The Greatorex family of Nantwich

This website details the history of the Greatorex family

The Showman family

John Greatrex was born on Wednesday 22nd July 1846, the first and only child of James & Sarah Greatrex of Bedworth in Warwickshire. In later life John was to spell his name Greatorex. This spelling of the name was common in Derbyshire his ancestral home and the place from where his wife Mary Jane came from.

The 1851 Census shows him living with his parents at Hob Lane and the enumerator who wrote down the details of the household (James and Sarah were illiterate) used the spelling Greatricks. No doubt with a midland accent this was how it was pronounced!

Sometime between 1851 and 1861 John and his parents James and Sarah had moved to North Wales. His education would have taken place in Bedworth and he may well have left school and started his working life in Bedworth. The first record I have is the entry on the 1871 Census.

Prince of Wales Row, Coedpoeth, Bersham Parish.

John Greatorex-Head-Married-23-Photographer-Coventry, Warwickshire

Mary Greatorex-Wife-20-Leeds, Yorkshire

Edmond Greatorex-Son-3-Wrexham, Denbighshire

Sarah Greatorex-Daughter-1-Silverdale, Staffordshire

Sarah Greatorex-Mother-45-Coventry, Warwickshire

This Census record is inaccurate and misleading. John was not 23 years old, he was 24. His wife was Mary Jane and her age was 23 and not 20, but the biggest inaccuracy is that they claimed to be married with two young children but they were, at this time unmarried! The marriage certificate below shows that John Greatorex married Mary Jane Crabtree on December 18th 1871 in Bedworth. I have no doubt that the children would have been left with John's mother in Coedpoeth whilst they married in Bedworth. The Census of 1871 took place in March!

How John became a Photographer I know not. His profession caused him to travel the area and he eventually became a fairground owner. Photography was a major part of travelling amusement fairs in the late Victorian period so his profession was, at various times, recorded as Master Photographer or Amusement Contractor.

During the late Victorian period George Smith attempted to legislate the movements of all travelling people. This caused anger amongst the various travelling communities and the leading showmen of the day united to oppose the proposed legislation by forming the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association; by sending petitions to the Government; and by distributing pamphlets in the places wherever a fair was held. A membership fund was started and in the first year over five hundred showmen contributed to the costs of fighting George Smith's legislation.

The formation of the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association in 1889 led to the show people fighting against the Moveable Dwellings Bill. The objects of the Association were (1) to be alert to and watch any attempt at legislation which is calculated to affect or interfere with the rights or business of Showmen and Van Dwellers in general, and to take such proceedings in parliamentary and other matters as may be deemed advisable; (2) to assist members with legal advice upon any matter at a nominal charge; (3) and to establish a fund whereby pecuniary aid may be rendered on the death of a Member of the Association.

The committee for 1893 was; J.W.Bostock, J.Mumford, J.Walker, J.Wilmot, Senr, J.Wilmot, Junr, F.Walton, J.Green, W.Wright, J.Studt, W.Chappell, H.Hammersley, W.Holmes, H.Ashington, J.Greatorex, R.Hancock, P.Collins, H.Wallis, D.Lane, J.North, P.Makin, T.Payne, J.Clayton, W.Davies, J.Chittock, W.Sedgwick, T.Hurst, R.Newall, W.Toft. The committee of 1896 also included J.Simons whose family became so closely interlinked with the Greatorex family in later years. John Greatorex took an early active part in the Association which later became The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain.

John had bases at various times in both Wrexham and Nantwich. In Wrexham he appeared to use the Beastmarket area to live and he had property at 35, Farndon Street. In Nantwich he had property in Beam Street at the junction with Dog Lane, opposite the Shakespeare Pub, and at 35, Churchyardside which was the last property in a row at the junction with Crowsfoot Lane. What both these properties had in common was access to the rear yard which, I believe, was used to park their living vans. I don't believe they ever lived in the actual property which may well have been rented to others.

John made a good living for his family and at the time of his death probate was granted to his son John in the sum of £455. His will left his estate to his wife, Mary Jane Greatorex and, strangely, stated that after her death it should be evenly distributed between all his children.

John and Mary Jane had nine children. Edmund James born January 20th 1868; Sarah Jane born February 14th 1870; Alice born October 13th 1871; John born August 26th 1873; Samuel Henry born August 11th 1875; Albert born December 2nd 1878; Walter born May 19th 1881 at 12.00noon and his twin sister Martha born May 19th 1881 at 11.00pm; Leonard born March 9th 1887.

All the children were born showmen. Edmund James was born in Wrexham and his father's occupation was given as Photographer; Sarah Jane was born in Silverdale-Showman; Alice was born in Southam-Photographer; John was born in Darlaston-Photographer; Samuel Henry was born in Ellesmere Port-Photographer; Albert was born in Hednesford-Photographer; Walter and Martha were born in Winsford-Photographer; Leonard was born in Oswestry-Travelling Photographer. The variety of birthplaces indicate a travelling family and John's occupation was variously given as Photographer, Travelling Photographer or Showman.

Three of the children died without issue. Edmund James was born at the Beastmarket in Wrexham and died of Pneumonia/Heart Disease on December 10th 1886 aged 18 years. His occupation was given as a General Labourer and his address was given as 40 Beastmarket, Wrexham.

Walter Greatorex was a twin. He was born at Over near Winsford eleven hours earlier than his sister Martha. Both children were baptised at St Mary's Church, Nantwich. He died aged seven of Infantile Paralysis (Polio) Convulsions on March 13th 1889 and his address was given as 40 Beast Market, Wrexham.

Leonard Greatorex was born on March 9th 1887 at Willow Street, Oswestry.

Private 26476 Leonard Greatorex of the 8th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment died on Monday, 7th May 1917 as a result of wounds inflicted on Hill 60 at Zillebeke near Ypres in Belgium. He is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, Zillebeke.

Like most of his fellow soldiers Leonard did not survive the war and was posthumously awarded the Victory medal and the British medal. His service record indicates that for some unknown reason his medals were returned on 16th November 1929.

His death is recorded on the Cenotaph in Nantwich Square. At first Nantwich Urban District Council refused to add Leonards name to the roll of honour on the grounds that 'he wasn't a Nantwich man'. His family fought hard against this decision on the grounds that their only permanent residence was 35, Churchyardside, Nantwich, and that if he wasn't added to the roll in Nantwich his sacrifice would go unrecorded. The Council relented and his name was rightly inscribed.

The eldest child of John and Mary Jane Greatorex who survived into adulthood was Sarah Jane who was born on February 14th 1870 in Silverdale, Staffordshire. She married Thomas Connell on March 23rd 1898 and died on May 24th 1951 aged 81. She had seven children; Jane born 1899 and died 1903; John born 1900 and died 1991; Margaret born 1903 and died 1939; Thomas born 1905 and died 1973; Ellen born 1910 and died 1998; Winefred born 1913 and died 1999; and Elizabeth born 1915 and died 2001. Thomas Connell died as a result of an accident in Whitchuch on June 7th 1928 when the wagon he was driving turned over and crushed him as he tried to jump clear.

The second child to survive was Alice who was born on October 13th 1871 in Southam, Warwickshire. She married John (Jack) Simons and died on December 15th 1935. They had two children both of who died in infancy. John was born in 1907 and died 1911 and James Greatorex who was born in 1909 and died in 1910.

The third child to survive was John who was born in 1873 in Darlaston, Staffordshire. He married Mary Briscoe on January 29th 1913 and died in 1943.

John was the eldest male child who survived into adulthood and it was he and his sister Alice's husband, Jack Simons, who continued the fairground business. I believe he bought out his other siblings to be co-owner of the Simons & Greatorex fairground which travelled the North Wales and Cheshire area from 1907 to the period of the second world war.

One of the main attractions of any fairground was 'The Hobby Horses' or, as they were correctly termed, 'Electric galloping horses'. The traction engines electric generator supplied the power to drive the ride and to play the musical organ. The fairground atmosphere was a mixture of steam, music, the noise of the rides and the shouts and shrieks of the paying customers. Wonderful.

The death of John in 1943 and a dispute between part of the Simons family and John's son, John, saw the end of the Simons and Greatorex travelling fairground. The two families continued to be involved as travellers with the Simons family successfully running their own fairground and various children of John Greatorex (1846-1905), the founder of the business, continuing to travel with other fairgrounds.

Samuel Henry's family settled in Runcorn though he travelled with his brother until he died in 1941.

The children of John Greatorex (1873-1943) continue as showmen to this day. His son John Greatorex (1913) was a showman all his life. His son John Greatorex (1944) and his son John Greatorex (1969) are still both involved in the amusement business as is their daughter, Julie (1973), who married a showman and continues with the family tradition. The other brother of Edmund, John, Samuel Henry, Leonard, Walter, Sarah Jane, Alice and Martha was Albert Greatorex, my Grandfather, whose short life will be discussed in the next chapter - My Family.