The Harrison Dynasty (Part One: The Early Years,1763 to 1841)

Yesterday, in the post about the Pelsall boiler explosion, I mentioned the work being undertaken by top history operative Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler on the nature and extent of the Harrison Empire. Here’s a first instalment of his work on the  history of an industrial empire from Peter, and jolly impressive it is, too.

Please join with me in thanking Peter for this wonderful work, and for his continued contributions to the blog, including this utterly astounding comment from yesterday.

Peter wrote:

Park Lime Pits was once a series of lime caverns, but you’d not know it now from the peace and tranquility. The industry peppered Walsall and fuelled the industrial revolution. Picture by VerybaldEagle and posted on Panoramio.

Most of the groundwork for an an attempt to trace the beginnings of the Harrisons family’s involvement in the area has been done by Andy, in the (POST Eliza). The first mentions in the post of William Harrison Jnr are in 1825 with his marriage to Mary Bealey Stanley at Walsall. Also the record from British History Online of his involvement in Butts Limeworks in Walsall in 1826. He was then in partnership with George Strongitharm and John Wagstaff, taking a lease of the land from a John Walhouse. It is the name George Strongitharm that may hold the key to unravelling the early years.

Below is the early parts of the trees of the Harrison and Strongitharm families. It could be considered circumstantial, but the name Strongitharm is unusual and there is a lack of suitable alternatives.

The early Harrison – Strongitharm family tree, as compiled by Peter Cutler. Click for a larger version.

Are Sarah and George Strongitharm brother and sister, or at least related? Are William and George cousins? Well at least it could give evidence of a close enough link to forge a future partnership. The later connections around the name Bealey?

Andy had discovered that William Harrison Jnr had been born in Middlewich in Cheshire in around 1798. There exists a Cowdroy’s Directory of Cheshire [1] dated 1789 with details of Middlewich and surrounding towns, but no mention of the families could be found.

The first mention of George Strongitharm is his marriage to Ann Williams at Rushall in 1800. So what of Ann Williams? Well the is a candidate of similar age to George, whose father was a Benjamin Williams and listed as Church Warden at St Mathew, and elected a Constable of Walsall Borough Foreign around 1775. [3] Rushall had of course been the site of Limestone extraction for some years, but a description [3] gives no mention of the families at that time of 1813. However there is a mention of John Walhouse, and also that, at this time, there is more demand for lime than can be supplied!

So did George Strongitharm Snr make his way to old Walsall Town sometime before his marriage in 1800? He may have given the nod to his sister/relation as there is a record of a William Harrison as Church Warden at St Mathew in 1810.

Just before the partnership, in 1825, William Harrison Jnr was married Mary Bealey Stanley. Her father may have been a Joseph Bealey Stanley mentioned as Church Warden in the year around 1810 alongside a William Harrison! [3]

So it appears that the involvement in limestone started in 1826, and Andy finds that in the 1841 Census Wiiliam Harrison is living in Stafford Street with his family, as a Lime Master at the age of 35. William Bealey Harrison is just 3 years old and has an elder brother by 10 years, John Harrison. (I am puzzled why the the first boy was not called William!)

13, Stafford Street, is one of these stores on the left.

Around 1830 they also possess a Baskerville Wharf in Birmingham. And on the 30th April 1830 their engine house, situated near to Stafford Street, was broken open and quantity of brasses belonging to the engine were stolen…as other robberies had taken place “there can be little doubt that a daring gang of thieves infest the town and neighbourhood, and in too many instances they commit their depredations with impunity.” (Staffs Advertiser). [5] I have a note, but cannot confirm, that it was 13 Stafford Street and must have been close to the actual Works. It seems that the family home and offices were at the same location.

January 1836: George Rutter between 70 and 80 years old, went one evening to the offices of W Harrison, Lime Master in Stafford Street in Walsall, for the purpose of being paid for some work. He went up a flight of 10 or 12 steps by which the office is approached, to see if Mr Harrison was in; finding he was not he turned, and there being no light, he fell from top to bottom. He died on the following Monday. [5]

 October 1839: On Monday night a ewe lamb, belonging to Mr Harrison, Lime Master, Walsall was feloniously slaughtered in a field adjoining Long Wood Lane, and the carcass taken away. No trace has yet been had of the offenders, but a reward is offered on conviction. [5]

 April 1841: William Harrison, Lime Master, appointed church warden at St Peter’s Church Walsall.

It could be said that the above information is chosen to fit appearances, but for me, and I may be wrong, there are too many coincidences. I believe when the Harrison family hit the streets of Walsall they were not particularly well off, but when William Harrison Jnr died in 1877, Andy found that he left just under £100,000. On the death of WE Harrison in 1937 he left a gross estate of about £1.25m. It would be quite correct to say that, of the Harrison family, ‘they provided way of life and finance to the community from 1849 to 1947, some 98 years’ [4]. I am now intrigued as to how the money was gained!

[1] Cowdroy’s Directory of Cheshire (1789)

[2] A Topographical History of Staffordshire, William Pitt (1817)

[3] History and Directory of Walsall, Thomas Pearce (1813)

[4] William Harrison Company Limited, CCMHS (2006)

[5] National Archive Newspap

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15 Responses to The Harrison Dynasty (Part One: The Early Years,1763 to 1841)

  1. Andy Dennis says:

    Great work, Pedro. Looking forward to Part Two!

  2. Extremely interesting! I’m looking forward to more, too.

  3. ” (I am puzzled why the the first boy was not called William!)” – It is puzzling.

    – I would suggest that their may have been another William who died in infancy…there is a 3 or 4 year gap between the couple’s marriage and the birth of John. I have found a similar pattern in my own 19c relatives: When a child dies, it seems that the next child is not given the same name (superstition, respect for the recently deceased?), but another, later born, child is.

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  7. gabriel says:

    The surname “Strongitharm” also crops up in an 1856 crime report in The Times – although here the person is employed as a ‘clerk’ by William Harrison. From The Times, Wednesday, Oct 15, 1856; pg. 9; Issue 22499:
    There can be little doubt that Birmingham has recently received an addition to its bands of “cracksmen.” Last week mention was made in the columns of this paper of a burglary in South Staffordshire, the most striking characteristics of which were similar to those which we have now to relate. The daring of that robbery did not, however, by any means equal the daring of this. Still in each there was the customary hesitancy to take life. Mr. William Harrison, a magistrate for Staffordshire, and the proprietor of extensive collieries in that county, has a house near to his Brownhills Colliery, not far from Walsall, in which his pay-office is situated. On Friday night last the only inmates of the house were a clerk of Mr. Harrison named Strongitharm, an old housekeeper, and her daughter. At about 2 0’clock on Saturday morning the old woman was awakened by a loud battering at the back door of the house, and upon looking out she observed a band of armed men. These were evidently endeavouring to force an entrance at this point, but, finding the fastenings too strong for them, they continued their attempt at another door, where, being more successful, they got into the house. Soon the old woman and her daughter were terrified yet more than they had been by the forcing of the door by seeing five men rush into their room, armed, and having black masks upon their faces. In a very little time the affrighted women were tied down upon their beds with ropes that the burglars had brought with them for the purpose. The women secured, these modern Jack Sheppards next took firm hold of Strongitharm, whom they compelled to accompany them to the office, and, by the fear of them carrying out their threats of taking his life; obliged the young man to point out the iron safe in which the money was kept. having obtained from him all the information that they needed, they placed him in a similar helpless position with that in which they had left the housekeeper and her daughter, rendering his custody yet more secure by placing over him one of their gang, armed with a double-barrelled gun. the rest of the gang then applied themselves to the acquiring of booty, concentrating their early efforts upon the iron safe, the lock of which they tried to blow off with gunpowder, but they could not succeed. They had then recourse to a more unscientific procedure. From a neighbouring blacksmith’s shop they fetched a heavy sledge-hammer, and eventually forced the safe. here their booty was not so large as they expected to find it, the contents of the chest having been to £18 by the colliers having been paid their wages only the day before. A day earlier, and those gentleman would have been able to share a heavy spoil. further search upon the premises introduced them to a valuable Geneva watch, a silver snuff-box, with a raised device on the lid illustrative of “The soldier’s return home”, a brace of pocket pistols, an excellent revolver with six rifle barrels, a quantity of receipt and postage stamps, and a pair of breeches. Fatigued with their exertions, they proceeded to regale themselves from the contents of the larder and the cellar with “the best that the house could afford.” this was done with the utmost coolness, and in a manner which showed that they were not thus feasting for the first time. Another threat or two for their prisoners, and they left the premises — as marks upon the road would show — by a cart – an indication of their having come to Brownhills from a distance. the inmates of the house remained bound until their cries attracted the attention of some of the colliers at a later hour in the morning. Mr. Harrison has offered a reward of £100 for the apprehension of the burglars.”

    Ah, its got it all, really, hasn’t it? Getaway carts, stealing the toffs britches, having to go and find a sledgehammer… Modern crime capers can’t touch this type of comedy gold.

  8. gabriel says:

    Sorry for missing a few upper-case letters at the start of sentences! Also a missing word: “Here their booty was not so large as they expected to find it, the contents of the chest having been REDUCED to £18 by the colliers having been paid their wages only the day before.”

  9. Pedro says:

    Thanks Gabriel, a very interesting find. A story worth a mention in the National Papers!

    The date of 1856 puts it before the local papers of Lichfield, Tamworth and Staffs. I have now found exactly the same story in other papers such as the London Daily News and the Glasgow Telegraph.

    The Harrison family would now be living in Norton Hall and I would guess that the house mentioned could be where William Harrison Jnr had set up his offices on the land that contained the Cathedral Pit. Perhaps the housekeeper and her daughter had accommodation there, along with Strongitharm the clerk who could also act as night watchman.

    In the CCMHS publication (2006) it states that one of the buildings still exists just west of the Rising Sun on the junction of Watling Street, and being L-shaped.

    It can be seen on the 1948 map that Bob placed in the article “Miles of steel over wood”, just to the left of the junctions of the railway, Watling Street and the Chester Road…

    Does anyone know if it is still there? The windows in a picture are shown to be arched and in 2006 was used by the Midland Safe Load Indicators Ltd.

    Maybe the reference to “The soldier’s return home” is the poem by Robert Burns?

    Regards Peter

    • Andy Dennis says:

      The buildng with arched windows is still there. I’ve not been there recently, but there is a publuc footpath from Watling Street that passes along the driveway, then beside the building on the way to Pelsall Road Bridge, which crosses the Cannock Extension Canal near the old Grove Colliery. Not an unpleasant stroll across Grove Common.

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  13. Pauline statham says:

    A great piece of history and by the way did the same harrison family have anything to do with harrison pits great wyrlry ?

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