Cornelius Beavis (for such he was usually known) was part of an influential clan of Shirley builders and carpenters. Baptized on 30 November 1809 in Downton, Wiltshire, he was the son of a carpenter, Thomas Beavis, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Wood). Two years later Thomas moved to Bramshaw, on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border, where he took the lease of a messuage and smith's shop. His house there was registered as a Dissenters' meeting house in December 1822.
Cornelius is first recorded in Southampton in 1833, on his marriage to Rebecca Chapman in St Mary's Church on 29 September. Originally a carpenter, later a builder, he is found at addresses in Northam Road, Craven Street and St Mary's Place. In 1838 he moved to Shirley, part of the frenetic land speculation that was transforming Shirley Common. He took a lease, dated 27 August 1838, at a rent of £45 a year on a sizeable parcel of land at the junction of Church Road (to the north west) and the Southampton to Romsey turnpike road (to the south west). The latter is now Shirley High Street. He built a house and workshop for himself where the two roads meet (1 Church Road) and sublet the remainder of the property, at leases of 998 years, to a variety of tenants, often themselves in the construction business: slater, carpenter, builder, brickburner, painter. Some leases contained the condition that buildings to a certain minimum value were to be erected within nine months. He constructed (1838) a private road to improve acces: this later became Vincent's Grove.
The speculation was short-lived. The whole of his interest under the lease was purchased in late 1840 by Joseph Jackson of Romsey, one of the major landowners in the area. It was a messy affair. The purchaser became bankrupt in the summer of 1841, before the transaction could be completed. It was completed by Joseph's nephew, Daniel Jackson, an ironmonger from Romsey. Beavis himself went bankrupt in July 1844. The case was heard in the London Court of Bankruptcy.
Cornelius Beavis carried on as a builder in Shirley until his death in 1879. He was sufficiently recovered from bankruptcy to re-purchase his own house from Daniel Jackson in May 1851. Other purchases in Shirley and its immediate neighbourhood (including in the area of Freemantle Lake) allowed him to scrape into the 1873 Return of owners of land, with property of 1 acre, 0 roods, 1 perch, yielding a gross estimated rental of £113.4s.
He is known to have built Clarendon House in 1851 or 1852, part of the development of Regent's Park by the Southampton architects William Hinves and Alfred Bedborough. He took several opportunities to diversify his business interests. He became publican of the White Horse Inn, next to his own house on Romsey Road, between c.1847 and June 1852, when the licence was transferred to Francis Collins. He brewed his own ale on the premises. About this time he entered into partnership with Henry Canning of Greenwich to establish a white brick, tile and stoneware manufactory at East Wellow. The Allen Gallery in Alton has a loving cup marked “Henry Canning/Wellow Pottery/Hants”. It is shown at www3.hants.gov/allen-gallery/allen-ceramics/allen ceramics1/loving-cup.htm, where it is argued that the cup was made not in Wellow but in London, as a ploy to raise money to transform the existing brickworks in the parish into a stoneware pottery. The scheme failed. No other pottery from this source is known and the partnership was dissolved on 13 August 1855.
In the 1850s Beavis became Shirley agent for the Unity Fire Insurance Association, and in directories of the late 1860s, he is listed as a broker. He moved from Church Road to High Street, Shirley at a date between 1871 and 1874 where he branched out as a furniture dealer and undertaker.
Carpentry ran in the Beavis family. A younger brother Thomas - born in Bramshaw in December 1816 - was a carpenter in Church Street, Shirley from the 1840s to the 1880s. Four of the five sons of Cornelius were also carpenters: a third generation at least in the trade: George (baptized August 1834), Albert (October 1839), Edwin (April 1841) and Arthur (April 1843). Most of their working life was spent in Shirley. His daughter Elizabeth (baptized February 1836) married a carpenter, Peter Weeks: a lodger in the Beavis household in the 1851 census. The exception was Charles Cornelius (baptized December 1837), a whitesmith, gasfitter and locksmith who ran an ironmongers shop at 7 High Street, Shirley until his death in 1911. The children were by Cornelius's first wife, Rebecca, who died in October 1844, aged 36 years. He remarried in March 1846, to the widow Elizabeth Gasser (nee Sanford). She continued to run the furniture business in Shirley High Street after his death.
Cornelius Beavis was elected to the Shirley Board of Health in 1862. He was here involved with the drainage and lighting of the suburb. A member of the Windsor Court, Ancient Order of Foresters from c.1863, he was an office-holder and trustee. He left a presentation clock to his eldest living son trusting “he will respect it for my own sake and leave it to his eldest son”. In his early days at least, Cornelius was a radical in politics. He voted for Lord Duncan and Lord Henry Paget in the Southampton general election of July 1837 and had his vote objected to by the Tories in the October borough revision court later in the year. He died on 23 September 1879 in the 70th year of his age. He left a personal estate at probate of “under £100”. His widow, Elizabeth, was buried on 9 May 1885, aged 78 years. Both were buried in Shirley church.
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