The Jack Cornwell Victoria Cross Houses, Hornchurch

Jack Cornwell was a boy-sailor who died, aged sixteen, from his injuries after the battle of Jutland. His exemplary courage was recognised with a Victoria Cross. Harsh unrelenting attitudes towards the poor meant he wasn’t given a hero’s funeral and was buried in a common grave.* Once this became known it provoked widespread public anger. Jack was re-interred with full military honours in Manor Park cemetery but his family continued to live in poverty.

Because Jack was sixteen and a VC, his death was used for propaganda purposes. Although Jack had no connexion with Hornchurch, land here was cheap and so money which was raised in his name was used to build the Jack Cornwell houses for injured servicemen.**

After the first world war many severely injured survivors were unemployable. The workhouse system was still in place but that was entirely inappropriate. Lloyd George’s slogan Homes fit for heroes haunted him as public pressure demanded meaningful action. Philanthropy kicked in with huge donations from all over the country to build specially designed housing for disabled servicemen. The Jack Cornwell houses are an example.

Note

* For the definition of a ‘common grave’ see https://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections/collection/729#:~:text=A%20common%20grave%20was%20a,plot%20with%20private%20burial%20rights.

** In Station Lane

Sources

For a wonderful summary of Jack’s heroics at the battle of Jutland see https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/boy-1st-class-john-jack-travers-cornwell-vc

For a summary of the estate, including a description of the houses, see https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/48021

For a review of housing and support for severely injured soldiers see https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/disability-history/1914-1945/war/

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