Kate Cornelius straddles an awkward social divide. In the Barefoot on the Cobbles, I have used her character to explore the issue of social mobility in early twentieth century Britain. She was born Laura Amelia Kate Mayers or Meyers, in January 1881, to a working-class family; her father was a packer on the railway. She spent her childhood in Upton Hill, Torquay and it is here that we meet her, in Chapters 10 and 11, as the First World War is drawing to its close.
Laura’s working life began as ‘Kate’, a nursemaid to the Gilley family; as such she was associating with Torquay’s elite. Mr Gilley, of Aylwood, ran a railway cartage business and it is likely that he employed Laura’s father. Kate moved on to work in a smaller household in Babbacombe, as a servant to Mrs Macphearson. In 1913, already in the thirties, Kate married a local butcher, Percy Cornelius. This gave her a new respectability and she was able to employ a servant in her home, back in Upton Hill. By the time of the novel, the Cornelius’ first child has been born; they later go on to have two further children. Kate also appears in the final court scene, as a discomforted witness. She lived to reach the age of 91, dying in Torquay in 1972.
‘Mrs Cornelius exhibited all the snobbery of the social climber. Kate Cornelius would be horrified if these securely middle-class matrons realised that she, Kate, was formerly one of Aylwood’s servants.’
Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.