Nov 12

A History: Jack Harrison

Time to explore the known history of another of my ancestors, this time great-grandfather Jack (christened John) Harrison. A fitting choice for a Remembrance Sunday weekend, being the only one of my direct ancestors that I know served in a World War.

Jack Harrison in his Navy Uniform

Jack Harrison in his Navy Uniform

Jack was born 29 April 1899, at 33 Crosby Street. His father was John Harrison, a Journeyman Hatter at the time; his mother was Hannah Harwood. I’ve previously explored the life of his father John, in another post.

John, known for most of his life as Jack, was the 3rd surviving child out of 9; he was also the 3rd son. At the time of his birth, the family were living at 33 Crosby St, Stockport, a typical 2 up 2 down of the time.

33 Crosby St, Stockport (from Google streetview)

They were still there for the 1901 census but 10 years later, they’d moved to 97 London Rd, which looks to be very similar. There were 8 children living with the family at that point, which must have been cramped. The 2 oldest sons were out earning; Leonard, at 17, was a hairdresser and Sydney, 14, was a Grocer’s Errand Boy. Jack and 2 sisters, (Lizzie and Lily) were at school and 3 children were at home – Fred (4), William (3) and Norah (1). This house was to remain the family home for years – it was the recorded death place of John’s parents 40 years later. Today, it’s a bridal shop.

97 London Rd, the family home for decades, now  bridal shop.

97 London Rd, the family home for decades, now bridal shop.

Three years after this census, World War one broke out. Jack was 14. The school leaving age was 12, so we can assume he’d been working for a few years. But if he was eager to follow the patriotic call, he was too young to sign up for the Army, with the official age set at 18 and soldiers not supposed to serve abroad until they were 19. But many underage boys did manage to serve; analysis of records show that nearly a third of the Navy recruits were underage. In 1916, the UK government started subscription – but he would have still been too young for this. But the Navy were slightly different; you could join them young as a ‘Boy‘, with parents’ permission. Many of those boys, nominally at ‘school’ were sent to sea.

If we look at his older brothers, both did sign up, with the Army, but potentially Jack was the first to join.

  • Leonard Harrison. Enlisting in Dec 1915, aged 22, he served in France. On 26 April 1919, there’s a record of his transfer to the Reserve; he’d been serving in the Royal Horse & Field Artillery, 58th Divisional Ammunition Column. These papers list job as a Driver and his address as 97 London Rd. There’s also a Medal card listed at the National Archives – I’ll have to go and find this at some point.
  • Sydney Harrison. We know Sydney joined the Army – he sent this photo to his Aunt Alice, but not yet identified which record was his.
Sydney Harrison, taken during WW1

Sydney Harrison, taken during WW1

So what about Jack? Here’s his service record:

  • Volunteered 4/5/1915, started service 29/4/1917. Served until 23/10/1919
  • HMS Powerful 5/5/1915-22/11/1915 Training in Devonport, Boy 2nd Class
  • HMS Victory 23/11/15-27/1/16 Still on shore, promoted to Boy 1st Class
  • HMS Malaya 28/1/16 – 27/4/18
  • HMS Sable 28/4/18-7/3/19 An R Class Destroyer
  • HMS Royalist 14/3/19-12/7/19 A Light cruiser
  • HMS Victory 13/7/19-23/10/19 Back on shore

So 5 days after his 16th birthday, Jack signed up for the Navy. His brothers did not appear to be in the forces yet so it did not appear to be family expectations. Was it friends? Did they join up together? Whatever it was, at 16 Jack was heading down to the South Coast for training. How did that feel, to someone who was unlikely to have travelled before. Six months of training followed before he was posted to HMS Victory, usually used to refer to holding barracks in Portsmouth, when sailors were waiting for posting. He’d graduated to being a Boy 1st Class and spent 2 months waiting for the next step.

Navy training class

Navy training class

Is this a Navy graduation picture?

Is this a Navy graduation picture?

That next step was the HMS Malaya, a brand new ship. Jack joined the crew 3 days before its official commissioning, one of most junior members of the 1200+ crew. The ship joined the 5th Battle Squadron ; what it did for the next 4 months I don’t know but on 31 May 1916, they played a part in the Battle of Jutland. At the end of the engagement, the ship had lost 65 crew, with 68 injured. Despite the damage, it got back to port for repairs before sailing again in July.

Post card of HMS Malaya

Post card of HMS Malaya

They appear to have a quiet summer, according to this postcard to his 7 year old sister Norah implies.

Postcard from Jack

Postcard from Jack

Front of postcard from Jack to Norah

Front of postcard from Jack to Norah

Jack carried on with the ship, being promoted to Ordinary Seaman on 29 Apr 1917 and Able Seaman 5 months later on 1 Sep 1917. In April 1918 he was moved to HMS Sable, a destroyer ship with a much smaller crew of only 82. He was with this ship until March 1919. We can assume that during this time he managed to get home a few times, because he was obviously courting. On 11 Feb 1919, Jack married Lillian Robinson.

Lillian and Jack

Lillian and Jack

Lillian was the daughter of a local tobacconist and building merchant William Robinson, a Yorkshireman who’d moved across the Pennines and one of the founding members and first team captain of Stockport Rugby Club. He was good enough to play for Cheshire country team. Stockport was one of the founder members of the new Rugby League and we can assume that William played a major part in this, given his prominence in the club.

Beatrice Robinson (nee Lee) and the Tobacconist shop

Beatrice Robinson (nee Lee) and the Tobacconist shop

There was one more stint at sea, before Jack finally left the Navy in October 1919. Time to settle down, stat the family and get on with life. His first daughter, Mabel was born in 1920; Lillian, my Grandmother, was born in 1922. It was 15 years before another child was born – John Leslie, in 1937. There are no other records of any other children apart from these 3.

There’s no records over the next 20 years, until the 1939 Register when we find them in Roscoe St, still in Stockport. Another typical terraced house.

26 Roscoe St, Stockport

26 Roscoe St, Stockport

At this point we have Jack and Lillian, living with John Leslie and their daughter Lillian, along with a lodger Arthur. Their other daughter can be found back in the family home in Castle St, with her grand-parents. Jack was now a Locomotive Fireman – looking after the boilers on trains.

Jack Harrison at work on the trains

Jack Harrison at work on the trains

He was also breeding dogs at the address; we have an old business card “J Harrison, Breeder of Classical Pedigree Wirehaired Fox Terriers; Malayan Kennels, 26 Roscoe St, Edgeley, Stockport Owner of Fyldelands Starlight”. Naming the star dog implies it was a good dog from a famous breedline. The only other mention i can find to Fyldelands is to a best in show dog from St Louis in 1931, so definitely from an international breeder. And the name of the kennels was a callback to his WW1 Navy Career.

None of the family appeared to have served in WW2, too old or too young. In 1943, Jack’s daughter Lillian moved out, marrying another Jack, my grandfather. Mabel never married.

Jack’s wife Lillian died in 1956 and was buried in Cheadle Cemetery. Just over a year later, tragedy struck again, with John Leslie, at only just 20, also dying. Jack stayed in the same house for the next 20 years, before dying in the local hospital in 1977, at the age of 77. He was buried in the same grave as his wife. I may have met him, but I don’t remember. As the family was living 100miles further south, I do know we did not make that many visits.

As with his father, a man that lived through many changes. Born in the last years of Victoria he served in WW1 and lived through WW2. He was born before planes and died when package holidays were starting to become available to the wider populace – did he ever get on a plane? Did he ever travel far after his journey’s in the war? so many questions, no-one to ask any more.

May 28

A History: John Harrison

For around 30 years, I’ve been slowly building up what I know about my family history. Starting from occasional visits to the Family Record office in London with Mom, to look things up and order new records it slowly moved to online research as records were digitised and most of it can now be done from a computer. I say most, but sometimes you do need to get out and dig into local records, especially those of pre 1837, before national registration was implemented.

In this post, I’m going to explore what I know about a single ancestor, my great-great-grandfather John Harrison. Unlike the average celebrity on Who Do You Think You Are, my family are not from exciting places to show on TV, nor do they come from a line of aristocracy or major scandal. Most of them spent their lives in a small area, moving a few streets; they were mainly working class, working in cotton or down the mines. Nevertheless, there’s almost always something of interest!

Without more ado, meet John Harrison.

John Harrison

John was born 19 January 1869, in a place called Bramhall, near Stockport. His mother was Elizabeth Harrison, who’d also been born in Bramhall 20 years earlier. As for his father, I have no idea. There’s no name on the birth certificate. We can speculate what had happened, but John was definitely born ‘out of wedlock’ as the saying goes. The registrar had no obligation to record the father’s name at that time, even if Elizabeth had told him. It could be seen as surprising that she had registered the birth at all, as it was not a legal obligation until 1875, when it became mandatory for parents to register their children. Prior to that, it was the registrar’s responsibility to find out abut births, marriages and deaths. Illegitimacy had also become even more stigmatised since the 1834 Poor Laws, which had removed any need for the father to take responsibility for their children (or rather, removes the need of the parish to do so, who would claim money from the father); by making the mother completely responsible for the child until they were 16, without providing any parish support, the government of the time thought they could reduce all the female sexual immorality that led to these children, because, of course, it was always completely the fault of the women.

This lack of father could be the reason for the family story of John being the son of the local lord, his mother supposedly being in service at the time.


(screenshot from National Library Of Scotland Maps)

As you can see from the map, that could have been Bramall Hall, the home of the Davenports. William Davenport Davenport was resident at the time in question, although he did die in February 1869. But this is unlikely, given the profession of Elizabeth. In the 1861 census, she was listed as a Silk Hand Loom Weaver, (at the age of 13), in 1871, she was still working in the silk trade, as a Card Room Hand. Did she decide to try a different job and is there any truth in the family rumour? We’ll never know.

In the 1871 census, John and Elizabeth were living with her father and stepmother in Bramhall Moor (you can see this labelled pretty clearly in the map), along with her younger sister Maria. Her father was John Harrison (b. 1824 in Cheadle), a silk weaver, and her mother was Mary Williamson, who’d died in 1849. Given the proximity of dates, there is a strong possibility that she had died as a result of Elizabeth’s birth, a fate met at a rate of around 50 per 1000 births. John and Mary had married in 1844 and Elizabeth was their second child. John married again in 1850, a year into his widowhood, and had a further daughter.

In 1872, Elizabeth married Isaac Hallworth, who lived not too far away in Norbury Moor. His father was a Coal Miner, but the children went into the silk trade. Isaac himself was a Hatter at the time of the marriage. Hat making and silk making had been an important industry in the area since the 16th century, as demonstrated by the presence of Hat Works, the UK’s only museum completely devoted to hats, hat making (and the associated silk industry. Elizabeth and Isaac had at least 6 children, almost all of whom went into the hat industry too. They stayed in the area for the next 40 or so years. Elizabeth died in December 1920, at the age of 72, in Watford Hospital. At the time, she was living next door to her son, Allen. Allen had moved to Watford around 1910, to work with British Rail. We can assume that Elizabeth had moved down sometime after Isaac’s death in 1914. She was buried back up near to where she had been born and lived for most of her life, at St Thomas’s in Norbury.

So, back to John. By 1881, the family had moved to London Rd, the main road south in the area. There were 3 children by then, John, Allen and Alice. By 1891, they had moved again, to Arden Grove. John was still living at home, working as a Felt Hatter. the family had grown by another 4 children, all still at schools. Arden Grove was closer into town, near to St Thomas’s Church off Higher Hillgate, but no longer exists on maps.

In Sept 1892, John married Hannah Harwood. Born in Bosden, the daughter of Robert Harwood, a cotton dealer, and Alice Larkin, who was originally from Ireland and one of the very few of my ancestors who weren’t English. Hannah was the youngest of their 6 children, the 4th daughter. At the time of the marriage, she was living with her family at 19 London Road; Robert Harwood was still living there at his death in 1912.

Hannah Harwood

(Hannah in later years)

At some point, they moved into 33 Crosby St, a small, terraced house not too far away. It looks like it’s a typical 2 up 2 down house; you could assume that the bathroom was in the back yard. They were there in the 1901 census and it was listed as the address of the hatter John Harrison in the 1902 and 1907 trade directories.

Crosby St

Crosby St from Google Streetmap. From the outside, it won’t have changed that much, probably just new doors and windows. John would definitely not had the 4 wheelie bins though.

From 1893 through to 1909, they had 9 children. I only know about 8 so far, but the 1911 census identified that the 9th had died at some point. From what I have discovered so far, all of the children lived and died in the same area around Hazel Grove, Stockport, except for Fred who at some point moved to Blackpool, or at least died there.

  • Leonard, b 1893. became a Hairdresser
  • Sydney b. 1897,
  • John, b. 1899. My great, great grandfather
  • Lizzie b. 1903
  • Lily b. 1905
  • Fred Harwood b. 1906
  • William b. 1908
  • Norah, b. 1909

In the 1911 census, the whole family were loving at 97 London Rd. They’ve moved slightly south, closer to Bramhall again. The house was also the business address of Leonard Harrison, hairdresser, as listed in the 1910 Kelly’s Directory. As far as I know, John and Hannah then lived there for the rest of their life. They were listed there in the 1939 Register and it was their home at the time of their deaths. That’s over 40 years in the same house. Again, it looks like a typical 2 up and 2 down, which makes you wonder how they lived there with 8 children! 97 is the right hand half of the Bridal Shop in the picture below.

London Rd

Screen cap from Google Street View.

And here’s how it looked in 1945

London Rd 1945

From Stockport Council records

The next reference I have for John is in the 1939 Register, where he is listed as a retired hatter foreman; he’s living with Hannah, and with 2 daughters, Lizzy and Lily, who are both ‘Tissue Paper Cap Makers’, I think another aspect of the hatter trade.

Finally, we get to his death, in the local Shaw Heath hospital, which focused on the care of the elderly. On the 29 Aug 1953, he died to the age of 84. The informant was Leonard, his son, who lived not too far away in Gordon Avenue. He’d been born during the reign of Victoria and died at the start of Elizabeth’s reign, his 6th monarch. He’d lived through 23 different tenancies of Prime Minister (although only 14 different people). He’d seen the invention of flight, radio and the television, although the odds of him actually owning a telly are low, or indeed, having been on an aeroplane. He’d seen 2 World Wars; at least 1 son fought in WW1 (and survived). Had he ever been outside of the few square miles from where he was born? Is it reasonable to assume that he’d traveled to Watford to see his mother in the time she was there?

Hannah survived for only another year, dying at home, still at 97 London Rd, early the following year. According to the obituary, it was still Leonard’s hairdressing shop after 40 years. She was buried in Norbury church.