John Wolstenholme Cobb was a Yorkshireman by birth and came first to the town in 1853 as curate to St Peter’s. He was an energetic and popular young curate and became intensely interested in the history of his adopted town and carried out extensive research, which is still respected and referred to today. In 1854 he gave two long lectures to the Mechanics’ Institute on the history of Berkhamsted. The following year he published these lectures as the History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted. By that time he had become curate of St Mary’s Northchurch, where he stayed until he was appointed vicar of Kidmore End, near Reading, in 1863. In the summer of 1861 he had married Elizabeth Mary Crofts, two years his senior, in Berkhamsted. She had been born in Painswick, Gloucestershire. At the time of the 16861 census Elizabeth Mary was staying with the Dorriens at Haresfoot. She was a fund holder, in other words had independent means.
In 1871 John was appointed Rector of Berkhamsted St Peter’s where he remained until his death in 1883. He was the first Rector to be appointed by the Earl Brownlow. From 1722 the Rector had been appointed by the Duchy of Cornwall but with the purchase of the Manor of Berkhamsted by the Brownlows in 1865 this duty devolved to them until the death of the last Earl in 1921.
In the preface of his first edition Cobb wrote ‘Compiled indeed, as they were, only in the short intervals which parochial engagements allowed for them, nothing elaborate was possible. Trouble, however, has not been spared to render them a trustworthy and connected record of the History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted’
Cobb devotes his first lecture to the Castle and its complicated history, the depth of which has scarcely been surpassed since. After the death of Cicely, Duchess ofYork he refers to Leland’s descriptions of the area, the building of Berkhamsted Place, the visit of the Prince of Wales to the School and the Murrays at Berkhamsted Place, quoting widely. He devotes time to James I and the Borough Charter. Both the School and St Peter’s Church are fully covered.
Even though Cobb had written his first edition some years ago he continued his research of the history of Berkhamsted. Rather than alter the original text he added new information in the form of appendices. Many of these are copies of original documents, with translations from the Latin, He also adds later more recent research quoting from others’ work. John Wolstenholme Cobb’s book is still widely available today in the original and later editions from Ebay or ABE Books.
Cobb was appointed Rector just before the completion of Butterfield’s Victorian restoration work when the church was faced with flint and many internal alterations were made. Further improvements occurred during his Rectorate.
There are several copies of the 1st and 2nd edition of Cobb’s History & Antiquities in the Society’s Collection including one grangerised version.