Aug 30th, 2008 by Andy Funnell
James was born in 1822 in Barcombe (near Lewes, East Sussex), son of William Funnell and Catherine “Kitty” Locke. The seventh of nine children.
Like six of his brothers and sisters, he was christened at the local church, St Mary the Virgin, on the 24th of March 1822. No doubt, he cried before his godparents as the Reverend Herbert John Beaver placed him over the Font and crossed his forehead with holy water. That day, neither himself nor his parents could have imagined how intimately his life would be woven with this holy place.
In 1841, the census records 1.033 inhabitants in Barcombe. Of these, 86 share the surname Funnell (8.3%).
It’s safe to assume that “our” James (in 1841) is aged 20, living at Scuffling’s Cottages. His siblings and their families can be found not far. He is an agricultural labourer (AgLab) at this time.
On the 26th of October 1844, he marries Ellener Batchelor, a young woman two years younger than he, at St Nicholas Church, Brighton. A daughter, Ellen Denise, is born in Barcombe on the 24th of August 1845. Unfortunately, this birth coincides with the death of Ellener. James is left alone with his baby girl, Ellen Denise.
James takes on responsibilities in his Church cumulating his job as AgLab and the duties of Parish Clerk no doubt, for both spiritual and material comfort. St Mary’s, in the original hamlet of Barcombe is quite remote from Barcombe Cross and Barcombe Mills. In the middle of the 14th century, the villagers relocated at Barcombe Cross after an outbreak of Black Death. Another Church, St Francis d’Assisi was built in the new village. The smaller congregation of the older church, St Mary’s, and the need of its surveillance explains perhaps James’ role.
By a twist of fate, on the Sunday 22nd of August 1846, he is charged by the Reverend Robert Allen to officiate on weekly services. James’ is asked to pronounce the marriage of a young couple, Fanny Page and Thomas King.
During the ceremony, James finds a familiar look to a brooch pinned to Fanny’s wedding dress. As time goes on, he acquires the certainty that the brooch belonged to his poor Ellener, the same brooch he noticed missing earlier that year.
At the conclusion of the morning services, whilst the couple is celebrating with a joyous bunch of friends, James seeks assistance from the Constabulary in the person of P.C. Weston. As per “The Times”: that officer, reckless of disturbing the soft dreams of the blushing bride instantly made the awkward enquiry: Where did her brooch come from?
The bridegroom launches himself into an explanation of how the brooch was a token of his love given by himself to his promised. But the explanation of where he had acquired it seems less convincing.
James, persisting in his claim after having identified the brooch by a notch in the metal, and P.C. Weston are led to Sophia Skinner, King’s sister. She admits having given the brooch to her brother but after buying it from a merchant in Brighton, ten years before.
Learning that Sophia Skinner was employed by James Funnell as housekeeper from December 1845 to the end of January 1846, P.C. Weston, to the consternation of the wedding party, arrests Sophia Skinner.
The following day, she appears before Mr. J.W. Woolgar at Lewes (Courts) and is held to a double bail before her trial at quarter sessions. She obviously hadn’t convinced the judge of her innocence.
On the 6th of September 1846, James Funnell married Mary Gravett at Barcombe. They had 6 children, all born in Barcombe and christened at St Mary’s.
According to the census returns and BMD, James lived until the end of his days in Church Road, Barcombe, near the Church and “The Lodge”.
Later in life, he became “Sexton” of the Church and the census returns see him cumulating this employ and that of Parish Clerk. In 1891, he, Mary and daughter, Denise (now 41 and a dressmaker) were the only occupants of the cottage in Church Road.
James passed away on the 12th of January 1900 after more than 55 years of loyal services to his local church. A tour of duty covering that of three rectors, witness to his unsanctioned calling.
He reposes in the southwest of the churchyard, under the trees (A90) with Mary who died in September of the following year.
If you have a user account, you can find James in the genealogy section.
The Times 27 August 1846
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