1779, Jul 7

Joseph Harrison was most likely born near Clavering, Essex where his father was minister of the Independent Chapel from 1775 to 1781.

‘Joseph Harrison my son born 7th July 1779. Baptized by Mr. Curtis.’1

1. P.R.O RG 4/3936 Wilsden Independent Low Chapel Register 1795 – 1805.

[Mr. Curtis most likely refers to Rev. Thomas Curtis of Linton, Cambridgeshire who died 1783.]

1790, Oct

Joseph Harrison senior (Joseph’s father) became minister at Skipton Independent Chapel, Yorkshire.

‘About 1789 [Joseph Harrison senior] removed to Skipton, in Yorkshire…He had a good, strong, earthly tabernacle, was 5ft. 10in. in height, and good natural abilities, strong lungs that would stand exercising 10 or 15 hours a day, determination on his brow, a smile on his cheek, and the sword of the Spirit in his hand. Preaching to sinners was his forte. His soul loved them; his the live coal taken from the altar. He was moderate in eating and drinking, and dress; highly satisfied with a plain meal, observing that the man who had a crust and a Christ was rich…He was a good singer of sacred music, and lent efficient aid to that part of divine service, and did not sit fumbling after a text till this part of the service was over. A sketch of his preaching: The people are seated; stones, tubs, broken boards, old chairs, put to the most glorious use that ever blessed them. He looks around his audience – colliers, blacksmiths, factory workers, dirty children. But he does not judge according to appearance. His heart throbs, the hymn passionately sung, the Bible opened, the text read, “Unto you, O men, I call; my voice is the children of man!”1

1. Lancashire Nonconformity, Nightingale, 1892.


Joseph Harrison’s uncle James Harrison was threatened by a Redcoat in Skipton.

‘James Harrison was in those days of the French Revolution and Birmingham riots, and chapel-burning by good orthodox Church-and-King mobs, branded as a thorough Radical, a Democrat. He was one day in those troublous times walking quietly up the High Street [Skipton], past the Thanet Arms, when a soldier rushed upon him out of the public-house, seized him, dragged him into the inn parlour, and, after fastening the door inside, drew his sword and swore he would run him through with it, if he did not there and then drink damnation to the French. But little of stature and rather slender withal was entirely in the power of this most valiant and loyal red-coat, yet he calmly told the madman he would not drink damnation to the French even at the point of the sword. It was not till after a considerable time, and strong remonstrances from the Landlord, from [his son John Harrison,] who had been fetched to the spot, and from others, that the red-coated ruffian would let go his democratic prisoner.’1

1. History of Independency in Skipton, W. H. Dawson.


Joseph Harrison senior (Joseph’s father) became minister of Bingley and Wilsden Chapels.

‘After remaining at Skipton until about 1793, Mr. Harrison removed to Bingley; where he had a charge of a Baptist congregation, for a short time…Afterwards – it was probably in the same year – Mr. Harrison became the Independent minister at Wilsden…The Rev. Joseph Harrison was the first minister, and I find that he was residing at Harden Beck early in the year 1793…The services at this time were conducted in farm houses and barns…Mr. Harrison combined tuition with preaching for a short time. The school house in which he taught at Bank Bottom is still standing, but it was long ago converted into a cottage. The parsonage was built for Mr. Harrison by his people.’1

1. History of Independency of Skipton. W. H. Dawson.

1794, Apr 21

The young Joseph Harrison attended a Jacobin Club at Royton, Lancashire. He would have been about 14 years old.

From a speech at Stockport ‘Harrison said, he had seen about 25 years ago, a Jacobin Club, at Royton. He thought from what he heard, that a Jacobin was a sort of animal whom the people had a right to hunt down; and at that time (being all fast asleep) they did all join in persecution of these poor Jacobins…’1

This event became known as the Royton Races, Samuel Bamford describes the event as follows:

‘On the 21st of April, 1794, a public meeting, for the promotion of Parliamentary Reform, was appointed to be held at Thorpe, near Royton. It was called by a few friends to reform who were correspondents of the society in London; and the purpose of the originators of the meeting was to get a petition adopted, praying Parliament to grant an amendment in the representation of the people. Previous to the commencement of the proceedings, a number of well-wishers to the cause, who had come from a distance, together with several promoters of the meeting, were assembled at “The Light Horseman” public-house, in Royton Lane. They were taking refreshments, and arranging the proceedings, when a mob of several hundred people, led by one Harrop, of Barrowshaw, an atrocious ruffian, came in front of the house, and with shouts of “Church an’ King for ever!” “Deawn wi’ th’ Jacobins!” began to smash the windows, and break open the doors. As many of the mob were armed with clubs and staves, and there was a supply of stones in the lane, the few inside could neither make effectual resistance to their entrance, nor defend themselves with violence. The mob broke everything down before them. The windows were smashed; the doors and shutters were kicked into splinters. The loyal sign of the old pensioner was torn down; every article of furniture was broken; the glasses, jugs, and other vessels, were dashed on the floor, and trampled under foot; the bar was gutted; the cellars were entered, and the ale and liquors were drunk and poured on the floor; and such being the violence committed on the property, it may be supposed that the obnoxious persons would not be suffered to escape. Oh, no! – this was a real “Church and King mob,” and was too faithful to its employers to suffer the “Painites” to escape without punishment…The constables of the place had been called upon by the peaceably disposed inhabitants to act, but they declined to interfere, and the mob had their own way…Such of the Reformers as had the good fortune to escape out of the house, ran for their lives, and sought hiding-places wherever they could be found; whilst the parson of the place, whose name was Berry, standing on an elevated situation, pointed them out to the mob, saying – “There goes one; and there goes one!” “That’s a Jacobin; that’s another!”’2

Joseph later mentioned that his father, ‘who was a Minister of the Gospel residing in Yorkshire, had been a steady Whig. He had been a disciple of Charles James Fox; and from the Whigs it was that he…had learned his politics.’3

1. The Kaleidoscope, April 27, 1819. 2. Bamford’s Passages in the Life of a Radical, edited by H. Dunckley, 1893. 3. Freeman’s Journal, April 25, 1820.

Read more about his early career…

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