Friday, April 15, 2011

John Harrison and Richard Harrison

Thomas Harrison had two surviving sons - John (b 1757) and Richard (b c 1760). Of the two, Richard became well-known in the annals of Wolverton but John was unknown.

John and Richard were both executors to their father's will, along with George, Earl Spencer. Circumstantial evidence would suggest that the Harrisons and the Spencers were close friends and it may be that the Spencer fortunes and those of the Harrisons were tied together.

Sarah, Ducchess of Marlborough, and the wife of John Spencer Churchill, was one of the richest women in the country after the death of her husband. She settled much of her fortune on her grandson John Spencer, who after her death in 1744 found himself the possessor of large estates across the country and Holywell House in St Albans. It is in St Albans that we pick up the Harrison connection. John Harrison was an alderman in St Albans, as was George, Earl Spencer , and he was twice Mayor of the city, in 1789 and 1796. John married Irene Pearce from Chapel Brampton (also part of the Spencer landed interest) although there were no children from the marriage. His sister Jane also died in St Albans and it is a good guess that she was staying with her brother at the time.

I don't at this time know what John Harrison's business was, but he was clearly one of St Alban's leading citizens and therefore must have had good sources of income. He is one of the investors in the Buckingham Arm canal and also the Leighton Buzzard Brewery, where John Harrison is listed as a resident of Chelsea. John Harrison was also a director of the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich. He may have been in the Navy at one time but it is likely that he got this appointment through his association with Earl Spencer, who was Chief Secretary to the Navy.

Richard Harrison is less shadowy because he remained at Wolverton and took over his father's position with the Radcliffe Trust. He also continued to live at Wolverton House until his death in 1858. Apart from the business interests he shared with his brother he was also an investor in the ill-fated Stony Stratford Bank, which failed in 1820. Richard Harrison however had sufficient resources of his own to cover the considerable debts and was able to come out of the debacle without a stain on his character.

During the latter half of his 40 year tenure he had to manage the considerable transformation brought about by the railways, and although there were tensions between the Railway Company and the Trust, as I have discussed elsewhere, Harrison appears to have managed his responsibilities well enough.

At the time of his fathers will, Richard Harrison had been married to a woman called Agnes. This is all we know. Thomas Harrison had made a bequest to her, but she pre-deceased him by a few months and he amended his will. There appears to have been no issue to the marriage and this might have been the end of the Harrison line, but after 30 years as a widower Richard Harrison entered upon a second marriage to Grace Hall Nibbs, the daughter of a West Indian plantation owner. She was 30 years old.

The remarkable part of this story is that she began to bear children to Richard Harrison in the 1840s - Spencer Richard 1842, Juliana 1843, Edith 1844, Isabella 1846, and Thomas in 1849. Richard Harrison was in his eighties at the time.

Is this an error? Could this Richard Harrison be a son to the first Richard? Well that would be more plausible but Ivor Guest, historian of the Radcliffe Trust, gives Richard an age of  97 years.

Spencer Harrison returned to Wolverton House in the 1870 with his own family and lived there with his mother until her death. Isabella Harrison married a German Baron and lived at Belvedere House, just south of Fenny Stratford. She unfortunately died of septicemia after the birth of her only child at the age of 27. The two Harrisons, Thomas and Richard, were central to the Wolverton estate for a long period, from 1773 to 1858, and their stewardship encompassed the greatest changes to Wolverton since the Norman Conquest, namely the coming of the canals and then the railways.


Arc Insolubly said...

Would be glad to share more information I have about Agnes, first wife of Richard Harrison, and would note that he was son of Thomas' second marriage - baptised Name: Richard Harryson
Gender: Male
Baptism Date: 3 Jun 1780
Baptism Place: St. Mary Magdalene's, Stony Stratford, Buckingham, England
Father: Thomas Harryson
Mother: Catherine
With best wishes
Colin Alsbury

Bryan Dunleavy said...

Thank you so much for this. However, since I wrote this four years ago I have been able to clear up several of the issues I raised in this post. Richard Harrison was of course the surviving son of Thomas Harrison's second marriage to Catherine (Catarina) Drayson and was baptised 3 June 1780. I did find a marriage to Agnes Gibson on 16 Dec 1802 at St George's, Hanover Square, but no other corroborating evidence. Is this true? Thomas Harrison modified his will in the year that he died (1809) to leave Agnes out of the reckoning so I assume she died around that time.I would be most grateful for any information about the Harrisons that you are able to share with me. I know a lot (now) about Thomas Harrison's business career but almost nothing about his origins.

Arc Insolubly said...

Agnes Gibson's family is complicated! She had a son Thomas Sunderland Gibson before her marriage to Richard Harrison and a memorial to Thomas Sunderland Harrison (he took the surname from his stepfather), his son (by first wife) and third wife is in the parish church of St John the Baptist here in Frome, Somerset. Agnes died at Winkfield in Berkshire in 1835 and her will (PCC will in 1835) makes no bequest to Richard though he is mentioned in the granting of probate.
It is probably easiest for you took look over the details on the tree (Frome Selwood people) that I have on Ancestry.. I can send you an invite if you email me at