Biography

Elizabeth Harrison was the first daughter born to Joseph Harrison and Ellen Ball. She was born on 17 May 1858 in Blundles Fold, Blackrod, which was a bit of a family enclave at the time. Her father worked in a local coal mine. She was enumerated at Blundles Fold in the 1861 census.

When Elizabeth was age 6 or 7, her family moved to Wigan. At first they lived on Wood Street, then moved to Byrom Street and Pool Street in Poolstock where Elizabeth grew up. Like most girls at that time and place, Elizabeth probably had little or no formal education. She almost certainly spent her childhood helping her mother look after the home and her six younger brothers and sisters. The 1871 census provides a snapshot of Elizabeth, age 12, living on Byrom Street. Although she was enumerated as a “scholar,” this was a pro forma entry for all pre-teen children.

Like most children of her time, Elizabeth was sent to work at one of the Poolstock textile mills around age 13. This was hard work, ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week, in a hot, humid, dust-filled mill for very little money. The least that can be said was that she had company, for all of her younger sisters—Maria, Jemima, Ellen, Alice and Margaret—followed in her footsteps. Elizabeth spent almost twenty-five years of her life in this job, day in and day out. The 1881 census captured Elizabeth at age 22 living on Pool Street, Poolstock employed as a weaver in a cotton mill, along with those of her sisters who were old enough to work. Eight family members lived in a few hundred square feet, and Elizabeth certainly shared a room, if not a bed, with several of her sisters. Ten years later, the 1891 census captured Elizabeth at age 32 living on Poolstock Lane, again employed as a weaver in a cotton mill, along with all of her sisters. This house was no bigger, and the six sisters certainly shared rooms and beds.

None of the six Harrison girls married while their mother was alive. This was quite unusual for the time; most women of that era married and left the family home around age 25. All of the Harrison girls stayed with their parents until Ellen Ball died in December 1893, by which time four of the six daughters were older than 25. It was only after Ellen’s death that some of them began to leave and get married. At least two died spinsters. One speculation could be that Ellen was an invalid requiring the care of her daughters. It could also be likely that the Harrison family, with Joseph and his six daughters employed and living in the same house for many years, had the benefit of an above-average family income for the time.

On 16 April 1895, Elizabeth Harrison married Francis Whitfield at St. James Church in Poolstock. Elizabeth was just shy of her 38th birthday (although she recorded her age as 36). Francis was an age 50 widower employed as a railway guard, living at 10 Corporation Street in Poolstock. Francis was originally from Hold, near Widnes. Elizabeth was Francis’ third wife; he had been widowed twice, most recently in 1891 when his second wife, Ellen Talbot, died. Francis had one daughter, Sarah, by his marriage to Ellen. Sarah would have been age 10 or 11 when her father married Elizabeth. Elizabeth moved into the house at 10 Corporation Street with Francis and Sarah.

Francis and Elizabeth had at least two daughters. Their first daughter Ellen was born at 10 Corporation Street in August 1896. Their second daughter, Doris, was born on Darlington Street East in February 1900.

At the time of the 1901 census, Elizabeth was age 42. She was living on Darlington Street East near the centre of Wigan. Her husband Francis, age 56, was still employed as a railway guard. Her stepdaughter Sarah, age 16, was employed in a cotton mill. Elizabeth was at home caring for her daughters, Ellen and Doris, ages 4 and 1. Sometime after this date, the family moved from Darlington Street back to Poolstock. During the time she was married to Francis and raising her daughters in Poolstock, her daughter Doris wrote verses (compiled by Doris many years later). Elizabeth was a “stay-at-home” mother, a caring mother who made sure her children were well fed and clothed. She was active in her local church and community as a member of the Mother’s Union, helping to organize some of their programs. She helped take care of the “old and sick and poor” members of her community, making them pancakes on Shrove Tuesday for instance. Elizabeth was also a loyalist—the British royal family mattered to her and her family. Francis and Elizabeth took annual vacations, leaving Doris behind with Elizabeth’s sister Jemima Woods; presumably to Blackpool.

At the time of the 1911 census, the Whitfield family was living at 24 Byron Street in Poolstock. By this time, Francis had retired as a railway guard, and the family were earning their living as fish and chip potato dealers, working from their home. Francis was the dealer and Elizabeth and daughter Sarah are listed as his assistants; it is inferred that the business probably involved cutting up potatoes and selling them on to local fish and chip vendors. Her daughter Ellen was employed as a dressmaker’s apprentice, and Doris was still in school.

By the late 1920s, the Whitfield family had moved to 70 Pool Street in Wigan. Elizabeth’s step daughter, Sarah, certainly married sometime during this period, although no record has been located. One of Doris’s poems references Sarah’s betrothal, her married name being Calland. Daughter Doris married John Darbyshire in 1929. Her daughter Ellen married Cranley Britnell in 1934 (after Francis’ death) and moved to Blackpool.

Francis Whitfield died at the family home at 70 Pool Street, Wigan, on 7 December 1931, leaving Elizabeth widowed for the remaining years of her life. Sometime thereafter, Elizabeth moved to Ingleway Avenue in Blackpool to live with Ellen and Cranley. Elizabeth died on Ingleway Avenue on 6 February 1946. Both Francis and Doris are buried in a family plot at Wigan and Ince Cemetery.


Details and Facts

Residence

7 Apr 1861
Blundles Fold, Blackrod, Lancashire

Per 1861 Census. Elizabeth was 2 years old living with parents Joseph and Ellen.

Residence Parents' home

11 Aug 1865
6 Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per Ellen’s Birth Certificate and per 1871 Census.

Residence Family home

11 Aug 1865
22 Wood Street (off Chapel Lane), Wigan, Lancashire

Per Jemima’s Birth Certificate.

Residence

2 Apr 1871
6 Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per 1871 Census. Elizabeth was age 12 and living with her parents and family.

Residence Parents' home

31 Jan 1875
31 Pool Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per Margaret’s Birth Certificate.

Occupation Weaver in a Cotton Mill

3 Apr 1881

Per 1881 Census.

Residence

3 Apr 1881
64 Pool Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per 1881 Census. Elizabeth was age 22 and living with her parents and sisters.

Residence Parents home

5 Apr 1891
54 Poolstock Lane, Worsley Mesnes, Wigan

Per 1891 Census.

Occupation Weaver at a Cotton Mill

5 Apr 1891
Unknown

Per 1891 Census.

Residence

24 Aug 1896
10 Corporation Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per Ellen Whitfield’s Birth Certificate.

Residence

27 Feb 1900
147 Darlington Street East, Wigan

Per Doris Whitfield’s Birth Certificate.

Residence Francis & Elizabeth family home

31 Mar 1901
147 Darlington Street East, Wigan

Per 1901 Census.

Residence Francis & Elizabeth Whitfield family home

23 Aug 1909
24 Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per Ellen Whitfield’s Labour Certificate (see Other Source Documents). This was a certificate that exempted Ellen from going to school after the age of 13.

Residence Francis & Elizabeth Whitfield family home

2 Apr 1911
24 Byron Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per 1911 Census.

Occupation Assistant Fish & Chip Potatoe Dealer

2 Apr 1911
24 Byron Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per 1911 Census. Francis was the head of the business and Elizabeth and Sarah were “Assistants.” The business was carried out from the home. The 1911 Census states that the home had three rooms.

Residence Francis & Elizabeth family home

14 Sep 1929
70 Pool Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per John Darbyshire and Doris Whitfield Marriage Certificate.

Residence Francis & Elizabeth Whitfield family home

7 Dec 1931
70 Pool Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Per Francis Whitfield’s Death Certificate.

Residence Cranely & Nellie Britnell Family Home

20 Oct 1932
51 Ingleway Avenue, Blackpool

According to Philip Darbyshire Elizabeth moved in with Cranley and Nellie sometime after she was widowed in 1931. We don’t know the exact year of her move.

Residence Cranley & Nellie Britnell family home

6 Feb 1946
51 Ingleway Avenue, Blackpool

Per Elizabeth Harrison-Whitfield’s Death Certificate, this was her place of death. Joan and Philip also told me that Elizabeth went to live with Nellie after Francis Whitfield died in 1931.

Burial

20 Feb 1946
Wigan & Ince Cemetery, Wigan


Source Documents