An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into our hid­den his­to­ries. This week: model Lily Cole

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - The Back Page - Nick Bar­ratt

At the age of 18, Lily Cole is one of Bri­tain’s top mod­els. She is also one the slimmest and was sharply crit­i­cised this week for be­ing too thin. (“I’m fine,” she coun­tered. “I eat.”) Hav­ing al­ready earned £10 mil­lion from her work, Lily re­cently gained straight As in her A-lev­els and se­cured a place at King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge, to read so­cial and po­lit­i­cal science. She was tal­ent-spot­ted four years ago while in Soho, Lon­don, and snapped up by Storm Mod­els. In 2004 she was named “Model of the Year” at the Bri­tish Fash­ion Awards. De­spite the fame and for­tune, Lily re­mains level-headed. Is there any­thing in her fam­ily back­ground that keeps her feet so firmly on the ground?

Who is she re­lated to?

Lily Lua­hana Cole was born in Tor­bay, Devon, in 1987, the daugh­ter of Christo­pher James Cole and his wife Pa­tience San­dra Cole, for­merly Owen, an artist from Wales. Christo­pher was 43 and Pa­tience 36 when they mar­ried in 1985. Christo­pher, who was work­ing in Tor­bay as a fish­er­man, came orig­i­nally from Nether Comp­ton in Dorset. There is no im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fi­able “fam­ily pro­fes­sion” in the Cole lin­eage. Christo­pher was the son of an es­tate agent and auc­tion­eer, Fred­er­ick Harry Cole, who mar­ried Maud Louise Far­ley in 1925. Her fa­ther was in the same pro­fes­sion, but this was not the orig­i­nal line of work for the fam­ily. Fred­er­ick’s fa­ther, Ge­orge Richard Cole, was first a butcher and then a farmer, and was suc­cess­ful enough to en­sure that his son re­ceived the ed­u­ca­tion that en­abled him to be­come an es­tate agent.

Ge­orge Richard’s fa­ther, Ge­orge Owen Cole, was an innkeeper in Mon­ta­cute, near Yeovil in Som­er­set, hav­ing pre­vi­ously run a butcher’s shop. An­other of his sons, Michael, fol­lowed him into the inn trade, and re­mained liv­ing with his par­ents and six other sib­lings at the time of the 1901 cen­sus. Clearly this was a crowded inn – aside from the fam­ily, a fur­ther two vis­i­tors and a cou­ple of lodgers were also res­i­dent there on the night of the cen­sus.

Ge­orge Cole se­nior played an im­por­tant part in the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Be­fore start­ing out as a butcher, he had worked as a dairy­man – a key re­tailer in days be­fore re­frig­er­a­tion, when peo­ple bought their milk, cream and cheese on a daily ba­sis. Each lo­cal com­mu­nity would there­fore have sep­a­rate re­tail out­lets within easy walk­ing dis­tance for a variety of fresh pro­duce — dairy, meat, fruit and veg­eta­bles — a fact we of­ten take for granted in to­day’s world of su­per­mar­kets, with ev­ery­thing un­der one roof.

Even Ge­orge’s fa­ther would have been well known in Mon­ta­cute: he also ran a pub, the King’s Arms.

Lily’s ma­ter­nal line is equally fas­ci­nat­ing in terms of re­veal­ing how peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties changed over time. Her mother, Pa­tience San­dra Owen, was the daugh­ter of a labourer in a brick­works, David Wyn­d­ham Owen. He had started out as a miner in Wales, like his fa­ther, Thomas John Owen. David mar­ried a girl from Sus­sex, Kath­leen Sylvia Young, whose mother was a bit of a mys­tery. Born Doris Bent­tell Leeves in 1896, when there was no record of her fa­ther, in 1901 she was liv­ing with her grand­par­ents, Jabez and Frances Leeves and their daugh­ter, Florence, who worked as a gen­eral ser­vant.

There are clas­sic signs of il­le­git­i­macy here, and it is likely that Doris’s un­usual mid­dle name might pro­vide a clue to the sur­name of her nat­u­ral fa­ther.

The fam­ily was hardly well off and in 1881 Jabez and his chil­dren earned a liv­ing in poul­try, fat­ten­ing up chick­ens for slaugh­ter. Once again, this ap­pears to be a fam­ily pro­fes­sion: sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of Leeves also worked ei­ther col­lect­ing or gath­er­ing up chick­ens.

It’s clearly a far cry from the glam­orous world that Lily now in­hab­its.

Next week: ac­tor Ru­pert Everett.

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