JOHNSON: the roots
The Johnsons of Staunton Harold
Our branch of the Johnson family originated in NW Leicestershire when Abraham Johnson of Ashby de la Zouch married Lydia Fairbrother, also of Ashby, at Breedon-on-the-Hill on 22 Feb 1779. The next few generations all lived around Breedon, Lount, Coleorton, Whitwick and Staunton. Abraham's son, William Johnson, born in Staunton Harold around 1784, married Sarah Wardle of Coleorton on 22 Sep 1806 at Breedon. They had 14 children, whose descendants are now scattered around the world, from England to Ireland, from Italy to Canada, from New Zealand to Australia. I am descended from their third child, Joseph Johnson, born in 1809 at Coleorton, who married Sarah Watson of Staunton Harold on 28 Jul 1828 at Breedon. Their first-born, Frances Johnson, born in 1829 at Staunton, was my second great-grandmother.
Children of William Johnson (b1784) and Sarah Wardle (b1787)
Until recently, I had split the 14 children of William Johnson (b1784) and Sarah Wardle (b1787) into 2 separate families with different parents, because Sarah apparently appeared in 2 different census returns in 1851, thus indicating two separate families. Following discussions in March 2019 with Greg Wardell-Johnson, a descendant of William and Sarah's firstborn, I am now convinced that there was just one family. The reasoning behind this can be seen in a separate analysis.
The Mystery of Abraham Johnson
When William Johnson married Sarah Wardle 22 Sep 1806 at Breedon, a witness to the wedding was a certain Abraham Johnson. This was most likely either William's father or possibly his brother. In the case of it being his father, we need an Abraham Johnson born at least 20 years before William, who was born in the early 1780s, so born during the 1750s. It has proved extremely difficult to prove this parentage. A separate page provides a complete analysis of who Abraham could be, and examines possible marriages.
William Johnson born 1805
William Johnson was the eldest son of William and Sarah, born in 1805 and baptised as William Johnson Wardle on 21 Apr 1805 at Breedon-on-the-Hill. Following his parents' marriage a year and a half later on 22 Sep 1806, the name Wardle was dropped, to be resurrected in the 1850s by his son William Johnson (b1834), who subsequently became known as William Wardell Johnson. After emigration to Australia in 1869, the name became hypenated, apparently around 1874, and he was known as William Wardell-Johnson. To this day, all his descendants have this double-barrelled surname. Of specific interest is the story of his wife, Emily Green (1834-1914) and her mother Hannah Green (1812-1908). Only recently (April 2019) has a 150 year-old mystery concerning them been solved!
Joseph Johnson born 1809
Joseph Johnson, my 3rd great-grandfather, was the third son of William and Sarah, and born in 1809 in Coleorton. He married Sarah Watson (1809-1883) on 28 Jul 1828 at Breedon-on-the-Hill. Of their 9 children, three are of particular interest: Frances (1829-1903), Elizabeth (1831-1901) and Sarah (1848-1914).
Frances Johnson born 1829
The eldest child of Joseph and Sarah, and possibly the most fascinating person in the JOHNSON tree is Frances Johnson, my second great-grandmother. Her story is like a soap opera and even today we don't have all the details. Frances was born about 1829, in Staunton Harold, Leicestershire. This data comes from various census returns, as her baptism record has not yet been located. She had a complex and difficult life, getting pregnant twice without being married, but eventually marrying both of her suitors! Her first child was Thomas Johnson in 1852, the father was William Astle. Her second child was John Bott in 1856, the father was James Bott whom she married that same year. James Bott continually abandoned her and assaulted her and spent various spells in prison. Following James's death in July 1864, and the death of William Astle's wife Hannah Higgins in 1863, Frances eventually married William Astle in December 1864, and they spent the rest of their lives together in Newbold, Leicestershire. William died 19 Sep 1899 in Beeston, Notts, and Frances died on January 22, 1903, in Newbold, Leicestershire.
Elizabeth Johnson born 1831
Another interesting person is Elizabeth Johnson, Frances's younger sister, born in 1831. She too had an illegitimate child, Laban, born in 1858, but in this case did not marry the father, one Isaac Harvey, whose own story is quite complex, involving 2 wives plus fathering a child with Elizabeth Johnson.
Sarah Johnson born 1848
The third person of interest is Frances's youngest sister, Sarah Johnson, born in 1848. She had quite a complex life, being involved with 18 children (12 of her own and 6 of her first husband)! She also married the brother of her nephew's wife! (from the point of view of her husband, she was his brother-in-law's aunt!). She too started off with an illegitimate child, Frederick, in 1868.
Thomas Johnson born 1852
Thomas Johnson, my great-grandfather, was an illegitimate child of Frances Johnson and William Astle. Thomas was born on April 19, 1852, at Lount, Leicestershire. His early years were spent first with mother Frances and her then husband James Bott, then some time in the Ashby Workhouse, until moving to live with his grandparents Joseph Johnson and Sarah Watson in the late 1850s. He married Sarah Rushton Reed on June 9, 1873, in Breedon on the Hill, Leicestershire. Following their marriage, he moved to Tibshelf, Derbyshire, where he spent the rest of his life. Thomas and Sarah had 13 children during their marriage. He died on June 2, 1940, in Tibshelf, Derbyshire, at the age of 88.
Edith Johnson born 1896
Edith Johnson was my mother's mother, and the 12th of Thomas and Sarah's 13 children. She was born at 8 St Thomas' Row, Tibshelf, Derbyshire on 24 October 1896. She was the sister of Tibshelf's internationally-known chrysanthemum growers, the Johnson Brothers (Joseph and Thomas). She married Wilfred Goodall at Tibshelf Parish Church on 27 Jan 1917. In 1928, Wilfred emigrated to Canada, and six months later, Edith followed with their four children Cynthia, Muriel, Esme and Derek. They settled in the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia.
Life in British Columbia was vastly different from the home they had left behind in Derbyshire. It was the depression era and work was scarce and setting up home in the Rockies meant building their own log cabin. Wilfred, Edith, Muriel, Esme and Derek returned to England in 1935. They then lived at Newton, Derbyshire for a time until moving to Derby. Cynthia, who was married with small children, remained in Canada. From 1940 until their deaths in the mid 1980s, Wilfred and Edith lived in Chaddesden, Derby, mainly at 40 Suffolk Avenue. She died in Shardlow, Derbyshire on 15 September 1984, and is buried at Nottingham Rd. Cemetery, Chaddesden, Derby.
14 August 2023