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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




ROBERT (Bob) Greaves PRIESTLEY was born in 1885-6 at Crawshawbooth, in the Forest of Rossendale, north of Rawtenstall, Lancashire. He was the son of Edmund Priestley and Ruth Collinge. His father was a cotton weaver, as was his mother before her marriage.[1]

He was their fourth child, and it likely that his mother died either soon after his birth or in the next nine years. There is a 10-year gap between Robert and the next child in the 1901 census, and by then his father has a second wife, Mary.

By 1890 the family had moved to Cornholme, near Todmorden, where the next child, John, was born in 1895-6. It was probably here that Robert’s father married Mary, who was born at Sowerby Bridge, seven miles west of Cornholme. Their house straddled the stream which formed the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. It ran under the house through a pipe. It was a matter of family pride that the living room was in Lancashire, but the bedroom in Yorkshire, so all the children were born Yorkshiremen.

Robert went to school in Cornholme.  He had a Sunday School book prize inscribed from Vale Baptist Church, Todmorden. This was actually in Cornholme and there are other references to church connections there.

The Priestleys moved north to Earby, north of Colne, where a step-sister to Robert was born. They lived at 10 Spring Terrace.

It was either in Cornholme or Earby that Robert began work as a cotton weaver, like his father and older siblings.


1901 Census
10 Spring Terrace, Earby

Edmund Priestley    Head M    45   Cotton Weaver     Lanc, Crawshawbooth
Mary G. Priestley          Wife  M    36                                   Yorks, Sowerby Bridge
Edmond J. Priestley       Son   S     22   Cotton Weaver     Lanc, Bacup
Willie Priestley                Son   S     20   Cotton Weaver     Lanc,     do
Grace A. Priestley          Dau  S      18   Cotton Weaver     Lanc,     do
Robert G. Priestley   Son   S     15   Cotton Weaver     Lanc, Crawshawbooth
John A. Priestley            Son  S       5                                    Yorks, Cornholme
Ruth Priestley                 Daur         1                                    Yorks, Earby, parish of Thornton


In 1907, at the age of 21, Robert found that he had fathered the unborn child of Rose Bray.



ROSE BRAY is said to have been born in Mickley in March 1885. The 1901 census gives her birthplace as Southcote in Yorkshire. South Cote was her grandmother’s farm at Burton-on-Ure in the parish of Masham, where her parents started their married life and where four other children were born.

She was the daughter of Henry Bray and Mary Elizabeth Harland and the fourth child in a large family.

Her father worked on the farm and also as a carter. He was a lover of horses and horse-racing.

A great- great-niece of Rose writes: ‘Almina, Rose’s sister was my Grandmother’s Mum. She married Alfred Dearden. Do you know if any of the Brays were gypsies? My grandma used to say that her mum was born under a hedge but I have found nothing to confirm this. Was Rose a spirit medium? I seem to remember my Grandma talking about Aunt Rose being able to draw pictures while in a trance. Deb.’

Pamela Cowgill, daughter of Rose’s youngest sister Mary, has researched the Brays and found no evidence of a gypsy connection., but Rose’s grandfather Robert Bray was a horse-dealer.

The Brays left South Cote around 1890, when Rose was about five and one of a growing family. Another sister was born in South Milford, near Leeds, and a brother at Aughton, west of Sheffield. The family then settled at Earby, north of Colne. Rose’s father drove a cart for a coal merchant. Rose, like her teenage siblings, became a cotton weaver.

Earby lies in the civil parish of Thornton- in-Craven, known earlier as Thornton-in-Lonsdale, 7 miles from Skipton in Yorkshire and 11 from Burnley, which is across the border in Lancashire. Craven comes from the Celtic ‘craf’, meaning garlic, which grows plentifully in the wild here.

The 1901 census shows Rose at 16 living in Earby at 41 Colne Road with her parents and siblings. She is the third in a family of nine children, ranging in age from 19 years to 7 months. The older girls helped with mothering the younger ones.


1901 Census.
41 Colne Road, Earby.

Harry  Bray   Head      M    45     Carter for Coal Merchant   Lincolnshire, Barnetby
Mary       do     Wife       M    42                                                    Yorks, Mickley
William    do      Son        S     19     Cotton Weaver                     do         Southcote
Ruth        do      Daur      S     18        do         do                           do             do
Rose       do      Daur      S     16        do       do                            do             do
Almina    do      Daur      S     14        do       do                             do             do
Frank      do      Son        S     12                                                    do             do
Evaline    do      Daur              9                                                     do        South Milford
Robert H  do     Son                6                                                     do        Aughton
Mary S     do     Daur              4                                                     do        Earby, Thornton
Lily           do     Daur              7 Ms                                               do              do



Robert and Rose married after Rose became pregnant. Baby Harry was born in Earby on 26 March 1908, when they were both about 23.

In the 1911 census they were living in Cowgill Street, Earby.

1911 Census. 19 Cowgill St, Earby via Colne, Yorkshire West Riding

Priestley, Robert Greaves   Head           M      25   MC Cotton Weaver   Rossendale, Lancs
Priestley, Rose                          Wife    3     M      26   Cotton Weaver          Southcote, Yorks
Priestley, Harry                        Son             S        3                                         Earby, Yorks
Forrest, Edmund                         Boarder      S        21   Cotton Weaver          Blackburn, Lancs


Despite having a small son, Rose is still working as a cotton weaver. She is also supplementing the family income by taking in a lodger. It is possible that someone in her family or Robert’s was looking after little Harry while she was at work.

A daughter Elsie was born in the last quarter of 1911. She died on 12 June 1912, aged 7 months. Robert and Rose’s grandsons knew nothing of her until they found the record of her death, but not the date, on the Priestley family gravestone in Thornton in Craven churchyard. The registration of her birth and death were later found on the GRO index.[2]

Birth: Elsie Priestley. Skipton Registation District. 1911 Oct-Dec. Mother’s Maiden Name Bray. Vol. 9A. p.48.

Death: Elsie Priestley. Skipton. Registration District. 1912 Apr-Jun. Age 0. Vol. 9A. p.45.

She died at 19 Cowgill Street, Earby.


It was not a happy marriage and there were constant tensions. Robert was a Lancashire socialist and trade unionist. Rose came from a very Tory family, and there was uproar when she married him.

Robert was a chain-smoker, which eventually led to his death from cancer.

Rose had a fiery temper and a careless disposition. Her grandson Jack describes her as like Grandma in the Giles cartoons. ‘I can recall being taken by hired car to somewhere near Oxford for the day with her dressed in fox furs, etc. It must have cost a bomb and we had an accident on the way which resulted in her banging her head against the glass panel – and comforting herself from a flask she had on her!’

In 1913 there was a second son, Leslie, born 31 December.

Robert was nearing 30 when the First World War broke out. He served as a sick-berth attendant at Haslar Naval Hospital, Portsmouth. Later, he was a travelling salesman. Jack says, ‘It was almost certainly that which gave him the wanderlust from the dark satanic mills and settled Portsmouth as a destination.’

We do not know whether Robert returned to cotton weaving after the war, or whether that was when he made the major move to become a travelling salesman.

In the 1921 census we find that the family had moved from 19 Cowgill Street to no.18.
Harry, aged 13, is now working part-time at the same cotton mill as Rose.
1921 Census. 18 Cowgill Street, Earby.
Robert Greaves Priestley  Head  35y 11m  Rossendale, Lancs,  Traveller  Thos Fattorini (Skipton) Ltd, Manufacturing Jeweller, Caroline Square, Skipton.
Rose Priestley  Wife  36y 6m  Masham, Yorks  Cotton Weaver  A J Birley Ltd, Earby, Cotton Cloth Manufacturer, Victoria Mills, Earby
Harry Priestley  Son  13y 3m  Earby, Yorks.  Part Time schooling  Cotton Weaver  A J Birley Ltd, Earby, Cotton Cloth Manufacturer, Victoria Mills, Earby
Leslie Priestley  Son  7y 6m  Earby, Lancs  Whole Time schooling.

The couple left Earby with their sons and in the 1920s they set up in a fish and chip shop in Rosegrove, Burnley.

From there they moved to Hampshire, where Robert had served in the war, and ran another fish and chip shop in Southsea. In 1928 Robert won the Fish Frying Competition at Wembley. Jack’s brother Alan has this medal. Their move south may also have been influenced by the depression. Fish and chips were so much part of the staple diet that they were the only take-away food not to be rationed during the Second World War.

Later in life they had a baker’s shop and sold groceries. Robert used to deliver bread and groceries on a bicycle around the Copnor area of Portsmouth. Their son Leslie was the baker. Rose is said to have spoilt him and would give him anything he wanted. He would help himself from the till and finally ruined the business. During the Second World War his was a reserved occupation and he was not called up, though Harry served as an airforce cook.


Robert died of cancer in Fareham, Hampshire, about 1941, aged 56. In the last stages he was nursed by his son Harry, whose wife Annie and son Jack had been evacuated to Annie’s family home in Burnley. His body was taken back to Yorkshire by train for burial in the country churchyard of Thornton-in-Craven. Annie and young Jack came over for the funeral.

Robert, and later Rose, was buried in plot 132. The inscription on the grave reads:


In Loving Memory of
Robert G Priestley
The Beloved Husband of Rose Priestley
Who Died May 2nd, 1941 in His 56th Year.


Rose Priestley
Who Died Nov 29th, 1965
Aged 80 Years.

Also Elsie Their Infant Daughter.


The infant Elsie is not buried there. Her grave is Plot 110, at the foot of the black marble Bray family grave under a large bush.


Rose returned to Earby. She was described as authoritarian and very demanding.

Harry, with his wife and younger son, moved back to Burnley in 1959. He died there in 1976.

Leslie drank heavily. He married, but his infant son died of alcoholic poisoning around 1946/7 and his wife soon after, for similar reasons. Leslie died in Portsmouth some years after Harry.


[1] Sources: Mark and Jack Priestley
[2] GRO index. Contributed by Jean Etheridge.







Priestley Tree