George Hope Johnstone
Pillar of Birmingham's civic and cultural establishment




Other children of Francis and Emma

Children of George Hope Johnstone


Other sources

  1. Report on the funeral of G.H. Johnstone, Handsworth Herald, 20th February 1909
  2. Obituary, Jeweller and Metalworker, 1st March 1909
  3. Obituary, Musical Times, 1st March 1909
  4. Family tree of the Faraday family, compiled by Frank Milner Best
  5. 'The Faraday Genealogy', compiled by J.E. Faraday and M.A. Faraday, 1967
  6. Correspondence with Laurence E. Haseler, son of Wilfred E.M. Haseler and gt-grandson of John B. Haseler and Sarah M. Johnstone
  7. Various correspondence with Richard, Peter and Laurence Johnstone, GHJ's great-grandsons
  8. Various correspondence with John C. Bragg
  9. Portrait of Elgar, by Michael Kennedy, OUP, 1968
  10. 'Gerontius - the Dream Makers' - dramatised documentary for BRMB (now Radio Birmingham), broadcast in the 1980s, conceived by Lyndon Jenkins, written, presented and produced by Brian Savin, featuring Tom Johnstone
  11. The Music Makers (A brief history of the Birmingham Triennial Musical Festivals 1784 to 1912) - Anne Elliott, published by Birmingham City Council, 2000
  12. New Grove Dictionary of Music, ed. Sadie, 1980

Family trees

Johnstone family tree
Family trees of the Johnstone, Faraday, Wilkinson and Swift families

Also showing Bragg, Haseler, Rabone and Best


Other information

GHJ&Co page 1 GHJ&Co page 2
Document presented to George Hope Johnstone in 1891 by his employees

The right-hand page shows his house 'Headingley'

Book in possession of Laurence Johnstone

G H J & Co. cufflinks


Gold cuff-links by G.H. Johnstone & Co., hallmarked7 Birmingham 1891

Belonging to the author

GHJ silver box
Silver match-box belonging to George Hope Johnstone, showing his monogram

Made by Hilliard & Thomason, 1888

Heirloom belonging to the Johnstone family



The Headingley Birthday Book

Birmingham Library, photo by kind permission

Wretham Road choir
Document presented to GHJ in January 1881 by the members of the choir at Wretham Road

Book belonging to Richard Johnstone

The Wretham Road church choir

GHJ's choir numbered 26 singers in 1881, 15 of whom were in some way related to him.





Organist: Charles W. Perkins

Joseph Maas


Joseph Maas, 1847-1886

Marriage certificate Johnstone Maas
Marriage certificate of George Hope Johnstone and Catherine Maas

St George's church, Hanover Square, 1899

Courtesy of Laurence Johnstone

George Hope Johnstone


George Hope Johnstone

Handsworth Magazine, November 1896

George Hope Johnstone (GHJ), my great-great-grandfather, is in a way the key figure of the Birmingham family branch. This genial man, of Scottish parentage, established himself in the jewellery business, and was able to use his position and comparative wealth for the cultural and social enrichment of the city.

Although there is some material online about him,1 more of the background comes from newspaper articles and obituaries,i,ii,iii collected by his grandson Tom Johnstone, and generously provided by Tom's three sons Richard, Peter and Laurence, to whom many thanks.

The dancing master from Dumfries

George was born on 1st February 1841 in Frederick Place (now gone, but near Thornhill Road), off Soho Road in Handsworth, a leafy suburb north-west of the city.1,i His father was Francis Johnstone, who is known in the family as the 'Dancing Master from Dumfries', but who has a slightly enigmatic history. The most likely version of his descendancy is as follows: he was baptised on 7th April 1786 in Kirkmichael near Dumfries in Scotland, son of Robert Johnston and Helen Copland, and the last of seven children. (Helen was probably born, appropriately enough, in the parish of Johnstone in Dumfries.) Francis married a Scottish lady, Elizabeth Craick, in 1811 in Lochmaben (she was possibly born in 1787, daughter of Andrew Craik of Dumfries); they had a son, Alfred Benjamin Johnstone, born in 1813 and baptised in the parish of St Anne Soho, London. At that time Francis was recorded on the baptism register as being a dancing teacher.

Francis Johnstone
Francis Johnstone (1786-1868), the 'Dancing Master from Dumfries'

Portrait belonging to the Johnstone family, with label giving details as shown

Some time between 1813 and 1815 Elizabeth died, and Francis met Emma Faraday, daughter of a minister in the New Church (see below). The results of this meeting were that Alfred was baptised a second time, by Rev. Joseph Proud in the New Church on Summer Lane in Birmingham, in December 1815; and that the following year Francis and Emma married, in Clifton. (One accountiv has it that he came to Birmingham in 1814 when the Rev. Proud moved there, in order to hear that minister's preaching.) They lived on Soho Hill near the Jewellery Quarter, where Francis is listed as a dancing teacher in a city directory from 1818.2 (See the map of Birmingham for many of the locations given here.) At some stage however, it seems that Francis switched professions: a book mentioning the jewellery business in Birmingham in the 19th century3 describes him as a 'japanner', i.e. in the business of decorative and protective lacquering of metals. In the census of 1841 however, he is a 'dancing master', and in 1851 a 'retired teacher of dancing'. (In 1851 and 1861 he is described as blind, which perhaps explains his retirement from dance teaching.)

But there are some problems with this story: on the census returns of 1851 and 1861, Francis gave his birthplace as 'London, St Georges'. Why? Did he want to cover up his Scottish ancestry? Or was there a mistake filling out the census forms? It is of course possible that he was born in London to other parents (a Francis Johnstone was baptised in the parish of St George Hanover Sq. in London on 19th February 1787, parents Thomas and Sarah Johnstone), and moved to Dumfries some time before his first marriage. Although hard evidence confirming his link with Scotland has not yet come to light, the 'Scottish ancestry' version remains for the moment the most likely.

The Faradays

GHJ's mother Emma was the daughter of William Faraday (1763-1817), a minister at the Church of New Jerusalem in New Hall Street from 1797 to 1809.4 Also called the New Church, this was a non-conformist religious movement based on the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, which had an enthusiastic following in Birmingham in the 19th century. See the page on the New Church for details. Unsurprisingly, many of William Faraday's family were also members of this church: Emma and her brother Samuel Bayliss Faraday (who was in the potteries business in Stoke-on-Trent) and most of their children were baptised there, in one its succession of five buildings. Emma was the second cousin of the great physicist Michael Faraday5 (1791-1867) - both were great-grandchildren of Richard Faraday (1684-1741), a slater from Clapham in North Yorkshire.v

In their retirement, it seems that Francis and Emma ran a shop: he (in 1861) and she (in 1851 and 1861) are described in the census returns as 'grocers'. Francis died in 1868 and was buried in Key Hill Cemetery, which at the time was reserved for the graves of non-conformists. The funeral was conducted by the Rev. Robert R. Rodgers of the Summer Lane Society (see the page on the New Church). Emma died 10 years later, and is also buried in Key Hill.

The Johnstone family

Over a period of 29 years, Francis and Emma had ten children, of which George Hope was the ninth. Most of them, as well as their Faraday cousins, either entered the jewellery trade or married into it. The Johnstone family were interlinked by marriage with three other Birmingham families in the jewellery trade, namely the Braggs, the Haselers and the Bests. Many members of these families were also part of the New Church. GHJ's 'in-laws' the Wilkinsons became part of this family knot, which acquired a physical presence in 1873 with the building of 'the Colony'. The main members and links of these families are shown in the Family Tree (left).

George Hope grew up in Soho Terrace in Handsworth, in a full household: the census of 1841 lists Francis, Emma and nine children, plus Ann Faraday (presumably Emma's widowed mother, née Baylissvi) and, it would seem, no servants. Unlike most of his siblings, George was baptised not in the New Church but in the Anglican church of St Philip in Birmingham, in 1848.

G H Johnstone & Co. premises
G.H. Johnstone & Co. premises, Northampton Street

From a newspaper article, early 1930s


After an apprenticeship at the button manufacturers Hammond, Turner & Sons,i at age 21 George joined W. & J. Randel in Vittoria Street, manufacturers of collar studs, cuff-links and the like. He worked as a 'traveller', combining an "indomitable will to succeed" with a "genial manner".ii He also involved himself in the school that the company had set up to provide artistic training for young men in the trade.ii In 1869, newly married with one son, he started his own firm on Northampton Street in the Jewellery Quarter, G.H. Johnstone & Co.,6 also manufacturers of fine jewellery items (for example see photo below left). The business was highly successful ("the most widely known house in the trade", according to one obituary) and brought the family wealth and standing.ii

An indication of the esteem with which Johnstone was held in the profession can be seen in the beautiful illuminated manuscript presented to him on his 50th birthday by his employees, who express their appreciation of him in fulsome terms. The document even includes a picture of his house with its music room (see below, also the page on 'the Colony'). Other professional accolades included President and later Hon. Sec. of the Birmingham Jewellers and Silversmiths Association, and Guardian of the Standard of Wrought Plate at the Birmingham Assay Office.i

The firm was made a private company in 1908, with Johnstone as chairman, and was wound up by his grandson Tom after 70 years in 1939 (see page on Stanley Johnstone).

G H Johnstone framed cameo
George Hope Johnstone

Portrait (probably a tinted print of a photo by C. Vandyk) belonging to the Johnstone family

Public service

Once the family business had been running for about ten years, Johnstone's sons George Harry and Stanley gradually took over the day-to-day running, and their father was able to devote himself to other activities. Starting in his early 40s, GHJ became increasingly involved in cultural, civic and philanthropic enterprises in Birmingham.

Music in the Parks - GHJ Clef Club band
'Music in the Parks' - the Clef Club band with George Hope Johnstone and others

The Dart, 14th July 1893

The trumpeter is Edward Lawley Parker, on the tuba is Arthur Sullivan. The identity of the clarinetist (Mr. Osler) still needs to be established. GHJ conducts.

Courtesy of Laurence Johnstone


Johnstone's hobby and passion was music. Although it is not known whether he played an instrument apart from probably the piano, he was a good singer and an inspiring choirmaster. He sang in the choir at the New Church in Summer Lane and Wretham Road from the age of ten,i,ii,iii and was choirmaster there from 1866 (the Wretham Road church opened in 1876). In 1881 the choristers presented him with a beautiful illuminated manuscript as an appreciation of his work there over the previous 15 years. See below left for details. (A newspaper report on his funeral mentions that he received an illuminated manuscript on his retirement from the choir in 1902,i but this perhaps refers to the 1881 document.) George was for many years Treasurer and a trustee of this church.i,vii

As an organiser and motivator, he was Chairman of the Midlands Institute School of Music, President of the Amateur Orchestral Society, and a founder member of the Clef Club (effectively a music society).i,iii The wonderful cartoon above, from 1893, shows renowned composer Arthur Sullivan and the Mayor, Edward Lawley Parker, as the 'Clef Club Band', piping to Johnstone's tune.

George was a leading light, and later Chairman, of the Triennial Music Festival9 from 1879 until shortly before his death. (Charles Bayley Bragg, fellow jeweller, musician and later neighbour, also worked on this festival.2) The festival commissioned many important works, for example Dvořák's Requiem, and the Birmingham Town Hall was built for this purpose in 1834. As part of this work, Johnstone met many leading musicians of the day: composers Grieg, Dvořák, Elgar, Parry, Bridge, Stainer, Sullivan and Gounod, and conductors Hans Richter and Adrian Boult, all visited his house over the years.

Headingley music room
The music room at Headingley

Photo from CD booklet for Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, conducted by Simon Rattle

This house was 'Headingley', on Hamstead Hill in Handsworth, where the Johnstones lived from about 1873. It had a large music room (see photo right, and the page on 'the Colony'), where concerts were held by visiting musicians. The visitors' book records these various prominent figures, in the form of a 'birthday book', where visitors were invited to write something on the page for their birthday. Thanks to the efforts of Laurence Johnstone (great-grandson of GHJ) and his brothers, this book (photo left) is now in the Birmingham library (MS 4966).8

George Hope Johnstone's acquaintance with Elgar is particularly noteworthy, as it was partly due to his persuasion (backed up by Elgar's wife Alice) that Elgar agreed to compose The Dream of Gerontius for the Festival in 1900. Michael Kennedy records that George and his wife Catherine (see below) went to lunch with the Elgars in Malvern on the first day of the new century, and Elgar was won over.ix However this great work suffered a chaotic first performance, and Johnstone was again called in to soothe tempers with the critics and the publishers.x He also handled the negotiations with Novello's over Elgar's fee and rights. Further information about Johnstone's role in the festival is given in a book by Anne Elliott.xi


In 1902, as mentioned above, George developed a debilitating neurosis, and in the last six years of his life, even after a prolonged period of rest, his health declined markedly, and he died at his home on 13th February 1909. His funeral service, held at Wretham Road church on 16th February, was quite an occasion.i Presided over by the pastor, Rev. H. Deans (Rev. Rodgers, now presumably in retirement, was also present), it was attended by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Sir George Kenrick, various public figures with whom GHJ had worked throughout his life, and the Principal of the Swedenborgian College in London, Rev. Isaiah Tansley. Sir Frederick Bridge, organist at Westminster Abbey, and GHJ's friend Charles Perkins delivered organ voluntaries, and of course the choir he had sung with for half a century played an important role. George Hope Johnstone was later cremated at the Perry Barr Crematorium.i


Edward Lily Flo Jack George Harry
Lily and Edward Evershed (back row, first two from left), Florence and Jack Wright, and George Harry Johnstone (three on right)

Photo (early 1900s) courtesy of Peter Johnstone

George Hope Johnstone married Emily Wilkinson in 1867, probably in the New Church in Summer Lane. Emily, born in Bradford in 1843, came from a family of drapers and cloth wholesalers: her father Henry had founded the firm of Wilkinson & Riddell, which was later run by her brother Harry. See the page on the Wilkinson family for details. From about 1873 George and Emily lived in 'Headingley', the sumptuous residence mentioned above. This house (apparently named after the part of Leeds where Emily grew up) was one of four, built for the Johnstone, Wilkinson, Bragg and Haseler families. The gardens sloped down to a shared lake, and the residents, all related by marriage, were prominent members of Birmingham's business, cultural and civic communities, and of the New Church. This enclave, a kind of mini-garden-suburb, became known as 'the Colony' - see that page for details.

George Harry

GHJ's first son entered the family business as a goldsmith, and later ran it with his brother Stanley. Tom Johnstone relates that GHJ sent one of his sons to have piano lessons with Klara Schumann (1819-96) - this was quite possibly George Harry.x He did not marry, and was for a time considered an 'eligible bachelor', such that (so the tale goes) on one occasion a group of ladies serenaded him with "George Harry Johnstone, pride of Handsworth Wood", to the Toreador tune from Carmen.vii He did form a close friendship with his sister-in-law Edith Smith, but it was probably no more than that (see the page on Granny Mick and her family for details). After his father died, George Harry lived on at Headingley for a while with his brother and sister-in-law Jessie.

Evershed wedding
The wedding of Lilian Johnstone and Edward Evershed (27th March 1901)

Bridesmaids (back): Dora Best (later Carr), NN, Jennie Millicent Haseler (later Rodgers), Janet Best (later Bennett), Hilda Bragg (later Hadfield), Ethel Josephine Maas (later Short) [within 3 years all would be married]

Bridesmaids (front): Emily Wright (daughter of Florence) and NN

Photo courtesy of Andrew Padmore


Florence Elise, known as Flo or Bunnyvii married Jack Skirrow Wright, who was also in the jewellery trade. (Jack's father John Skirrow Wright (1822-1880) followed a very similar path in life to GHJ: button maker, non-conformist (very likely a Swedenborgian), and a liberal politician who engaged himself in many civic activities such as the School of Art and the General Hospital.10) Florence and Jack lived in Handsworth and had two daughters.


Lilian married Edward Evershed, a solicitor, cricketer,11 and son of Sydney Evershed (brewer and Liberal MP, whose firm was later taken over by Marston's).viii Edward founded the firm of solicitors Evershed & Tomkinson in 1914, and the firm Eversheds Sutherland is now one of the largest law practices in the world.12,13 Lilian and Edward lived in Handsworth and had a daughter and three sons, one of whom died as a child.


Stanley, my great-grandfather, entered the jewellery trade as a goldsmith, and took over the family business on his father's death in 1909. See main article.


In 1897 Emily died, and two years later GHJ married Catherine Maas (see marriage certificate above left). She was the widow of one Joseph Maas, a celebrated concert and opera singer (known for roles such as Faust, Lohengrin and Rienzi) who had died in 1886.xii,14 Joseph (photo left) had sung in the Birmingham Festival in 1885, and he and Catherine were friends of the family: the 1881 census shows them (with their young daughter Ethel Josephine, one of the bridesmaids in the photo above) as visitors at Headingley. Catherine Johnstone died in Handsworth in 1918, and Ethel married Arthur Short, who was related by marriage to the Best family: his sister Emma Maud married Robert Hall Best, son of Robert and grandfather of June, wife of Tom Johnstone.