He was instrumental in developing the concept of the “Garden Centre”, as a destination in its own right, a place where a family could go and enjoy a day out, which was a revolutionary idea back in the 1960’s. Having left war-torn Holland in 1946, he met Thea Warmerdam when he came to work for her Nurseryman father, whose family had settled in Goffs Oak during the War, where they grew tomatoes and cucumbers. They married in 1953 and started the business in Broxbourne, on the old A10, while at the same time raising 6 children. A placard in the window bore the words “Always Open”, and the Car Park had room for 7 or 8 cars, at a pinch. One of the Weekend Juniors at Broxbourne was a young man called Geoff Hamilton, who was, legend has it, ticked off by Cornelius for “talking too much.” If ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this must surely have been it.
From small beginnings at Broxbourne, with the landmark Windmill Garden, which Cor planted up himself, coming alive every Spring with hundreds of daffodils and tulips, in 1971, the business relocated to Great Amwell, to the site of a former Rose Nursery, known as Chaplin Brothers. With the words “The Gardeners’ Paradise” boldly emblazoned across the front, the brand new Centre was opened by Percy Thrower, and with both Thea and Cornelius in attendance virtually 7 days a week, became instantly successful, attracting thousands of visitors each week, as well as Garden Centre Operators from as far afield as Holland, France and Italy.
Although retired, he maintained a keen interest, and saw the business that he and Thea had founded take root and grow, to include award-winning Garden Centres at Chenies in Buckinghamshire, and Peterborough, as well as the flagship site at Great Amwell.
He leaves 6 children and 12 grandchildren, and he will be sorely missed. His sense of humour, love of all things horticultural, and zest for life, will be remembered and celebrated by everyone who knew him.
The funeral service will take place on Monday 8th February at 11 am, at St Augustine’s RC Church, Hoddesdon, Herts. All Welcome.