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Past Lives

I first came across Cornelius Greenwood when I was researching an ancestor with the same name.  At first, I thought I had struck research gold, that is a famous (or infamous relative), who had been of such interest to the press that they had covered his or her life in minute detail.  Alas, I quickly realised that he was not my forbear after all.  However, by then, I was so intrigued that I continued to research him.  I hope you will find his story as interesting as I did.

Cornelius Greenwood – Hero or Villain?

Part I

Elizabeth Pickard’s life had not been an easy one.  Her husband, Francis, had died at the early age of thirty-eight1, leaving her a widow with four children under the age of seventeen to care for2.  With no welfare state as we know it to fall back on and with the feared shadow of the workhouse always in the background, this must have been a desperately hard period for Elizabeth.  Like so many women of her time, she had also endured the grief of losing three other children at a young age3.

How she met Cornelius Greenwood, or when, I do not know.  As Cornelius was a widower who had also suffered the loss of three children3, a shared, painful past may have drawn them to each other.  However, when they agreed to marry, she must have thought that her life had taken a turn for the better, and preparing for her marriage in the spring of 19104, the future must have looked bright.  Her future husband was a well-respected member of the local community, a member of a local Baptist church and by all accounts had been ‘a good and kind husband’5 to his first wife.  What’s more, he had a decent, steady job as a market inspector for Nelson Corporation.

Cornelius himself had come from a fairly humble background.  He was born on 11th June 18506 in an area known as Bridge End in Waterfoot, the eighth known child of his mother, Betty and father James.  When the 1851 census7 was taken on Sunday 30th March 1851, the family was still at Bridge End.  Cornelius, just a baby, was listed with his parents and two brothers and two sisters.  James’ occupation according to the census was ’woollen printer’.  Despite their modest circumstances, they seemed to employ a young boy as a servant to help James in his work!

Sample Photo

View of the Bridge End area of Waterfoot in 2015.  Most of the buildings Cornelius would have known are long gone, and the only obvious reminder of this earlier district, is the name of the former library – Bridge End House.


Around this time, his parents were among a small number of local people trying to establish a General Baptists church in the area.  This little group barely had enough money to rent a room for worship, but eventually after many setbacks an independent church was set up.  Their success was crowned by the building of a substantial stone church, Mount Zion, in 1864 at Edgeside, Waterfoot8.  Cornelius maintained his links with this church throughout his life, marrying there and coming back to speak at the jubilee celebrations held in 1903, when he reminisced about the characters from the early days of the chapel and how he had been one of the ‘rough lads’.

By the 1861 census9, the family had moved to 9, Hollin Bank, Newchurch and his father was working as a ‘newsagent and bookseller’.  Cornelius must have obtained a basic level of schooling either at Mount Zion or elsewhere as he was described as a ‘scholar’.  Two more brothers, John and James Henry had been born.

When the 1871 census10 was taken, Cornelius although now working as a carter, was still living with his parents and two younger brothers at Hollin Bank.  On 9th September 1873, he married Mary Dearden11 at Mount Zion Chapel.  In the details given, he was described as a ‘news vendor’ as was his father.  Possibly, they were working together, but by 1875, he had definitely branched out on his own, being listed in the 1875 Mannex and Co.’s Directory12 under ’Booksellers, Stationers, Printers & C.’ at Whitewell Vale, Newchurch.  He was also offering an additional picture framing service.

Sample Photo

Surviving cottages at Whitewell Vale.  Cornelius was living here in 1875 with Mary and their first child.


By this time, Mary had also given birth to their first son John William, who was born in 1874.  Two more sons followed, James Henry in 1878 and Walter1 in 187913.  Around 1879, Cornelius decided to have another change of career and started work as a railway pointsman with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company.  Sometime between the autumn of 1879 and the April 1881 census14, he moved with his family to 29 Carrfield, Walsden near Todmorden, probably as a result of his new job.

Between 1881 and 1888, the details of Cornelius’ life appear less well documented.  What is certain is that he and Mary had at least one other child during this time, Wilfred, who was born in Cornholme near Todmorden.  They also suffered the grief of losing Walter probably when he was only about two years old.  Certainly, by August 1888, Cornelius had been appointed15 foreman porter at Nelson Station and sometime after this date the Greenwoods had moved to 46, Victoria Street, Nelson.  As a foreman porter, he would have been responsible for assisting passengers with their baggage and answering their enquiries.  He would probably also have been responsible for managing the other porters, and even overseeing some of the guards’ duties.

Sample Photo

Nelson Station c1904 – Cornelius worked here from 1888-1891: image courtesy of www.postcards-for-sale.com


The following year, Cornelius became a household name and local hero in Nelson when, on 4th July, he risked his life trying to save the life of Wilkinson Rushton.  On the night in question, Mr. Rushton had attempted to cross the railway track, seemingly unaware that an approaching train was not the usual stopping train, but a special train that was going straight through.  At great risk to his own life, Cornelius tried to drag the man to safety.  In doing so, he was badly injured, but sadly was unable to save Mr. Rushton.  He was taken to Victoria Hospital, Burnley in a state of shock and with an injured right hand and foot.  He was off work for a number of weeks after the incident.  Local and regional papers covered the story in great detail.  The Burnley Express15 of 13th July featured an interview with Cornelius where he described how he had tried to save Mr. Rushton.  At the time of the interview, his right arm was still in a sling and his right foot still badly swollen, but there was ‘less pain’ than previously.  The journalist also commented to Cornelius that ‘it is well known in Nelson that you have gone to the rescue of people at the risk of your own life.’  Cornelius then described another incident at Easter and one at Whitsuntide when he had shown great courage in saving the lives of other passengers at Nelson Station.

Very quickly there was a clamouring to recognise the bravery of Cornelius in some way.  There was a suggestion of some sort of public memorial and a Mr. Watson16 wrote to the Home Secretary suggesting that Cornelius should receive the Albert Medal.  The Home Secretary, however, declined to pursue the matter with her Majesty.  The Greenwood Testimonial Fund Committee, was set up and on 24th December 1889, Mr. John Wilkinson, chairman of the Nelson Local Board17 publicly presented Cornelius with a purse containing £25 12s 3d (worth about £2,528.00 at 2014 values18).  The people of Nelson had raised the money in recognition of his ‘gallant conduct’ at Nelson Station on several occasions, but particularly for his attempt to save the life of Mr. Rushton.  Cornelius was also commended for ‘the courtesy he invariably displayed in the exercise of his ordinary duties’.  The ceremony was held at the Local Board offices.  Mary accompanied her husband and she must have felt so proud of him as he accepted the gift in front of the assembled audience, but spoke of how ‘he had done nothing but his duty’ and if a similar situation arose ‘would do it again’.

After the excitement and danger of 1889, the April 1891 census19 found Cornelius living at a new address; 70, Southfield Street, Nelson with Mary, John William, James Henry and Wilfred.  A Henry Lowther was also lodging with them and was most likely a colleague of Cornelius’ as he was described as a porter employed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company.

However, Cornelius was obviously ready for a new challenge as he had applied for, and on 21st May 1891 was appointed to, the position of market inspector20 at Nelson market on a salary of 28s per week (worth approximately £136.60 at 2014 values18).  He did well to obtain the post because there had been a total of sixty-seven applications.  One of the deciding factors in his favour seemed to have been that he was ‘well known in the town and much respected’.  He started his new job just over two weeks later on 5th June.  Amongst other duties, his new role meant that he had overall responsibility for the market hall; for opening it up on market days to allow the public entry and ensuring it was securely locked at the close of business.  He would also be responsible for taking miscellaneous payments from the stallholders and accounting for the money.  Cornelius probably did not delay moving his family again, this time to 19 Market Square, a much more convenient location for his new job.  Certainly the family were resident there by 1896 when he was listed at that address under his new job title in one of the local directories21.

Sample Photo

Cornelius was the inspector at Nelson Market from 1891-1915


To be continued ...


Sources and Bibliography

1.    Lancashire Online Parish Clerks: Burials 1895 -1899, Registers Book 7, p.152, Entry 49695

2.    Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975: Transcripts viewed online at www.ancestry.co.uk

3.    National Archives: 1911 Census, RG14/24906, Schedule 268

4.    FreeBMD: 1910, June Qtr., Vol 8e, p.530, District: Burnley

5.    Burnley News 8th January 1916 p.2

6.    FreeBMD: 1850, September Qtr., Vol 21, p.497, District: Haslingden

7.    National Archives: 1851 Census HO107/2248, Folio 31, p.2

8.    Unkn (1953) The Story of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Edgeside  "The Church with

       a Welcome" 1853-1953, Rawtenstall: Rossendale Free Press – Chapter I, pp. 1-2 & IV pp 1 & 2

       (Copies of the booklet held at Rawtenstall Library Community Studies.)

9.    National Archives: 1861 Census, RG9/3056, Folio 79, p.18

10.  National Archives: 1871 Census RG10/4135, Folio 123, p.43

11.  FreeBMD: 1873, September Qtr., Vol 8e, p.228, District: Haslingden

12.  Mannex and Co  (1876) Directory and Topography of North-East Lancashire Vol II, unkn: P.

       Mannex & Co p.264

13.  Lancashire BMD – 1874: NEW/56/18, 1878: NEW/63/16 & 1879: NEW/66/56

14.  National Archives: 1881 census RG11/4360, Folio 106, p.14

15.  Burnley Express 13th July, 1889 p.7

16.  Lancashire Evening Post 29th November 1889 p.3

17.  Burnley Express 25th December 1889 p.3

18.  MeasuringWorth -– viewed online at www.measuringworth.com May 2015

19.  National Archives: 1891 census RG12/3378, Folio 61, p.32

20.  Burnley Express 23rd May p.6 & 27th May 1891 p.3

21.  P. Barrett & Co (1896) General & Commercial Directory of Burnley, Nelson, Colne, Padiham

       ...Townships 1896, Preston: P. Barrett & Co p.386



Original images for all censuses viewed online at www.ancestry.co.uk

Original images for the above newspapers viewed online at www.findmypast.co.uk

FreeBMD transcripts and postems viewed online at www.freebmd.org.uk

Lancashire BMD transcripts viewed online at www.lancashirebmd.org.uk

Lancashire Online Parish Clerks transcripts viewed online at www.lan-opc.org.uk

I hope to add new stories on a regular basis, so visit my site again soon to read the next one.

If you would like more information on the people featured in these stories, you can email me at cathy@familyforbears.co.uk.