Cornelius Fenner

In the autumn of 1885 Cornelius Fenner, aged 45 years, a dealer, the son of Joseph Fenner and his wife, Penelope Buckland, married a young widow, Caroline Sheen, aged 30 years, the daughter of Joseph Sheen, at Tonbridge, Kent. Caroline had a daughter from her first union, Alice Bowers, born in the winter of 1882 in Farnham, Surrey, and with her second husband she would subsequently have five known children.

They are found in the 1891 census at Tonbridge, Kent, where Cornelius, a hawker, claims birth at High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, Caroline in Kent, and three children, Alice Bowers, Collaberry, named after one of Cornelius’s sisters, baptised at Yalding St. Margaret, Kent, ‘of High Wycombe,’ on 29/8/1886 (the occupation of horse dealer has been crossed through and general machinist inserted) and Mary Mazella born c1889. The following decade shows Alice now recorded as a Fenner, and two more children have been added to their brood, Cornelius, baptised 5/6/1892 in Kent, and Fazenta, born c1897. (Another daughter, Mary Penelope, who was baptised at Oxford St. Philip and St. James on 16/8/1895 died the following year and was buried at Kidlington, in Oxfordshire.) The family are, surprisingly, off their usual patch at this census, in Martley, Worcestershire.

In the 1911 census Cornelius, claiming birth at Binfield Heath, in Oxfordshire, is a hawker and rag and bone man and is with Caroline, Cornelius and Fazenta at Reading in Berkshire. Cornelius more frequently claims birth at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, but this is probably seen as ‘home territory’ since his father, Joseph Fenner, had been baptised at West Wycombe in 1800, the son of James and Charlotte; surely the James Fenner ‘of High Wycombe’ married by licence to Charlotte Moors on 11/1/1792 at Emmington, Oxfordshire, where they baptised a daughter, Mary, on 1st April the same year.

Cornelius was one of ten known children, for as well as Fazenta, Penelope had another daughter, Collaberry, who may have been born before her union with Joseph Fenner, with whom she had Benjamin in 1835; Hector in 1836; Joseph in 1837, Rosanna, born in 1839 and buried just four months later at Caversham in Berkshire; Penelope, born c1842; Talitha/Matilda, born c1844; Mary, born c 1846.

The younger Joseph was frequently in trouble with the law and, in 1856 at the age of 19, was arrested with his 15 year old brother, Cornelius, for theft. Joseph admitted his guilt and it was decided that Cornelius had no case to answer. After that brush with the law, Cornelius only appears in court proceedings for minor misdemeanours, such as allowing his horse to stray, although another brother, Hector, was in court so often, and newspapers so frequently reported his crimes, that it was no surprise when, found guilty of burglary, he was eventually sentenced to be transported to Western Australia.

Cornelius’s eldest daughter, Collaberry, married a James Willett on the Isle of Wight in 1905, Mary Mazella married a hawker, Walter Williams, in 1911, when her mother, Caroline, was one of the witnesses, and this couple baptised a daughter with a family name, Pheasenta/Fazenta, in 1912. Cornelius junior married Matilda Davis at Winchester in 1915, and two daughters, Ivy and Hilda Eileen, were born in Hampshire in 1919 and 1921 respectively. The family can be found at Guildford in Surrey in 1939, staying in a caravan at Prew’s Farm, with them is their son Victor, born in 1929, and they may also have had a Cornelius and a Nelson Fenner, this last being born in Droxford, Hampshire in 1933.

Caroline also found herself in the newspapers in 1902, accused of stealing some butter and cheese from a shop. Her daughter, Alice, gave evidence, explaining helpfully that her mother was so drunk when she returned from shopping, she didn’t realise she had picked up some packages in error. Although such protestations were scarcely believed, the court decided not to send Caroline to prison, but to fine her £1 and costs, which Cornelius paid, declaring, ‘I hope if you ever see her drunk again I hope you’ll lock her up!’ Since Cornelius himself had been in court for drunkenness and causing a breach of the peace in the past, as well as giving an alias of John Buckland when arrested, such comments were probably made for the court, rather than for Caroline.

Cornelius’s youngest daughter was to be celebrated in both local and national newspapers in 1913, appearing in the Tatler and the Sphere, at her wedding in 1913, when she was just 16, and married a cousin, William Buckland. But Cornelius was not there to see it, his appearance in the 1911 census was to be his last, and he died in the workhouse infirmary at Reading, Berkshire and was buried on 8th May 1911, ‘aged 73.’