him a favourite with an old7 trusty housekeeper [Prowd], many years employed in Mr Walker’s family.”
As both Walker and Prowd were friends with Cook, it is likely they lived in the same building, if only for the over-wintering. But was it in Haggersgate or in Grape Lane? There is evidence for both sides.
John Walker senior possibly bought the house in Grape Lane as a retirement home after living in his business-based property in Flowergate; certainly he was quite old (about 59) when he moved to Grape Lane. There was a slipway by the waterfront at the back of the house that was presumably used for business at some time, maybe by the previous owners. It is possible that it was hired out. John Walker senior died in 1743, when he was 72. The Poor Rate Assessment for that year shows his name deleted and replaced by “Mrs Ester [Walker]”, which meant that his widow was now the occupant of the house.
John Walker senior had made his will the previous year, and this will is the most cogent evidence of all.8 It states the following about the Grape Lane house.
I Give and devise to my dear beloved sons Henry Walker and John Walker their Heirs and Assigns for ever all that my Dwelling house wherein I now live with all the hereditaments and appurtenances to the same belonging or in any way appertaining To hold as Tenants in Comon and not as joint Tenants they paying or causing to be paid to my brother in law Richard Stonehouse each of them five pounds a year by weekly payments, to commence from and immediately on the demise of my said dearly beloved wife.9
My interpretation of the will is that Walker was giving to his sons the house in Grape Lane, in which he was currently living, but not until his wife had died. Such a disposal of property was quite normal at that time, with widows living in the house (as furnished) for the rest of their life, and then the property divided among the descendants. The widow was not the owner of the house, nor of its hereditaments and appurtenances (furniture, etc.), but could enjoy them for the rest of her lifetime.
The execution of the will did not take place as quickly as we might expect. Although John Walker senior died in 1743, his will had not been proved by the time Esther died in January 1750. The executors for his will were Esther, John and Henry. The executor for her will was Henry, who died in December 1751. His will was finally proved in 1754.
John Walker senior could have left the house to his sons and heirs as a joint tenancy, so that when one of them dies their share becomes part of the property of the other heirs. If he had, then when Henry died the house, etc., would have gone to John. Instead, he made them tenants in common, which meant that the two brothers were to own half of the house each, and half of all that was in it. It also meant that each half was their own property to pass on to their heirs when they died. Probably, John Walker the elder intended that the house would be rented out furnished (quite common at that time), with the proceeds being shared between his two surviving sons, John and Henry.
After Henry died, John Walker the younger expressed an interest in living in the house. Henry’s heirs naturally claimed their half of the house, and half of all that had been in the house at the time of John Walker senior’s death. It was resolved through the Church Courts; the papers of cases brought before these courts were called Cause Papers. In John’s case,10 an inventory of the house was produced. It was minutely detailed (e.g. recording “one warming pan… one Pail”), and later was used by the Captain Cook Memorial Museum to help reconstruct each room in the house with the right items. The exactitude of the inventory suggests that most of the furniture, etc., was largely the same as it had been when John Walker senior died.
One anomaly was the attic, which is not mentioned in the inventory. This omission suggests either that it was empty, or that it contained items that were not owned by John Walker senior at the time of his death.
The crucial debate concerns what was happening in the Grape Lane house between 1743 and 1750, during which James Cook was an apprentice (1746-1749).
One thing is certain: John Walker junior and his family did not move into the Grape Lane house to live with his mother. In 1743, John Walker had two children: Esther (by his first wife Dorothy) and Dorothy (by his second wife Elizabeth). By the end of 1750 there were seven children. It is un-imaginable that John Walker’s large family, their servants and the apprentices could all fit in along-side his mother and her servant(s).
It would have been be illegal and unwise for John Walker junior to take possession of the Grape Lane house while his mother was still living there, as the house and contents were hers to use for her life-time. Even after her death his father’s will be-queathed to him only half of the house, which he could not possess until the will was proved.
It has been suggested that the wharf and the slipway were used by John Walker in his line of work, and that the attic housed some of his apprentices. That is plausible, and would explain why the attic was not mentioned in the inventory, being empty for most of the year, except in the winter months when it would contain the apprentices and their sea-chests.
So, John Walker’s wife and children would have been living still in the Haggersgate house, presume-ably with Mary Prowd, whose prime duty would have been to look after the house and the Walker children. One might also expect John Walker to want to be with his wife and children at Haggersgate during the few weeks that he was not at sea, rather than having to tutor and supervise his adolescent apprentices at Grape Lane. If Prowd was at Haggersgate all the time, and Walker spent the evenings and nights there, who was looking after the apprentices at Grape Lane? And what would Esther think of this invasion of her house by people she did not know, and who went up and down her staircase?
If the story of Mary Prowd’s effusive greeting to James Cook when he visited the Grape Lane house after his First Voyage is true (and I hope it is),11 then I think that John Walker junior and Mary Prowd and James Cook must have spent some time together, if only during the winter months. And that must surely have been at Haggersgate, and not Grape Lane. Beaglehole refers to “John Walker’s own house in Haggersgate, on the west side of the river, where Cook lodged with his master”, adding in a footnote “Mrs Walker’s House and its attic in Grape Lane are popularly regarded as the premises where Cook lived and slept, but the dates make this impossible.”12
After the Cause Paper and the will were sorted out, John Walker did move into the Grape Lane house;13 but that was long after Cook had stopped being one of his apprentices. In the mid to late 18th Century the slipway was built over to make a courtyard,14 which suggests that Walker in his later years, like his father, used the Grape Lane house for pleasure rather than work.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 21, volume 39, number 3 (2016).
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