Aged 22, he inherited an art collection belonging to relatives. The Cottonian Collection includes 300 watercolours, 6,500 – 7000 prints and 2000 books.
“I am sorry to say that cholera has made its appearance in Ivybridge. There have been 4 fatal cases. Two healthy women were at work at the paper mill the day before yesterday, were taken ill the same evening and died before the next morning.”
a letter written by William Cotton to his friend William Barradaille on 17th August 1849
lived in the London area, but in 1839 he visited relatives in Devon and fell in love with the county. Soon after, he purchased Highland House in Ivybridge.
The Cottonian Collection found its third home in private hands at Ivybridge. This collection included books, oil paintings, watercolours, bronzes and sculptures, as well more personal items such as letters, journals, research notes, travel maps and account books.
Whilst in Devon, William became friendly with the heirs to Sir Joshua Reynolds and added some of his paintings to the collection at his own expense.
The Cottonian collection was eventually bequeathed to the people of Plymouth and opened as a public collection in 1853. Now housed at Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery it will be available to view again when the new Plymouth History Centre is opened in 2020.
William took an active role in Ivybridge and the surrounding area. He arranged care of the impoverished and was instrumental in forming a local board of health, which managed the cleaning of the drains and gutters. He also read prayers to the sick and dying in the absence of the vicar. Letters exist of his concerns of a cholera epidemic in the village in the early 1860s, following several cases of the disease.
William Cotton is buried at St John’s churchyard in Ivybridge.
Aged 22, he inherited an art collection belonging to relatives