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Jack Priestley’s Family History

This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)

Priestley Tree




HARRY PRIESTLEY was born in Earby, Yorkshire, on 26 March 1908. He was the first child of Robert Priestley and Rose Bray, conceived before their marriage. His son Jack said, ‘Mum told me in her dotage at Daw Vale that my Dad was conceived out of wedlock and had been the cause of his parents having to get married – they didn’t get on at all! She said he’d always carried the guilt for it. It also explained why he was fanatical about my never staying out late during my teens, which I had never understood at the time.’

In the 1911 census he is 3 years old and living at 19 Cowgill Street, Earby. Both his parents are cotton weavers. With them is a boarder, Edmund Forrest, a 21-year-old who is also a cotton weaver.

We find him in the 1921 census, aged 13y 3m, living with his parents and younger brother Leslie. The family have moved a short distance to 18 Cowgill Street. His father has made a bigger move, and is now a traveller for a jewellery firm. His mother is still a cotton weaver, working for A. Birley Ltd at Victoria Mills.

Harry is attending school part-time, but also working as a cotton weaver at the same mill as his mother.

Harry later worked in a fish and chip shop, possibly his father’s. He was a keen cricketer. Lancashire League was a big thing. Harry played once or twice for Lowerhouse, one of the Burnley teams, but the evening opening of the shop prevented him becoming a regular. The club professionals were international players. Learie Constantine was the pro for Nelson and a great local hero long before migration from the West Indies became a mass movement.

Harry moved to Hampshire with his parents at the end of 1930. There is a presentation to him from the Sunday School “on his removal to Southsea”, dated 23 November 1930.


ANNIE TOOTLE was born in Howard Street, Burnley, on 20 March 1909. She was the elder daughter of Robert William Tootle and Annie Riley.

She went to Coal Clough School in Burnley.

In the 1921 census she is living at 25 Howard St, Burnley, with her parents and younger sister Edith. Both her parents are cotton weavers, her father at Brierfield Mills, north of  Burnley, and her mother at Hargher Clough, to the west of Burnley, not far from Howard St.

Annie is aged 12y 2m and her sister is 7y 2m. Both are at school full time.

She became a cotton weaver. Jack says, ‘Annie Tootle was a mill worker over at Barrowford or Brierfield (can’t remember which) because her father was an overseer there and got her a job when she left school. [We now know that this was Brierfield.]

Although they were not yet married, Annie went south with Harry to work for his parents. The Priestleys had a fish and chip shop in Portsmouth. Jack says, ‘I know that Mum [Annie] had a wretched time when she left Burnley to move with the Priestleys to Portsmouth. She talked of having been used as a slave and obviously Harry, while sticking up for her, did so at some cost in his relationships to his own mother. Harry and Annie were engaged at that time but did not get married for two or three years. They returned to Burnley for that and then had a honeymoon of just one night in a London “hotel” before having to be back at the shop.’

The couple were married at Jubilee Methodist Church in Burnley on 17 July 1933. Fay says, ‘While turning out a chest of clothes to mothproof them, I came across a note pinned to Granny Priestley’s wedding veil, along with a small spray of artificial blue flowers. It reads: ‘With love and all best wishes for future happiness from Mr & Mrs R. G. Priestley.’ It looks as though her mother-in-law gave Annie her own wedding veil. ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’


Their son Jack Greaves Priestley was born on 23 February 1935.


Jack said, ‘The family seems to have remained on the edge of breaking out of the working class for several generations. My father, of course, was one who fell very much back into it through a mixture of bad health (he couldn’t take the fumes of boiling oil), bad luck (the second world war broke out just as he was having to give up the shop) and bad management (Mum always reckoned he was a lousy businessman and she was glad when he got out of it). Edith [Annie’s sister] told me just a few years ago that they were about to be put out on the street in Gosport when I was about two for non-payment of rent and that her father Robert Tootle had sent them money from his limited savings which, apparently my father never repaid. Anyway he finished up as an unskilled labourer after the war working seven days a week for 51 weeks of the year shovelling coal.

 ‘If I am right (and I was only 4 at the time) that Harry nursed his father through the last weeks of lung cancer then there’s the question of why wasn’t Rose helping over in Portsmouth? The answer may lie in the Blitz which had started but Harry used to cycle over twice a week to see his mother and collect cakes etc. by which we got round the rationing. Although I can remember that – largely because of Mum’s anxiety about him being out while Portsmouth was being bombed – it must have been over a very short period between us going back home to Fareham [from evacuation in Burnley] and him being called up.

During the second world war Harry was a cook in the catering corps in Egypt. Jack says, ‘I remember his call-up papers coming and their relief that he was going into the RAF and not the army. It meant an air station cookhouse and not running across France with a rifle and bayonet like all the Tootles in the East Lancs of WW1.’ After the war he worked as a stoker on HMS Siskin (out of Gosport).

A second son, Alan Robert, was born in the last year of the war, on 9 January 1945.


Jack left home, worked for a short time as a bank clerk in London and then did national service in the air force, before going to St Luke’s College to train as a teacher.

Harry’s cousin Jim was working at the Mullard’s television tube factory in Burnley. He told Harry there was work there for him too and Harry moved back north to work again as a stoker. Though they had had a three-bedroomed house with a sizeable garden in Fareham, he now bought a two-bedroomed terrace house with just a back yard, in Moore Street, and Annie and Alan came north to join him. Annie’s younger sister Edith was still living in the family’s terrace house in Perth Street. Annie found work as a dinner lady in the secondary school which Alan was attending.

Jack married another teacher, Fay Elizabeth Sampson, on 30 March 1959. Alan followed his footsteps, training as a teacher at St Luke’s and then going out to the same college in Zambia, where Jack had trained teachers. He too married a teacher, Janis Platt, on 1 January 1972.


Harry continued to work part-time after retirement. In 1976, at the age of 68, he died of a heart attack at home in Moore Street. He is said to have over-exerted himself the day before, carrying a sack of earth for his father’s grave in Thornton.


Annie continued to live in Burnley. She suffered a stroke when setting out to look after Alan and Janis’s older children when Janis was about to have a baby. She was undergoing rehabilitation when she fell and broke her hip. After a second stroke paralysed her down one side, she moved to live at first with Jack and Fay in Tedburn St Mary, Devon, and then into Daw Vale, a retirement home in Dawlish.

Annie died in Daw Vale on 10 January 1991. She was 81. Her body was cremated in Exeter and Jack later scattered the ashes on Pendle Hill, north of Burnley, a favourite beauty spot of hers.







Priestley Tree