23 June 2009

A Shropshire Lad called Harry

This is Harry (1906-1988), one of the most important people in my life. Harry was the Shropshire lad who managed to survive until he reached old age, unlike his elder brother Arthur who died of double pneumonia at the age of fifteen.

Arthur died in 1917. Harry's father died the following year, so Harry left school as soon as he was old enough to do so and helped his mother to make ends meet.

Harry's first job was in an iron foundry near Lawley. From his descriptions of it, the place was more like hell. Yet the countryside of Shropshire can often seem heavenly.

A PDF map for walking through the district

Today, the iron bridge, just down the road from where Harry grew up, is a World Heritage site and one of the most picturesque, too.

Have you read A E Housman's cycle of poems called A Shropshire Lad, or heard a few of them being sung?

A Shropshire Lad on Wikipedia

Read the poems for yourself

George Butterworth's music to the poetry - on YouTube - sung by John Shirley-Quirk, plus an orchestral interpretation

Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth - to the poetry of A E Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now - read by Eleanor Bron

Iron Bridge Gorge UNESCO

Iron Bridge Gorge Museums

A video I found on YouTube about the Iron Bridge

A video about Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire

A whistle stop tour of Shropshire

Although very few of my family members are known to have been military types, Harry's ancestors fought in another way. They were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, though they never became wealthy. You may know that Shropshire is where the Industrial Revolution all began.

Timeline of the Industrial Revolution

What happened?

What caused it to happen?

The Darby family's activities in Shropshire (they are not my ancestors)

Without the industrial revolution, and its agricultural precursor, most of my ancestors (and quite likely yours too) would probably have stayed as rural peasants, tilling and weeding and harvesting and spinning and weaving and trying to eek out a living.

Although a few people were involved in coal mining before the industrial revolution, the colliers of the 19th century in Shropshire included several of my ancestors - men, women and children. When the coal began to run out, some of my family moved to the more productive mines of Staffordshire, not far away.

About mining coal

Coal mining in Shropshire

Children at work - in the past

More children at work - in the past

Children at work - in the present

I continue to admire my grandfather's tenacity and dignity. He worked long hours in horrendous conditions while studying at night to better himself. He was mainly self-taught and became a skilled fitter from the 1920s to the 1940s, the proprietor of his own small business mending and maintaining "wireless" (radio) sets in the 1940s, and an engineer for a large company from the 1950s to the 1970s.

My mother thinks Harry was also a member of the Freemasons, though he never spoke about it.

Here is an update - December 2010

Did you know that this is one of the most popular blog posts at Ancestors Within? I have added more information and a few more links above to provide an even more vivid introduction to Harry's life and cultural heritage.

Learn more about him here:

The working lives of ancestors

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I especially appreciate historical insights.