Frank Scarratt produced this postcard entitled "Mrs. Gray's Cottage, Coxbench" in the early 1900s. The image was sent to me by Nigel Aspdin, who had first come across it on eBay, although it has also been reproduced in the book, "Yesterday's Derby and its Districts" (by F.W. Scarratt, from "The Rod Jewell Collection," publ. 1995 by Breedon Books, ISBN 1-85983-030-7). Nigel was intrigued by the photograph:
When I first saw it I realised I recognised it. In my grandmother's autograph album her sister Alice Mellor née Slater (who featured in a previous Photo-Sleuth article) had painted this cottage. A scan is attached.
The watercolour sketch is clearly dated, "Feb 1900," while the PC is supposedly 1908, so my little watercolour pre-dates the post card.A search was carried out of the 1901 Census enumerator's sheets for the entire hamlet of Coxbench, which although not very large, extends across the border of both of Holbrook's census sub-districts, and the relevant portions of the 1891 and 1899 editions of Kelly's trade directory for the hamlet. No evidence has been found, from that time period anyway, of a Mrs. Gray living in or near Coxbench. However there was a Mrs. Ellen Grace, an elderly widowed laundress, living in Lee Lane. It is common knowledge that names can be corrupted like this very easily, and I wondered if it was likely that "Mrs. Grace's cottage" became "Mrs. Gray's Cottage" by the time the postcard was published.
What I now wonder is, why was "Mrs Grays Cottage" of interest for a post card? She must have had some local fame to warrant a post card even after her cottage fell into ruin. Alice painted it in 1900, and Mrs Gray is there in the door. Alice would have gone to Coxbench with her father as at that time he owned the lease on the quarry there.
I have worked out which is Lee Lane, its SO OBVIOUS, it runs parallel and in the lee of the significant hill that separates it to Holbrook and Duffield to the west, the prevailing wind. I actually got the 1880-90 OS survey map copied this morning, but it has no road names as I expected. However the Scarratt book gives a next clue "just before the Fox and Hounds". I know where it was now, I have looked on site before, the setting seemed to fit but the original cottage has gone or has been re-built to a different design.
1880s Ordnance Survey Map of Coxbench
Image © Derby Local Studies Library & Courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Nigel received confirmation of the identity of "Mrs. Grace" from another source, as well as the story that although it had never been proved "it is highly likely that this lady was the mother of Alice (Grace) the Little Eaton Hermit who lived in a bacon box and of which numerous cards were produced including one by Scarratt in 1907." However, another source "was adamant that Alice Grace had no connection with the Mrs. Grace at the cottage."
Alice Grace in her bacon box at Coxbench Quarry
Image courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
The story of colourful local character Alice Grace has been told many times, including a BBC article, Old Alice in the Bacon Box, the Little Eaton Hermit, a thread entitled "Granny's sayings & Bacon Box Alice" on the DerysGen Mailing List, and in a booklet by Jane Brown (Source: Derby Local Studies Library, courtesy of Nigel Aspdin). Rosemary Lockie has images of another two postcards (1 & 2), both dated 1906, and brief story on her web site.
This story intrigued me, as I have my own connection to a GRACE family of this area. My great-great-grandmother Emma Robinson née Bacon (1842-1900) was from Dale Abbey. A niece Hannah Bacon (1856-1947) - son of her brother Matthew Bacon (1830-1885) who had moved to Holbrook - married Henry Grace (1849-1902), a quarryman from Coxbench.
Using GRO birth, marriage and death indexes and census records, I've managed to prove that Alice Grace (d. 1927), otherwise known as "Bacon Box Alice," was born at Morley in 1853, daughter of William Grace (b. 1808) and his second wife Anne Seed, not in 1867 as stated in some reports. She was, in turn, grand-daughter of Joseph Grace (born c. 1788 Horsley) & Hannah Wathall of Horsley, and thus a first cousin of my relative Henry Grace through his father Samuel Grace (born 1817), who was also a son of Joseph & Hannah Grace.
Now to "Mrs. Grace" who occupied the cottage photographed by Scarratt and painted by Alice Slater. From an examination of the 1901 Census and contemporary trade directories, she was almost certainly Ellen Grace, widow of quarry labourer William Grace (1826-1872) who was, in turn, a son of Samuel Grace (1790-1865) and Elizabeth Handford of Horsley. Samuel was a son of William Grace and Sarah Whetton, also of Horsley, who were married there in 1776.
It is tempting to assume that Joseph Grace, grandfather of both Alice and Henry Grace, was a son of William Grace & Sarah Whetton. However, I have found no evidence of this using the IGI (International Genealogical Index), and it is evident that there were several other GRACE couples producing children in Horsley at around this time.
I have little doubt that the GRACE lines would link up eventually, but to research them further, the parish registers for Horsley would need to be consulted. For the moment, I think we will have to accept that while there is no close relationship between Alice Grace of the Bacon Box and Mrs Grace of the Lee Lane Cottage, they were almost certainly related through a common GRACE ancestor in the early to mid-1700s.