His Parents and his Siblings
Mr Richardson's parents were from the North East of England. His father, (also James) had been born in 1844 in Hull. His mother, Flora had been born the same year in Sunderland. By 1871, when James Robert was six, they were back in England, living in Seaham Harbour, Dawdon in County Durham where they lived for the rest of their lives and raised seven children. Their father began his working life as a ship's carpenter, then became a 'shipwright' (a ship builder) who worked his way up, over the years, to the position of general foreman. He was also a 'lay preacher'. All of which gives us clues about the kind of upbringing and values that influenced their son James Robert. There was a strong Christian and work ethic and it seems likely that some of James senior's skill as a carpenter were also passed onto his eldest son as we will see later.
James Robert's younger brother and sisters were Emily, Edith George, Annie, Nelly and Florence. By 1881, our man James Robert was 17 years old and he had already embarked on his vocation. He still lived at home in Seaham Harbour and his occupation was described as a 'Pupil-Teacher'.
Elizabeth Simpson was the second daughter of a Scottish vetinary surgeon Mr Andrew Simpson and his wife Jane. They had moved from Scotland to live in Kendal in Westmorland with their four daughters. Sadly Mr Simpson died when he was only 35 leaving his widow and children to live on an annuity. To supplement this she took in two lodgers and in 1881 we see that one of these was a surgeon and the other a 'Secretary of the Temperence Society'. Respectability was clearly important. Elizabeth was 16 in 1881 and was described as a 'teacher'. She too had embarked on the career that was to occupy her for most of her life. In 1884, a young man arrived to teach as the First Assistant at the National School in Kendal. He was a Mr J R Richardson.
James Robert Richardson and Elizabeth Simpson married in Kendal in 1887. Their daughter Jeannie was born in Kendal in 1888. By 1891 the little family had moved to Wiltshire where their second child, Arthur was born.
His career is detailed in his letter of application for the position of Headmaster at Northop school from which the following resumee has been taken.
He trained as a Pupil - Teacher at Seaham Harbour in County Durham during the early 1880s.
1884 to 1890 First Assistant at Kendal National School.
1890 to 1898 Headmaster at Codford St Mary's National School, Bath.
1898 to 1904 Headmaster at St Brides and Marloes National School, Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire.
1904 to 1929 Headmaster of Northop National School.
His wife, Elizabeth was also part of the package at these schools where she was a teacher of Infants and Needlework.
Mr Richardson's qualifications in addition to his Teacher's Certificate included a Diploma of the London City and Guilds for Woodwork, Woodcarving and Drawing, a Diploma from the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth for Horticulture and an Archbishop's Certificate for Divinity. He was a licenced Lay Reader.
WAR MEMORIALS IN THE PARISH OF NORTHOP
The villages of Northop, Northop Hall and Sychdyn (Soughton)
Mr James Robert Richardson Headmaster of Northop School from 1904 to 1929
A Brief Biography
As this project got underway, the legacy of Mr Richardson began to shine out. He painstakingly chronicled the names of local men who served in the Great War but more than that, he seems to have been a dedicated and inspirational teacher. The loyalty and affection in which he was held resounded down the years to us and the more we learnt about him, the more we felt that we should give him his own page on the website. Like other 'pillars of the communities' in the Parish of Northop, he played a big part in instilling patriotism and national fervour, (see his school log book), so like the rest of them ( Mr Vaughan The Vicar, Lord Justice Bankes of Soughton Hall, CL Williams, Magistrate and County Councillor of Lower Soughton Hall and others) he must be held partly responsible for encouraging young men to take the colours. They were different times with a real and genuine fear of the enemy and it is easy with the hindsight of history, to pass judgement on such men. Mr Richardson, through his endeavours afterwards, displayed great compassion and a determination that the boys would never be forgotten. Apart from all that, he is an interesting man who influenced generations of children in the Parish of Northop. So who was he? What have we been able to find out?
The Russian Connection
The first surprise is that James Robert Richardson was born in 1864 - in Russia! He was baptised on the 13th November 1864 at the Chaplaincy in Kronstadt. Kronstadt is situated on the small island of Kotlin in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, 48 km west of St Petersburg. It became a strategically important, fortified naval base during the reign of Tsar Peter the Great. As Anglo-Russian trade expanded throughout the nineteenth century, The Russia Company became a patron of a chaplaincy in Kronstadt, to meet the spiritual needs of British residents and sailors. James Robert Richardson's father was, we know, a ship's carpenter which could easily explain his presence in Russia. It is more difficult to explain why his wife was also there and why his first son was born there. Mr Richardson, whenever he completed a census form always stated his exotic birth place but always added that he was a 'British Citizen.'
His wife and children.
Letter of Application to Northop School.
This is a remarkable letter of application which demonsrated Mr Richardson's presentational skills. The first striking feature is that he has attached a photograph of himself to the top of the letter. This practice, though more common nowadays must have been very impressive in 1904. The photograph reveals a very handsome gentleman of 39. His hair and moustache are immaculately groomed. His gleaming white, high starched collar is fastened neatly with a natty necktie. He is wearing a waistcoat and a jacket and in the buttonhole of the jacket is a flower. He looks like an attractive man of style and confidence. He must have been well on the way to being offered the job before anyone read a word of his application!
The letter itself is written in his familiar, confident and attractive handwriting. I have transcribed it below because the paper size makes it impossible to scan satisfactorily.
St Bede's & Marloes National School
Jan 5th 1904
Dear Sir and Gentlemen.
I beg to offer myself as a candidate for your Northop National School together with my wife as Assistant Mistress.
I am 39 years of age and have been Master of the above school for over 6 years during which time the grants have been doubled and the school raised from 'warned' to 'excellent' & highest grants earned. We have also worked hard to raise the moral tone of the scholars and have succeeded as you will see by enclosed testimonials.
My wife is an excellent teacher of Infants & Needlework and qualified under Article 50.
Previous to taking up our present post, I was for over 8 years Headmaster of Codford St Mary National, Bath and before that I was First Asssistant of Kendal National with an average of 400. I was trained in Seaham Harbour, Durham. So you will see that my experience is wide and varied.
I might also add that previous to coming here I was honoured by the Government of Jamaica with the offer of the headship of their school at Kingston with an average of over 500 scholars.
In addition to the usual qualifications I am a fully qualified teacher of manual instruction & hold the full diploma of the London City & Guilds for Woodwork, Woodcarving & Drawing. I have also the Diploma of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth for Horticulture which subject together with Nature study I successfully teach here. Singing by note: Drill (Model Course): Drawing "D" Sciences & Languages. I also hold the Archbishop's Divinity certificate.
We are thorough loyal churchpeople & I am licenced Lay Reader here, member of choir & wife also takes occasional duty at the organ.
We are always prepared to loyally assist in any project for promoting the interests of the Parish and school.
We have two children: daughter aged 16 is a probationer for Pupil-Teachership. son aged 9 is away in school at Lancaster.
The reason why we are seeking a change is because we wish to be further North & nearer to our relatives. We are under no notice to leave here.
Should you honour us with your favour by appointing us it would be our earnest endevour always to discharge our dities faithfully & effectually.
I enclose copies of testimonials, reports and references wich I trust will merit your kind consideration.
Awaiting your kind favours
I beg to remain Dear Sir and Gentlemen
Your Obedient Servant
James R Richardson
The Correspondent Esq
There were, enclosed many testimonials as well as the names and addresses of 14 willing referees. Here is one of the testimonials.
I have much pleasure in testifying to the excellence of Mr J R Richardson as a teacher. He was most painstaking and energetic and had the welfare of the children thoroughly at heart. He organised a museum, the best in the neighbourhood. He conducted several most successful and interesting children's entertainments (songs, recitations etc). He did not confine his interest in the children's progress merely to school hours. He willingly helped in the Sunday School.
I will gladly answer any questions concerning him and I trust he may be successful in obtaining your appointment.
Mrs Richardson was a very kind and efficient teacher of Infants and Needlework.
I have the honour to remain gentlemen,
Your obedient servant
W Wynne Wilson
Rector of Handborough Oxford.
Formerly Rector of Codford St Mary.
There was also a newspaper cutting, describing the event that was put on in Codford to say farewell to Mr and Mrs Richardson when they left to work in Pembrokeshire.
Parish Magazine January 1918
On November 9th in the Parish Church by licence, Miss Richardson School House was married to Sgt Birse, Sunderland. Mrs Birse was on our school staff till recently and gave general satisfaction. She was most popular among the school shildren. This in itself is a proof of her good qualities and general disposition. Sgt Birse is on active service in France and while on a short leave took the opportunity to thus carry away one of our most cherished treasures. We congratulate them both and we wish them long life and usefulness in the bonds of holy wedlock.
(Sgt Birse had visited the school in November 1915 - see Mr Richardson's Log Book. We had wondered who he was as we could find no mention of him in Northop records. Now we know!)
Mr J R Richardson headmaster of Northop National School 1904 to 1929. The inspiration for this website. The pupil with him on the right hand picture is Benjamen Hodgkinson. His brother Wiilie was killed in the war and has his own page on this website.