Today, I pause to remember the late Jimmy Cornfield, who passed away 4 years ago today.
Mr. James McGuigan Cornfield (Jimmy) – was a late historian and poet of Blantyre. Jimmy had an incredible knowledge about Blantyre, in particular its social history and people stories. He was literally a walking encyclopedia on local history and people. He did all this in a time before the internet and kept folders of photographs and stories.
James or Jimmy as he was known was born on 3rd October 1928 at 16 Dixon Street, Blantyre. He was the 3rd son to John Cornfield and Teresa McGuigan, who had a family of 3 sons and 3 daughters. Govan Street was a small former street running north to south at Stonefield, comprising of small miner’s homes, part of the overall Dixon’s Rows (Raws) housing estate.
Jimmy’s father John, was employed at number 3 pit at High Blantyre. Living with the Cornfield family, within one terraced home of 4 houses was Jimmy’s grandmother Margaret McGuigan (nee Smith.) Conditions were very cramped within that house, which shared an outside toilet and washhouse with 3 other families. Even at the time of Jimmy’s birth, the little poorly built brick houses were approaching 55 years old. It was a hard life where sons were destined to go down the pits, following their fathers, in order to keep the family home.
The Cornfield family were all miners and Jimmy followed them down into the Blantyre Pits at Spittal, near Bardykes, when he was just 14-years old. His years of living at Dixons Raws and working down the pit, clearly had a profound effect on him and his writing and recollected tales reflect that. As he entered adulthood, he broke free from family tradition and from the pits, by being conscripted into the RAF, saw him live in Canada for a brief spell before eventually settling on a career in the Fire Brigade, which lasted 24 years before he retired in 1983 at his work in Hamilton, with a rank of Station Officer.
Lori McPherson, granddaughter of Jimmy, said of him, “Jimmy always had an affinity for the written word and it was during his retirement, he put pen to paper to record his local knowledge and recall his affectionate childhood memories. Jimmy became one of the founder members of the Family History Society in Blantyre and not only traced his family tree, but took great pride and pleasure in helping other individuals in Blantyre understand their heritage too. During his extensive research, Jimmy took great inspiration from two local poets, Wullie Sharp and Robert B Smith. Their influence, alongside the strength of his family affection, ultimately led Jimmy to create his own poetry, which had a strong respect for local dialect in every poem. Jimmy loved to tell a good story about Blantyre’s past and his poems are a true reflection of this.”
Jimmy became the chairperson of Blantyre Heritage Group and offered invaluable contribution by means of presentations, local talks to schools and the community.
In 2011, he fulfilled his lifelong ambition of having his poems published in a book, “Changing Places – an anthology of verse”, an achievement of which he was tremendously proud of. (pictured)
He loved his home town of Blantyre, and his collection of poetry and writing in a little book called, “Blantyre Remembered, Tales and Poems by James Cornfield’ is testimony to this. The little book came about as some of his poems and images were shown on a Family history day on 3rd September 2011 at David Livingstone Centre. After the event, the Chairperson of Lanarkshire Family History Society sat down for many hours with Jimmy to record more of his work. It was his wish that his memories could be passed down for future generations to understand. He was much looking forward to the book being published, but sadly he passed away on 13th March 2012, before it was finished. He was 83 years old.
Jimmy Cornfield was survived by his wife, Iris, ; daughters June and Lynne and sons, John and James and seven grandchildren, Lori, John, Chris, Alix, Jamie, Emily and Evie.
Today Jimmy’s memory lives on in his writings and poems. His efforts are going to be fully acknowledged in a forthcoming large book entitled, “Blantyre Explained”, which is dedicated to James Cornfield. It has taken me many years to write and I hope people see the dedication as a mark of respect across generations from one Blantyre part time historian to another who, was most definitely the informed authority on our history.
On social media:
My grandma is from Blantyre and her maiden name was cornfield,
My great Grandfather was Edward and his father was a miner called John. Looking at my family tree there is alot of John’s and Edwards,