Born Cordelia Marshall, of the industrial Marshall family from Leeds, she married William Whewell on 12th October 1841 in Cumberland, bringing a considerable dowry, reportedly of £50,000. At the time, he was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge University, though while on honeymoon received the ‘thunderclap’ news that he was to be made Master of Trinity College at the recommendation of the new Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. In various letters, Whewell said he had thus reached the ‘summit of his ambition’.
William Whewell was very interested in building a chapel amidst the cemetery’s graves, almost like a church within its churchyard. He joined the Cambridge Parish Burial Grounds Committee (CPBGC) in November 1850 and may have suggested using renowned architect George Gilbert Scott to design the chapel, as Trinity College had had recent dealings with him.
Cordelia’s polymath husband Rev Prof William Whewell (1794 – 1866), Master of Trinity College, was a great supporter of the cemetery project and was extremely generous – perhaps even using Cordelia’s money – in helping to fund George Gilbert Scott’s mortuary chapel. Indeed, he seems to have had considerable influence over aspects of its design.
Despite Whewell’s frequent and generous contributions, the negotiations for the chapel’s ‘reduced’ design and budget dragged on inconclusively over the next few years. On 18th December 1855, Cordelia Whewell died after a long and lingering illness. Her husband was distraught at her loss. He determined to complete the chapel as a memorial to her, and to be buried alongside her in the cemetery. Just before her funeral he wrote to a relative:
‘We lay her in the cemetery tomorrow … there is as yet no chapel … but we hope soon to remedy this want … I told her that I had in my will directed that I should be buried there and then we should have a church like St John’s in Keswick … which will rise higher and sooner on account of her lying near it.’
Rev Prof Whewell promised to give £250 to allow work on the chapel to begin immediately – and in January 1856, digging work started on the foundations.
The chapel was finally opened in May 1858, after further donations from Whewell for additional works including the tiled floor and other fittings. However, during the two and half years it had taken, Rev Prof Whewell had decided to remarry. On 1st July 1858, Lady Everina Frances Affleck, the sister of his deceased friend Robert Ellis and the widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck, became his second wife.
Everina Frances, Lady Affleck
The chapel was finally opened in May 1858, after further donations from Whewell for additional works including the tiled floor and other fittings. However, during the two and half years it had taken, Rev Prof Whewell had decided to remarry. On 1st July 1858, Lady Everina Frances Affleck, the sister of his deceased friend Robert Ellis and the widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck, became his second wife. She died on 1st April 1865, and was laid to rest in the tomb occupied by Cordelia. The scene is described as follows (for full account, see download):
On the route to the cemetery the various shops were either in part or in whole closed, and similar marks of respect were discernible in the case of private houses. … At the cemetery, which was reached shortly after 12 o’clock, there was a large concourse of persons, most of whom wore mourning. The procession was headed by the undertaker (Mr. Bulstrode) and his assistant, followed by two mutes, then the hearse and four, next three mourning coaches, a private carriage with the family servants, and five or six private carriages of friends. As the former part of the Burial Service had been performed in the college chapel, the coffin was not taken within the cemetery chapel. The service at the grave was read by the Rev. J. W. Taylor, M.A., Incumbent of All Saints.
William Whewell’s death
Professor Whewell outlived Everina. The following year, he was riding outside Cambridge and fell from his horse when it bolted. Paralysed, he died in his rooms at Trinity College, and was buried not at Mill Road Cemetery alongside Cordelia as he had originally planned, but with a splendid memorial in Trinity College chapel. As the report of his funeral states:
The Trinity of the past seemed as well represented as that of the present: there, in their life-sized marble, as you entered the ante-chapel, were Newton, Bacon, Barrow, looking quietly on, and you called to mind how much of an active well-spent life had been congenially passed by the late Master in community with these mighty intellects of by-gone times …
… the body was removed to the brink of the grave in the ante-chapel [and] was then lowered amid deep silence, and the Rev. J. R. Turing took up the service, consigning the body to the earth.
private communications from Roger Wolfe
S. Douglas, The Life and Selections from the Correspondence of William Whewell DD (London: Kegan Paul & Co., 1881)