Sidney Brandon Cole (Sid Cole) (1893-1957)
Sidney Brandon Cole - or Sid Cole as he was generally known - inherited the Potteries at Tottenham on the death of his father, E G. Cole. Like his father, his achievements were noteworthy. In his youth he was national roller skating champion - and he carried this interest in sport into his adult life when he championed various sporting causes. He survived active service in the RAF in World War One and went on to be a Justice of the Peace, an alderman, the first mayor of Wood Green, recipient of the freedom of the borough ... On this page: Sid Cole: the person; as mayor; opinions expressed by him and his obituary.
I never knew Sid Cole. His grandfather, John, was my great great grandfather, so my main motivation has always been to find out about our shared ancestry. In the course of that research, I have come across quite a lot about Sid as a person.
Sid Cole was an enigmatic figure in that he seems to have generated extreme reactions in people. No-one who knew him appears to have been indifferent to him.
Of the people who admired him - or maybe merely respected him - many seem to have been colleagues in the wide variety of activities in which he made his mark: national roller skating champion, survivor of active service in the RAF in the First World War, local councillor, the first mayor of Wood Green, chairman and/or member of various local and district committees, Justice of the Peace, Freeman of the Borough, champion of causes - and of course a local employer in his capacity as last owner of the Cole Potteries. I spoke to someone who appreciated Sid's 'generosity' in letting his 'friends' have black market petrol from the Potteries during World War II. (This was at a time when most ordinary people were suffering severe shortages - and they would probably not have looked so charitably on Sid's black market activities. Potteries were treated as special cases for petrol rationing because they had to deliver pots for growing food. The deliveries from the London potteries were from stockpiles as production had to cease during the war in case the lights from the kilns signalled positions to enemy bombers.)
Sid was born on 1 June 1893 at the Cole Potteries in White Hart Lane. He was educated at Trinity Grammar School and he maintained links with the school in the 1940s, inviting its pupils to visit the pottery. Was Trinity Grammar School a Tottenham School, I wonder, and do any of those pupils still have photos?
To understand more of Sid Cole in public life, one cannot do better than to read the sample of press cuttings below. They clearly reflect the positives, but also hint at some of the negatives.
From my perspective as a family historian, I have a love-hate relationship with Sid. On the one hand, his prominence in public life led to various interviews with the press which provided invaluable leads for me. Yet the press cuttings also misled by omission on too many occasions for them to have been chance or misreporting. Sid clearly knew how to present the best gloss on anything that involved him.
Sid certainly alienated his immediate family. One reason was his womanising. I have lost count of the number of people who have mentioned this. Even when I was a child, my mother, who was not inclined to talk of such things, used to speak of the room in the pottery house where Sid would meet his fancy ladies. Another source said that if women were going anywhere near Sid Cole they ought to make sure that they wore tin knickers (presumably so that Sid couldn't get in). Sid was eventually named as co-respondent in a divorce case at a time when divorces were social taboo. That was in 1944.
Sid and his wife, Janet, eventually separated and he set up home with the secretary of the Alexandra Palace Skating Club, Dorothy Lamb. By then Sid's son, Brandon, had been killed in war service, but grief and depression were not responsible for Sid's behaviour. A close war-time friend of Brandon - and in his nineties when he spoke to me - said that if Brandon hadn't died, he would have murdered his father.
Sid also alienated the wider family. Sometime in the 1930s, all contact between him and the descendants of my great grandfather, James Reedman Cole, was abruptly cut off. This was because Sid sacked my great grandfather as live-in manager at the potteries. By that time my great grandfather was frail and in his late 70s, and it was probably time for him to retire anyway. However, although my great grandfather had helped Sid's father, E. G. Cole, to build up the pottery and it was in Sid's father's will that Sid should look after him, Sid turned him out of the pottery house to make flats for the employees. Sid was reported as saying that my great grandfather (his uncle) should be treated no differently from any other employee. I don't know what financial arrangements, if any, Sid made for my great grandfather, but the story that has come down in the family is that Sid behaved very badly indeed. My great grandfather's eldest daughter, who had legal knowledge and was at one time a Justice of the Peace, wanted to take the matter to court, but my great grandfather wouldn't let her because he didn't want trouble in families.
Sid sold the potteries in the late 1950s and died soon afterwards on Christmas Day 1957. He was 64 years old and a wealthy man. According to a contemporary newspaper cutting (see below) the funeral on 31 December 1957 was a private one. My interpretation is that probably no-one, with the possible exception of his wife, Janet Cole, his daughter and his partner Dorothy Lamb, attended. Certainly no-one either wanted or felt in a position to organise the inscription of a headstone in his memory. He was buried with his parents in their plot. I came across this in the records of Tottenham Cemetery. The plot (Private grave 5400A, area 2) lies next to a second one which Sid's father had bought for his parents (my great great grandparents) and it was they whom I was researching at the time.
Sid Cole's family line has died out. His son Brandon (Eric Sidney Brandon) was born on 16 April 1923; he enlisted for service on World War Two at HMS Raleigh, Torpoint, Cornwall on 2 October 1942 and was killed on 16 January 1944 in a tank landing craft. His name is inscribed on a war memorial on Plymouth Hoe. Sid's daughter, Elisabeth married John Blunt. Sid disapproved and refused to give her away at her wedding. It was one of Brandon's last - and apparently enjoyable - family tasks. Elisabeth was childless. Everything I have found out about Brandon, Elisabeth and Sid's first wife, Janet, has been totally positive. She died on 9 May 1966, aged 79 years. Her cremation took place privately on 12 May at Tottenham Cemetery where there is a memorial plaque to her.
70 years later I was to hold this same mace in my hand when I visited the current mayor of Haringey.
These opinions, reported in The Wood Green, Southgate and Palmers Green Herald sometime during 1946 or 1947 could be heard as readily today as they were then.
Green, Southgate and Palmers Green Local Paper
Ex-Mayor attacks Rising Rates
Vicious Circle of Increasing Costs
An ex-Mayor of Wood Green, and for many years a dominant figure in local life, Mr S B Cole, J P, has placed on record, in a letter to the “Weekly Herald” his fear that the rising "Rolls-Royce" rate charges will bring Wood Green in danger of degenerating into “a slum area”.
The council should and must adopt the same attitude towards its expenditure, as would the average citizen, i.e. spend what it and they can afford. Many people would like a Rolls Royce, but do not buy one because they cannot afford it, and the same principle under present circumstances must be adopted by public authorities. National considerations make such a policy necessary.
Much of the Council’s expenditure is of the "Rolls Royce" standard and could be cut by a determined effort. After a long experience in public life, I know that many of the things officials deem "necessary", seldom appear so necessary if looked at thorough the eyes of those who have to provide the wherewithal to pay for them, and it is in this direction that Councillors of the right calibre and capacity, being on the spot can aid those who they are presumed to represent.
The writer of this newspaper piece did not fully check his facts in that it was not true that "It was in 1805 that Alderman Cole's great great grandfather came to live in White Hart Lane" - see the other pages on this site about the family and their potteries.
3 January 1958
DEATH OF MR S. B. COLE, J.P.
The death on Christmas Day of Mr. Sydney Brandon Cole, former Mayor and twice and Alderman of Wood Green, one of its honorary Freemen, marks a break in an association between the name of Cole and public affairs in the borough which goes back for more than a hundred years. Mr Cole was 65.
There have been members of the Cole family in the district for over 150 years. It was in 1805 that Alderman Cole's great grandfather came to live in White Hart Lane [untrue - Pat], and his grandfather was born there in 1807 [untrue - Pat]. At the same house in 1853, Alderman Cole's father, the late Mr E G Cole, who was intimately concerned with the early development of the district was born [untrue - Pat].
Mr S. B. Cole was first elected a member of the ten Urban District Council in 1920. In 1925 he was appointed chairman of the works committee, and office which he held until 1937.
In this capacity he played an important part in the development of the borough, in particular with the sale of Glad... Gardens, (now The Broadway) in the High Road, from the proceeds of which the New River playing fields were acquired, and also Wood Green Town Football Club ground, in White Hart Lanes, which was named Cole's Playing Fields.
Mr Cole was elected Chairman of the Urban District Council in 1927 and had the distinction of being the first Mayor of the Borough, after the granting of its Charter of Incorporation in 1933, following the Charter Mayor, Alderman Nash, into office. At the same time, he was made an Alderman.
It was Alderman Cole who gave the mace and robes of the Deputy Mayor and Alderman to the Council.
He retired from the Council in 1937, but was co-opted as a member during the 1939-45 war. In 1947 he again stood for election to the Council and in 1949 was re-elected Alderman. His term of office expired in 1955. In 1935 he was made a Justice of the Peace.
He was associated with Alexandra Palace from 1922 to 1955, being Vice Chairman of the Trustees from 1949 to 1953. In 1954 he was appointed Chairman.
His keen interest in roller skating (he was amateur champion of Great Britain in 1912 and also the O... M... Southern Counties Champion) had much to do with the introduction of roller skating at the Palace and he was Honorary Manager of the rink for 18 years.
Alderman R. A. Clark, present chairman of the Alexandra Park Trustees, paid tribute to Mr Cole, his predecessor, on Monday evening. He said "He certainly had the Palace very much to hear. His work is very much appreciated up here."
Mr Harold Chubb, former Town Clerk of Wood Green, who had known Mr Cole well for 35 years, told the Weekly Herald: "He was a dominant personality in Wood Green local government in the 30's. He was a powerful influential man who had a lot to do with the planning of the district".
Alderman Cole was made a Freeman of the Borough at the same time as Mr Chubb in November 1954.
The funeral was held privately on Tuesday.