My family

52 Ancestors: Week 50 – Lines

I am taking part in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge for 2021. The challenge is organised by Amy Johnson Crow who provides a weekly writing prompt. I should have completed all 52 prompts by now, but I’m nearly there.

I was not sure where to take this prompt and decided to type “Lines” into Google. One of the suggestions was wires which made me think of my Grandfather, Robert Humphrey Hopkinson, who worked at Richard Johnson and Nephew Wireworks in Ambergate, Derbyshire.

Bob Hopkinson, as he was known, was born 23 June 1923 in Derbyshire, the son of Thomas Humphrey Hopkinson and Adelaide May Stewardson. When he was 3 1/2 years old his sister Adelaide Myrtle Hopkinson was born and 10 years later his mother died of throat cancer.

When WW2 broke out Bob was living with his widowed father in Crich. He was working as a farm labourer. I have not yet found his sister on the 1939 Register, but I believe she went to live with her mother’s family.

From 1941 to 1946 Bob served in the RAF.

After the war my grandfather was employed at Richard Johnson and Nephew wireworks in Ambergate. He worked shifts and was, I believe, a die grinder. The wireworks were a major employer for the residents of Crich.[1] They had a factory in Manchester as well as Derbyshire and during the war had supplied galvanised wire for the PLUTO pipeline (pipe line under the ocean).[2]

Advertisement. (1945) The Electrician. 01 June. p. v. : accessed 06 February 2022.

In 1956 Richard Johnson and Nephew copper tape and steel armouring wire was used in the first transatlantic telephone cable. I can only imagine that my grandfather was involved in this in some way.[3]

In 1950 he was involved in an accident at work, his niece told me, “his arm was caught in one of the machines and it was only due to the quick thinking of another employee turning off the machinery that his injuries were not more severe. His arm was seriously ‘mangled’ and he spent some time in hospital. To save his arm the surgeons took some bone from his leg and grafted it to his arm. I don’t know if you remember he always walked with a slight limp and his arm was slightly misshapen but at least he could use it.”[5]

The local newspaper did not make the accident sound as serious as his niece. His arm still was affected over 25 years later. (c) Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.[4]
I think Bob Hopkinson is right at the back in the centre pane of the left hand window.
Jack Oldham’s retirement. Photo courtesy Crich Heritage Partnership[1]

Granpa retired in about 1984 and about ten years later the factory closed. Images of the closed factory can be seen here. and here It looks very sad and neglected.

That has all changed again and the site is now home to a whisky distillery. White Peak Distillery have made their home at the former Johnson & Nephew Wire Works, in what is now the Derwent Valley UNESCO World Heritage site, with the still placed in what Bob Hopkinson would have known as the old Maintenance and Stores Sheds.[6] Their first whisky, Wire Works Whisky, was released just last week, and I cannot wait to try it. They also produce rum and gin. My next visit to Derbyshire will have to include a distillery tour so I can see where Granpa made wire and whisky is now made.

While writing this I have learned that there is another connection the Johnson and Nephew company. Our closest neighbours when we lived in Cheshire in the early 1980s were part of the Johnson family who had recently sold the company. It is a small world!

Other posts about this family

  1. Patilla, Peter. Johnson and Nephew Ambergate Wireworks. : accessed 06 February 2022.
  2. Grace’s Guide Ltd. Richard Johnson and Nephew. : accessed 06 February 2022.
  3. Burns. Bill. Richard Johnson & Nephew. : accessed 06 February 2022.
  4. Derby Daily Telegraph. (1950) Ambergate Accident. Derby Daily Telegraph. 28 August. p. 12c. : accessed 21 December 2020.
  5. Bowler, B. (2010) Re: Hopkinson. Email to Ruth Willmore, 22 August, 15:27.
  6. White Peak Distillery Ltd. The Wire Works. : accessed 06 February 2022.

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