The Burnell family

The most recent Burnell ancestor in my family tree was my Grandmother, Daisy Burnell who was born in the late 19th century in the Stables of Abercorn Lodge, in Abercorn Road, just off the now famous London tourism destination, Abbey Road. However, her family came from Somerset, where they can be traced back to the late 18th century.

Burnell of Somerset

Daisy's father was George Burnell, who was born in 1850 in the little rural village of Combe Florey, just a few miles North-west of Taunton in Somerset, England.

George's parents were road contractor and labourer Samuel Burnell of Combe Florey, and his wife Mary Babbage of Holcombe Rogus in Devon.

Samuel and Mary had ended up in poor houses by 1861, with him working hard as a road contractor and later a labourer. Life must have been tough for him, his wife, and their 11 children.

It seems that his parents, and my 4x Great Grandparents, Robert Burnell and Martha Evans would have also found life hard in Somerset, with Robert working all his life as a labourer in the land around his home in Combe Florey, losing two children, and a 19 year old daughter, and becoming parents to a set of twins. Somehow they reached old-age, and four of their seven children survived well into adulthood.

Whilst George was born in Somerset, unlike most of his siblings, he didn't remain there. Having become a 'coachman' during the 1880s, travel was naturally a familiar thing to him, and he is found living as a servant on what Charles Booth determined in his poverty map notebooks of London as the middle-class Abbey Road, with his wife-to-be Mary Ann Barker, whom he married in the May of 1880.

The couple remained in London, becoming parents 5 times before they moved north to Dunstable in Bedfordshire in about 1888.

By 1891, George had become the 'Publican' of The Royal Oak in Dunstable, perhaps a somewhat natural move up from coachman to coachouse, but this wasn't to last. He died in his early 40's in June 1891, whilst his wife was pregnant with their final child.

The Burnell family seek Hope in Littleport

Leaving the pub and Dunstable behind, George's widow Mary Ann, with her 5 young surviving children under the age of 10 years, and another on the way, left Bedfordshire, and moved North-east to the fenland village of Littleport in Cambridgeshire.

Here, a major employer named Hope Brothers Ltd was advertising for "Respectable young girls for ironing shirts and collars and machinists for Thomas and Wheeler and Wilson's Machines. Constant employment and good wages can be earned; girls paid while learning; comfortable lodgings can be had in the town" (1889, Cambridge Chronicle).

In addition, this move put widow Mary Ann and her young expanding family in close proximity to her sister Louisa Barker, whose children were also working at the factory as laundresses.

Hope Bros. Ltd factory workers on their commute home in Littleport, 1906.
Above: Hope Bros. Ltd shirt factory workers on their commute home on Main Street, Littleport, Cambridgeshire c.1906.

This attractive offer appeared in local newspapers from at least 1889, through to 1892, and would have been perfect timing for Mary Ann - perhaps a life-line - and would also give prospects for her daughters as they grew older. In fact, by 1901, my Great Grandmother Daisy, and her sister Lillie Burnell were working there as machinists, followed by their younger sister Rose Burnell in 1911.

An Irish connection?

Whilst I appreciate that many residents of the UK will have an amount of Irish DNA, when it appeared by surprise in a high quantity in my father, it came as a surprise. In all of my research, none of our lived or documented ancestry has revealed any Irish names or families.

However, there was a prominent Burnell family from Dublin, who married into Irish aristocracy. Their roots reach back as far as the 14th century, and even if there was a connection to them, then I would probably be years away from discovering it.

It's always nice to dream.

Burnell family connections

The Burnell family are connected to a few of my ancestral families, including: