An Illustrated Family History Archive

The Higson Family

Coal and Cotton from Lancashire to Yorkshire

© 2005 Garen C. Ewing. Last updated: Jan 2019
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The Hartley connection

The earliest ancestor I'm aware of from the Higson line is Thomas Higson, born around 1805 in Marsden (near Colne), Lancashire.

Like most of his descendants he was a coal miner. It is quite possible that his father was also called Thomas Higson, a soldier at Colne, and his mother was Ann Hartley. Part of the proof of this may lie in the fact that the younger Thomas had a son born in Oldham in 1840 and he called him Hartley Higson. In 1825 Thomas married Alice Inman, and as well as Hartley, they produced Matthew, Ann, Thomas, Margaret and Mary. The sons all became coal miners.

Life at the coal mine by Edyth Higson (Doncaster Museum)

A weaver's daughter

Matthew was my three-times great grandfather and on Christmas Day 1848 at the age of 21 he married Sarah Wildman, a girl from nearby Wheatley Lane, and the daughter of a weaver, at Colne Chapel. They lived in Little Marsden for over twenty years before moving to the bigger town of Burnley, which would become the new home of the Higsons for a while.

Matthew's brother, Hartley, married Sarah Greenwood in 1862, a girl from Cliviger. In 1884, probably a widower by now (he remarried in 1897) and spelling his name Hickson, he went to the United States, initially to coal mine in Cambria, Wyoming, but later working as a saloon keeper in Frontier, Wyoming.

Sister Nancy had a son born out of wedlock in 1850, Henry Higson, though she married two years later and he was brought up as Henry Blakey. He married in 1876, now a Higson again,  to a Burnley lass, Ann Hanson. Sadly Ann was a troubled soul (as was a brother of hers, Matthew, at one point an inmate of the county lunatic asylum), and she killed herself under rather horrendous cirumstances in January 1891, leaving three daughters aged 12, 10 and 4.

By 1873 Matthew and Sarah were in Burnley, and a daughter, Emma, was born there in that year. Previous children of theirs included Nancy, John, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth.

Old Rush

John, the only boy, broke with family tradition and took up the occupation of many other local Higsons, a cotton weaver. In 1878 he married a girl by the name of Ruth Halstead and they had a daughter, Ada. Sadly Ruth did not survive into the new decade and Ada went to live with her mother's sister, resulting in her branch of the family drifting away (happily emerging again 125 years later).

The exact circumstances of John's meeting with Nancy Crowther, a widow with a young son, Tom, are lost to the mists of time, but there are hints of a rushed marriage in 1883, and a single child, Walter Higson, being born to them five months later. Nancy's maiden name was Cronshaw (or Crankshaw) and she was the daughter of James Crankshaw and Ellen Cock. She'd married John Crowther in 1868. Their first son, John James, died aged 2 in 1872, and John himself died almost exactly one month later. Their second son, Tom (b.1871), died in 1900, and his son, John William Crowther, died from wounds received in action in September 1918. Nancy died in 1909.

John's mother, Sarah had died in 1881 from bronchitis, and his father, Matthew, survived a few more years until he passed away at the age of 58. A little more is known about the character of John Higson. He was a bit of a drinker, apparently, but was also a good runner and won quite a few local races thanks to a final burst of speed he would summon. Because of this his friends used to call him 'Old Rush', and if he won a race, they'd have a pint ready for him in the local pub when he came in. One story tells of him running with a broken arm and bandages streaming behind him as it unravelled.

Consumptive Monkey!

Walter, John and Nancy's son, also became a cotton weaver, and in the early 1900s lived in and around Skipton in Yorkshire, settling in Kelbrook after his marriage to Alice Pritchard. Walter met Alice while she was visiting the cotton factory where Walter worked, looking for employment herself. As a joke, Walter and a colleague pulled a strand of cotton across the aisle she was walking down until she walked into it and it snapped. Alice turned to Walter and called him a "consumptive monkey" - apparently he was quite pale! Things must have got better between them, as they married in 1908.
Being an only child, and after a meeting with Alice's father (Benjamin Pritchard) to approve their marriage, Walter told Alice he wanted a big family like her's (she was one of twelve children). Alice didn't like that idea and said that maybe they could have six children, three of each - and they did.

Ben and Edyth on the left, and parents Walter and Alice on the right at 33 French Street, Bentley, Doncaster, c.1924

The Ghost of Anne Boleyn

My grandfather, Benjamin Walter Higson was the second of their children. He wanted to be a chemist, but with eldest sister Edyth Alice Higson being a talented artist (later a painter and glass etcher and marrying into the artistic Cole family of Shrewsbury), the family needed money to put her through the Royal College of Art, and Walter - who by this time had returned to the family occupation of coal mining - instructed Ben to enter the pits as well to help out financially. Not wanting this, Ben ran off to join the army in 1931, at first with the West Yorkshire Regiment, but soon transferring to the Royal Army Pay Corps, where he eventually reached the rank of Major.

One of Ben's brothers, Gilbert Cronshaw Higson, wrote a local history book on the village of Barnburgh, and also recorded a song in the 1940s - a version of 'The Ghost of Anne Boleyn' (I remember my mother often singing 'with her head tucked underneath her arm' when I was little!).

Because of Ben's army career, the family were stationed in quite a number of different countries including Egypt, Cyprus, Tripoli and Malta shortly after World War II. In fact, when the family flew out to Cairo to be with grandad, they found themselves on what was probably the first troop flight out of Britain, as families had always travelled by sea before that.

Like his grandfather, Ben was also a good runner, winning three races for the veterans in York to celebrate the coronation of the Queen.

Research into the Higson family is ongoing.

If you have further information, stories or photos, or are a family member who would like to know more, please get in touch.