The History of Abbey Road Studio – Part 7


John Henry Cordner-James

John Henry Cordner-James

John Henry was born in 1858, eleven years senior to his wife Marie. They were 33 and 22 when they were married on December 10, 1889 and according to the marriage record, they were already living at the same address. Six days later there was an announcement in the Times of London saying that as of December 11, 1889, John Henry James officially changed his name to John Henry Cordner-James. John’s reasons were that he did this to differentiate himself from all the other John Henry James. Marie would also hyphenate their two surnames.

Prior to moving into 3 Abbey Road, John Henry and Marie had six children: John “Denis”, Philip, Norah, Frank, Michael “Desmond”, and Joan Cordner-James. The oldest son, Denis would pass away from tuberculosis in June 1903 at the age of 12 before the family moved into the estate on Abbey Road in 1912. From the 1901 and 1911 London census, and Norah’s biography, we know they kept at least four servants on staff at the former residences.

John Henry Cordner-James was a mining engineer, consultant and expert that traveled the world for business. In the early 1890’s, John and his brother William started their own firm called James Brothers – Consulting and Mining Engineers. At the same time that the brothers were setting up shop together, another up and coming gold mining engineer began working for Bewick, Moreing & Co., a London based company operating mines in Australia. His name was Herbert Hoover and John Coldner-James and he would become friends, and prior to Hoover becoming the 31st president of the United States.

One of the drawbacks of the mining industry, would be the necessary traveling.  Commercial airline travel was still decades away, so they would travel by ship to Australia, South Africa, India and South America. A one-way trip to Sydney, Australia from England would take 54 days, making it seem as if he spent just enough time at home to get his wife pregnant again before leaving on another voyage. According to Norah’s book, John and Marie were very fond of each other.

While preparing to move his family into their 84 year old Abbey Road abode in July 1912, John Henry got into a long exchange of letters with the Trustees to the Eyre Estate and their lawyers over the cost of repairs and his annual lease terms. He had already paid £300 to buy out the existing lease from the Todd estate and requested that if he forfeit that lease, that he be given a new 21 year lease at the rate of £5 per year (£566 in 2019) for the first seven years and £110 for the remainder (£12,460 in 2019). His request was due to the “dilapidation” of the premises. The house at this time was in need of repairs and upgrades such as changing the gas lights to electrical lighting, changing the pull bells to electric bells, new floors, a lift from the basement to first floor, a new bath and drains. Cordner-James was also one of the first people to own a car in England, so he wished to build a garage. All in all, it would cost him over £700 (approximately £79,292 in 2019). By August, the Trustees were suggesting a 14 year lease with £50 for the first seven years and £180 for the remaining. John Henry called in the services of New & Sons – Architects & Surveyors to look over the property and give their assessment. In a letter the lawyers of the Trustees, they wrote:

We do not think this house will ever let at the rental you mention, it has good reception rooms, but very poor Hall and the approach to the Drawing Room speaks for itself as a makeshift, the Bedroom accommodation is small in number of rooms, with cramped Staircase and passages – we think anyone willing to pay £250 for a house in St. John’s Wood would require a much better planned house than the one in question.”

The letters would continue to be exchanged, sometimes daily, through September, but there is no record of how it was resolved, but the Cordner-James family would only stay 10 years. And this would not be the last conflict that John Henry would have concerning the trustees and the house.

In 1914, the Ladies Workers’ Homes, Limited bought the property 1 Abbey Road “as part of a scheme for providing women workers with small flats. They proposed to build a seven story building with 120 bedrooms and 26 individual flats (apartments) that would tower over the south side of 3 Abbey Road. Obviously, this wasn’t to the liking of John Henry and there was a contract drawn up in 1915 that would limit the height and placement of the new building and also call for glazing on all windows facing the Cordner-James property.

In 1916, advertisements were published saying rooms were now available for let – One of these unusually well-planned FLATS consisting of five rooms, kitchen and usual conveniences, now available. Handsomely furnished. Constant Hot Water and Electric Light throughout. Inclusive rent Four Guineas Weekly. Today, a two bedroom flat in Abbey House costs £675,000 ($814,769).

By 1919, the London Building Company plan update the wall between 1 and 3 Abbey Road with a new 10’ party wall. Again, weeks would pass with multiple letters being exchanged between John Henry, the Trustees to the Eyre Estate, surveyors and lawyers over the height, placement and lighting of the wall. The wall is still standing today, but not without becoming an issue with some of later owners of 1 and 3 Abbey Road.

Norah C. JamesNorah Margaret Ruth Cordner-James was born in September 1895 in Hampstead, Middlesex, England. She would grow up to be a writer. Her first book, Sleeveless Errand, would be deemed indecent and banned, throwing her and her writing into the public eye. In 1939 Norah wrote her autobiography which gives a glimpse into the inner workings of the Cordner-James family up until she moved out on her own in 1924. She talks about the tension in the house, her father being very strict and her mother being very sweet and loving. John Henry’s temper was blamed for the trouble in keeping maids and governesses on staff. Multiple ads were placed in the local newspapers over the years to hire new maids. Norah also talks quite a bit about a cane that was kept in the nursery that their father would use to give them lashings when were bad.

 

 

By the summer of 1922, the Cordner-James family moved out of 3 Abbey Road and into 41 Park Road, Hampton Hill. At some point, John Henry had an affair with a woman by the name of Edith Emily Osman that produced a daughter in 1924. But despite the rumors that he abandoned his family, in 1934, John Henry and his family moved into a home he had custom built in Aldeburgh called Pinehurst and all phone and voting records show Marie still living with him up until his death at Pinehurst in 1946.

In his will, John Henry Cordner-James left his estate valued at £14,414 in 1946 (£598,673 in 2019) to his mistress Edith Emily Osman, his nephew Alec James and solicitor Kenneth Leslie Titmuss.

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