John Harrison, The Leeds Benefactor

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The Leeds Benefactor John Harrison

Birthdate: (77)
Birthplace: Acaster, York, England
Death: October 29, 1656 (77)
Leeds, York , Yorkshire, England
Place of Burial: Leeds, York, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir John Harrison, of Pawdmyre and Elizabeth Harrysonn
Husband of Elizabeth Harrison
Brother of Edith Gledhill and Grace Robinson

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About John Harrison, The Leeds Benefactor

West Yorkshire, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812 about John Harrison Name: John Harrison Baptism Date: 15 Aug 1579 Parish: Leeds, St Peter (Leeds Parish Church) Father's Name: John Harrison

Source Citation: West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; ; New Reference Number: RDP68/1/1. Source Information: West Yorkshire, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Yorkshire Parish Records. Leeds, England: West Yorkshire Archive Service. ______________________________

Harrison line engraved Silver Salver (see photo attached), Jan 2010

In January 2010 I found this description on e-bay about an engraved silver salver that was for sale. I contacted the seller and asked permission to use the text and photo's for my tree in return for a credit 'photo's and text by DIGGERLEE'.

Note: A salver is a flat tray of silver or other metal used for carrying or serving glasses, cups and dishes at table or for the presenting of a letter or card by a servant.

The engraving reads as follows:-

John Harrison of Leeds mard Elizabeth dau.of Henry Marton of Leeds and had

John Harrison of Leeds b.1579; built and endowed St JOHNS CHURCH LEEDS ;

mard Elizabeth dau. of Thomas Foxcroft of Halifax .He died without issue in 1656.

Will proved in London 1658 by which he bequeathed his property to his sisters:-

a - Edith who mard Thomas Gledhill of Barkisland , and

b - Grace who mard Alexander Robinson of Leeds.

Alexander Robinson mard 1585 died 1607 and had a dau.Grace who mard

William Syddall of Tadcaster and had a dau Ann who mard

Robert Nicholson and had a son Thomas.

Thomas Nicholson mard Lydia Pollard and had a dau Eliza who mard

Thomas Clegg of Thornhill Lees and had a dau Mary who mard

Richard North of Thornhill and had a son Henry.

Henry North mard Elizabeth Charters of Woolley and had a son William .

William North mard Ann Haigh of Huddersfield and had a son William.

William North mard Hannah Barrow of Huddersfield and had a dau Ann who mard

John Hy.Abbey of Lockwood , Huddersfield and had a dau Mary Ann who mard

Whitley Tolson of Oaklands, Dalton , Huddersfield in 1905.

a - From whom descended :-

Thos Horton of Howroyd who mard Everild dau. of John Thornhill of Fixby in 1680.

Susan Horton who mard Richard Beaumont of Whitley Beaumont in 1700.

Eliazabeth Horton who mard Richard Bold of Bold KNIGHT of SHIRE for Lanc. in 1703.

Elizabeth Finch who mard first Thos Ramsden and second Richard Musgrave KNIGHT of SHIRE for Cumb.

Judith Finch who mard Ed Copley of Batley.

b - From whom descended :-

Henry Robinson the Royalist Vicar of Leeds and Rector of Swillington ,b. 1598 d. 1663.

Grace Robinson who mard Joseph Briggs , Vicar of Kirkburton , 1662 - 1727.

Grace Robinson ( cousin of above ) who mard Christopher Stone D.D. Chancellor of St PETERS , YORK , 1660 - 1687 .

Then below all this wording is the FAMILY CREST - LIVERY ARMS of John Harrison ...which has a latin motto FERRO COMITE ..which means something like THE SWORD MY COMPANION which relates to the Mordant & Tolson families.

Source: simonekilburnadded this on 29 Jan 2010


John Harrison (1579–1656) was a prominent inhabitant of Leeds, in Yorkshire, England, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, variously as one of the early woollen cloth merchants, and as a benefactor of the town.

Over the years, the Harrison family had acquired considerable property in the Leeds Rural-urban fringe, soon to be absorbed by urban sprawl. John Harrison was the owner of a large tract of land lying at the top of Briggate, beyond the modern streets Upper and Lower Headrow. He was one of the first of the Leeds cloth merchants, and added to his inherited fortune by his commercial activities. However, Harrison was not just a merchant but also a benefactor. He was well respected throughout the city and often played a role in local politics. When, in 1626, the first charter was obtained from Charles I, and Sir John Savile was appointed Alderman, the real duties of the office were performed by Harrison, at that time his deputy. A few years later, Harrison and six other wealthy townsmen combined to buy the manorial rights of Leeds from the Crown: about that time he built a market cross at his own cost. During the whole of his life he was always prominent in improving the city: he is named in the first charter, and his name constantly occurs in all records between 1626 and his death thirty years later.[1]

It can be difficult to find out which side Harrison really favoured when it came to a question of choosing sides between King and Parliament during the English Civil War. He himself, charged by the Parliamentarians with favouring the Royal cause, pointed to the fact that he had used "a strong hand" in checking certain movements in favour of the King. There is little doubt that he made a money present to Charles I when the King was in Leeds, but that may have been no more than a mark of generous sympathy towards a man in sore need and trouble. There is a tale that when the King was imprisoned in Leeds, Harrison called upon Charles I at Red Hall on the evening of his arrival and wished to present his Majesty with a cup of ale, which he had brought in a silver, lidded tankard. The King accepted Harrison's hospitality, and lifting the lid of the tankard, found it filled, not with liquor, but with gold coins, "which", says one of the retailers of this story, "his Majesty did, with much celerity, hasten to secrete about his royal person". It is more certain that Harrison lent money to the Parliamentarians. Amongst the British Museum manuscripts is the following Memorandum, which enhances knowledge on events of that time[1] :

Whereas by Ordinance of Parliament bearing date the 24th day of November, 1642, The right honble Ferdinando Ld Fairfax (or whom he should appoint Treasurer for that purpose) was enabled to engage the public faith of the Kingdom for all such Plate, Money, Armes and Horse as should be voluntarily lent or raysed for the service of the State in the Northern Counties. In pursuance of the said ordinance John Harrison of Leeds Esq., did in the yeare of our Lord 1642 furnish and lende the Sume of fower score and Ten poundes in money and also on [? an] Horse and Armes, being valued at Twenty Poundes, in all amounting to the sume of One Hundred and Ten Poundes, the Publique Faith of the Nation is to bee engaged unto the said John Harrison. In Testimony whereof I have hereunto put my hand and seale. —W. Harrison, Treasurer, Source Benefactor

Whether "the Publique Faith of the Nation" ever made good his money to Harrison we do not know, but he probably cared little whether his loan of cash, horse, and arms was repaid or not. He was in the life-long habit of giving, and he gave in many directions. Leeds in his time was a growing place; it had many poor folk in it, and it was not much provided with hospitals for the sick and infirm amongst them. In 1643 one Jenkinson founded a hospital at Mill Hill: Harrison supplemented this, ten years later, with a home for indigent poor. But this was one of his last public benefactions; he had begun them or made his first notable addition to them in 1624, when he built a new home for the Grammar School first founded by William Sheafield. At that date the school was being taught in a building called New Chapel in Lady Lane: Harrison built a new home for it on a piece of his own property, on a site somewhere between the top of Briggate and Vicar Lane. That he was regarded within a short time after his death as a munificent patron of the Grammar School is proved by the fact that Ralph Thoresby speaks of him, in connection with it, as "the Grand Benefactor ... never to be mentioned without Honour, the ever famous John Harrison".[1]

Harrison is kept in mind by his statue in City Square, but his real and abiding memorial is in his church of St. John at the head of Briggate, which he built and endowed and saw consecrated by Richard Neile, Archbishop of York, on September 21, 1634. An incident occurred at this consecration day which shows the peculiar temper of those times. At the morning service the sermon was preached by John Cosin, then Archbishop's Chaplain and later Bishop of Durham; in the afternoon, by the first incumbent, Robert Todd, who was highly inclined to the Puritanical and Presbyterian notions. Todd made a fierce onslaught on the sermon to which he had listened in the morning. Neile immediately suspended him from his living for twelve months, and only forgave him at the direct intercession of founder Harrison and Sir Arthur Ingram. It is somewhat curious that no great beauty was attributed to St. John's in its youth nor, indeed, for a long time afterwards. Thomas Dunham Whitaker, in his Lyoidis and Elmete (1816: a revised edition of Ralph Thoresby's famous Ducatus Leodiensis), goes out of his way to pour scorn upon it, declaring that it "has all the gloom and all the obstructions of an ancient church without one vestige of its dignity and grace". Such, however, is not the opinion of later experts. Mr. J. E. Morris, in his "West Riding of Yorkshire", declares Harrison's church to be "a singularly interesting example though far less pure, of course, in its architecture than Wadham College Chapel of the last, faint flickering of the Gothic spirit; it is interesting, also, as affording us, in its sumptuous fittings, a good example of the Laudian revival".[1]


^ a b c d The Story of English Towns – Leeds, J. S. Fletcher, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919 Attribution The first version of this article was based upon an excerpt from "The Story of Leeds", by J. S. Fletcher, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

___________________________ John Harrison

John Harrison's generosity to the town of Leeds has probably never been equalled. All his life he was concerned with the needs of the town and its people. He was born in Leeds in 1579, the son of John Harrison of Pawdmyre, the district at the top of Briggate. He had a good education, probably at the Grammar School, and joined his father in business as a cloth merchant. He inherited a considerable amount of money from his father, and bought the North Hall estate and Rockley Hall. In 1603 he married Elizabeth Foxcroft, but the marriage was childless, and Elizabeth died in 1631. Soon after his marriage, John Harrison built himself a house on Briggate, opposite Boar Lane. Thoresby describes it as 'a good old-fashioned House, with a quadrangular court in the midst'. Harrison was very fond of cats, and Thoresby tells us that the house had 'Holes or Passages cut in the Doors and Ceilings, for the free passage of Cats.' The house had a garden and an orchard, and Harrison lived there until his death in 1656.

He was a member of the Committee for Pious Uses, established in 1619 to oversee the administration of the town's charities. In the same year he erected a Market Cross at the top of Briggate. New Street, later to become New Briggate was built by John Harrison, and the rents from it used to help the poor. In 1624 he built a new Grammar School to replace the old school at the top of Lady Lane. Thoresby tells us that he; 'removed it from so inconvenient a Situation to a pleasant Field of his own'. The pleasant field was situated between what is now the Grand Theatre and North Street; the school had a school yard, and was surrounded by a wall.

Perhaps John Harrisonís best known benefaction is St. John's Church, built 1631-1634 entirely at his own expense on land he owned north of the Upper Head Row. At about the same time he built a set of almshouses to the west of the church. The almshouses or 'hospital' was endowed with a yearly income to support forty poor people.

John Harrison was also involved in the government of the town. In 1626 he took the lead in petitioning the king for a Royal Charter for Leeds, and after this was granted he deputised for Alderman Sir John Savile, and in 1634 became Alderman (later known as mayor) in his own right. In 1629 along with Richard Sykes and six others he contributed to the purchase of the Manor of Leeds to bring it under the control of the Leeds Corporation.

We know little of how John Harrison spent the years of the Civil War (1642-1651), but he probably had Royalist sympathies. It is said that when Charles I was imprisoned in Leeds at Red Hall in 1647, Harrison brought him a tankard of ale which turned out to be full of gold sovereigns. The story is shown in the Harrison Window of St. John's Church. After the war, in 1651, he was charged by the Parliamentary Commissioners with supplying two horses to the Royalist Army, and was fined £464. 18s. By this time he was suffering from ill-health and was bed-ridden for the last twenty months of his life. He died in October 1656 and it is said was buried in his orchard. Later he was re-interred at St. John's Church, where his black marble tomb is in the chancel. Inside the Church, panels of one of the stained glass windows depict events from John Harrison's life. The scene on the left of the panel shown here depicts him showing someone into the almshouses while the one on the right shows him supervising the building of the market cross.

The church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday, 9.30am - 5.30pm.

There is a statue of John Harrison, by Henry Charles Fehr and erected in 1903, in City Square.

John Harrison's house on Briggate later became 'The Old King's Arms', and later still the offices of the Leeds Mercury.

_______________________________ John Harrison, perhaps, did more for Leeds than any of his contemporaries. Accustomed as we are to the city of to-day, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate fully the extent of his work; but a comparison of Leeds in 1600 and in 1660 gives some idea of the development that took place in his time, largely through his efforts. Not that this development would never have come without John Harrison but the achievement would have been slower. The Municipal Charter was perhaps inevitable, and would have been brought about by other men in time, but it is in the realm of his benefactions that his work would have been most missed. St.John's Church, apart from its purpose, is a thing of beauty that Leeds could ill have spared, while it is probable that Harrison's charity for the poor and the Grammar School inspired later bene-factors to continue the work on their behalf. Of the details of Harrison's private life surprisingly little is known. The source of most of our information is, of course, Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis, with the additional comments by Dr Whittaker. The documents published by Dr Whitaker in the appendix to his history are invaluable for Harrison s later years. These documents are the letters relating to his sequestration, his savings (though how far these are authentic we cannot say), his prayer, and his will, all of which were in Thoresby's possession. There are some additional letters on the sequestration, also from Thoresby's collection, in the British Museum, and several con-cerning, I believe, the consecration of St. John's Church; while one or two more are to be found among the Thoresby Societv's Publications. It is to be regretted, however, that there is so little material relating to Harrison's early life. Harrison's most outstanding characteristics, of course, were his piety and benevolence, and it is on these that his reputation in Leeds is based. He was religious in a practical way which benefited his fellow townsmen, and in this his generosity was remarkable. He hated hypocrisy and loved truth and justice, but showed great moderation in his judgment ; while in his views on politics, religion, or any other controversial subject, he was never an extremist. He had, moreover, a certain simplicity and dignity which commanded respect JOHN HARRISON, the Leeds Benefactor, was born in 1579. His baptism is recorded in the Parish Church Register as follows " Aug. 16th 1579. John, child of John Harrysonn, Pawdmyre "1; and in the hand of Thomas Wilson, F.S.A., is added, " This was that Mr. John Harrison, who of his sole cost and charges built the new church called St. John's Church with a little chap(el) and the almes- houses near adjoining and the Free School of Leeds." Harrison's father appears to have been a merchant of con-siderable property, though it is probable that this property was much added to by his son. So far the ancestry of John Harrison has not been traced further back than his father, though Mr. G. D. Lumb, F.S.A., in his article on Harrison's family in xv, 48-55, of the Thoresby Publications, is inclined to connect the Benefactor with a family of Henrysons of Gipton, whose names occur in wills about the middle of the sixteenth century. It is also probable that he was related to a Syr John Harrison, a priest of Leeds, who in 1545 ?gave out of certain lands in Leedes Woodhouse, a rent charge of four pounds yearly, for ever,? to the poor and parish of Leeds. The identity of John Harrison's mother has given rise to some difference of opinion, though it is hard to see how the difficulty originally arose. Thoresby gives a pedigree of the family in which he states that Elizabeth Marton (or Martin) was Harrison's mother. The Dictionary of National Biography, however, and many later writers following it, state that his mother's name was Grace Kit-chingman, and that he married Elizabeth Marton. Who Grace Kitchingman was, and how her name first came to be connected with the Harrison family, it is difficult to trace. In the first place, there seems little reason to doubt Thoresby's account, since he would have access to evidence which has been lost to us, and also since there is little or no evidence forthcoming on the other side. The pedigree of the Kitchmgman family, as given in the Ducatits, p 256, mentions no one of the name of Grace - at least until a much later period-and other sources of the time offer no clue as to her identity. On the other hand, the will of John Harrison the Elder, dated 1601 and proved 1602, definitely states that his wife's name was Elizabeth and not Grace. Now as to the statement that Elizabeth Marton was the wife of the younger Harrison, the following piece of evidence is inter-esting. The will of her brother Henry Marton, of Holbeck, clothier, dated 29th June, 1584, and proved at York, 12th July, 1502 (ante, xv, 45), mentions his brother-in-law, John Harrison. From the date of this will it is fairly safe to conclude that if John Harrison was married to Elizabeth Marton as early as 1584, it must have been John Harrison the elder, and not his son, who was not born till 1579. Elizabeth Marton therefore, was certainly not the wife of the Benefactor, though it is quite likely that she was his mother. The confusion may have arisen from the fact that John Harrison's mother and his wife both possessed the same Christian name Thoresby's pedigree of the Harrison family gives his wife's name as Elizabeth, daughter of --- Foxcroft, near Halifax, who, as some writers think, was probably related to a Leeds family of that name, one of whom, Thomas Foxcroft, ?a religious and substantial freeholder,? played a large part in the purchasing of the advowson of the Leeds Parish Church in 1582. In the Parish Register however, there is an entry among the baptisms for the years 1575-76 as follows: ?February 2nd--Elizabeth, - child of Thomas Foxcroft, Barre- grange." It seems probable that this Elizabeth Foxcroft was Harrison's wife since she was only about three years his senior, and Mr. Lumb in his article on the Harrison family, accepts this as correct. Her father's will, dated 18th March, 1596, and proved 22nd November, 1599 (ante, x 53). throws no light on the matter, since Elizabeth Foxcroft, who is named an executor in the will, was at that time unmarried. It seems strange, if this is the Elizabeth Foxcroft concerned, that Thoresby, who must have been familiar with the entry in the Parish Church Register, evidently did not know her father's Christian name, and states definitely that he came from near Halifax, and further, that in his pedigree of the Foxcroft family no mention of Elizabeth is to be found. The fact that there is no record of John Harrison's marriage in the Leeds Parish Church Register is unimportant, as marriages could be celebrated anywhere by licence. In view of these points, therefore, it is clear that the Elizabeth Foxcroft mentioned by Thoresby in the Harrison pedigree was the same person as the Elizabeth Foxcroft mentioned in the Parish Church Registers-a conclusion which is strengthened by the fact that the family of Thomas Foxcroft, of Bar Grange, is stated by some writers to have come originally from Halifax. John Harrison was an only son; but he had two sisters, Grace and Edith. Edith married a Thomas Gledhill, of Barkisland, while Grace married a Leeds merchant, Alexander Robinson, of Briggate. One of her sons was the famous Henry Robinson, Vicar of Leeds during the Civil War, to whom we shall refer again later. John Harrison himself had no children, but there were numerous descendants of his sisters for whom he provided among his bene-factions.

Source:Family Tree: John Harrison of Leeds Home to 162 Copley family members, 129 Beaumont descendants, 123 members of the Rowley family and family histories of 87 other surnames; this website was created on Jun 29 2007 and last updated on Jan 19 2011. The Family Trees on this website contain 3666 relatives and 8 photos.

__________________________________ John Harrison the Leeds Benefactor [Copyright: John Dunford as Author.] I have traced my family tree back to Grace Harrison of Leeds, the sister of the renowned benefactor, John Harrison. She was born in 1570, the daughter of John Harrison and Elizabeth Marton (or Martin). John Harrison the elder was born in Leeds in 1550 and became a successful merchant in the town. He died in 1601 and was buried at Leeds Parish Church on the 27th September of that year. His wife Elizabeth died a year later and was also buried at Leeds Parish Church, on the 4th December 1602. She was the daughter of Henry Marton (or Martin) of Leeds. Her father's will has not been found but the will of her clothier brother Henry Marton of Holbeck dated 29th June 1584 (proved at York 12th July 1592) states that his body is to be buried in the Parish Church of Leeds near to his father. The will also mentions his wife Elizabeth and five children, his mother Maud, his three brothers in law including John Harrison as well as considerable property in Leeds and Methley. John Harrison, the Leeds benefactor, was born in 1579 at Pawdmire House and his baptism is recorded in the registers for Leeds Parish Church on 16th August of that year. Harrison's father was a man of considerable wealth and property and in later years his son was very successful in adding to that wealth. John Harrison was one of the first of the great Leeds wool cloth merchants and doubtless added to his inherited fortune in the first considerable days of the staple trade. We know from the will of John Harrison the benefactor that his father had at least two brothers, Thomas and Christopher. For the Harrison family ancestry beyond these it has been difficult to determine. However it is likely that the family were connected with a family named Henryson from Gipton, Leeds. (Henryson, Herrison and Harrison have been seen to be synonymous). The will of a John Henryson of Gipton dated 10th October 1550 details bequeaths to his brother John (in these times twins were often given the same name), his wife Margaret and his children Edeth (sic), Alice and Anne Henrison. The identity of Harrison's mother has created a difference of opinion and much has been written on the subject. The famous Leeds antiquarian Ralph Thoresby gives a pedigree of the family in his work Ducatus Leodiensis in which he states that Elizabeth Marton was Harrison's mother. The Dictionary of National Biography however, claims that his mother was a Grace Kitchingman and that he married Elizabeth Marton. We are not really sure who Grace Kitchingman was or how she came to be connected with the Harrison family. Although Thoresby lived and worked after the death of the benefactor, he would have been in possession of evidence that is long since lost to us today and so it seems there is little reason to doubt what he wrote. Also there is does not appear to have been any evidence that backs up the otherside to the story. Thoresby in his Ducatus also gives a pedigree of the Kitchingman family and there is no mention of a Grace at that period. (There is a Grace much later in the pedigree).

The will of John Harrison the elder further backs up Thoresby as it clearly states that his wife's name was Elizabeth. If we examine closely the claim that Elizabeth Marton was the wife of the benefactor, we find that there is evidence to contradict this statement as well. The will of her brother, Henry Marton of Holbeck, a clothier, as we have said mentions his brother in law, John Harrison. The will is dated 1584 and so if Elizabeth Marton and John Harrison were married at that time then it must have been John the elder as the Benefactor was only born in 1579. Elizabeth Marton, therefore, was not the wife of John Harrison the younger but his mother. Thoresby's pedigree of the Harrison family states that Harrison's wife was Elizabeth Foxcroft daughter of an unnamed Foxcroft from Halifax. Historians now believe that this family was related to a Leeds family of the same name. A Thomas Foxcroft played a large part in the purchasing of the advowson (a right of a patron to present or appoint a nominee to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice or church living) of Leeds Parish Church in 1582. In the parish registers of 1575 to 76 there is a record of a christening of a Elizabeth Foxcroft, daughter of Thomas Foxcroft of Barre-grainge, on the 2nd February 1576. It now seems likely that this is the wife of John Harrison the Benefactor. However, her father's will of 1596 names Elizabeth as an executor but as at that time she was unmarried, this does not help in our cause of identifying her as Harrison's wife. There is no record of John Harrison's marriage in the Leeds Parish Registers and so we have to assume that they were married in another parish something not uncommon even in those days. John Harrison was an only son but he had two sisters, the previously mentioned Grace (my direct ancestor) and Edith. Little is known of John Harrison's private life nor of his early life but letters and manuscripts documenting his later life are to be found today in various locations, particularly through the publications of the Thoresby Society. The Dictionary of National Biography states that he was brought up in the house of his uncle, John Kitchingman of Chapel Allerton. Where this has come from is unknown and its authenticity has to be doubted as there is no documentary evidence to prove this. Again confusion may have arisen, as in the identification of Harrison's mother, and it is possible that Harrison's father could have been raised in this way but this is only speculation. Some writers also have perpetuated a story that as a young boy he was walking through Chapel Allerton when he saw a poor boy walking without coat or shoes and that he was driven by a great wave of compassion to take off his own coat and put it around the shoulders of the poor wretch. This story may well be a legend but his later reputation for benevolence makes this story understandable whether it is a work of fact or fiction. We have little further knowledge of how Harrison spent his formative years though it is very likely he would have attended the Free Grammar School which may well explain his later generosity towards the school. It is clear from his later letters that he received a sound classical education typical of Grammar Schools of the time. Leeds at the end of the 16th century was a fairly small town, with an estimated population of around 2,500, mainly engaged in the woollen trade but not at that stage of any remarkable importance. Briggate was the main thoroughfare and market place with Boar Lane heading off to the west and Kirkgate to the east. The most populated area of Leeds in this time was the lower part of the town around the river. Leeds had never had any city walls, the castle was long gone and at Harrison's time just seemed to be a collection of buildings, none with any distinction except the church. There was, however, a Manor House on the west side and at the junction of Lady Lane and Vicar Lane stood the North Hall, the house of the Falkinghams who owned considerable property in this area. The Grammar School was close by in New Chapel. Like many parts of England, Leeds was beginning to undergo a change of character and was turning into a manufacturing town of great importance and there was an increasing demand for self governance. The citizens of Leeds were far more aware of trade, politics and religion than had been there forebearers of a century earlier. It was into this town that John Harrison started his career and it was through his leadership and foresight that Leeds was to undergo so many changes over the 17th century. His father was a cloth merchant and his son carried on his work after his death in 1602. In his will John Harrison the elder bequeathed most of his fortune to his son with smaller legacies for his wife and daughters. Without doubt Harrison inherited a great fortune but over his lifetime he added considerably to that wealth and to his property holdings. His father died in 1601, his mother in 1602 and in December of 1602 he the Benefactor married Elizabeth Foxcroft. Initially they lived in his father's old house at Pawdmyre but he soon purchased more property, obtaining North Hall from the Falkingham family and Rockley Hall in Lowerhead Row. North Hall was the old family seat of the Ledes family who held the manor of Leeds Main Riding in the 14th century. Some time after the death of the last male heir North Hall was purchased by the Falkinghams who were very close friends of John Harrison. Many years later Harrison wrote of the mutual love and affection that existed between himself and Robert Falkingham. Rockley Hall had belonged to the Rockleys, an important Leeds family who were the only one to have their own chantry at the Parish Church. Harrison used the rents from this estate to give to charity and also use two rooms as a warehouse for food and clothing for the poor of Leeds. He later sold the property at a profit and in his will he bequeathed that profit to the descendants of the Falkinghams. Soon after his marriage John Harrison built another house in Briggate close to the east end of Boar Lane. The house had a quadrangle, courtyard and orchard and became Harrison's home for the rest of his life. In his later years Harrison developed an unusual eccentricity for cats and in Thoresby's Ducatus he says of the house ....built by Mr. John Harrison and has one thing very peculiar in it viz.: Holes or Passages cut in the Doors and Ceilings, for the free Passage of Cats; for which Animals he seems to have had as great an affection as another eminent Benefactor had viz.: Sir Richard Whittington Among his many efforts Harrison took an active interest in the public welfare of the town, his chief concerns being the poor, the roads and the Grammar school. It is likely that Harrison was following on and developing further the work of his father as John Harrison the elder left funds for two of these causes in his will. There are numerous documents relating to charities and other causes from the time in which John Harrison the elder is mentioned as trustee or administrator and his son stepped into fill his father's shoes in these works. It is not certain exactly where the Grammar School, first founded by William Sheafield in 1552, used to be but in 1624 John Harrison, a trustee and old boy, built a new school on a piece of his own property between the top of Briggate and Vicar Lane, near to the present day Grand Theatre. Close by Harrison later built St. John's Church and the Almshouses, while nearly opposite was the old Workhouse which later became the Charity School. Harrison's qualities as a leader and his energy had earned him a great deal of respect from his peers. His schemes for reform and improvement along with his generous spirit meant he had a place of particular distinction at the time of the granting of the Royal Charter. His most outstanding characteristics were perhaps his benevolence and piety on which his reputation is based. He loved truth and justice, hated hypocrisy and showed great moderation in his judgement. He never expressed any extremist views on politics or religion and had a simplicity and dignity that in his business life earned a great deal of respect. However, whilst he was a shrewd and far seeing businessman he did demonstrate a level of caution that sometimes bordered on dithering. It is certainly unlikely that he would have ever said or done anything rash. In later life, though, he did demonstrate a great deal of passion, particularly when dealing with his enemies and letters show that he was not short of a good supply of sharp sarcasm. His greatest fault was his lack of a sense of humour and a tendency to take things a little too seriously. The times in which Harrison lived were difficult and challenging and these may explain a little his demeanour. He was a man who won more respect than popularity from the people of Leeds and though he had many friends, in later life, when he became even more reserved, he did gain many enemies. The petition for the Charter was the outcome of a gradual awakening of civic interest. The townspeople of Leeds were beginning to develop a sense of urban consciousness which resulted in a desire to take more control of their own affairs. Either as individuals or groups there were efforts to place the government of the town on a sounder footing and the culmination was feeling that there should be some authority that represented public opinion, which should have powers to manage the day to day business of Leeds in the name of its people. There was some form of unofficial body among the leading citizens prior to 1626 but while these men were working wholeheartedly for the interests of the people, there were some matters which remained firmly under the control of the Crown. The matter that was given the most concern was the trade of the town. Leeds had long been associated with the woollen trade and it occupied a leading position in the making of cloth known as Northern Dozens or Yorkshire Broadcloths. Certain unscrupulous clothiers, however, were producing and selling imitation cloths by using cheaper materials and inferior workmanship which was prejudicial to the reputation of the trade and prosperity of the genuine manufacturers of the town. The only remedy, as far as the townsfolk was concerned, lay in the establishment of a borough for Leeds. A petition was made by the most influential men of the town to King James I, under the leadership of John Harrison, for a Royal Charter. But owing to a stay in proceedings caused by the opposition ( some were unhappy at what they saw as the undemocratic nature of the association) and to the delay caused by the death of James, it was not granted until 13th July 1626. It seems almost certain that the opposition came from those clothiers who had tried to break through the ring of monopoly in the woollen trade. They requested that the application be reviewed by Sir Thomas Wentworth, the President of the Council of the North, but the Charter does not appear to have been altered in any way and so in 1626 the Borough of Leedes in the County of York came in to existence. The government of the town was in the hands of an Alderman, nine Principal Burgesses and twenty Assistants. The first alderman, Sir John Savile from whose crest the coat of arms of Leeds derives its silver owls, was unable to carry out his duties due to his attendance at Court, so John Harrison acted as his deputy. Leeds had now become an self-governing corporate community independent of the Crown however an establishment of a Royal Charter did not bring an end to the manorial rights of the town. In 1627Samuel Casson was elected Alderman and Harrison took a back seat amongst the ranks of the Principal Burgesses until 1634 when he was elected Alderman in his own right. Between 1626 and 1640, John Harrison's attention was occupied more with his personal, private works in the town. His wife had died childless in 1631 and this seemed to drive Harrison into devoting his time and wealth to doing good for others. Three projects became the main interest of his career: the building of Almshouses, the construction of St. John's Church and the purchasing of the manor. Remarkably, these were all achieved within the space of about a decade. The Almshouses were probably in construction between 1628 to 1634. The trust deed for the Hospital with Chapel for forty poor persons was not drawn up until 1653 and does not mention the actual date of completion but it is unlikely that Harrison would have embarked on a building project during the troubled times of the English Civil War (1642 to 1651) or even afterwards when he was being prosecuted by the sequestrators. It seems likely, therefore, that the projects were completed before 1640. The period of 1620 to 1640 must have been very busy up at the top end of Leeds as Harrison was building his Grammar School, the New Street, the Almshouses and the Church while a little further to the west Wade Hall and Red Hall were also under construction. St. John's Church is probably the best of Harrison's endowments and the one which will probably endure the longest in the form in which it was built. Nowadays the church is redundant as a place of worship but it is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and can be visited by the public. Harrison's time was an age of religion and Leeds had a strong religious community. Up until Harrison constructed St. John's, the only place of worship in the town was the Parish Church and a growing population meant that increasingly the Church was overcrowded on Sundays. On the 3rd November 1615 a Bill of Complaint was raised in the names of the leading citizens of the town. It seems fairly certain that Harrison and his family would have been one of the regular devotees of the congregation. In 1632 Henry Robinson, Harrison's nephew, was appointed Vicar of Leeds so Harrison himself would have been acutely aware of the problems associated with the overcrowded Church. Ralph Thoresby, the renowned Leeds antiquarian, wrote that about 1631 It then pleased God to move the heart of this pious and ever famous magistrate to build this noble and stately church, so that the inhabitants, who before complained with the children of the Prophets, 'the place where we dwell is too strait for us' may now say, 'Rehoboth, God has made room for us A quaint account of how Harrison came to be inspired to build his Church. There can be little doubt that St. John's was completed and ready for use long before it was consecrated, as the Royal Arms of James I, originally fixed on the screen, carry the date 1620; also the badge of the Prince of Wales bear the Royal Cipher for Prince Charles, who, in 1625, became Charles I. The Church was not consecrated until 1634 during Harrison's second time as Alderman of the Borough. The delay was caused through the then Archbishop of York, Archbishop Neile, having objections to the Church on the grounds that it was too close to the Parish Church and he was not happy at the proposed method of appointing and maintaining a curate. Neile at the time was at the height of his astonishing prosperity but he was next to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Laud, who was the least loved clergyman in the Church. Like Laud, Neile's principles were based in the High Church school of thought and he would treat with suspicion anyone of the Moderate School of thinking and more so anyone with Puritanical tendencies. (Laud was beheaded in 1645 for his beliefs and support of Charles I. Neile died in 1640 but it is likely that had he lived he too would have suffered a similar fate .) John Harrison chose the Rev. Robert Todd to be the first curate and this choice could only have been made by a Moderate if not a Low-Churchman and Archbishop Niele had worries about the Church becoming a stronghold of Puritanism. But finally, on Sunday 21st September 1634, St. Matthew's Day, the Church was consecrated but not without its problems. The consecration was remarkable for the fact the the new curate was immediately suspended. The Archbishop appointed his chaplain, Dr. John Cosin, later to become the Bishop of Durham, to preach the morning service. Cosin's was an able man, brilliant and ambitious, and one who was destined to suffer for his principles. His text for the service was Let all things be done decently and in order. Robert Todd preached his sermon in the afternoon and his discourse was so opposed to the morning's address that the Archbishop immediately suspended the new Curate. He was only reinstated later because of the intercessions of John Harrison and Sir Arthur Ingram of Temple Newsam. Harrison was to later regret his championing of Todd who, under the Parliamentary ascendancy, returned the kindness of his patron with great ingratitude. Todd was undoubtedly Puritanical at heart but he served the town and Church during the plague that devastated Leeds in 1645. The Parish Register of the time tells us that on 11th March, Alice, the wife of John Musgrave of Vicar Lane, was its suspected first victim. Following the Civil War, the Parish Church at the time of the plague did not have a vicar and in July 1645 the Church closed its doors and prayers and sermons onely at the New Church [St. John's], and so no names of burials came to be certified to us to save these following, until Mr Saxton came to bee Vicar at Easter following From March to the end of December lists of people who died were handed weekly to the Governor General of the town. By the end of 1645 that list totalled 1,325. By the end of the year the plague had died down and in April 1646 the Parish Church reopened its doors under its new minister named Peter Saxton. Robert Todd served the stricken people of Leeds throughout that period and he continued to serve the Church until the Restoration in 1662, when he was finally suspended. He died in 1663 at the age of 67 and was buried in the chancel of the St. John's. John Harrison certainly seemed ambiguous in his leanings and there is evidence that he supported the old ceremonies of the church. On the other hand, his dislike of Catholicism is shown in his writings. He appears, however, to have been much more bitter towards the Puritans and his denunciations were based on both religious and political grounds, while his prejudice against the Roman Catholic Church seems only to have been on political grounds. This may account for the charge against him for having Catholic sympathies brought by the Puritans. It is easier to find what John Harrison was not in favour of than what he was for. He respected and upheld the power of the bishops just as he believed in the divine right of kings. On the whole he probably was an orthodox member of the Anglican Church who was sympathetic towards the doctrines and ceremonies of the High Church than with those of the Puritan party. He showed great moderation in his behaviour, especially in the patronage of Mr. Todd, whose Puritan views he disliked. However, this moderation had its rewards as it was probably Todd who preserved St. John's from destruction at the hands of Puritan zealots during the Civil War. The third of Harrison's benefactions to Leeds at this period concerns the purchase of the manorial rights which were preserved by the Crown at the time of the 1626 Charter. In 1628 Charles I, desperate for money, granted the rights to Edward Ditchfield and John Highlord in trust for the City of London but whether this transaction was completed is unclear as around this time they were purchased by Richard Sykes of Leeds. Sykes allowed John Harrison and six other members of the Corporation to join him in the purchase. Sykes kept one share for himself and one for his son William. In 1654 John Harrison and others conveyed five-ninths of the bailiwick, subject to a fee farm rent, to trustees for the use of the Corporation. From 1640 onwards Leeds became involved in the struggle between King and Parliament. During the war years little is known of John Harrison who shrank for active participation in the struggle. At the outbreak of war Harrison was 63 years of age and was already suffering from ill-health and in an effort to preserve his fortune for the charities to which he had dedicated himself, he avoided partisanship. But this only served to offend both parties. Leeds displayed a good deal of support for the Parliamentarian cause, probably through the West Riding clothiers who were expected to carry the burden of expense on behalf of the Crown. However, the town was not wholly in favour of this cause and there was a strong Royalist party in the town under the leadership of the vicar Henry – Robinson, nephew of John Harrison. There was also an anti-war party in Leeds who held various peace meetings throughout in and near the town. At the outbreak of war Leeds was garrisoned by the Royalists under the command of Sir William Savile of Thornhill. In January 1643, Sir Thomas Fairfax advanced with his Parliamentarian forces on Leeds. On the 23rd January the conflict started and the engagement was over within two hours with the result of minimum bloodshed and 500 Royalists captured. The Rev. Henry Robinson was forced to flee by swimming the river below the Parish Church and nearly drowned in the attempt. He took refuge, probably in Methley Hall and then from there in various Royal garrisons. He was captured but eventually released but after the conflict his property, like that of his uncle, was subject to sequestration. In 1649 he was allowed to retire in peace to become the Rector of Swillington, where he spent the remainder of his days. After repeated attempts, Leeds was retaken by the Royalists but after their defeat at Marston Moor it finally came into the hands of the Parliamentary party. John Harrison tried to preserve his neutrality throughout the conflict though without success. During sequestration proceedings, a friend pleaded on his behalf that he was timorous man. Adam Baynes, the representative for Leeds in the Commonwealth Parliament, was not so supportive though and he retorted Yea, Mr. Harrison is a timorous man, for when my Lord Fairfax's drums did beat in Leeds he was troubled and afraid and went to the Otley side. But when the Earl of Newcastle's drum beat he was not then afraid but came to Leeds. This charge was never refuted and so it was probably true and shows where Harrison's true sympathies lay. In 1646 Charles I came to Leeds a prisoner. After surrendering himself to the Scottish generals at Kelham, near Newark, he was led northward to Newcastle; on his return later, in the charge of the Parliamentary Commissioners who were taking him to Holmby, Northamptonshire,he spent a night in Red Hall, in Upper Head Row. Of the unhappy monarch's short stay in Leeds two stories are told which may or may not be strictly true but they are none the less interesting. One is that a woman servant felt so sorry for the Royal captive that, finding an opportunity to speak with him in private, she offered to give him her own clothes and lead him safely out of the town. Years later, when Charles II had been restored to the monarchy , this woman, being in London, contrived to acquaint him with the offer she had made to his father. Charles asked her of her husband's circumstances : she replied that he was then bailiff of Leeds, whereupon the King graciously said that henceforth he should be High-Bailiff of Yorkshire. The other story seems to be much more likely to be true, told by Harrison's great-nephew, that on the eve of the King's arrival in Leeds Harrison went to visit him and told his guards that he was bringing a tankard of fine Leeds ale for His Majesty. But when the King lifted the lid of the tankard he found that inside it was not filled with ale but with gold pieces which His Majesty received with gratitude and quickly secreted about his person. The victory of the Parliamentary party was a sad period in John Harrison's life. He was already suffering from ill health and his spirit was to further suffer due to the attacks on him from his enemies. Charges were brought against him, many following malicious, covert insinuations, and these increased his irritation further as he was deprived of the chance to refute the claims. Harrison himself summarized the attacks against him in a letter to Baron Thorpe, the judge on the northern circuit who was one of the sequestrators and a baron of the Exchequer. Thorpe became very much a thorn in the side of an ageing John Harrison. In the letter Harrison expressed to Thorpe his desire to clear his name, even volunteering to make the journey to Bardsey to see the baron despite his poor state of health. ....if you cannot come to Leeds (if your lordship put me not out of doors) I will adventure, though to the hazard of my life to come to Bardsey and if the accusers of the bretheren, some of which neither wish well to your lordship, can be able to make their charges good against me; which are these:- 1. That I have been an obstructor of the common good. 2. That I have falsified the trust reposed in me. 3. That I have been an enemy to godly ministers. 4. That I have had frequent and secret meetings with papists and malignants. 5. That I will not chuse the ablest men to be feoffees. 6. That I am a papist in my heart. My Lord, if anyone of these can be really proved, I will confess all the rest. There certainly is not any evidence that Harrison behaved otherwise honourably in his public dealings and it seems almost certain that most of the accusations came from personal grudges . Harrison was wealthy and a great reputation and there could have been jealousy on the part of the younger members of the Corporation. His age and prejudices also did not sit well with some of those younger fellow-citizens and he may have alienated some through the bitterness of his tongue. His vigorous letters show an abundance of sarcasm and there is evidence to suggest that he expressed his views as strongly verbally as he did in writing. His loneliness and ill health would only add to this bitterness while he was vexed by the behaviour of his former friend and protégé, the Rev. Todd. The accusations of Harrison being a papist and an enemy to godly ministers was equally unfounded. His enemies seized on this statement as being most likely to damage his cause with the Puritan sequestrators. His retired and somewhat eccentric way of life would also add colour to the story of secret meetings with Papists and malignants. Baron Thorpe treated Harrison in a discourteous and unfair manner throughout his dealings with him. He used tactics such as protesting goodwill to him then refusing to hear or postpone the hearing of his case or allowing others to publically humiliate him in his presence. It was mainly due to Baron's prejudice that John Harrison's estate was so heavily sequestered. Harrison does not seem to have attended either of his two trials due to ill-health but his interests were watched by a London based cousin, Thomas Dixon. The charge was that Harrison had provided two horses to the Royalist army. In his defence it was stated that he sent a horse to York to be viewed during the Commission of Array of 1642 and that it had been stayed by Sir John Goodrick, and forthwith by me recalled from him by strong hand. In 1643 Sir John Goodrick, with the approval of Sir William Savile, insisted that Harrison send another horse in place of the first but he was very reluctant to do so and it was only when a major, a captain and a squadron of soldiers were sent to him that in the end he was forced to agree. It was stated in the trial that Sir William Savile had threatened to fine him 5oo pounds if the horse was not sent and that to mitigate his displeasure Harrison sent it along as a gift to him. Harrison's attorney argued that sending one horse under such duress did not constitute support for the Royalist cause and as such should not make him sequestrable. The following letter was produced to demonstrate that, in fact, John Harrison had supported the Parliamentary army to a greater extent: Whereas by Ordinance of Parliament bearing date the 24th day of November, 1642, The right honble Ferdinando Ld Fairfax (or whom he should appoint Treasurer for that purpose) was enabled to engage the public faith of the Kingdom for all such Plate, Money, Armes and Horse as should be voluntarily lent or raysed for the service of the State in the Northern Counties. In pursuance of the said ordinance John Harrison of Leeds Esq., did in the yeare of our Lord 1642 furnish and lende the Sume of fower score and Ten poundes in money and also on [? an] Horse and Armes, being valued at Twenty Poundes, in all amounting to the sume of One Hundred and Ten Poundes, the Publique Faith of the Nation is to bee engaged unto the said John Harrison. In Testimony whereof I have hereunto put my hand and seale. W. Harrison, Treasurer, A — pp'ted by the s'd L'd Fairfax This did not seem to have served well for him though and it seems unlikely that the nation particularly showed its public faith as his case was practically decided before it came to court. Baron Thorpe's hostility was evident and despite a second baron, Baron Wild, saying he would free Harrison of any burden, the outcome was a foregone conclusion as it was Thorpe who was the decision maker. John Harrison was fined £ 464. 18. 0. This was undoubtedly a very large fine but there is little evidence to suggest, as some have written, that it left Harrison deprived of the pittance he had put aside for old age and that his last days were spent in poverty. In 1653 he drew up the trust deed for his hospital and it was in 1654 that he and others ceded part of the manor of Leeds to trustees for the use of the Corporation. It also in 1654 that he drew up his will in which he confirmed the gifts he had made to charities and contained various bequests to family and friends. He gave properties in trust for the indigent descendants of his two sisters. In a codicil he returned to the heirs of the Folkingham family the profits he had made from the sale of Rockley Hall. Not a sign of a man who lived is last years in poverty. Harrison was bed-ridden for at least 20 months prior to his death on 29th October 1656 aged 77. Here, as in other aspects of his life, writers differ as to his burial. Many state that he was buried in his own orchard but as he had arranged for the property to be sold he was re-interred at St. John's Church in 1658. In the Parish Church Register for 1656, however, there is following entry: November 1st Mr. John Harrison, of Brigait, who was the Founder of St. Johns Church, and endowed it with Lands [ at 80l. a year]for the maintenance of a Minster for ever: As also 20 Hospital houses for 40 poore people, and a House and a Chappel for one to Catechise them in, and endowed them with Lands likewise: a precedent fit for posterity to imitate. [He left 10l. a year to keep the Church in repair; he also built the free School upon his own ground, likewise built the Market Cross]*

  • Additions to the original entry are in brackets

From this we have to deduce that there was nothing unusual about his burial. It seems unlikely that Harrison would wish to be buried anywhere but in the church he built. His tomb, in black marble, is in the chancel of the church. Sources: I am grateful to the help offered to me by The Thoresby Society in preparation of the information about John Harrison. Particular sources used were: John Harrison, The Leeds Benefactor and his Times by M.A. Hornsey The Family of John Harrison the Leeds Benefactor by G. D. Lumb Links with Bygone Leeds by J.S. Sprittles Also The Story of the English Town – Leeds by J.S. Fletcher

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John Harrison, The Leeds Benefactor's Timeline

Acaster, York, England
October 29, 1656
Age 77
Leeds, York , Yorkshire, England
October 1656
Age 77
Leeds, York, England