Surname Saturday: BURNELL


Travelling around 300 miles, the Burnell family went from Devon to Somerset to Middlesex to Bedfordshire and on to Cambridgeshire.

When looking back at the families in my ancestry, few are more travelled (so far) as the Burnell family. The family have covered 5 counties in just over 200 years. That doesn’t sound like such an achievement by modern day standards, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, this was a journey. It was a journey for work – a journey for survival.

Back in the 1790s, the family was living in Combe Florey, Somerset. Robert Burnell and his wife Martha (née Evans – a Welsh connection?) were married in the parish in January 1816. It appears that Robert had come from Morebath, Devon, whilst Martha was a resident of the parish.

The couple had at least four children, with Samuel as the oldest – born just 2 months after his parents’ wedding. I have no record of what became of Samuel’s three sisters: Caroline, Mary and Maria – although each are born years apart, suggesting that perhaps there were more siblings.

Samuel Burnell married Mary (neé Babbidge) at Combe Florey on Christmas Day in 1839 (both illiterate) and together they bore a total of 12 children, including my Gt Gt Grandfather George Burnell in 1850. By 1861, Samuel is noted as a ‘road contractor’ and the family (by then almost complete) are living in poor houses.

The road to Middlesex

Their son and my ancestor, George, went off to work in what was then Middlesex, but is now absorbed by Greater London. In 1880 he married Miss Mary Ann Barker of Barkway, Hertfordshire. They married in All Saint’s Church, St John’s Wood on 9th May 1880, both naming residence as ’46 Abbey Road’ – a road that would find fame around 80 years later.  In 1885, my Great Grandmother Daisy Burnell was born in the Stables in Abercorn Place, London – an area that Charles Booth categorised in the two highest categories (‘Middle class well-to-do’ and ‘Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy’) of his Poverty Classification system.

However, whilst this sounds like the family may have hit wealth in this part of London, they were undoubtedly servants to the wealthiest people of London.

A new start in Bedfordshire

By 1889, the couple and their four children left for Dunstable, where George became the landlord for ‘The Royal Oak’ in Church Street, Dunstable in Bedfordshire. Sadly, George died soon after in June 1891, leaving his pregnant widow with a young family and £75 13s 4d (worth today at about £4,500).

Seeking Hope in Cambridgeshire

Seeking to make ends meet, a pregnant Mary took her young mourning family off to Littleport, Cambridgeshire. Here they made a new start in the company of The Hope Brothers – a clothing manufacturing business.

Mary later re-married to James Smith, and appears to have died in 1929.

About Andrew Martin

+Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.
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One Response to Surname Saturday: BURNELL

  1. Yvonne Fenter says:

    My 3/GGF was Robert Burnell a blacksmith in Kentisbury Devon. His daughter married and moved to Islington and then Tottenham, obviously keeping up the Burnell travelling tradition! (I have a small metal box that I assume Robert made for for Ann when she was born, with her initials and year on it.)

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