HARRIS, John (b.1766), millwright. MS memorandum book

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HARRIS, John (b.1766), millwright. Manuscript memorandum pocket book of John Harris junior (born 12 July 1766) and his family, comprising 40 manuscript sides of memoranda mainly relating to family births, marriages and deaths, and work related matters (of which 8 sides are neatly repeated), and in reverse in the back of the book 10 manuscript sides listing the weekly price of bread (bread prices are also frequently mentioned in the earlier memoranda), with blank pages between the two manuscript filled sections. Bound in contemporary worn and cracked parchment (8 x 13 cm) with brass clasp. Some of the more interesting entries shedding light on Harris’s life, family and work include:

William Harris was bound Apprentice to Mr Bullen Glazier in Temple Street in the City of Bristol ye 8th of March 1779 and was out of his time ye 8th March 1786.

John Harris was bound Apprentice to Mr Gough Millwright in the City of Bristol August 2nd 1780 and was out of his time August 2nd 1787.

John Harris junior came to London March ye 15th 1790 Monday Night and went to work ye 17th at Mr Duncan’s Dock Head for Mr Rennie.

The 3rd Arch Wheel of London Bridge whent to work March ye 20th 1794.

Jno. Harris was Discharged from London Bridge on Account of Striking for wages July 11th 1795.

The Millwrights General Strike for wages was July 20th 1795.

Jno. Harris went to Work at London Bridge July 23rd 1798 Monday Morning.

Jno. Harris  Removed from No.99 Fetterlane Holbourn to No.5 Three Tun Court Miles’s Lane Upper Thames St. Sept 29th 1798.

The Master Millwrights had a Meeting the 11th day of March 1801 and Agreed to raise the Mens wages to 5s-3d per day to take place on Monday 16th.

John Harris was Admitted a Member if the Brittish Assurance Society on the 25h day of May 1791 for the 6th Day of April last.

Isabella and Mary Harris was Innoculated for the Cow Pox November 7th 1803.

My Brother William Harris went as Clerk and Steward to joseph Radcliffs Esqr Milnsbridge House near Huddersfield Yorkshire in the Month of July 1803.

Jno. Harris  Removed from No.5 Three Tun Court Miles’s Lane Upper Thames St. to No.6 Old Swan Lane Uper Thames St the 19th March 1805.

There are several memoranda relating to interesting churchmen, including Rev.Alexander  Catcott of Bristol (geologist and theologian); the evangelical preachers Rev.William Romaine (evangelical preacher); and the Rev. Rowland Hill (influential advocate of smallpox vaccination).


John Harris was born in Bristol in 1766, the son of John Harris (b.1728) and Constant Hart (1741-1792), and was apprenticed to a “Mr Gough” a Bristol millwright (possibly millwrights Samuel & Thomas Gough of Bristol) from 1780-1787. His older brother William Harris (b.1764) was apprenticed to a Bristol glazier called Bullen from 1779-1786, and married Elizabeth Cuttell in 1792. John (junior) married Hester (maiden name untraced) circa 1788-9 who bore him at least 7 daughters and two sons. Their first child Isabella Constant was born in Bristol in 1790, and after her birth John and Hester moved to London, where the rest of their children were born.

The memorandum book tells us that John went to work in London in 1790 at “Duncan’s Dock Head for Mr Rennie”. This was John Rennie (1761-1821) who had been recruited by Boulton and Watt in 1784 to look after their London business interests and erect the engines they supplied for the Albion flour mills, at the south end of Blackfriars Bridge. John Harris was also engaged in other work connected with Rennie in 1794-95 working on “The 3rd Arch Wheel of London Bridge”, one of the waterwheels of the old London Bridge. The London Bridge Waterworks had been important in supplying the City but were struggling in meeting demands in the expanding metropolis. John Rennie won the design for a new London Bridge, which was completed by his son in 1831.

Interesting entries are found respecting the efforts to increase the wages of millwrights in 1795-1801. Harris records his discharge for striking for wages on July 11th 1795; the Millwrights General Strike July 20th 1795; and the meeting of Master Millwrights on 11th March 1801 when agreement was reached to raise wages to 5s-3d per day. The millwrights were at this time very much a target in the sights of government when it introduced the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 aimed at curbing trade union activity. 

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