Cooper, William Durrant (DNB00)

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COOPER, WILLIAM DURRANT (1812–1875), antiquary, came from a family intimately connected for many generations with the county of Sussex. His ancestor Thomas Cooper was a squire dwelling at Icklesham in the seventeenth century; his father, also called Thomas Cooper, was a solicitor practising at Lewes. His mother, Lucy Elizabeth Durrant, was a great-granddaughter of Samuel Durrant of Cockshot in Hawkhurst, a parish situate in Kent, but on the borders of Sussex. Their eldest son, William Durrant Cooper, was born in the picturesque High Street of Lewes, in that section within the parish of St. Michael, on 10 Jan. 1812, and was educated at the grammar school of Lewes. When only fifteen years old he became an articled clerk to his father, and at once occupied his leisure hours with the study of the history of his native county. When Horsfield undertook the task of compiling a history of Sussex, he found a ready coadjutor in Cooper. The ‘Parliamentary History of the County of Sussex and of the several Boroughs and Cinque Ports therein,’ an inelegantly printed volume of fifty-three double column quarto pages, was his first publication (1834). It dealt with a subject unduly neglected in English history, and as the county contained numerous boroughs which were by-words for venality, its pages disclosed many incidents of political intrigue and corruption. His next work was ‘A Glossary of the Provincialisms in use in Sussex. Printed for private distribution,’ 1836, and reissued with considerable additions in 1853, when it was procurable by the world at large. Local expressions had, fifty years ago, attracted but slight attention, and this little catalogue of the words and phrases common on and around the South Downs tended to increase the study of provincial expressions generally, but it has now been superseded by the more complete collections of Mr. Parish. A third work, on Sussex, consisted of a memoir of the ‘Sussex Poets,’ published in 1842, and originally delivered as a lecture at Hastings. He is stated in ‘Notes and Queries’ (13 Nov. 1886, p. 398) to have printed privately in this year (1842) a paper of ‘Reasons for a new edition of the Nursery Rhymes.’ During these years Cooper had not neglected to acquire the necessary training for his profession, and at the Michaelmas term of 1832 he was admitted attorney and solicitor. In the following year he gave some evidence on the parish registers of his native shire before the committee of the House of Commons which investigated that difficult subject. Like his ancestors, he was a zealous liberal, and like them he battled energetically for his party in the Sussex elections. In 1837 he came to live in London, and, practically deserting the law, attached himself to the parliamentary staff of the ‘Morning Chronicle’ and the ‘Times.’ The Duke of Norfolk, mindful of a Sussex antiquary who had done good service for his own political creed, rewarded him with the honourable posts of steward for the leet court of Lewes borough and auditor of Skelton Castle in Cleveland, and it was in the muniment room at Skelton that Cooper discovered the ‘Seven Letters written by Sterne and his Friends,’ which he edited for private circulation in 1844. He had long been a member of the Reform Club, and since 1837 had acted as its solicitor, but the most lucrative position which he obtained was that of solicitor to the vestry of St. Pancras (20 Dec. 1858). Cooper's father died in 1841 and his mother in 1867. In 1872 he was himself stricken with an attack of paralysis, but he lingered three years longer, dying at 81 Guilford Street, Russell Square, on 28 Dec. 1875. He was never married. Two of his brothers predeceased him; a third, with an only sister, outlived him.

Cooper contributed a host of valuable articles to the ‘Sussex Archæological Collections,’ and for many years edited its annual volume gratuitously, during which period he annotated the papers of other antiquaries profusely. On his retirement from this post he was presented, at the society's meeting at Pulborough (August 1865), with a handsome silver salver. His contributions to the society's transactions on ‘Hastings’ and ‘The Oxenbridges of Brede Place, Sussex, and Boston, Massachusetts,’ and his articles in the eighth volume of its collections, were published separately. For the Camden Society he edited ‘Lists of Foreign Protestants in England, 1618–88,’ ‘Savile Correspondence, Letters to and from Henry Savile,’ ‘Expenses of the Judges of Assize on Western and Oxford Circuits, 1596–1601,’ and ‘The Trelawny Papers,’ the last of which appeared in the ‘Camden Miscellany,’ vol. ii. For the Shakespeare Society he edited Udall's comedy of ‘Ralph Roister Doister’ and the tragedy of ‘Gorboduc.’ To the ‘Reliquary’ he communicated an article on ‘Anthony Babington and the Conspiracy of 1586,’ printed separately in 1862. Many of his papers appeared in the transactions of the London and Middlesex Archæological Society, one was in the Surrey Archæological Society proceedings, and a paper on ‘John Cade's followers in Kent’ was contributed to the Kent Society, and published as an appendix to B. B. Orridge's ‘Illustrations of Jack Cade's Rebellion.’ Cooper was one of the earliest contributors to ‘Notes and Queries,’ and a frequent writer in the ‘Archæologia.’ He compiled a history of Winchelsea in 1850, and wrote for vols. viii. and xxiii. of the ‘Sussex Archæological Collection’ two further papers on the same subject. Lower was indebted to him for information published in the work on ‘Sussex Worthies,’ and three manuscript volumes of his notes on Sussex were sold in the second parts of Mr. L. L. Hartley's library on 3–14 May 1886.

[Two Sussex Archæologists, W. D. Cooper and M. A. Lower, by Henry Campkin, 1877; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. v. 40 (1876); Lower's Hist. of Sussex, i. 261, ii. 251.]

W. P. C.