Very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?
– Thomas Mann
A long time ago (maybe 20 years ago), I started to become interested in my family history, but then let it drop.
But in the last couple of months I have returned to the research and I have discovered some interesting things.
In this I was inspired and assisted by my wife, who is studying her own family tree. She signed up to the Ancestry web site (www.ancestry.com.au or www.ancestry.co.uk). This isn’t free, but it does have some very useful and valuable features, and these quickly drew me in.
In particular, I have been following the surname of Grigg back, studying my father’s line of descent. He was born in Durham, England toward the end of World War I, and named William Snaith Grigg. He hated that middle name! In fact, my father’s name was exactly the same as that of his own father, my grandfather. The ‘Snaith’ comes from his mother’s maiden name.
But the real interest in the story as I worked my way back through time is to do with the occupation of my ancestors, and their movements around the United Kingdom during the 19th Century.
I had always thought that the Griggs had been coal miners in Durham (the far north of England), stretching back for many generations. My grandfather certainly spent almost all of his working life working at the coal pit, and my father went down the pit at the age of 14 and worked there until the outbreak of World War II, when he was called up and went off to fight in North Africa and Italy as part of the British Eighth Army. My uncles also all worked as coal miners, and I had been given to understand that my grandfather’s brothers (my great-uncles) also worked as miners. So I had made the assumption that this tradition had begun long ago, certainly for several generations. However, this turns out not to be the case.
The real family tradition of the Griggs, I now discover, was in glass-making.
It took quite a while to tease all this out, but it began when I got hold of the birth certificate of my great-grandfather, who was called James Anderson Grigg. He was born in 1862. His father, Samuel Grigg, is shown as being a “Glass Blower Journeyman”. His mother was Mary Sked (or Skade) Anderson. The family address is shown as being in Hedley Street, Sunderland, Durham. Then I found the marriage certificate of James Anderson Grigg and Louisa Snaith. They were married in 1884. James’s occupation is listed as “Colour Maker” and his father’s as “Sheetglass Maker”.
Well, that was interesting enough, but at that stage I had no idea what a “Colour Maker” was, or what trade it involved.
The real key came when we joined Ancestry and I used the wonderful facilities on that site to start searching for census records. I was quickly able to find some matching records for the family. In particular the 1871 census, taken when James was 9. The family is still living at the same address as when James was born, and Samuel’s occupation is now listed as “Sheet Glass blower”. The surprise was seeing Samuel’s place of birth. It was “Smethwick, Staffordshire, England”. Now that was a puzzle, because Staffordshire is a long way south of Durham, in the English midlands. And I had thought that in those days people (certainly of their class) didn’t travel about much. Why would Samuel have moved so far north, presumably away from his family and friends?
Given this clue, though, I was able to find other census records for Samuel Grigg down in Staffordshire, and started to do some other research. Things started to become, shall we say, as clear as glass?
In 1841, Samuel Grigg was 4, and his family is living in Spon Lane, Smethwick. In the 1851 census, he is living with his brothers and cousins. Samuel is listed as “Labourer at glassworks” and his brother and cousins are all employed in the same industry. In a separate entry in the same census, his father Emmanuel Grigg is now living in Newton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire at the Crown Glass Works and is listed as “founder at glassworks”. Samuel grew up and married Mary Sked Anderson in 1859, when they were both 22 years old.
A little research shows that there were major glass works in Smethwick. In particular, a major glass factory was Chance, Hartley & Co, which produced all of the glass for the famous Crystal Palace. Note that second name, Hartley. That’s from John Hartley. John Hartley’s sons, James and John Hartley, established a major glass works in 1837 in Sunderland, Durham. It doesn’t take much imagination to suggest that young Samuel was recruited by the Hartley company to move north to work at the new factory, the Wear Glass Works. In the 1861 census, just two years after their marriage, we find Samuel and his wife living in Sunderland, not far from the Wear factory.
Skilled glass workers were by all accounts, highly valued, and their skills were in great demand. This meant that they often moved around the country, and were far more mobile than the average worker.
But the story doesn’t end there. Samuel’s bride Mary Sked Anderson was also born in Smethwick, Staffordshire. She was the daughter of James Anderson, and Janet Hartley. James Anderson’s occupation was “Glass Cutter”, and he and his wife came from Dumbarton in Scotland. So here is another instance of a glass worker travelling very far from home to work in the industry.
But wait a minute – Janet Hartley? Does that name ring a bell? Sure enough, we find that James and John Hartley, the founders of the Wear Glass Works, and responsible for many innovations in glass making, were also born in Dumbarton in Scotland, where their father John Hartley (a Yorkshireman) had gone to run the Dumbarton Glass Works. For a wild moment I thought that Janet might be the sister of these two luminaries of the glass industry, but not quite. It turns out that she is their first cousin, the daughter of Abraham Hartley. It looks like the elder John Hartley (born 1775) took his older brother Abraham (born 1773) with him to Dumbarton when he started work at the Dumbarton Glass Works, or else Abraham followed him at a later time.
So, looking back to my great-grandfather James Anderson Grigg, his own trade of “Colour Maker” now makes sense as someone with the highly-developed skill of mixing ingredients for coloured glass (or glass painting).
Hartley Wear Glassworks were also one of the earliest companies in the world to produce coloured glass which was used mainly in churches. James Hartley would occasionally make a gift of entire windows to local churches. One example was the large geometrical window in Park Road Methodist Church, Sunderland in 1887. Its value was £125.00.
James Anderson Grigg’s heritage comes from several generations of glass-makers on both sides of his family – through his father Samuel Grigg and his grandfather Emmanuel Grigg; and through his mother Mary Skade Anderson to her parents James Anderson and Janet Hartley, the latter from a family with impressive credentials in the glass-making industry in Britain.
Unfortunately, it seems that he eventually had to leave the glass trade. Business started to go sour for the Wear Glass Works in the 1890s as it fell behind in key technology and lost market share to other glass-works in Britain and in Belgium. It eventually closed its doors in 1894. Even before that, James must have lost his job, because by the 1891 census we see he is now working as a “Shipyard Laborer”.
And this explains why my grandfather William Grigg didn’t continue to follow the glass trade. According to family tradition, he started work in the shipbuilding industry in Hartlepool, Durham, but not long after his marriage moved to Trimdon and started work as a coal miner.
I find all of this absolutely fascinating, and quite unexpected. Real “Who Do You Think You Are” stuff.