The Williamsons of Widnes

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Ashley Shaftesbury Cooper 1890-1967 & Eileen Honorah  Williamson 1889-1980

Ashley Shaftesbury Cooper was born on December 3, 1890 at Wiarton, Bruce county, Ontario, Canada.  He was the son of Joseph Balton Cooper and Ethel Manley of Orillia, Ontario, Canada.  Family report his mother Ethel died at his birth.  Ashley died February 6, 1967 in Vancouver B.C. Canada.  His father was a practicing pharmacist in Ontario.

Eileen Honorah Williamson was born 24 February 1889 at Widnes, Lancashire, UK, and died on March 13, 1980 at Vancouver B.C.  Eileen was the second daughter of John and Ellen Williamson of Widnes                        Ashley Cooper ca 1908                              Eileen Williamson ca 1907             and later of Vancouver  B.C. Canada.  Her father John owned a tailor shop and was active in local and regional  Liberal Party politics in Lancashire.  He was later a journalist and editor of various newspapers British Columbia.
Ashley Cooper's family believed he was related to the famous 19th century English Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley-Cooper) whose contributions played a large role in improving the condition of working children and of women. His efforts were put into English law through the Factory Act in 1834 and the Coals Mine Act in 1833. He was also involved in offering education through the ragged schools.  Whether or not Ashley was related to the great Lord has never been verified, however it was often remarked upon in family circles.  Please note, (In the record of the Joseph Balton Cooper to Ethel Manley, he is identified as the son of William and Marie Cooper. Although no birth records have been yet found, it is possible that they were Anthony William Ashley-Cooper and Maria Ann Baillie of the historic Ashley-Cooper family in England.)
                                                                                                                        Joseph Balton Cooper ca 1890

We are inclined to believe that Ashley's father may have been a remittance man.  It was widely known in Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries that men called "remittance men"; were men banished to the overseas Dominions, were often the sons of aristocrats or of other prominent men.  They were sent away in Victorian times, amply funded, for various reasons, usually because they cause embarrassment to acknowledge as born out of wedlock,  as criminals, or suffered various unhappy reputations.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
Sometime after his mother's death at his birth in Ontario in 1890, he was taken to live with his maternal grandparents, the Manson family in Agassiz, a small farming community in the upper Fraser Valley near Vancouver B.C.  There, alongside his Manson uncles, aunts and cousins, he was raised on the farm.  Sometime during his teens, the Manson's moved to Vancouver.  He began to seek a job and to begin a new life.  He gained employment with Canadian Pacific Telegraphs, a division of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  As telegraphy demanded the use of the Morse Code for sending and receiving telegrams, he soon learned this new communicating skill and enjoyed a reputation as a first class telegrapher.  Sometime around 1909 or 1910, he married.  Unfortunately, we do not know the name of his first wife, who tragically also died during the birth of their first child.  The loss of his mother and of his wife in childbirth were wrenching emotional events he never forgot.  Yet, during his stay with his Manson grandmother in south Vancouver in the following period, he met Eileen Williamson, who as the sister of the local corner store owners Nicholas and Florence Williamson, he was soon to marry.

Eileen Williamson seemed to inherit both the traces of her ancestors good looks and love of the arts and of life in general.  The family claim her father spoiled her and she expressly adored him.  At his knee she listened to his storytelling and the music of his violin.  As she grew and matured she learned to play the violin, which she played well.  Eileen began her life long adventure in writing, dabbled in sketching, painting, a little prose, however reading and writing poetry was her special interest and love.  She engaged and absorbed poetry enthusiastically all her life.  She was this author's godmother.  As she and Ashley were childless, she endowed her love on the author and his siblings, nieces and nephews in great measure.  While some of the less enthused critics of her poetry find her creations as enjoyable, others have praised her skill and talent with honors and prizes to be treasured.  She was also a fascinating incurable romantic, seriously in love with love!

 <----- Eileen Williamson ca 1906

Eileen exuded a deep attraction to the romantic life.  She would tell of the young lads she fell in love with even as a very young girl.  Later as she matured into a young woman, her beauty and romantic personality captured the heart of many young suitors.  She was expressly fascinated by the Irish lads she met when holidaying each year at Knockanglass in Tipperary  She well remembered a special boy friend she left behind at the Tralee railway station in County Kerry on her way back to Tipperary and to England.  Evidently he and she felt the pain of broken hearts over the separation.  In later years her poetry, her reading and her movie watching seemed to always reflect her romantic preoccupation.  Now, she never displayed preoccupation with hidden sexual implications, she was just a truly romantic heart who was in love with the idea of human and divine love and adored its purity and goodness.  This love is also apparent in her religious faith and in her love for Jesus for whom she honored in her poems, "The Cross" and "In the Garden of Gethsemane".

Ashley and Eileen married secretly in 1913 at St Phillips Anglican Church in Vancouver.  The Williamson parents were offended by the way it was privately carried out.  They convinced the couple to do it properly again at the family church of St Patrick's in front of a large gathering of family and friends during a nuptial Mass.   Ashley had been raised to belong to the Loyal Orange Lodge, that held no small disrespect for Catholics and the Catholic church.  Ashley's decision to marry Eileen, an RC, was considered a serious offence against the family and the lodge. In the following years he was treated rather shabbily by his grandfather Manley, yet his grandmother Manley and his cousins never denied or ceased their love for him.

So, the couple began their deeply committed married life which never diminished or faltered as their lives drew them ever closer together.  Ashley literally  adored her, never ever showing anything but a deep love for her all the days of his life.  He was revered by the Williamson's as a man of learning, of dignity, and a thorough gentleman.  He eventually converted and became a Catholic and ever offered his abiding love and loyalty to the faith.  The family considered their inability to bring children into the world an unfortunate tragedy.

Eileen's desire to create poems never diminished throughout her life.  Almost any idea or event that caught her imagination was subject to her pen.  While she found Byron and Shelley and other classic poets most attractive, she had a very special love for John Keats and studied his style and approach for years.  She would receive the inspiration to write frequently, often suddenly, and would drop everything else to put her thoughts and verses to paper --- on whatever she could find at the moment, be it a napkin, scrap of paper, or on the backs of envelopes within her reach.  After an episode of writing and editing a new poem, Ashley would take the new creation to his old Underwood typewriter to type it up for posterity.  With her permission, a few months before her death in 1980, this author gathered almost 100 of her poems, had them newly retyped, copied, and packaged in covers,  and dispensed these treasures to her remaining siblings and some nieces and nephews.  Two of her acclaimed poems, one named "The Cross" for which she received a gold medal in a 1933 international competition, is printed below for the reader's interest.

Ashley was a simple humble man who never seemed to have any great ambitions in life other than his great love and joy of learning about the wonders of the world, his love of history, wisdom and honor.  Eileen was all that really mattered to him.  He remained a telegrapher all his life.  They owned an old 1922 Willis Overland Whippet car which seem to go on and on for years and finally broke down around 1950.  They did not venture far from the city in their little car and frequently spent evenings at Spanish Banks beach walking along the shore or sitting in the car enjoying the gorgeous scenery of mountains and sea that surrounds the inlet of Vancouver harbor.  Sometimes Ashley would collect pieces of wood for their home fireplace from along the beach. He was a handy wood carver and would make bows and arrows, whistles or sling shots for the visiting nephews, and trinkets for the nieces.
<----- Ashley & Eileen ca 1920's
Ashley died very suddenly one morning in 1967 while gathering kindling and wood for the kitchen stove/cooker.  He suffered an acute heart failure.  Eileen had missed him for a while and eventually found him lying on the pile of wood he had just chopped.  She could not believe he was gone, she missed him so very much and was cruelly depressed for years after.  She moved from their little home into a small apartment complex, but gradually lost her smile and loving humor and suffered in loneliness for Ashley thereafter.  Her enthusiasm for poetry diminished radically, and thereafter most of her creations were of Ashley and of her memories and sorrowful loss.  In 1980, in her 91st year, she died of pneumonia while residing at a seniors home in Vancouver.

Those members of her extended family --- remaining siblings, nieces and nephews and a few friends remember "Eily and Ash" as they were affectionately called,  with happy memories.  Their loving ways and joyful natures remain with us forever.  May they rest in everlasting peace and joy! 

This story of Ashley and Eileen Cooper is a happy work of their godson John Farrell Hopwood who loved them and is grateful to them for their loving presence in his life.  Copyright 2009


A Presentation of a Recognition and a Few of the Poems of Eileen Honorah Cooper

The following announcement was published in The Poetry Quarterly (Summer, 1933) an English periodical devoted to British and American poetry and drama.

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Mr. Walter K. Lewis very much regrets that, although many well-expressed poems with excellent sentiments were sent in on the subject, "Why are we here?" He does not consider any of them up to his idea of a gold standard.  He has intended to suggest another attempt at a different subject, but on reading the pages of the April issue of the P. Q., his attention was arrested by the exquisite beauty, pathos and truth of a poem called 'The Cross'.  This seems to him a perfect answer to his question "Why are we here?"  It is to learn the lesson of the Cross of Calvary.  Therefore, with the Editor's kind permission, he is sending the medal to Eileen Honorah Cooper, of British Columbia."



I am the cross, and I have stood
Upon this hill, where ages pass;
And far out flung my arms of wood
Give benediction to the grass

I am the cross, the wind and rain
For centuries caressed my frame;
A thousand sunsets left their stain,
Where sinners bow their head in shame.

I am the cross, I have been dumb
When hatred speared His side and thrust
Its obscene scoffs, to make Him numb;
To bow His head unto the dust.

I am the cross, I was content
To bear the heavy load of death;
So will not you, with sorrows bent,
Share for my sake, His anguished breath?

I am the cross, my rusty nails
Still pierce His hand throughout the years;
Still through the path to Calvary trails
That weary form, with unshed tears.

I am the cross 'twas not His aim
To stain the earth with blood of man;
He came to help the blind, the lame,
And on all evil put His ban.

I am the cross, lay down your swords,
With arms outstretched, I plead above;
One died upon these cruel boards
To make the world akin with love.

*     *     *     *


My heart as been a gypsy,
All the livelong day,
Since meadow lark awakened me.
Then gaily flew away.

Down in the Spring's new grasses
Where daffodilies dance,
And in the beds of crocuses
My vagrant soul did glance

My heart has been a gypsy,
A wanton tamborine,
Decked in the wildest colours of
Bright orange, red and green.

I saw the pussy-willows,
With silver-bobbing heads
And blood red breasted robins,
A-weaving their soft beds.

And down the crooked highways,
And on the far-off hills,
With gypsy madness in my soul,
I heard the whip-poor-wills.

Who brings this wondrous magic,
On whose enchanted wing
Come thoughts, that send me gypsying,
The vagabond of Spring?

*    *    *    *


We found her on the attic stairs
Wee Johnnykin and I,
One Autumn day we looked for bears,
We heard a sad low sigh.

The dust of years lay on her head,
She looked so still and white,
Wee Johnnykin said she was dead,
And dragged her to the light.

Her hair was matted, but the life,
Still shone from those brown eyes,
Like some bedraggled drudging wife,
Whose love pierced purple skies.

Wee Johnnykin sat down and cleaned
The grime and stain away.
And in his big blue eyes, I gleaned,
Might she come down to play?

As evening cast her tapered hands,
Where silver shafts had glanced,
I saw him stroke the ragged strands,
Where once the gold had danced.

This was long, long years ago,
Wee Johnnykin's a man.
His hair is like the drifting snow,
But he still has Raggedy Ann.

*    *    *    *


I have to climb a mountain,
Rugged and steep,
Saddened with sorrow'
Every step I weep.

To search for my beloved,
My treasure, my own.
Beneath each craggy rock,
Beneath each stone.

Until I reach the top
And see afar a star.
God's love will bear me
To where you are.

*    *    *    *


It must have been that beauty dwelt
Beneath those olive trees.
For when He sipped the brimming cup,
There stirred a tender breeze,
That told of Spring and hope and love.
And sweet delights of life -
When fluted notes of songbirds bring
No hint of sorrow, strife.

Then, as the great red drops fell down
And stained the tender grass,
The chalice trembled in His hand;
He prayed that it might pass,
'Twas but a fleeting sign of pain,
The rugged path seemed drear,
No soul in all the world to wait,
With Him, to shed a tear.

Though anguish filled the cup, He drank;
The garden lay in gloom;
Upon a hill there stood a cross,
Foreshadowing a tomb.

They all were His, the Spring's incense,
The blush on Judah's hills,
The blue enchanting roof of earth,
The verdant fairy rills.
O! He might leave the dregs behind,
But love that is divine,
Must sow its seeds with sacrifice,
To follow His design.

*    *    *    *


I miss the Clock upon the wall,
Outside the Bank of Montreal.
It swang and ticked the hours away.
Now I can't tell the time of day.
I have no watch, I have no clock,
No money in my Irish sock.
Please put the clock back on the wall,
Upon the Bank of Montreal

*    *    *    *