Thomas Parr and Family: From 19th Century Primitive Methodism to the present
Chapter 3: Bacup
‘He’s not one of us’
The discovery of this grave in Bacup cemetery tells much of the 20th century years of the Parr family. Not long before my Father died in 1981 he told me of a family grave. But I did not discover it until it was too late. In any case neither I, nor anyone else in my family knew who Frederick B Parr was. “He’s not one of us,” his grandson Arthur said, although the grave held his own father who had died whilst he was in India in 1944. But it held too, his aunt who died in 1935 and his mother who died in 1937. Both my Father and his brother said that their mother died young, or when they were young. I never understood which and neither was strictly true. How sad, so many deaths in that family, at least twenty and maybe thirty aunts, uncles and cousins through the years of the 1920s and 30s, including, of course, James Tolefree and Theophilus Parr, that even their own mother became another unreal statistic. But so it was in Rossendale at that time for the Parr and Chestney families….and many others too.
Agnes Emma Parr married Thomas O’Hara in 1905. His family was Roman Catholic Irish, from County Mayo. They came to the Rossendale around 1860. There were no Catholic churches so the children went to the local United Methodist chapel and there Thomas O’Hara met and married Agnes. He died, I don’t know when and she died later, childless.
Joseph Arch’s plan for farm workers
The other two people in that grave are Arthur Parr (Arthur Parr Senior for the purposes of this narrative) and Hannah Sarah Parr, nee Chestney. She was from Norfolk of farming stock, poor labourers. Immigrants; they were part of Joseph Arch’s plan, he was by then an MP, to rehabilitate the farmworkers of England and restore their pride and improve their wages by immigration. Many went further afield – to Canada mostly. But there was a significant community in Bacup, many were Primitive Methodists.
Hannah was the youngest of a family of nine children, though one died aged about three. The Chestney family needs a full and separate account. For the time being I’ll restrict myself to Hannah Sarah and her brother Matthew Robert, born in 1869 and died in 1922. The family had moved from the vicinity of Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk around 1882 to Bacup. There were jobs for all the family there, though one brother returned to Norfolk for several years and two others turned back to agriculture in Lancashire though not for long. Matthew became, at least for a while, an insurance agent and I possess the ferrule from a walking stick inscribed by work colleagues for his wedding on 22nd December 1909 to his second wife, the first one dying around 1901 and their daughter when she was twenty one in 1921. He became, though I don’t as yet know when, a Non-Conformist preacher. His name appears in the Beulah baptism records on at least two occasions.
It’s likely that the Chestney family were Primitive Methodists when in Norfolk. They were all baptised at the same Anglican church, Warham All Saints, a village not far from Wells, though they moved around the local villages a lot. From about 1850 onwards many Primitive Methodist chapels were built in north Norfolk and there are still Chestney family connections with at least one of them at Hindringham.
We now come to Hannah Sarah and her husband Arthur Parr Senior. They are my paternal grandparents.
They were married in 1907. Hannah probably attended North Street chapel. But it is likely, considering her brother Matthew’s involvement that the Parr and Chestney families were known to one another much earlier. My grandparents had two children; Arthur born in 1912 and my Father, Arnold, born in 1915, though unlike his brother not in Bacup but in Staleybridge, Cheshire. An explanation is still sought. They both attended Beulah United Methodist chapel and it is certain that their mother taught in the Sunday School. I know barely anything about my grandparents’ relationship with one another or with their children. My grandfather was a “carter” according to later documents. But in the 1901 census he gives his occupation as “Lurryman”. The term is important and may shed some light on his personality and his beliefs. I surmise he was stern and distant from his sons, perhaps dogmatic by nature. “Lurryman” is an old term for someone who works on “lurries” (lorries). It’s significant in this case because on Saturday 8th December 1900 (so only a couple of weeks after the death of Frederick Bayley Parr, his father) the 3rd Annual Meeting of the Carter’s and Lurrymen’s Union met in Bacup. The General Secretary was John Parr who’s address in the 1907 18th Annual Report is given as Bolton, Lancashire. It is doubtful if he is a relative. But there are several family connections with Bolton. By 1907 the Union was known as The Amalgamated Carters’ Lurrymen & Motor Men’s Union. It was an early forerunner of the Transport & General Workers Union.
Arthur Parr’s involvement in the Union cannot be proven at this stage. But the circumstantial evidence suggests more research would be worthwhile since the links between Primitive Methodism and the trade unions were so strong. What is not clear is how strong were Arthur’s attachments to the chapel. But the family ties were certainly life-long. My Father hardly ever drank alcohol. Occasionally he would have a light ale and on one memorable Christmas a year before he died in 1981 I recorded him singing a carol I’ve not found elsewhere (“Sweet Bethlehem star, sweet Bethlehem star. Up above nations sweet Bethlehem star”). Just that once he succumbed to whisky, jokingly I think, blaming his sons-in-law.
After his wife died in 1937, and maybe before then, I believe Arthur Parr Senior suffered ill health, though I have no details just a photo taken in a sanatorium or hospital of some sort. However, he was well for his elder son’s wedding in July 1941 and in 1942 re-married, though I know of no chapel connection at present.
This was the third of four chapters, so there’s just one more to go.