Joseph Harrison was born in about 1835 in Adlington, a village located about 8 km northeast of Wigan. Joseph was the first child of John Harrison and Elizabeth Ormandy. A baptism record for Joseph has not yet been found.

Joseph grew up in Adlington in a large family that eventually included nine brothers and sisters. The family’s early years are undocumented, although Joseph did receive some schooling as he could write as an adult. In about 1846, his father became the innkeeper at the Waggon & Horses Inn on Nightingale Road in Adlington. Certainly Joseph would have been working at the inn until he left home about two years later.

Probably around 1848, Joseph was indentured as an apprentice to Daniel Ball, a shoemaker. Joseph moved in with Daniel and his family at Arrowsmith, a farmhouse, on Arley Lane in Haigh. His new home was perhaps 3 km from his father’s inn.

While living at Arrowsmith, Joseph met his future wife Ellen Ball, who was living next door with her grandparents in 1851 and working as a house servant. Ellen was Daniel Ball’s niece. Joseph and Ellen married on 14 October 1855 at St. George’s Church in Wigan. Joseph, at age 21, would have recently completed his apprenticeship, and he listed his occupation as shoe maker on the marriage register. Joseph and Ellen both gave their address as Scholes. However, it is not clear whether they were living in Scholes or staying there. In April 1855, about seven months before Joseph and Ellen were married, Ellen gave birth out of wedlock to her first son Edward, who was registered as Edward Ball. It is undetermined if Joseph fathered Edward; Edward was known for the rest of his life as Edward Harrison.

By the time their second child Elizabeth was born in 1858, Joseph and Ellen were living at Blundles Fold in Blackrod close to Arley Lane (Arley Lane and Blundell Lane are two parts of the same road). Their third son Henry was also born at Blundles Fold in 1860.

Although Joseph apprenticed as a shoemaker, he did not pursue this trade. The Arley Lane/Blundell Lane area was home to a number of coal mines in the 19th century. Sometime in the late 1850s, Joseph stopped making shoes and began working at the coal mines, an occupation that he pursued for two decades. He did work as a blacksmith briefly around 1861 but might have done so at a mine. Ellen, as was the custom at the time, was a stay-at-home mother.

At the time of the 1861 census, Joseph and Ellen were still living at Blundles Fold with Edward, Elizabeth and Henry. Ellen’s grandparents, Henry and Betty Ball, were living next door, also at Blundles Fold, along with their widowed son James Ball and three grandchildren.

Shortly after Henry was born around 1862, the Harrison family moved to the Poolstock area of Wigan that would become the family’s neighbourhood for the next seventy-five years. From 1862 through the 1870s, Joseph and Ellen had five more daughters (in addition to any children who may have died in infancy): Maria, Jemima, Ellen, Alice and Margaret. The family were most likely renters, as they moved from house to house every few years but always around the Poolstock neighbourhood. They lived at 22 Wood Street in 1865, 6 Byrom Street between 1867 and 1871, 31 Pool Street (across the road from the Honeysuckle Inn) in 1875, 64 Pool Street in 1881, 54 Poolstock Lane in 1891 and 8 Swinley Street in 1893.

The eight Harrison children generally went to school until age 13, then started work. Edward worked as an engine tenter and Henry as a stoker. All six girls, however, worked as cotton weavers, probably at one of the two or three large Poolstock textile mills. The children continued to live with Joseph and Ellen until they were married, and the daughters tended to linger at home until their late 20s (two daughters, probably Ellen and Alice, never married). As a result, from the mid-1870s onward, the family was supported by up to six income earners for a period of some twenty years. The census records for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 provide snapshots of the family growing up in Blackrod and Wigan.

Sometime between 1875 and 1881, Joseph began recording his occupation as timber sawyer, an occupation that presumably relates to sawing wood. There is  no record of his work places, so he may have continued to work in coal mining but at a different job. Then, sometime between 1891 and 1893, he began working as an engine minder at the Wigan municipal water works pumping station at Boar’s Head. His eldest son Edward worked in a similar job at the same location, where he lived with his family in a company house.

Joseph’s wife Ellen died just before Christmas in 1893. Less than a year later, in 1894, his son Edward died of rabies and Edward’s wife Martha died a month later of breast cancer. The circumstances of Edward’s death were described in some detail by the Wigan Examiner newspaper at the time. Edward and Martha left behind six children between ages 5 and 15. Joseph became the primary caregiver for his orphaned grandchildren. He appears to have moved into the Edward Harrison family home, along with his three unmarried daughters, to care for the children. Presumably the Wigan municipal water works made this possible. Joseph was about age 58 at the time.

The 1901 census shows Joseph Harrison, age 65, living at the Boar’s Head Pumping Station in Standish with daughters Ellen, Alice and Margaret and grandchildren Ellen, John, Elizabeth, Martha, and Alice. The sixth grandson, Joseph, who would have been age 19, is not listed in the census. Joseph’s occupation is listed as a stationary engine driver, which at a municipal waterworks pumping station presumably referred to operating the water pumps.

Sometime after 1901, another of Joseph’s grandchildren, Henry Harold Harrison, came to live at the Boar’s Head Pumping Station; Harold was not happy living with his father and stepmother at the Honeysuckle Inn in Poolstock at the time.

From Henry Harold Harrison: his grandfather Joseph lent him money to pay for his passage to Canada in 1907. Less than a year later, in February 1908, Joseph Harrison died of bronchitis at about age 72. He had been residing at 130 Barnsley Street in Wigan. Joseph is buried with his wife Ellen and two daughters in the churchyard at Standish St. Wilfrid.

Research Notes

 Joseph’s Toronto descendants had understood that he was the Wigan Town Engineer, which is just a slight exaggeration.

Source Documents


  • Residence: 6 Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan; Family home.

    Per Ellen’s Birth Certificate and per 1871 Census.

  • Residence: 1841-06-06, Unknown;

    Per 1841 Census, though despite extensive searching, I have been unable to find Joseph Harrison in the 1841 census.

  • Residence: 1851-03-30, Arrowsmith Farm, Haigh, Lancashire;

    Per 1851 Census, Joseph was apprenticed to and living with Daniel Ball.

  • Occupation: 1851-03-30, Arrowsmith Farm, Haigh, Lancashire; Apprentice Shoemaker.
  • Residence: 1855-10-14, Scholes;

    Per Marriage Certificate.

  • Occupation: 1855-10-14 ; Shoemaker.

    Per Marriage Certificate.

  • Residence: 1858-05-17, Blundles Fold, Blackrod, Lancashire;

    Per Elizabeth Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Occupation: 1858-05-17, Coal Mine; Labourer.

    Per Elizabeth Harrison’s Birth Registration. Local residence have told me that there were coal mines in the fields behind Blundles Lane in the late 19th century, and that Blundles Lane was a residential area for the miners. There is no trace, however, of Blundles’ Fold.

  • Residence: 1860-03-27, Blackrod, Lancashire;

    Per Henry Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Occupation: 1860-03-27, Coal Mine; Labourer.

    Per Henry Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Residence: 1861-04-07, Blundles Fold, Blackrod, Lancashire;

    Per 1861 Census. Blundles Fold is no longer there, although Blundles Lane is.

  • Occupation: 1861-04-07 ; Blacksmith.

    Per 1861 Census.

  • Residence: 1865-08-11, 22 Wood Street (off Chapel Lane), Wigan, Lancashire;

    Per Jemima Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Occupation: 1865-08-11 ; Colliery Labourer.

    Per Jemima Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Residence: 1867-09-02, 6 Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan;

    Per Ellen Harrison’s Birth Certificate.

  • Occupation: 1867-09-02 ; Colliery Labourer.

    Per Ellen Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Occupation: 1870-08-05 ; Coal Miner.

    Per Alice Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Residence: 1870-08-05, 6 Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan;

    Per Alice Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Occupation: 1871-04-02 ; Labourer.

    Per 1871 Census.

  • Residence: 1871-04-02, 6 Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan;

    Per 1871 Census.

  • Residence: 1875-01-31, 31 Pool Street, Poolstock, Wigan;

    Per Margaret Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Occupation: 1875-01-31 ; Coal Miner.

    Per Margaret Harrison’s Birth Registration.

  • Residence: 1881-04-03, 64 Pool Street, Poolstock, Wigan;

    Per 1881 Census.

  • Occupation: 1881-04-03 ; Sawyer.

    Per 1881 Census.

  • Residence: 1891-04-05, 54 Poolstock Lane, Worsley Mesnes, Wigan;

    Per 1891 Census.

  • Occupation: 1891-04-05 ; Timber Sawyer.

    Per 1891 Census.

  • Residence: 1893-12-16, 8 Swinley St, Wigan;

    Per Ellen Ball’s Death Certificate.

  • Occupation: 1893-12-16 ; Waterworks Engine Tenter.

    Per Ellen’s Death Certificate.

  • Residence: 1895-07-31, 8 Swinley St, Wigan;

    Per Jemima’s Marriage Certificate.

  • Occupation: 1901-03-03, Pumping Station, Boars Head, Standish; Stationary Engine Driver.

    Per 1901 Census.

  • Residence: 1901-03-03, Pumping Station, Boars Head, Standish;

    Per 1901 Census.

  • Occupation: 1908-02-28 ; Waterworks Engine Tenter.

    Per Joseph’s Death Certificate.

  • Burial: 1908, Standish St. Wilfrid's Church Yard;