The Johnstones and related families



Other sources

  1. Family trees compiled by Tom Johnstone (1913-1994), courtesy of his son Peter
  2. Various correspondence with John C. Bragg
  3. 'Pedigree of Best of Old Swinford', 1950, compiled by Frank Milner Best (1921-1997), original in the Bodleian Library
  4. 'Pedigree of the Birmingham families of Benton, Best, Bragg, Faraday, Haseler, Milner, Stone and Wilkinson', 1968, compiled by Frank Milner Best, courtesy of Peter Johnstone
  5. Family tree of the Faraday family, compiled by Frank Milner Best

Family trees

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

Also showing Bragg, Haseler, Rabone and Best

Smith family tree
Family trees of the Smith, Watton, Carr and Hay families


This page gives an introduction to the family of my maternal grandmother, Lucy Pennycuick née Johnstone, and her forebears from the Johnstone, Wilkinson, Smith, Carr and Hay families. This group, though diverse, nevertheless has a certain particular identity, quite different from the families of my other three grandparents (McConnell, Stannard and Pennycuick).

Middle England

For a start, almost all these ancestors (with the notable exception of Francis Johnstone, the 'Dancing Master from Dumfries') were born and died in England, in particular in the area around Birmingham which formerly straddled the counties of Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. The descendants of Francis Johnstone and Emma Faraday lived in this area for four generations, as did those of Henry Wilkinson and Eliza Ann Swift. The Smith and Watton families were from Tamworth. The Wilkinsons and Carrs originated in West Yorkshire, the latter becoming distributed around the country as James Byron Carr, a Methodist minister, moved between church postings. The family of James's wife Martha Hay were farmers from Lincolnshire in the east of England. The McConnells, by contrast, hailed from Northern Ireland, the Stannards from the Republic of Ireland, and the Pennycuicks from Scotland and India - drifting, in all three cases, to England towards the end of the 19th century.

Hamstead Pool by Jeff Rooker
Hamstead Pool, 1999

Photo by Jeff (now Lord) Rooker, at that time MP for Birmingham Perry Barr. Reproduced by kind permission


Secondly, while the early generations of the McConnell family were in farming, teaching and medicine, the Stannards originally wealthy landowners, and the Pennycuicks Scots lairds who moved into the British colonies and the army - the Johnstone group of families had its feet rooted in manufactured goods and retail. Birmingham in the 19th century was (and remains) a hub of many metal-based industries, from 'heavy' to 'fine'. The Johnstones and some of the Smith family specialised in jewellery, gold and silver articles, watchmaking, and brass and aluminium ware. The area around Leeds and Bradford in Yorkshire became the centre of the woollen cloth industry, in which John and Henry Wilkinson made their names as retailers and wholesalers in Leeds and Birmingham respectively. Others of the Smith and Carr families were also in business, for example stationery, bookbinding, timber and newspapers. In most cases these were tightly-knit family concerns, with senior positions being held by family members and their spouses. Only the Hay family of Lincolnshire were of farming stock.


By and large, especially as the 19th century ran its course, these citizens were comfortably off, working as businessmen, artisans, craftsmen or clerks; they mostly employed live-in servants. Some rose to positions of considerable wealth and civic prominence, for example George Hope Johnstone, Harry Wilkinson and James Smith. They dwelt in the pleasant areas around Birmingham such as Handsworth Wood, Edgbaston and Moseley, in some cases in handsome houses. But their comparative prosperity was in most cases earned rather than inherited.

Page links

Links to the pages for the various families are given below. Two other aspects of family history get special mention: the Johnstones, Wilkinsons and two other families (Bragg and Haseler) built a group of houses in a sort of mini-garden-suburb known as 'the Colony'. They also belonged to the same church, the Swedenborgian Church of New Jerusalem, or New Church.

The arts

One notable feature of this family grouping is how many individuals were involved in the arts, either professionally or as amateurs. This may be a case of artistic blood, or simply that those from middle-class families had the money, time and education to become involved in artistic activities. Some of the main protagonists (with initials of the relevant page in brackets) are as follows:

'Gypsy blood'

A legend has arisen that somewhere in this family there is some 'gypsy blood', based supposedly on the dark hair and features of some of the family, and on a tale handed down by Granny Mick and others. This tale, written down by Jan Carr, namely that an ancestor had a child by a gypsy girl and brought it up as his own, relates to the Carr family, but the legend has crept into neighbouring branches, for example the Hay family, and was kept alive by Granny Mick and her family. There may be no factual basis whatever for the story, and it would in any case be hard to prove, but this hasn't stopped various relatives from trying.

It should be stressed that no disrespect is intended to the Traveller or Romany community by the use of the word 'gypsy'. At the time the story took hold (late 19th / early 20th centuries) the word was in common parlance, though there was inevitably a certain whiff of scandal inherent in the tale.


For families in England (in contrast to, say, Ireland), internet-based research is fairly easy, and the essential details of most people can usually be found somehow. In particular, the census data from 1841 to 1921 gives details of the locations of households, together with (from 1851 onwards) occupations. This not only enables families to be pieced together with reasonable accuracy, but shines a bright light on how they lived - locality, other family members, servants, and self-described occupations (Joseph Maas was in 1871 a 'singer', and in 1881 a 'lyric artist'!). As usual I have used two genealogy websites1,2 for most of my research.

Birmingham family


John Bragg, Alba McConnell, Peter Johnstone and the author at Edgbaston Golf Club in July 2019

The club was formerly Edgbaston Hall, home to Sir James Smith - see the page on the Smith family

In addition, various family members have collected information, heirlooms and stories. I am extremely grateful to Richard, Peter and Laurence Johnstone (great-grandsons of GHJ), and to John C. Bragg, grandson of Mary Isabel Smith and Alan Bragg, for the detail they were able to provide, and the generous welcome into the family circle. Peter has amassed a large quantity of family photos old and new, collected correspondence, and generously lent me the family tree books compiled by his father Tom.i John has also amassed a vast amount of information on his and many other related families, and possesses an extraordinary, encyclopedic memory for dates and places and details.ii He conducted us (see photo above) on a highly entertaining tour of many family sites in Birmingham in July 2019. I'm also grateful to four members of the Haseler family (see the page on 'the Colony') for their expert genealogical advice.

Family at Wells


Ron Bridle, the author, Alba McConnell, Lindy Selley, Harriet Bridle and Iris McConnell in Wells, January 2020

On the other side of the family, the antecedents of James Byron Carr and Martha Hay have been tirelessly researched by Harriet Bridle and Lindy Selley, who traipsed up and down Lincolnshire in 2012 looking for churches, interviewing inhabitants and scouring the archives (while keeping a look-out for gypsy blood): they uncovered much of the story of the Hay family. We had a jolly meeting with them in January 2020, after which I had the benefit of their notes, books and pictures. Thanks to both.

Registration districts

For the families dealt with here, I have taken births, marriages and deaths registered in the district of West Bromwich (used since 1837) to be in Handsworth, their main stamping ground. Registrations given as Kings Norton or Aston have been left as they are unless I specifically know otherwise.