Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cotton, St. Vincent

COTTON, Sir ST. VINCENT (1801–1863), gambler and driver of the Brighton coach, eldest son of Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, baronet [q. v.], was born at Madingley Hall on 6 Oct. 1801, and succeeded his father as the sixth baronet in 1812. He was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, but it is not on record that he took any degree. He obtained a lieutenancy in the 10th light dragoons on 13 Dec. 1827, and served with his regiment in Portugal. During his residence abroad he kept up a correspondence with the driver of the ‘Cambridge Times’ coach, in which he did not give a very favourable opinion of the Portuguese. After his return to England he retired from the army on 19 Nov. 1830. He very soon distinguished himself in the hunting, shooting, racing, cricketing, and pugilistic world. He hunted at Melton and was umpire for Captain Ross in the Clinker and Radical match. From 1830 to 1835 he was a constant player in the Marylebone matches, and the love of cricket clung to him to the last. He was familiarly known either as Vinny Cotton or as Sir Vincent Twist. He lived among a roystering set who were great patrons of the prize-ring, and with Lord Waterford, Lord Waldegrave, and others he was a constant visitor to Jem Burn's parlour, whence they made midnight sallies on area bells, door-scrapers, knockers, &c. His favourite maxim with respect to the procedure to be adopted in a row was, ‘Pitch into the big rosy men, but if you see a little lemon-faced nine-stone man, have nothing to do with him.’ He was also, with his friends, frequently to be found at Tom Spring's levées in Castle Street, Holborn. His insatiable passion for hazard was, however, his ruin, and Crockford is reported to have said of Cotton that he never knew his equal in fondness for play or a more dangerous player. Having entirely dissipated the Madingley property, he was obliged to look out for some means of obtaining a living, and taking advantage of his skill as a coachman, and aware of the profits to be made on the Brighton road by a well-appointed coach, he bought the goodwill of the ‘Age’ from Jack Willaw, and for years drove it from Brighton to London and back. Coach-travelling had never been brought to such a pitch of perfection as it then reached under Cotton's auspices. The passengers were convinced that no team could get away from him, while his anecdotes and jokes caused the time to pass most pleasantly, and many a half-sovereign was the reward he received from his customers. The ‘Age,’ however, could not ultimately compete with the railway, and he had reluctantly to give up his coach. Nearly a quarter of a century before he died he was described as prematurely wrinkled and toothless, and for the last few years of his life he was so completely paralysed that he had to be carried to his carriage and strapped to the seat. He died at his residence, 5 Hyde Park Terrace, Kensington Road, London, on 25 Jan. 1863.

[Morning Post, 28 Jan. and 4 Feb. 1863; Sporting Mag. February 1863, p. 87; Gent. Mag. March 1863, pp. 393, 402; Lillywhite's Cricket Scores, ii. 140 (1862).]

G. C. B.