John Cotton - architect, artist and historian
John Cotton was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, in 1844. His father William was a builder, from 1849 he had an office as an auctioneer, then later was an architect. John was educated at home initially. In 1856 he was sent to Sedgeley Park, a boarding-school for Catholics near Wolverhampton. During the next few years he trained and worked as an architect in several cities, before setting up a practice in Temple Street, Birmingham, in 1870. Whilst lodging in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, he met Esther Rowley, also originally from Bromsgrove. They had a baby daughter in 1877; John supported Esther and his daughter but they were not able to get married until 1881. In the 1880s he worked in Birmingham. He was a founder member of the Midland Arts Club in 1883, President of the Archaeological section of the Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1885, and a member of the Central Literary Club from 1886. There are several of his poems in the Central Literary Magazine, held in the Archives, Heritage and Photography section of the Library of Birmingham. [Shelving code L50.7].
In 1888 John Cotton became the local Board Architect for Bromsgrove. He and his younger brother, William Alfred Cotton, both collected many materials relating to the history, poetry, fiction, society and community of Bromsgrove and Worcestershire. Sadly William died in 1889 after a long illness. John continued and developed the collection. By this time John Cotton was fairly well-off and could spend time on painting and poetry, as well as architecture. This image of a dragon is one example of the many attractive bookplates he designed for his books. From 1892 John Cotton and his wife and daughter Esther Beatrice lived in Oxford, then in Leamington; in 1906 he returned to Sparkbrook in Birmingham and lived there until he died in 1934.
John Cotton arranged and presented the Cotton Collection to Birmingham Central Library in 1924, and it is held in Archives and Heritage. The collection, made by John and his Brother William, is primarily about Bromsgrove, but covers other parts of Worcestershire. It includes some information about King's Norton, Moseley, Northfield, Sparkhill and Yardley as they were all in Worcestershire until they became part of Birmingham in 1911. The collection consists of manuscripts, drawings, photos, newscuttings, maps and plans from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. The catalogue will eventually be available online.