My Family With Two Black Sheep


Talk by Martyn Northfield, 9 May 2017

Martyn has lived in Stapleford for many years but was born in Cambridge.  For the best part of 500 years his family lived in villages in South Cambridgeshire, including Stapleford, and Essex.  Martyn traced his family back through his father and also his mother who was called Twinn.  Two families family living in the quiet villages of South Cambridgeshire and north Essex epitomises so much of English history over the generations.  Everyday toil enabled some to prosper, acquiring land and becoming yeoman farmers, but the great events such as the Reformation and wars also involved them.

The first Northfield he could find was Stephen who, in 1644, married Elizabeth Dowse who lived in Harston.  In 1713 Gilbert Hockley, a carpenter, bought a small house which is now The Grove together with two acres of field.  Eight years later it was bought by John Northfield who was also a carpenter and he added another three acres which would have made him quite a wealthy man for those times.  In 1740 he bought another eight acres and when he died in 1753 he left his children well provided for.

In the late Eighteenth Century another descendent, Stephen Northfield, was paid to look after the New River which we now know as the Hobson Brook which starts from Ninewells.  He had a good sideline in cutting holes in the banks and then getting paid by the university and the town to repair them.  Eventually he was caught and had to make an abject apology to the university and town.

His most famous ancestor was was Jack Cornwall who enlisted in the navy in 1915 at the age of just 15 and sailed with the Grand Fleet on HMS Chester.  On 31 May 1916 four German cruisers appeared out of the mist and opened fire scoring many direct hits on the Chester.  All the crew of the forward gun where Jack was a ‘sighter’ were killed except Jack who was badly injured but stayed at his post waiting for orders.  The ship retired to Immingham where Jack died and was hailed as a hero by the press.  His body was transported to London where he was given a huge naval funeral and he was awarded a posthumous VC.

The earliest Twinn, Twyne or Twynne was Robert who lived from about 1480 to 1548 and this family also lived for in a number of local villages.  They prospered and owned and rented land in Essex and Cambridgeshire.  In 1664 John Twyn a printer and a Dissenter was charged with printing and dispersing treasonable pamphlets.  He was found guilty and refused the sacrament before being hung, beheaded, drawn and quartered.

A better fate was enjoyed by Peter Twinn who worked with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park and helped solve the code for the Naval Enigma machines.  Another cousin, Ian Twinn, was a conservative MP and MEP.

Keith Dixon