115 years ago, on June 26th 1897, a local paper, “The Richmond Herald” marked Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee by publishing an interview with the district’s oldest inhabitant. His name was James Harbor, a boot maker, and he was 93 years old…
James Harbor, or ‘Jim’ as he preferred to be called, was born in London Road, Twickenham in June 1804 and had resided in the town ever since. He was in good health and now lived with his extended family, including a son who was nearly 70, his grandchildren and great grandchildren at 36 Colne Road, overlooking Twickenham Green.
James Harbor was born in the same year that Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France, Richard Trevithick’s “Penydarren” steam locomotive became the first ‘engine’ to run on rails and future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was born.
The ‘Herald’ reporter noted that Jim’s memory of his early life remained clear…
“The old gentleman can still recall with remarkable vividness some of the events seventy or more years ago. In the course of conversation with him the other day he said, ‘I can well remember King George III, and King William, who was a very nice gentleman, I can assure you, and Queen Adelaide, his wife. I saw a bullock roasted right opposite my house on Twickenham Green on the Jubilee Day of King George III. The bullock was dressed down in Church Street.’”
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801. He then became King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was succeeded by his two sons, first George IV (1820-30) and then William IV (1830-1837). King William married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen who was much admired by the public for her modesty, charity and piety. In later life, after the death of her husband, she became a valued counsellor to the young Queen Victoria.
The Twickenham that Jim Harbor remembered was very different from the busy suburb that it is today. Then it was a small isolated community without a railway – that didn’t come until 1848 – or major roads. Because of its attractive location close to the river and its relative proximity to London the town was already becoming a rural retreat for the rich and famous.
“All was open country, except the centre of town, which consisted of a few straggling houses. There was a ‘Common Gate’ going across the road where the Red Lion now stands, and a little one-roomed cottage where the keeper of the gate lived. That was a time when colts and geese were wild on the Common. Where the few shops now stand by the railway bridge there were some very fine elm trees, and nothing but grass fields all along there… There were very few people in Twickenham sixty years ago but there were several very fine large houses. There was no regular roadway between Richmond and Twickenham and down London Road, where the railway now stands, was all open country.”
Like many of his time Jim was a firm monarchist…
“I well recollect King William living at Bushey House, and remember one occasion of his going to a grand ball at some place on the road to Teddington when I was standing by and came forward to open his carriage door.”
The reporter from “The Richmond Herald” noticed that Jim became very excited when he related an account of when he and his brother saw King William and Queen Adelaide walking in Bushey Park. The Queen dropped her handkerchief and Jim’s brother ran forward to pick it up and return it to her. He was rewarded with a gracious “Thank you, my man.” “Our present Queen”, continued Mr Harbor, referring to Victoria, “is just like King George III.” which might leave the modern reader slightly confused!
The Herald journalist asked Jim if he could remember anything of Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838 but he replied, “I do not remember anything particular of that event.” He did have memories of other events in Twickenham that would have been difficult to forget…
“On the Green there stood an old round house where people were locked up and there were also stocks, where I have seen a man incinerated. I can well remember the Teddington Lock robbery; the men who attempted to set it on fire were brought down to Twickenham to be hanged. That was a little over sixty years ago….There used to be all sorts of amusements on the Commons. I remember seeing a prize fight, a bull bait and a bear bait.”
A Bill was introduced in 1802 to ban bull baiting and the like but it was defeated by 13 votes. The ‘sport’ was finally outlawed in 1835 under the Cruelty to Animals Act which forbade the keeping of any house, pit, or other place for baiting or fighting any bull, bear, dog, or other animal. James Harbor would have been 31 years old at the time.
James Harbor lived a happy and fulfilled life. He married Esther, a dressmaker and together they had 2 sons and 4 daughters. The sons, John and Josiah both became boot makers like their father – and the daughters, Julia, Jane, Matilda and Margaret all went into domestic service. James Harbor died at the end of 1898 aged 94 years. He was pleased to tell the reporter from ‘The Herald’ that at the age of 90 he had made himself, without any assistance, a pair of heavy boots.
— from Martyn Day
Credit: The print of Bushey House is by H.B Zieglar and is dated 1825. The etching of Twickenham is by Arthur Evershed and is dated 1876. The photograph of Twickenham Ferry is from Twickenham Museum
Next week we will be following on the Diamond Jubilee tradition established by the “Richmond Herald” by publishing an interview with one of the oldest inhabitants living in the community today, a gentleman who is 102 years old.