Thursday, 27 September 2012

George Cornwell (1817 - 1907), coal merchant

George Cornwell was my great, great grandfather - he was the father of Jane Wilkins nee Cornwell (1851-1934), who was the mother of Gertrude Amy Wilkins (1890-1919), who was the mother of my father, Eric William Taylor (1913-2003).

Records indicate that George Cornwell was born, lived and died in Kelvedon, which is a small town in Essex between Chelmsford and Colchester. George’s ancestors, going back at least three generations, also came from Kelvedon.

George was baptized on 16 March 1817 at St Mary, Kelvedon. His date of birth was probably during February 1817, as children were normally baptized about 1 month after they were born. He was the seventh of eleven children (three boys and eight girls) whose parents were Job Cornwell (1780-1869) and his wife Mary Cornwell nee Butler (1785-1843).

George Cornwell married Elizabeth Frankling (born 1818 in Black Notley, a village nearby) on 11th  August 1838 at St Mary, Kelvedon. He was 21 (a labourer) and she 20 (a servant). The parish record of the marriage indicates that he wasn’t able to sign his name. Their first child was born during the last 3 months of 1838 and so Elizabeth was pregnant when they married – this was quite common then. They went on to have ten children namely Charles (1838-97), George (1840-1912), Elizabeth (1842-1907), Jane (1845-9), Henry (born 1848), Jane (1851-1934), Rebecca (born 1854), Joseph (1856-7), William (born 1858) and Eliza (1861-3). At least three of their children died in infancy.

The census in April 1841 lists George Cornwell, an agricultural labourer aged 25 in Kelvedon living with his wife Elizabeth (24) and their children Charles (3) and George (1).

Kelvedon was on the road between London and Norwich and contained four coaching inns, where the coach horses were changed. One of the first railway lines in SE England was built to cover this journey. By 1843 the line went from London to Colchester and a station at Kelvedon was open. It made journeys to and from London much easier and had a major effect on the town.

The 1851 census shows George and Elizabeth Cornwell living in Kelvedon with their children Charles (aged 12), George (10), Elizabeth (8), and Henry (3). Their daughter Jane Cornwell (my great grandmother) was born on 2 October 1851. The birth certificate indicates that her mother, Elizabeth, was illiterate.

In 1861, George and Elizabeth are listed at High St, Kelvedon with their children George (now aged 20 and a blacksmith), Henry (12), Jane (9) Rebecca (6) and William (2).

British tariffs on imported cereals were abolished in 1846. Mechanisation and the development of new farmland meant that large amounts of wheat could be efficiently produced on the American prairies. Improvements in transport (new railways and steamships) made export cheaper. As a result, from about 1870 onwards, significant and increasing amounts of wheat were imported into Western Europe, which resulted in falling grain prices and a decrease in demand for agricultural labourers in Britain. This had a big impact on the countryside and many people migrated to London and other large towns in search of employment. Most of George’s children moved away from Kelvedon. His son, Charles moved to Wells in Somerset and later to Erith, his son George to Camberwell, his daughter Elizabeth to Erith, his daughter Jane to Woolwich and his son William to Australia returning to Kelvedon, then to Erith.

The Chelmsford Chronicle dated August 11th 1871 reported on the Kelvedon Horticultural Society Annual Show. George won second prize in the "Best cultivated allotments" section and first prize in the "Best six parsnips", "Best collection of vegetables", "Best 1 lb of red currants" and "Best 30 gooseberries" categories.

By 1871, only William (now aged 12) was living with George and Elizabeth in High St, Kelvedon. Up to 1871, the occupation of George Cornwell is given as an agricultural labourer. However, from 1881 onwards his occupation is given as a coal dealer / merchant. In 1881 there was just George (64) and Elizabeth (63) in the household, still in High Street, Kelvedon.

The 1884 Franchise Bill gave George Cornwell (as the male head of a rural household) the vote for the first time.

The 1890, 94 and 98 Kelly’s directories for Essex list “George Cornwell, coal merchant” in their Kelvedon section.

Elizabeth, George’s wife, died in 1889. The 1891 census shows George, a widower, living alone in High St, Kelvedon. By 1901 George, then aged 84, was living with a housekeeper, Florence Robinson (22) who was the stepdaughter of his late son Charles (who died in 1897). George was listed as retired.

High Street, Kelvedon c 1900

All of the censuses from 1851 to 1901 give George’s address as High St, Kelvedon. However, none of them give street numbers. Households are listed in order along the High St and are numbered as follows in the 1901 census
78        Freemason’s Hall + Caretaker Cottage
82        George Cornwell
91        Kingsthorpe House
96        White Hart Inn
98        Angel Inn
George Cornwell’s house was therefore between the Freemason’s Hall and Kingsthorpe House, both of which are still there - on the south side of the High St, at its western end. It seems that George’s house has been demolished as more modern housing is where I would expect it to have been. Using the approach above with other censuses indicates that he lived in the same house between 1851 and 1901. My sister Evelyn and her family stayed in a flat over a shop (The Aerial and Satellite Centre) in Kelvedon for short time in the 1980s. By co-incidence (she didn’t know it then) this is approximately the site of where George Cornwell lived.

George Cornwell died in Kelvedon on the 16 July 1907 aged 90. He was buried on 20 July in the same grave as his wife, in the churchyard of St Mary, Kelvedon. Essex Family History Society have prepared a list of monumental inscriptions in the churchyard and a map showing burial locations. I have located George’s grave using this. The gravestone (which is now barely legible) reads :

In loving memory of Elizabeth the beloved wife of George Cornwell / who died 9th Feb 1889 aged 71 years. / Now she is gone but not forgotten, never shall our memory fade / Sweetest thoughts shall ever linger, around the spot she is laid / Her end was peace / Also of the above George Cornwell / who died 16th July 1907 aged 90 years / Thy will be done

The gravestone of George and Elizabeth Cornwell

His will (made in 1903) divided George’s estate, which was £121 15s 1d (equivalent to about £7,000 now), equally between his daughter Elizabeth, his son George, his daughter Jane and his housekeeper Florence Robinson. The executor was George’s friend Francis Nichols. Elizabeth died in 1907, shortly before George.

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