John Joseph Graham (1869-1941)

Boltsburn - from Weardale Past and Present
Boltsburn – from Weardale Past and Present

A few days ago a friend loaned me an old book entitled “Weardale Past and Present” by John Joseph Graham, and what a fascinating book it proved to be, not least because more than one line of my ancestors had lived in the dale. Who was this “John Joseph Graham”? Here are the results of my initial research – with additional information on his latter years provided by Mrs Claire Hill, a great niece of John Joseph.

John Joseph Graham (1869-1941)

On March 26th 1869, nineteen year-old Sarah Myers of Hollinhill near Wearhead, Co Durham gave birth to an illegitimate child, a boy. The birth was duly registered and a birth certificate issued bearing the name “John Joseph Myers”.  Although the law prevented Sarah from naming the child’s father on the official birth record, there were no such limitations on church records. So, four months later, on July 13th, when Sarah had John Joseph christened in Wolsingham Wesleyan Circuit, she made sure that the baptism register showed that he was the son of both herself and of the man responsible, lead miner Thomas Graham. Thomas was apparently reluctant to do the decent thing, but when Sarah fell pregnant again, he had little choice. He married Sarah in May 1870. They set up home together at West Fall on the northern outskirts of Wearhead, and 3 months later their daughter Frances Ann was born.

The 1871 census shows the family of four – Thomas Graham, Sarah Graham, John Joseph Myers and Frances Ann Graham – at West Fall, but, after the birth of their next child, Mary, on January 29th 1872, the family moved to Tow Law, and Thomas took up employment in one of the nearby coal mines. Once in Tow Law, John Joseph was known as John Joseph Graham rather than Myers. Thomas and Sarah went on to have a total of 13 children together, 11 of whom survived into adulthood.

When John Joseph left school he became a grocer’s assistant, and in his early twenties he became a Wesleyan Methodist local preacher. In 1895 he married a Hedleyhope lass called Elizabeth Roberts, and he started his own business as a “Newsagent, Stationer and Confectioner” on High Street, Tow Law.  That wasn’t to be his chosen career, however. In the first few years of the twentieth century, John Joseph became a Wesleyan Methodist Minister. One of John Joseph’s first churches, possibly the first, was in Leeds, and he also served in Sheffield Park, Sheffield and in the Finsbury Park and King’s Cross areas of London.

In the early 1930s he and his wife retired to East Haswicks at Westgate-in-Weardale. While serving in the ministry, John Joseph had penned two histories of the congregations he served – “Methodism in Sheffield Park”, published in 1914, and “Chronicles of a Century at King’s Cross” in 1923. Now, in his final years, he was to pen two more books, both devoted to the area where he was born and to which he’d returned – Weardale. These were “Rhyming Lines on Weardale Themes”, published in 1936, and “Weardale Past and Present” published in 1939.

John Joseph died at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle on January 14th 1941. He was 71 years of age. Elizabeth survived a further seven years. Not having any children, the Graham’s estate was left to the West End Methodist Church in Westgate.

2 thoughts on “John Joseph Graham (1869-1941)

  1. Hi Brian, I’ve just read your article on John Joseph Graham. He was my maternal grandmother’s (Mary Graham) cousin. On looking at Census records and discovering he was born before his parents married I thought Thomas was not the father. Now I know he was. I have the book ‘Weardale Past and Present’ and ‘Chronicles of a Century at King’s Cross. I also have ‘Rhyming Lines on Weardale Themes’.

    So, thanks for your research.


    Denise Dixon


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