The Greatorex family of Nantwich

This website details the history of the Greatorex family

My family

Albert Greatorex was born on Monday, 2nd December 1878. The sixth child of John and Mary Jane Greatorex.

Born into a showman family, Albert was to lose his birthright as a result of problems caused by his future wife, though exactly what those problems were it is hard to say.

His father, John, had started the family business as a photographer and expanded this into amusement contractors travelling the Cheshire and North Wales areas. Life seems to have been good for the Greatorex family in the later part of the Victorian period and, other than the death of Edmund in 1886 from Pneumonia Heart Disease and Walter in 1889 from Infantile Paralysis (Polio), the family survived.

The problems for Albert started with his relationship with his future wife, Mary Elizabeth Pye. She was the daughter of Richard and Mary Jane Pye of Runcorn. When and where they met is not known, but by 1904 a rift in relations between father and son was evident. It appears that around that time Albert and his future wife Mary Elizabeth had been either thrown out of the family group or had left because of problems that occurred.

Perhaps John did not think Mary Elizabeth was a suitable woman for his son. Maybe she caused problems within the close knit family group and Albert had no alternative but to leave. I don't know the answer but the outcome is evident from the letter sent by John to his son Albert in December 1904.

It would appear that Albert had written to his father asking for his old job back only to be told that 'we don't require any fresh men' and 'that as far as he was concerned their son Albert had died some time ago and that they had forgotten him'. Albert had hoped that his letter would cheer up his father but evidently this was not to be.

Whatever the family upset it appears to have gone very deep with Albert's father. Only 3 months later John died of Cirrhosis of the liver, anaemia and Haematemesis. John may not have been in the best of spirits when he replied to Albert's letter, either through illness or even through drink, but his words were hard and must have been a body blow for his son.

Albert Greatorex and Mary Jane Pye were married on Monday, December 19th 1904, six days after John had written his letter!

People who knew Albert talked of him as a kindly person and a good father to his children.

His daughters Martha (Alice) and Edith (Edie) both had great respect for him and thought him to be a wonderful and loving person.

Alternatively Mary Elizabeth, his wife, seemed to court trouble all her life. A very good looking woman in her youth, she wasn't a bad person and I knew her well. She was part of my earliest recollections and she lived with my family for many years, as she did with most of her children before causing such problems that she was 'shown the door' . Drink was her Nemesis in later life and may well have been the root cause of the problems she created throughout her life. But don't judge her by todays standards. Her father died when she was young and I have no doubt that her childhood in 1890s Runcorn would have been hard and unremitting.

She was a child of her era and upbringing and we should try to understand the deprivation and hardship she would have experienced. The marriage to Albert and integration into the family group could have been her salvation but, it appears, she could not behave herself and so not only did she fail to capitalise on 'a good marriage' but she also brought down with her Albert and most of his family.

Another possibility of the cause of the 'family upset' was the fact that in September 1904 Mary Elizabeth became pregnant and the sharing of this information with Albert's parents may have prompted them to give Albert an ultimatum-get rid of her or leave. Albert may have decided to stay with his pregnant girlfriend and hope that the problems this caused would pass over. The death of his father a few months later may have resolved the problem and I doubt that his brothers or sisters would have held a matter of pregnancy against the couple, but it could be that the pregnancy was the final straw and that none of the family wanted Mary Elizabeth as part of the close knit family group because she caused problems.

John's estate was left entirely to his wife Mary Jane and, after her decease to be shared equally between their surviving children as a going concern. In the event of any dispute amongst the said sons and daughters the lot to be sold if by the consent of four of the children. It appears that, after the death of Mary Jane Greatorex on April 19th,1907, such a situation occurred. Information from within the family would indicate that the eldest son, John, and his sister Alice, who had married Jack Simons, bought out the remaining brothers and sisters and the name of the business changed to Simons & Greatorex. The other brothers and sisters continued to travel with the family but only as workers and not co-owners.

The first child of Albert and Elizabeth Mary was John who was born on Tuesday, May 16th 1905 in Runcorn. On Saturday, 26th October, 1907, they had their first daughter, Martha Alice, born in Whitchurch. She was followed by the birth of their second daughter, Edith, on Tuesday, December 8th 1909 in Wrexham. We then have the birth of their second son, James, on Friday, June 7th 1912 at Bagillt in North Wales. Then came Joseph, born in Widnes on Monday, May 25th 1914, Albert born on Thursday, 13th January 1916, in Widnes and finally my father Leonard, born on Saturday, November 23rd 1918 in Widnes.

These births, and the deaths of three of the children, enable me to understand the period that my grandfather travelled with the fair after his father's death, and the time when he stopped travelling.

John was born in Runcorn in May 1905 and died in Rhosllanerchrugog in 1908. The children born between 1907 and 1913 were born in a variety of places that were on the travelling itinerary. Those born after 1913 were all born in Widnes and the deaths of James and Joseph in 1915 occurred in Widnes.

We can therefore say that Albert's family were travellers from 1907-1913 and that they were 'flatties' (those people that lived in houses) from 1913/14 onwards.

John died of Bronchitis in 1908 aged three, the son of Albert Greatorex, a travelling showman; James died of Pneumonia in 1915 aged two, the son of Albert Greatorex a chemical labourer, and Joseph died aged only nine months of the same disease one month later in February 1915.

Albert Greatorex died on Tuesday, April 27th, 1920 of Influenza. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Widnes cemetery but his daughter, Edie, had his epitaph engraved on the headstone of his parents grave in Wrexham cemetery.

His wife, Elizabeth Mary, quickly remarried to Robert Jackson and two half siblings, Robert and Elizabeth, were born.

That left two daughters, Martha Alice and Edith, and two sons, Albert and Leonard.

Edith, or Aunty Edie, never left the fairground and lived her whole life as a travelling showman. She was 'reared' by her Aunty Alice (Greatorex) and her uncle Jack Simons, whose own children had died. She was always bitter that she did not inherit a share of the family business, not through her own parents who had sold out thier share of the business in 1907, but through her other 'parents', Alice and Jack who were founder members of the new Simons & Greatorex worlds fair in 1907.

Aunty Edie loved to write poetry. Not classic poetry, but I think that her pleasure in writing was born out of the fact that travellers received very little education, if any at all, and she was proud that she was literate and could put pen to paper. I have a number of her poems passed on to me by Christine Holmes (Simons) most of which were penned to commemorate weddings and christenings.

Martha Alice, or Alice, as she was always called, was born a traveller at Scotland Road, Whitchurch on Saturday, 26th October, 1907. Like her mother she lost her father at an early age (13) and then found that she was relied on not only to rear her two young brothers, Albert was five and Leonard just eighteen months old, but also to earn money for the family. She was employed at the Scarisbrick Hotel, Southport and it was probably at this time that she became pregnant with her first child. Named John James her child was reared by the brother of her future husband and consequently took their name (Hunt).

She married Henry Hunt on Thursday, 5th December, 1929.

Their first child was Edith who was born on Monday, 31st March, 1930. She married American serviceman, Joseph C. Putz in Connecticut on Saturday, 9th June, 1951 and lived her married life in America.

Their second child, Edna, was born on Tuesday, 29th March, 1932, in Widnes. She married Thomas M. Mullen in Widnes on Wednesday, 29th July, 1953.

Another daughter followed when Dorothy was born on Wednesday, 2nd December, 1936 in Widnes. She married Peter W. Foster on Wednesday, 11th February, 1959.

Albert was their first son. Born on Friday, 17th February, 1939. He married Ellen Judge on Saturday, 5th September, 1964.

Their second son was Leonard. Born on Saturday, 25th October, 1941, he married Joan Horrocks on Tuesday, 6th June, 1961. Living in South Africa, Leonard died in 1999 at a very early age.

Beryl had a tragic short life. She was born on Monday, 29th May, 1944 in Widnes. In June 1950 her life was cut short when the dress she was wearing was ignited by a bonfire situated in the field at the rear of their home. She died on Wednesday, 14th June.

Elizabeth Anne (Anne) was born in Widnes on Friday, 26th July, 1946. On Saturday, 26th August, 1967, she married David J. Molyneux in Widnes.

The last child to be born was Margaret. Born in Widnes on Thursday, 17th May, 1951, she married Roland Clarke on Saturday, 23rd September, 1972 in Widnes.

Albert Greatorex, the fourth son of Albert & Elizabeth was born on a cold Thursday, 13th January, 1916. He married Edith Lucas in Runcorn on Tuesday 30th September, 1941 whilst still serving in the British Army during WW2.

Their first child was a son, John, who was born on Monday, 24th May, 1943. John married Dorothy C. Harrison on Friday 30th October, 1964 in Runcorn. John died on Sunday, 22nd November, 1987 aged just 44. Their first daughter, Silvia, was born on Saturday, 2nd November, 1946 followed by Gwendoline who was born on Thursday, 4th March, 1948. Their second son, Albert, was born on Saturday, 14th March, 1953.

Their last child was a daughter, Sandra, who was born on Monday, 28th October, 1957 in Liverpool. She married Graham Ashley on Saturday, 5th July, 1980 in Runcorn. Sandra and Graham emigrated to Australia living near Perth.

It is not my intention to tell the story of the families of the various children of Albert and Elizabeth Mary Greatorex, nor can I. It is for my cousins to tell their own stories in the last chapter of this book. I do hope they will.

The last child to be born to Albert and Mary Elizabeth Greatorex was my father, Leonard (Len). He never knew his father who had died when he was eighteen months old.

Life would have been difficult for him growing up in a house where his mother and stepfather constantly quarreled and where, in 1920s Britain, the family had to deal with the depression that the country endured, depravation and the extreme hardships of living in Widnes at that time.

He was a bright boy and gained a scholarship to the local Grammar school (though I'm not sure whether he completed his education-more likely he was removed at the earliest time so that he could earn a living for the family). He never, ever, talked about his childhood or adolescence and what I do know of this period of time is limited. After school he worked in Widnes in a steelworks and was, I think, the operator of one of the overhead cranes that moved batches of molten metal from one part of the works to another. Not a pleasant job and not one that someone who should have had a good education would perhaps consider.

He did however relate the story of how he came to be one of the first to be conscripted in 1939.

Private, 1445077 Greatorex, Leonard enlisted into the South Lancashire Regiment in February 1939. His friends had persuaded him to join this territorial regiment because each year they held a two week camp on the Isle of Man. He had probably never travelled further than the immediate locality and to go 'abroad' at the expense of the government for a two week 'holiday' was too good to miss. Unfortunately he never did visit the Isle of Man until many years later in the 1970s and his enlistment as a 'terrier' meant that he was in the first batch to be enlisted as a 'regular' in September 1939.

His initial training took place in the Outer Islands of the Orkneys and his first journey 'abroad' by ship took him to Scapa Flow in the depths of winter, not the August camp in the Isle of Man that he had hoped for! I remember him telling me the amusing story of 'the underpants'. He had, in common with most working class people of the time, never had the luxury of wearing underpants. On conscription he was issued with 'long john's' and on a cold winter night he found the need to visit the latrines. After leaving his tent he raced across the fields to reach the temporary latrines he had probably helped to dig. Down came his trousers....relief....but he had forgotten.... he was wearing 'long johns'!

His initial posting was Woolwich, London at the hight of the blitz. He was attached to an anti-aircraft battery and his role was to light-up enemy aircraft to enable the gunners in the battery to shoot the aircraft down. He did say that his unit shot down a German bomber with seven airmen on board. Whether this was a true story or not I don't know. Some time later he was stationed in Birkenhead Park protecting Liverpool from the blitz of bombing that occurred there during the early years of the war.

Though he never faced the danger of hand to hand fighting he was certainly exposed to enemy action many times. While many were taking shelter he was shining his searchlight into the sky. This attracted enemy aircraft, particularly fighter planes, who would follow the beam down in the hope of eliminating the illumination of the German bombers by destroying the searchlight and those that operated it. Len was by now a sergeant in charge of the battery, a rank he would lose later in the war years.

In 1942 he was posted to Dorfold Hall, Nantwich. This posting had a profound effect on the rest of his life and resulted in my birth and those of my two brothers.

Some time in 1942 Leonard was posted to Nantwich. It is there that he met my mother, Edith Mary. Evidently it was at the Nantwich Town Hall, which was situated on the town side of the River Weaver, where they first met at a Saturday night dance. What he probably didn't know that night was that Mary, as she was known, was already married and had a six year old daughter, Shirley. Her husband, like many service husbands of the time, was posted elsewhere and a 'live for today, tomorrow may never come' attitude was common amongst the population of Britain. Many marriages foundered as a result of these enforced separations and given these abnormal times it is easy to understand why.

Their first child, John, was born on Friday, 1st October, 1943 in Nantwich. It must have been a difficult situation for Mary when she found she was pregnant and sometime after John's birth Len went 'AWOL' (absent without leave) from his unit and together they joined his sister, Edie, travelling with the fairground.

As a result of his absence he was court marshalled, reduced in rank, and spent six weeks in the Glasshouse (Army prison).

As a result of his absence from his unit Len's service record probably shows a dishonourable discharge.

I believe that four years active service and contributing to the raising of over £2,000 by the family fair during the war years means that Len 'did his bit' and more!

I was born on on a very cold and snowy day at the Gladwyn Maternity Home, Gresford, North Wales on Wednesday, January 1st, 1947, the only member of my family to be born a showman. Brother John was born a Dabber (one who hailed from Nantwich) and Chris was born in Widnes on Tuesday April 12th, 1949.

I don't remember my early years as a traveller but my mother told me that during the hot summer months of 1948 she placed me in a 'play-pen' made out of a spare circular wire cage. This wire was used to prevent punters from recovering their pennies after they had rolled them down the guide in the 'roll a penny' in the hope of landing fully on a square to win. I was often referred to as Tarzan because of my 'bonny' physique and brown tan! What would the various health agencies have thought had that been in today's enlightened world!

In early spring 1953 a decision was made to live in Nantwich, my mother's home town, and they bought a house at 35, Cowfields. Dad took a job at Harveys Tanyard and as soon as Chris went to school my mother returned to the job that she had before the war. A presser at Heap's clothing factory.

The house in Cowfields, a two up and two down, was never big enough for a family of five and in 1956 we moved to a 3 bedroomed council property at 5, Cronkinson Avenue. After about 4 years we were on the move again, this time to 85, James Hall Street which was closer to my mother's work at the factory. Around 1962 dad had decided that paying rent to the council was foolish and he bought a house at 57, James Hall Street.

Dad left the tanyard and for a short while worked for British Rail before joining the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board (MANWEB) as a linesman. His job was to repair damaged overhead electricity supplies and to connect many of the rural properties that had no electricity supply. In fact he connected the electrical supply to my wife Pam's home at Sound near Nantwich sometime around 1962. She was 15 years old before she knew some of the wonders of electricity such as electric lights and television!

His final career move was working as the Nantwich Urban District Council's electrician. Actually he was the Street lighting attendant but his ability to assimilate working practices meant that he also did routine electrical work in council owned buildings! No qualifications but bags of confidence and energy. How would the European Union have viewed an unskilled, unqualified person doing electrical work in public venues like the Nantwich Civic Hall, the council offices at Brookfield and the Nantwich swimming pool.

Due to his undoubted management ability the Nantwich Town Clerk gave him the additional responsibility of Deputy Foreman of the council's workforce. In 1974, as a result of local government re-organisation he became one of seven supervisors on the new Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council.

My parents were never rich but after moving to Nantwich they did live a comfortable life. They were one of the few in the streets where we lived to own a car and they always insisted on an annual holiday. Llandudno, Scarborough, Woolacombe, Blackpool and lots of visits to Talacre in North Wales might not seem exciting to today's well travelled families but in the 1950s they were places few working class families in Nantwich were able to go to.

In 1969 they joined me on their first foreign holiday in Spain. While they were experiencing a new country for the first time American astronauts were landing on the moon!

In 1975 my parents visited the The Isle of Man, thirty six years later than my father anticipated!

The purchase of a caravan meant many holidays throughout the year and my father loved to get away for the weekend with his caravan, often taking the grandchildren.

He was quite happy to relax after driving to a site and setting up the caravan. He regarded the remaining domestic arrangements such as cooking, cleaning and making the beds as a job for mother. His job was to make sure that there was sufficient gas to cook with and that the electricity worked!

The final chapter in my fathers life, in this the final chapter of the book, details the last ten years of his life.

His job as the Engineering works supervisor of the new Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council, meant that his old Raleigh cycle was replaced by a council provided van with radio control. This was needed to cover the much larger geographic area which he now had responsibility for. When he started his new post in 1974 he quickly realised that the refuse collectors working practices were inefficient. He started a series of changes which included getting rid of working practices that were inefficient, and those workers who refused to change. This brought him in direct conflict with their trade union and his bosses. He was always a hard working, conscientious employee himself and he expected no less from his staff. A fair days work for a fair days pay! Eventually he succeeded in making the changes and the staff soon realised that, because they worked a bonus system, he had actually substantially increased their wages!

He had now seen his children married with their own homes and decided to 'downsize' to a smaller house at 88, London Road. After massive alterations, which he completed himself and which included building a new bathroom and installing central heating, two further skills that he was neither qualified or trained to do, he settled down to a busy working life and a quiet home life.

In early 1977 his health deteriorated and in September he was diagnosed with Cancer. His final battle ended on Thursday, 15th December 1977 at 7.30 in the evening. I had sat with him throughout his final night during which he was administered drugs to ease his pain. He slipped in and out of consciousness and in his ramblings he was always at work giving me my working orders. He was just 59 years old when he died.

His funeral took place on Wednesday, 21st December, 1977, at Crewe Crematoriam. The Chief Executive of Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council decided that only the other six department supervisors were to attend the funeral to represent the Borough Council. As the cortege travelled down Badger Avenue in Crewe we noticed that the road was filled with parked yellow vans, lorries and other vehicles belonging to the Borough Council which 'just happened to be in that area'. Not a bad send-off for a manager who made so many changes in such a short time.

Many years later I attended a birthday party in Crewe. A man approached me and said 'are you Lenny Greatorex's lad?' I replied, yes. He said that he had heard my name mentioned and was sure with my looks I must be the son of his old boss. He told me of the time he worked for my father on Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council. 'The best boss we ever had' he said. Dad would have been pleased with that.

Mother continued to live at London Road, always working until the day she died. Her death was a shock. She was indestructible, someone that would live forever, or so we thought. On Saturday, 30th May 1992 she had a heart attack. In hospital she experienced further heart attacks. After one of these she gained consciousness, looked up and said to her family'they can't kill Squich'( grass that grows where it is not wanted).

She died on Wednesday, June 10th, 1992 aged 73.

Now its the turn of other members of my family to use chapter 8 and write their own stories. Good luck.