Family Tree: John Harrison of Leeds

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  • John Harrison, perhaps, did more for Leeds than any of his contemporaries. Accustomed as we are to the city of to-day, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate fully the extent of his work; but a comparison of Leeds in 1600 and in 1660 gives some idea of the development that took place in his time, largely through his efforts. Not that this development would never have come without John Harrison but the achievement would have been slower. The Municipal Charter was perhaps inevitable, and would have been brought about by other men in time, but it is in the realm of his benefactions that his work would have been most missed. St.John's Church, apart from its purpose, is a thing of beauty that Leeds could ill have spared, while it is probable that Harrison's charity for the poor and the Grammar School inspired later bene-factors to continue the work on their behalf. Of the details of Harrison's private life surprisingly little is known. The source of most of our information is, of course, Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis, with the additional comments by Dr Whittaker. The documents published by Dr Whitaker in the appendix to his history are invaluable for Harrison s later years. These documents are the letters relating to his sequestration, his savings (though how far these are authentic we cannot say), his prayer, and his will, all of which were in Thoresby's possession. There are some additional letters on the sequestration, also from Thoresby's collection, in the British Museum, and several con-cerning, I believe, the consecration of St. John's Church; while one or two more are to be found among the Thoresby Societv's Publications. It is to be regretted, however, that there is so little material relating to Harrison's early life. Harrison's most outstanding characteristics, of course, were his piety and benevolence, and it is on these that his reputation in Leeds is based. He was religious in a practical way which benefited his fellow townsmen, and in this his generosity was remarkable. He hated hypocrisy and loved truth and justice, but showed great moderation in his judgment ; while in his views on politics, religion, or any other controversial subject, he was never an extremist. He had, moreover, a certain simplicity and dignity which commanded respect JOHN HARRISON, the Leeds Benefactor, was born in 1579. His baptism is recorded in the Parish Church Register as follows " Aug. 16th 1579. John, child of John Harrysonn, Pawdmyre "1; and in the hand of Thomas Wilson, F.S.A., is added, " This was that Mr. John Harrison, who of his sole cost and charges built the new church called St. John's Church with a little chap(el) and the almes- houses near adjoining and the Free School of Leeds." Harrison's father appears to have been a merchant of con-siderable property, though it is probable that this property was much added to by his son. So far the ancestry of John Harrison has not been traced further back than his father, though Mr. G. D. Lumb, F.S.A., in his article on Harrison's family in xv, 48-55, of the Thoresby Publications, is inclined to connect the Benefactor with a family of Henrysons of Gipton, whose names occur in wills about the middle of the sixteenth century. It is also probable that he was related to a Syr John Harrison, a priest of Leeds, who in 1545 ?gave out of certain lands in Leedes Woodhouse, a rent charge of four pounds yearly, for ever,? to the poor and parish of Leeds. The identity of John Harrison's mother has given rise to some difference of opinion, though it is hard to see how the difficulty originally arose. Thoresby gives a pedigree of the family in which he states that Elizabeth Marton (or Martin) was Harrison's mother. The Dictionary of National Biography, however, and many later writers following it, state that his mother's name was Grace Kit-chingman, and that he married Elizabeth Marton. Who Grace Kitchingman was, and how her name first came to be connected with the Harrison family, it is difficult to trace. In the first place, there seems little reason to doubt Thoresby's account, since he would have access to evidence which has been lost to us, and also since there is little or no evidence forthcoming on the other side. The pedigree of the Kitchmgman family, as given in the Ducatits, p 256, mentions no one of the name of Grace - at least until a much later period-and other sources of the time offer no clue as to her identity. On the other hand, the will of John Harrison the Elder, dated 1601 and proved 1602, definitely states that his wife's name was Elizabeth and not Grace. Now as to the statement that Elizabeth Marton was the wife of the younger Harrison, the following piece of evidence is inter-esting. The will of her brother Henry Marton, of Holbeck, clothier, dated 29th June, 1584, and proved at York, 12th July, 1502 (ante, xv, 45), mentions his brother-in-law, John Harrison. From the date of this will it is fairly safe to conclude that if John Harrison was married to Elizabeth Marton as early as 1584, it must have been John Harrison the elder, and not his son, who was not born till 1579. Elizabeth Marton therefore, was certainly not the wife of the Benefactor, though it is quite likely that she was his mother. The confusion may have arisen from the fact that John Harrison's mother and his wife both possessed the same Christian name Thoresby's pedigree of the Harrison family gives his wife's name as Elizabeth, daughter of --- Foxcroft, near Halifax, who, as some writers think, was probably related to a Leeds family of that name, one of whom, Thomas Foxcroft, ?a religious and substantial freeholder,? played a large part in the purchasing of the advowson of the Leeds Parish Church in 1582. In the Parish Register however, there is an entry among the baptisms for the years 1575-76 as follows: ?February 2nd--Elizabeth, - child of Thomas Foxcroft, Barre- grange." It seems probable that this Elizabeth Foxcroft was Harrison's wife since she was only about three years his senior, and Mr. Lumb in his article on the Harrison family, accepts this as correct. Her father's will, dated 18th March, 1596, and proved 22nd November, 1599 (ante, x 53). throws no light on the matter, since Elizabeth Foxcroft, who is named an executor in the will, was at that time unmarried. It seems strange, if this is the Elizabeth Foxcroft concerned, that Thoresby, who must have been familiar with the entry in the Parish Church Register, evidently did not know her father's Christian name, and states definitely that he came from near Halifax, and further, that in his pedigree of the Foxcroft family no mention of Elizabeth is to be found. The fact that there is no record of John Harrison's marriage in the Leeds Parish Church Register is unimportant, as marriages could be celebrated anywhere by licence. In view of these points, therefore, it is clear that the Elizabeth Foxcroft mentioned by Thoresby in the Harrison pedigree was the same person as the Elizabeth Foxcroft mentioned in the Parish Church Registers-a conclusion which is strengthened by the fact that the family of Thomas Foxcroft, of Bar Grange, is stated by some writers to have come originally from Halifax. John Harrison was an only son; but he had two sisters, Grace and Edith. Edith married a Thomas Gledhill, of Barkisland, while Grace married a Leeds merchant, Alexander Robinson, of Briggate. One of her sons was the famous Henry Robinson, Vicar of Leeds during the Civil War, to whom we shall refer again later. John Harrison himself had no children, but there were numerous descendants of his sisters for whom he provided among his bene-factions.

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