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Page last updated at 08:23 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 09:23 UK
Profile: Handel Cossham

By Jo Dwyer
BBC Local, Bristol

Handel Cossham
Handel Cossham was born in Thornbury in 1824

Handel Cossham, owner of Kingswood Colliery, was held in high esteem by his colliery workers.

At his death in 1890 it was estimated that 50,000 people were present at the cemetery or lined the route.

In his will, having no children, Handel Cossham left his estate in trust, so that after the death of his wife, a hospital could be built for the working people of East Bristol and South Gloucestershire, who were largely miner's families.

Handel Cossham was born in Thornbury in March 1824. Handel's father, Jesse Cossham, was the town's carpenter and jobbing builder.

When Handel was 21 he became a clerk at Yate Colliery, where he gained a knowledge of mining and taught himself about geology.

In 1848 Handel Cossham married Elizabeth Wethered and entered into partnership with his father-in-law William Wethered and his wife's three brothers.

Partnership formed

The Right Honorable Augustine Birrell MP, gave a biographical sketch of Handel Cossham at the Opening Ceremony of Cossham Memorial Hospital in June 1907.

According to an extract of this speech, once the partnership was formed, it "commenced the Colliery undertaking at Parkfield, Pucklechurch."

Cossham Hospital
A hospital was opened in Handel Cossham's name in 1907
In 1864 the Kingswood Colliery was also acquired and in 1879 the business was formed into a Limited Liability Company, with nearly all the shares being owned by Handel Cossham, who had also bought the mineral rights of the St George area in 1875.

The company now controlled almost 3,000 acres of freehold minerals, yielding a daily output of nearly 1,000 tons of coal and employing over 1,500 workers.

Augustine Birrell's biographical sketch states: "Mr Cossham was regarded by the Colliers with the kindliest feelings; they had perfect confidence in him knowing that they would always receive justice at his hands and that any reasonable demands they made would be well considered and if possible conceded."

In politics Handel Cossham was a Liberal. In 1885 he was elected to represent East Bristol in Parliament, which he did until his death.

He also took an active interest in local affairs, his home for many years being Weston near Bath.

'Deeply religious'

He entered Bath Town Council in 1882 and was elected Mayor of the City, an office he filled for the second time in 1884.

He also, at different times, served on Gloucestershire County Council, the St George's Local Board and the St George's School Board.

Augustine Birrell states: "Mr Cosham was a most vigorous Temperance Advocate being practically a life abstainer. He was also a deeply religious man."

On 23 April 1890, he was suddenly taken ill in the House of Commons, and died a few hours later. His death was a great shock to everyone.

Handel Cossham's memorial
Handel Cossham's memorial stands in St George Cemetery
By a wish expressed in his will, he was buried at the St George Cemetery, now Avonview Ceremony.

Thanks to Handel Cossham leaving money in his will for a hospital for local working people, Cossham Memorial Hospital, at the top of Lodge Hill, on the border of Fishponds and Kingswood, was opened on 1 June 1907.

At the official opening Augustine Birrell said: "He was a most vigorous and energetic man, who applied himself with unsparing assiduity to his personal business and public work...So passed away a man whose aim in life was to do good, loved by many and respected by all."

The inscription at the foot of Handel Cossham's monument at Avonview Cemetery reads: "This monument is erected by those who were in his service at the Kingswood and Parkfield Collieries in affectionate remembrance of their friend and employer who from his early days devoted his life to the development of the mining industry of the Bristol Coal Field."

With many thanks to John Bartlett from Fishponds Local History Society for all his help on this feature and for the photographs.

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