Potty Johnson

Pearson's of Chesterfield

Knowledge and speculation in conflict again!

What is without doubt is that my father had a relative known as “Potty Johnson”, not as a crude term for a mental health problem but because he owned a pottery.

I have a note from conversations with my dad that “Grandad owned a pottery”, which Dad has corrected to “partner” but he didn’t correct the “Grandad” part!

My daughter has a different recollection, that Potty Johnson was an uncle, but there’s no indication of any pottery connections in the 1939 or 1911 records for Dad’s uncles.

In any event my dad’s grandfather, William, was a working man who lived in Chesterfield all his married life. Both his father and grandfather had been pot-hawkers. Perhaps they had a stake in the business and left William some shares: enough to give him his nickname but not a viable income?

However there is a William Johnson who definitely owned a pottery which became Pearson’s of Chesterfield: their stoneware jugs, pots and bottles are now much-sought-after vintage items.

And we have an ancestor William Johnson the Elder born in 1777 at about the right time to be him. It’s so tempting to claim kinship with the earthenware manufacturer but some things don’t seem to add up:

1. Our William Johnson couldn’t sign his name in 1797 when he married Elizabeth Holt, whereas the William Johnson who married Catherine Jerviss in 1809 signed his name perfectly well.

Of course, William could have learned to write in the intervening twelve years, and probably had every opportunity to do so, as his father-in-law was an educated clergyman.

2. I believe our William to have been a widower in 1809: but if it was him why would he describe himself as a bachelor on his marriage to Catherine? There was no shame in a second marriage, surely? And why would his son Joseph not inherit his property? Did he abandon his family for some reason?

3. The age of the earthernware manufacture William Johnson was given as 66 at his death in 1838. Our William Johnson would have been five years younger.

This William’s son and grandson, confusingly both called Joseph, were both pot hawkers or potters but census returns show no indication of them owning anything beyond their stock-in-trade.

My father’s grandad William was the son of the second Joseph Johnson and his story is driving me “potty”!

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