The Tunwell Family in Great Shelford

Thanks to Alan Bullwinkle[1] we can trace the Tunwell family in Cambridgeshire back to my 13th great grandfather, John Tunwell (1469 – ) who was born and lived in Fulbourn, just west of Great Shelford.

The family lived there for five or so generations until my 7th great grandfather, Richard Tunwell (1645 – 1714) moved to Great Shelford probably around 1675, where he married Martha Howling. He and Martha had seven children in the late 1600s.

During this period, Richard became a very successful farmer. According to a recent article:

“Richard Tunwell (1645–1713) who acquired land at Great Shelford, his first acquisition being a mere acre of pasture, a copse and a close which was copyhold land belonging to the Bury manor. When Freville’s Manor was purchased [as superior proprietor] by William Freeman in 1701, the lands in Great Shelford belonging to the Manor were described as 142 acres (0.57 km2) of arable, 10 acres and a half a rood of meadow, eight and a half acres of pasture, a sheepwalk or liberty of foldage and fold vourse for six store ewes, all by then in the occupation of Richard Tunwell. The Manor also had half an acre of meadow in Little Shelford which again was occupied by Richard Tunwell. A rent roll of the Manor of Granhams dated 1708 shows that Tunwell and his sons held copyhold land from that Manor as well. From 1678 onwards, Richard Tunwell served as a Juror on the Bury Baron Court. By 1705, as a landed proprietor, he had qualified as a parliamentary voter and the Poll Book for the election held in that year shows that he voted for Sir Richard Cullen and John Bromley.”[2]

Gregory Lauder-Frost, a Dean descendant, in his article[3] tracing the Dean line back to Malcolm III ‘Canmore’, King of the Scots, describes the family descent as follows:

Martha Howling (1652 – buried July 12, 1702 at Great Shelford) married, on 20th January 1676, at Great Shelford, yet another Yeoman farmer, Richard Tunwell (baptised 27th May 1645 at Fulbourne, Cambs.,- bur. 14th January, 1713 at Gt. Shelford), whose family is mentioned in Cambridgeshire records as far back as 1316. He owned both freehold and copyhold lands totaling about 160 acres near Great Shelford and had a lease of all the lands of Freville’s Manor as well as most of those belonging to Bury Manor, of which he was a Juror to the Court Baron. His name appears on the Roll of Parliamentary Voters. This couple had six children, of whom Richard, a Yeoman (1687-1719), and

Thomas, a farmer, but described in his Will as a “gentleman”. This Thomas Tunwell (baptised 26thMarch 1689 and buried 25th August 1726 both at Great Shelford) married on 21st September 1714 at St. Botolphs Church in nearby Cambridge, Constance Brewster (bapt.21st September 1691 daughter of John Brewster and Hester Kemp, and buried on that day in 1714, both in Great Shelford.) They had John and Thomas, both Yeoman, Sarah, who married Thomas Banks, and Constance[4].”

Several documents concerning Richard’s conveyance exist in the Cambridgeshire Archives.

 This first Richard’s two surviving sons – Richard and Thomas presumably inherited his holdings. Richard (1687 – 1719), the eldest, most likely received the larger portion including the lot at the corner of High St. and Tunwell’s Lane.

Thomas, the younger, and my 6th G GF, may have received the smaller farm to the south of the central holdings at the corner of High St. and Tunwell’s Lane. More on this later

Tunwell Properties in Great Shelford

We assume most of the senior Richard’s holdings, most likely at the corner of High St. & Tunwell’s Lane[5]  passed to his eldest son, Richard Tunwell.

When this Richard died at age 31, it appears his wife Elizabeth continued on with the farm which then passed it to their son Richard Tunwell III (1716 – 1781) who married Elizabeth Banks.

The farm then most likely passed to their eldest son Richard Tunwell IV (1748 – 1826)

We are unable to find the record of a marriage for him, nor any obvious Tunwell descendants in the Great Shelford baptism records. This Richard appears to be the last of this line in Great Shelford.

The last Tunwell’s in Great Shelford were William and Martha Tunwell.  William (1760 – 1843) was, I believe, the son of John Tunwell (1722 – 1789) and Elizabeth Clarke.

The Dean Farm

This Thomas’ daughter, Constance Tunwell, married my 5th G GF, William Dean (1719 – 1763) and presumably they inherited the farm from her father Thomas.

William died before Constance so in her will (1775) she left most of her property to her eldest son, John Dean (1753 – 1832; m. Esther Turner)

“I give and devise unto my Eldest son John Deans and to his heirs forever all my Messaured Lands Tenents (sic) Hereditam ts (sic) and Real Estate what serves with the appoints being in the Common Fields and bounds of Great Shelford”

John, in turn left the farm to his eldest son, William Dean (1781 – 1847 m. Sarah Cocks) brother of my GGG GF, Thomas.

We can see this farm’s location in an 1830 Map of Great Shelford. “roughly where Norfolk House is now.” [HH]

William was a poulterer as was his son William (1808 – 1875, m. Hannah Ellum). You will recall the two wonderful anecdotes on Helen Harwood’s Great Shelford History site[6] – the Arsonist & the Turkey thief

It is not clear as to what happened to the farm after William’s death

His son William, Jr was living at 44 High St in 1841 & 1851 but in 1855, immigrated with his family to Wisconsin, USA.

[1] Bullwinkle, Alan (February 1984). “The Tunwells of Fulbourn and Great Shelford”.Cambridgeshire Family History Society Journal 4 (5): 123–125.  Thanks to Helen Harwood for sending this article. Gregory Lauder Frost (see below) claims they have been traced back to the 1350s

[2] – Based on the Bullwinkle article.


[4] Constance Tunwell, married my 5th G GF William Dean

[5] Formerly Abigail’s Lane



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