It’s interesting to note that Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler is coming over all iconoclastic again – and I, for one, welcome it, as Peter has a fine record of kicking over the statues of the local mining history – particularly in regard the the Harrison colliery dynasty.
This time, Peter has applied his wonderful research skills to the question of the beginnings of the Harrison empire, and a seemingly erroneous assertion in a noted local history book. On the way, he finds out that it’s a bugger when you can’t get Walsall Wood to vote for you, perhaps because you don’t have the community by the balls by owning their local pit…
This article is fascinating, and says much about the times in which Harrison operated. Talk about big fish in little ponds. I’m intrigued to note that William Roberts, the great brewer, entrepreneur and philanthropist of Brownhills was contemporary with the Harrisons at their height, and wonder what this truly self-made man made of the bullish and socially lauded pit owners. From what I can tell of the man, probably not a great deal.
It’s worth noting that whilst Harrisons were buying and selling country seats, Roberts was donating money and equipment for Brownhills first Fire Brigade and irritating the church by giving dirty brewery profits to the school to pay for books…
Roberts was, no doubt, a rogue too, but I find the contrast interesting.
Thanks to Peter for another wonderful article. What this shows, more than anything, is the nescessity to be careful when taking history at face value. Anything I write, or that appears here, may be wrong. But in our experience, it’s just as likely to be wrong in local history books. Keep an open mind, folks.
Comments? Insults? Welcome them all – either on this post or mailed to BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
I have always had doubts about the assertions on the first page of the Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society’s publication ‘William Harrison Company Limited’ (2006) which states…
‘During the last two decades of the 18th century William Harrison was involved in limestone mining in the Black Country… In 1834 William Harrison, listed as Coal Master, was living at Morton House, Brownhills, with his son William Jnr listed as Colliery Agent’
I couldn’t find any evidence of a Morton House in Brownhills, and can only think there is some confusion with the residence of William Hanbury. In White’s Directory of 1851 William Harrison is listed as living at Norton Hall, and William Hanbury at Moreton House. I believe that Norton Hall had only just come into the possession of the Harrison Family, maybe bought from a John Hawke Esq.
From Andy Dennis’ article ‘How do you solve a problem like Eliza‘, we can see that the census of 1841 records William Harrison as being a Lime Master and living in Station Street with children, including John (13) and William (3). The elder brother John would become known as L. Col. J. Harrison (we have already come across him in the article Dog Daze…) and William as Captain W. Harrison, both titles, I believe, gained in association with the Staffordshire Volunteers.
We can also see that William Harrison Jnr was born in Middlewich around 1798, and married Mary Bealey Stanley at Walsall in 1825. There are records of William Harrison being involved in Lime after this date. Did he marry into money?
So who better than the men themselves, in their own reported words, to shed some light?
L. Col. John Harrison performed at the Agricultural Hall in Walsall in Setember 1882 in order to raise funds for the Volunteers…
‘…He then called on those present to applaud his remarks, and that was accordingly done amid some laughter. He was born in Stafford Street, in a large house, now two shops, some distance up, which was at that time completely in the country. There was not a single bouse between theirs and Lichfield Street, and close beside it ran the classic neighbourhood of Blue Lane…
…He wished to tell them, too, that he had lived in Walsall very many years. It was in 1849 that his father left Stafford Street. His father was a very great man, a man who came to Walsall without a farthing in his pocket and died worth £200,000 beside the collieries in Norton. He intended to erect a tablet to his memory in the parish church, and to state that it was erected by the eldest son, ‘John Harrison, MA, JP, DL, DAM, MAD, late scholar of Christ College, Cambridge, and Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 3rd Staffordshire Rifle Volunteers.’ There was something in what he said, for while the Masters of Arts of Dublin were distinguished as DAM, those of Durham were distinguished as MAD…’
Later in March of 1889 during a celebration dinner at the Station Hotel, given in honour of him losing the Council election, Captain WB Harrison was reported to have said…
‘…Brownhills and the immediate neighbourhood owed a great deal to the energy and pluck that his father displayed in that place, which at one time was practically a desert. It was perfectly true that his father introduced certain improvements to the workings of the collieries. His father had been a working man who rose from an humble origin, and entirely by his industry and perseverance acquired a position which any man might be proud of.’ (Cheers)
It was very grateful indeed to find that the memory of his father was held in such high esteem by them. As a lad he came to reside in the neighbourhood, and he was personally interested in its welfare, as his children and probably is children’s children would be. (Cheers) Such being the case it was a very pleasant thing, for him to be there that night, and find his name respected in that neighbourhood…
…At the counting of votes after the election, he soon saw that he was the defeated candidate but he was glad he was not defeated by the men in the locality in which he lived. (cheers) He was defeated by the Walsall Wood voters, but perhaps the time might come when they would regret the course that they had adopted on that occasion…’
Well shame on you Walsall Woodians!
You’ve got to laugh at the Captain when he says that he lived in the locality. His father purchased Norton Hall around 1850 as the adventure into coal had just started, and indeed it seems to have been in the family until after the Great War. Although the family must have stayed there at times, and it was used as an address, much grander Houses are to be associated with them. Even in 1908 the Captain described Norton Hall as the ancestral home, but it must have been no more than an outbuilding.
The Captain’s father (who died about 1877) had made enough to buy Eastlands House in Leamington Priors before the 1861 census, where a couple of years ago one dwelling sold for over one and a quarter million pounds. In 1864 the family acquired Hagley Hall near Rugeley from the Curzon family, and sold it around 1879 to the Trustees of Lord Anglesey.
Some time prior to 1883 the Captain had bought the Aldershaw Estate, and would build himself a new house there in the 90s. His brother John had a house in Croydon, aptly called Norton House, and in 1895 came back to the area to live at Berry Hill House near Lichfield.