William Shearer

As a child, I was very close to the Shearer side of the family: my Grandma’s sister Aunt Cissie was like a third grandparent. Their sister Aunt Norah was an exotic visitor who gave me white chocolate and was widely regarded on our street as a witch. Brothers Ernest and Willie and their families were the “Dudley Hill mob”, named from where they lived in Bradford.

It’s a real disappointment, then, that I have not been able to follow the Shearers with any confidence farther back than their grandfather William Shearer.

His birth is a mystery: even though I have a real-life funeral card for him, and the record of his grave in Undercliffe Cemetery, I doubt that he really was 52 in 1907. That would make him 13 in 1868 when his son Hiram was born – not impossible but highly unlikely.

Memorial card for William Shearer

William’s birth dates range from 1845 to 1854 in various official documents. His father was either James Shearer the blacksmith or Joseph Shearer the ironfounder. I have found no trace of either of these gentlemen in Yorkshire or Lancashire. What I have found is a birth record which leads to a narrative so far-fetched it might be true – which you can find here.

There is ambiguity also about William’s son Hiram. He was born three years before his parents married, and he may not have been William’s son at all. If that was so, William did not have any children of his own. No doubt he was “a kind husband and father” to Mary and Hiram as the funeral verse says.

The first plausible record we find is William’s marriage in 1870 to Mary Bell in Bolton – Mary seems to have lived there for a while though she was born in Bradford. They returned to Bradford after their marriage and settled in Summer Street, where there was an interesting collection of Mary’s relatives. On census night 1871 Harry Shearer was with them – he is described as William’s brother although this is the only mention of a Harry Shearer born in 1851 that I have been able to find.

The one consistent detail in all the official documents is that William was a joiner by profession. However, for a period in the 1880s he ran a pub, the North Tavern, where they were for the 1881 census. In 1887 the renewal of his licence was refused by Bradford Council. He appealed and won, I’m glad to say. I feel a great deal of sympathy for William in this – almost 100 years later I was supporting my friend Sammy Singh in the same situation. He won, too!

In the same year as this victory, young Hiram left home to get married and shortly afterwards William and Mary gave up the pub and moved to another address in the same street. William went back to his own trade of joinery.

In 1890 Mary died. Unbelievably to the modern mind, within two months William married again.

At the time of the 1891 census, William and his new wife Mary Elizabeth had moved away from North Street but remained in the same area of Bradford. They had living with them Mary Elizabeth’s mother, sister and brother and also William’s grand-daughter, Norah, aged three. (This was she of the white chocolate!)

Ten years later they had moved again to the Thornton Road side of Bradford. Norah was still living with them and had been joined by my Grandma (Florence) and their brother Willie (Joseph William by rights). Hiram’s marriage was formally ended by now – though by a legal separation, not divorce which would be beyond their means.

William died in 1907 and was buried with his first wife.

Father (maybe) of Hiram, son of James or Joseph Shearer or Eliza Sherer

Born 1845 in Bradford, Yorkshire (possibly)

Married Mary Bell 1 August 1870 at Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire

Married Mary Elizabeth Smith on 11 August 1890 in Bradford

Buried 9 January 1907 in Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford

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