The Johnson and Garner Families – Cousins Who Married

In the spring of 1884 in their 24th year of age, two first cousins, Joseph Johnson and Harriet Garner tied the knot in Leicester. Joseph’s father Thomas Johnson had died when Joseph was just 2, his mother Elizabeth died the following year leaving Joseph an orphan. His aunt Lucy Johnson was the sister of his father and mother of his bride Harriet – having married Aaron Garner in May 1858 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

According to the 1911 census, Joseph and Harriet had six children, and three had died. I have not definitively located details for those three children, but I do know the details of the three children who survived. Lucy Emma born 1885, Thomas William b. 1887 and Annie Garner b. 1896. The two daughters never married, but their brother went on to marry Mary Ann Brightwell Rawlins whose family I have written about in a previous post. They were my husband’s maternal great grandparents.

Harriet and Joseph lived in Milligan Street, Leicester for the early years of their marriage, being listed there on the 1891 and 1901 censuses. In 1891 Joseph’s occupation was given as Pressman (Shoe Trade) and in 1901 given as Fitter Up – Shoe Trade. By 1911 they had moved to 7 Browning Street, Leicester and Joseph’s occupation was once again described as being a Pressman – Shoe Trade. They still had all three of their children living with them with both Lucy and Annie being Blouse Hands (making blouses in a factory), and Thomas following in his father’s footsteps as a Pressman.

In less than a year from the census being taken Harriet had passed away – dying on 5th May 1912 aged 53 of Diabetes Mellitus. Harriet left a will, naming her husband and her brother Aaron Garner as her executors. Stating she wanted her husband to have all her money in her account in the Northamptonshire Union Bank Limited as well as all her household goods and furniture apart from specific items. Interestingly she bequeaths the house they live in to her husband (provided he keeps making the mortgage payments) and that should he get into any financial difficulty, he is allowed to sell the property. She also bequeathed her piano to her daughter Annie. It is particularly interesting that Harriet is the one bequeathing the house to her husband – which seems to denote it was property she owned. The gross value of Harriet’s estate was worth £313 6s 9d and the net value of her personal estate being worth £63 £6 9d. Using 1910 as a reference year on the National Archives Currency Converter tool, in 2017’s money this would have been worth around £24.5K and £5K for the personal estate. To put that into perspective for 1910 – with the value of the estate Harriet could have paid for almost 950d of skilled tradesman’s wages.

7 Browning Street from Google StreetView

Her widower Joseph didn’t live much longer to reap the benefits of the will as he died several months later on 9th Oct 1912 aged 52 of Acute Pneumonia. His brother in law Aaron was the informant of his death. He did not leave a will, but his son Thomas administered to his estate which was settled in April 1914 where his estate was valued at £101 10s 0d. Using 1915 as the comparison date on the currency convertor this is only worth around £6K in 2017’s money – enough for just over 300d of skilled tradesman’s wages in 1915. I found an article about Joseph in the local paper which told me about something I had not known about before – it not having been detailed on other records, that he was a Baptist Preacher.

Clipping from the Leicester Chronicle 12 October 1912 from FindmyPast

After finding this I did a search to see if I could find much more about Joseph being a preacher but didn’t find anything so far. I did find a reference in 1884 to Joseph coming across a woman, Sarah Ann Warner in a park near the Harvey Lane Baptist Church who was sitting in the lake there and had beckoned for him to help her out. She did not explain to him why she was in the lake, but she ended up being arrested for attempted suicide. It seemed she was suffering from post-natal depression following the birth of her first child a year before. She appeared again in the paper a year later doing the same thing in another area, six weeks after having her second child. I felt so deeply for her, struggling with her depression and how arresting her was so counter-productive. I didn’t find any other reference to her, so I am hoping she got help and was able to cope better with no further attempts on her own life.

A month after his father’s death, Thomas William Johnson married Mary Ann Brightwell Rawlins and they had their own family, having three children, of which sadly only one survived into adulthood and had a family of their own. William Eric their first child born in 1915 lived to be 21 before he passed away in 1936 of Mitral Stenosis and Aortic Incompetence. Mitral stenosis means the mitral valve in the heart does not open wide enough. This can often be caused by having had rheumatic fever as a child which can then lead to rheumatic heart disease which can often go undiagnosed for years. Their second child Marjorie May died in December 1920 aged 3 months. She died of Broncho Pneumonia which had lasted 7 days and Cardiac Failure which had lasted one hour. Their third and final child was Kenneth Thomas born in 1922. He was my husband’s maternal grandfather. Mary Ann died in 1955 and Thomas William Johnson married a second time to a widow Ethel Peberdy nee Hill in 1958. Thomas died a few years later in 1961 with Ethel passing away in 1972.

Thinking back to the will of Harriet Johnson nee Garner made me wonder how the wife of a Shoe Pressman seemingly owned a property to bequeath to her husband. In the censuses she was on after their marriage she was never listed as having an occupation – other than on the 1911 census where she states she is a Housewife but this has been crossed out. Prior to their marriage she had worked as a Fancy Hand – presumably in the hosiery trade. Could she have come into money from her father Aaron?

Aaron Garner was born either at the end of 1835 or within the first couple of days of 1836 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire as he was baptised there on 3rd January 1836. He was the son of William Garner and Jane Cook who had married in Nuneaton in Oct 1835 – so Jane would have been about six months pregnant with Aaron at the time of her marriage. They went on to have three further children, David b. 1838, Mary Ann b. 1843 and Harriet b. 1846 – d. 1847. William was a Weaver by trade, his occupation is described in various ways over the censuses as a Weaver, Ribbon Weaver, Silk Weaver and Elastic Weaver (India Rubber). Initially the family lived at Abbey Street in Nuneaton, then moving to Mill Lane/Mill Street, Back Street and finally Newdegate Street. William Garner himself had been born in 1814 – the illegitimate son of a Mary Thurman Garner born 1791 – herself an illegitimate daughter of a Mary Garner. It is likely her father’s surname was Thurman. Mary also had another illegitimate daughter in 1794 called Catherine Mitchell Garner.

Aaron’s brother David went on to become a Draper and Milliner. He seemed to do very well for himself, at the time of his death in 1888 his probate entry denotes that his personal estate was worth £3343 11s 6d – using 1890 as the reference year with the currency convertor tool this gives a value in 2017s money as almost £274.5K – in 1890 that would have paid for over ten thousand days of skilled tradesman’s wages.

Aaron initially seemed to mostly be following in his father’s footsteps as being a Silk/Elastic Weaver. Following his marriage to Lucy Johnson in 1858 and the subsequent birth of their daughter Harriet later that same year, they had a son Thomas William in 1860. On the 1861 census the family were living at Meadow in Nuneaton, Harriet was with her paternal grandparents. Oddly Harriet was enumerated as being their daughter rather than granddaughter and aged 9 rather than being about 3. Shortly after the 1861 census Aaron and Lucy’s son Thomas sadly died. They lost another son William in 1862 – having moved from Nuneaton to Leicester, before having a daughter Lucy Jane in 1863, a son Aaron in 1868 followed by Phoebe Annie in 1871. They also had three further children who all died in infancy – two daughters both called Elizabeth Ellen, the first born in 1874 who died in 1875 and the second born in 1876 and died in 1877 and their final daughter Mary Ann – born and died in 1881.

By the time of the 1881 census, living at 27 Peel Street, Leicester, Aaron’s occupation was given as Hosiery Manufacturer Employing 14 Hands. That was quite a step up from being a simple weaver. I found a sale notice for the premises of 27 Peel Street in 1875, so it seems likely that Aaron purchased it or took over the rent of it at that time. There was an advert in the local paper in 1877 where Aaron was advertising for girls to apply to do “Peg and Board Work.” Sadly about a month after the 1881 census was taken, Aaron’s wife Lucy died on 13th May aged just 45 – her cause of death was given as Disease of Internal Ear. I am not entirely sure what sort of disease that would relate to that could lead to death, the only thing I have seen so far is an Acoustic Neuroma – a benign tumour that develops in the inner ear. If untreated it can increase in size and lead to blindness and death, and I imagine in 1881 they may not have been able to treat this like we would do today. Aaron then married again about a year later to Emma Murby, a woman in her early 50s.

Clipping from Leicester Daily Mercury 15 October 1877 from FindMyPast

Aaron lost both his parents William and Jane in 1885. I located a will for his father William written in 1883. It speaks of ensuring that his wife was paid one pound a week during the course of her natural life as well as his household goods, giving any of his trade related goods to his son Aaron and his other executor Thomas Hubbard. Upon the death of his wife the monies should be paid to his children and their children and noted that any female taking an interest in his will should receive her money for her own sole benefit – rather than any of it go to her husband. William’s wife Jane already died a few months before him in May that year of Hemiplegia – something similar to a stroke. William had moved in with his son Aaron by the time of his death – dying at 27 Peel Street on 3rd August 1885 of Endocarditis, Hemiplegia and Senile Decay.

In 1891 Aaron was living at 1 Burton Street, Leicester and described as a Hosiery Manufacturer, living with his second wife Emma and his children Aaron and Phoebe.

Aaron then appeared in the papers in 1893 due to bankruptcy. It seemed that he had struggled with his money for a number of years.

Leicester Journal 14 July 1893

Failure of a Leicester Hosiery Manufacturer.

The first meeting of the creditors of Aaron Garner, of 27 Peel Street and 1 Burton Street, Leicester, hosiery manufacturer, was held on Tuesday afternoon, in the offices of Mr J G Burgess, Official Receiver. The unsecured creditors amounted to £1426 3s 6d; partly secured £110, less estimated value of securities £40; accommodation bills £146 0d 3d, the whole of which were expected to rank against the estate for dividend. Other creditors brought up the amount of liabilities to a total of £1642 3d 9d. The assets were estimated at £427 18s 2d, and comprised: stick in trade £42 19s 10d ; machinery £307 0s 6d; trade fittings, fixtures, utensils etc £30; book debts (good) £24 17s 10d; and bad  and doubtful debts estimated to produce £5. After deducting the preferential creditors for £17 15s, there was a deficiency of £1232 0s 7d. Mr Quinn represented a number of creditors, and Mr J C Bulman held a proxy for Mr E F Heard, one of the creditors. The total amount of the proofs of debt reached the sum of £1104 11s 9d. Of these the following five were held by Mr Quinn as proxy: – B Harburton, £340 14s 8d: E Garner (wife of the debtor) £280; J Johnson £104 5s 6d: A Garner junior £17 2s 6d: A English £109 0s 11d. The Official Receiver, however, rejected the whole of these five proofs for voting purposes, that of E Garner because she was the debtor’s wife, and the other because certain accommodation bills which the debtor gave were not produced. In rejecting these proofs, the Official Received remarked that his decision could be appealed against, and Mr Warburton said that so far as he was concerned, he should certainly appeal. One of the creditors present said he hoped there would be a thorough investigation as he was sure it had been a “family affair” as was shown by the rejected proofs, and that it had been so far 12 months. Another creditor present said he was of a similar opinion. Mr Quinn held the roofs above mentions for his own appointment as trustee, but as they were rejected it fell to the ground, and there being no other proposition the Official Receiver will act as trustee. No questions were put to the debtor at the meeting. The Official Receiver intimated to some of the creditors that it would be his duty to have a full investigation on the public examination.

In June and July there were notices of the premises and stock of 27 Peel Street being sold off – presumably to help pay for some of Aaron’s debts.

Clippings from the Leicester Chronicle from 24 June and 22 July 1893 from FindmyPast

Leicester Chronicle 7 Oct 1893

Leicester Bankruptcy Court

Monday – Before Mr Registrar Ingram

Re Aaron Garner, hosiery manufacturer. Liabilities £1,642 3s 9d, assets £427 18s 2d. Bankrupt, in reply to the Official Receiver, said that he had been in business about twenty years. He saved money at first, but in 1880 he had to make an arrangement with his creditors, all of whom, except two, he afterwards paid 20s in the £. In 1890 he again had to meet his creditors, owing to bad debts and loss of credit. He paid them 5s in the £ on each occasion. He had no capital of his own on starting, but his wife and other relatives lent him money, and he had also had accommodation bill transactions. The debtor was examined at some length as to the details of these transactions, and the examination was ultimately closed.

This was a considerable sum to be in debt by, using 1890 as the reference year for comparison on the National Archives Currency Converter the value of £1,642 3s 9d would have been worth approximately £135K in 2017s money. In 1890 Aaron could have paid for almost five thousand days of skilled tradesman’s wages with that sum or over 50 horses!

On 6th March 1899 Aaron suffered another loss with the death of his second wife Emma who died of Influenza and Bronchitis, Aaron’s occupation was described on her death certificate as a Hosiery and Shoe Dealer. Aaron continued to struggle with his debts as seen in a newspaper report later that same year.

Leicester Chronicle 22 July 1899

Leicester Bankruptcy Court

Wednesday – Before his Honour Judge Wightman Wood

Application for Discharge – Mr Clarke made an application on behalf of Aaron Garner, formerly carrying on business as a hosiery manufacturer, Leicester, for discharge. The bankruptcy, said Mr Clarke, was a very old one. His Honour – Yes, but there are very serious circumstances connected with it. Mr Clarke – I am afraid I have not appreciated them. The Judge – Whether you appreciate them or not, there are some very serious circumstances indeed. The debtor’s liabilities were £1286, and the assets only realised £116, and the dividend was only 10 and a half pence in the pound. Debtor had twice before propounded with his creditors for 5 shillings in the pound, and he had paid several of the creditors of the first insolvency in full at the expense of the second batch of creditors. This was a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Then during the bankruptcy, he contracted several debts without any reasonable expectation of being able to pay them. The Official Receiver said the debtor’s career had been a very discreditable one, and he should like his Honour to mark his sense of it. His Honour expedited debtor’s discharge for three years, which was one year beyond the stipulated period of the Act.

In 1901 he was still at the same address from 1891 but this time his occupation was Draper instead of Hosiery Manufacturer. A couple of years later he married for a third time to a widow – Annie/Ann Pickard. Annie’s maiden name was Lawrence/Lawrance – the daughter of John Lawrence and Ann Smith. She was the sister to Elizabeth Lawrence who married Samuel Martin – her grandson Samuel George Martin being the subject of this blog post I wrote last year – who was Paul’s great grandfather on his father’s side of the family.

At the time of Aaron’s third marriage he was living at 19 Arthur Street in Leicester and was a General Dealer. He died just four years later in 1907 at 1 Elm Street, Leicester aged 71 of Diabetes Mellitus – the same condition that lead to his daughter Harriet’s death just five years later. He did not leave a will.

Aaron Garner’s death entry

Annie his third wife died in 1910 at 76 Erskine Street, Leicester. Her will doesn’t leave anything to her husband’s family, but bequeaths all her household furniture to her nephew Charles Bennett Martin, and gives other items to various family members on the Lawrence side including a long gold chain to her sister Elizabeth Martin. It appears that Annie died following a bout of food poisoning after eating bloaters – whole smoked herrings. She had a supper of them about six weeks prior to her death and had suffered from sickness and diarrhoea and been treated for it but had gradually got worse and eventually died. Her step-daughter Phoebe had eaten the same bloaters and not been affected by them, but apparently Annie had been ill about 16 months before after eating a pork pie so was deemed to be more susceptible to “ptomaine poisoning”. Interestingly Annie’s death certificate states that Aaron was a Master Draper – considering he was a Draper in 1901 but by 1903 and 1907 he was described as a General Dealer, perhaps the Master Draper title is a bit of an exaggeration?

View of Arthur Street 1-27 from 1961. Copyright Dennis Calow. Used in accordance with licence

It is possible that perhaps Aaron had earned enough money at one point to have been able to give his daughter Harriet a sum that she was able to use as a deposit to purchase a house, perhaps it was money from her paternal grandfather William? I’ve certainly not come across a will written by a married woman where she has bequeathed the property to her husband in that sort of way, as at that time not many women owned their own property, and often as soon as they were married any property they had automatically belonged to their husbands, unless specifically stipulated in a will – like in William Garner’s will. If it had come from Aaron then it had managed to be kept away from being seen as an asset to be used to help settle his bankruptcy debts. Certainly with Aaron’s bankruptcy examination in 1893 it was noted he had borrowed money from family, including a J Johnson – likely Harriet’s husband Joseph.

It seems sad that Aaron’s business struggled as it did, having experienced several periods of bad debt and struggling to pay back his creditors. His son Aaron junior did fairly well for himself being a Commercial Traveller for a Vinegar Brewing company. He married Elizabeth Ellen Shipley and they had three sons, Harold Shipley Garner, Clement Shipley Garner and Reginald Shipley Garner – two of them became legal clerks. Elizabeth Ellen died in 1931 and Aaron married again to Alice Adamson in 1932. Aaron died in 1944 and was buried with his first wife.

Aaron’s daughter Lucy Jane Garner married Alfred English – an engineer. They didn’t have any children. They were living in Bermondsey, London in 1911 and Alfred died in London in 1920 but Lucy returned to Leicester where she died in 1935.

Aaron’s other daughter Phoebe Annie married David Hookway Gange – a Wood Carver. They lived in Leeds for a time before returning to Leicester. They had no children. David died in 1925 and in 1939 Phoebe had her two unmarried nieces Lucy Emma Johnson and Annie Garner Johnson with her. Phoebe died in 1952.

The Combined Garner and Johnson Tree – note that the Johnson tree is larger but is condensed here and also Mary Thurman Garner had children with John Payne who are not listed here
Tree showing the Lawrence/Lawrance family connection with Aaron Garner’s third wife being the sister of Elizabeth Lawrence – Paul’s 3x great grandmother on his father’s side

4 thoughts on “The Johnson and Garner Families – Cousins Who Married

  1. Do you think that Joseph was raised by Lucy and Aaron after he was orphaned? If so, he and Harriet were almost siblings as well as first cousins. I also have many first cousin marriages in my tree. It all seems so odd now, but obviously was once considered entirely appropriate. (I had a huge crush on my older first cousin Jeff when I was little and used to say I would marry him, which my parents were quick to point out was not possible!)

    I also was struck by that fact that Harriet owned the house she lived in with Joseph. I have to believe that was very unusual.

    Great post as always, Alex!

    • Thanks Amy.

      It isn’t fully clear who Joseph was raised by, in 1871 he is with his maternal grandmother Lucy Veasey in Nuneaton. His father had died in Leicester but his mother had died in Nuneaton. By 1881 he is in Leicester. Lucy and Aaron were living in Leicester by about 1862 so it is possible he spent some time with them and it prompted his move to Leicester later on, but I don’t think he was raised by them. Joseph was the only child of his parents so there was only him to look after when they died. His paternal grandfather had died in 1854, and it is possible his paternal grandmother Phoebe may have also helped out in raising him – she lived in Nuneaton during that time and she was with Aaron and Lucy in 1881 in Leicester but returned to Nuneaton where she died in 1885.

      I think it is pretty common when you are young to form crushes on cousins, then you realise it isn’t the done thing! Of course in many cultures it is still very acceptable to marry first cousins and second cousins etc.

      It is amazing how women have struggled over the centuries to be recognised – it feels sad to find it unusual that a married woman owned a property of her own in 1912 (especially a working class woman), but I was reading something last year which shocked me about rules around a woman opening her own bank account – that up to 1975 a woman couldn’t open up her own account without her husband’s permission (or another male relative i.e. father). There is a great article here from 2014 which summarises a lot of details from different eras and cultures for women’s rights/freedoms and some of it is so astounding at how late they have come – like 1982 in the UK women were finally allowed to frequent pubs and be served without being told to leave! (Of course I am sure there were many pubs which had allowed women in them before – but I think it was mostly if you were accompanied by a man.)

      • Thanks, Alex, for your response. I remember taking a course on women and the law in law school and being shocked by how recently things had changed. There were so many laws that treated women differently—e.g., liquor laws. Men could drink real beer at age 18 whereas women had to drink some lesser version (lower alcohol content). On another note, until I was 16, girls had to wear skirts or dresses to school even in winter whereas boys could wear jeans or whatever they wanted. And even today women are paid less than men for the same work in many instances. And in the US we’ve yet to elect a woman to be president, but at least we now have a woman as vice-president!

      • It is interesting to see how far we still have to go to be treated the same. Some things have progressed while other areas are still a struggle. I think some attitudes will take some time to change though.

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