lister Family 

Lister: of British origin, derived from the Old English ‘lite’ or ‘litte’, meaning to dye [1]


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Part 1: John Lister (c1784 - 1859)


Little is known of John Lister. He was born in the Halifax area c1784 and married Mary (surname unknown). John was a waterman (in this part of England someone who worked on the canals) and they had three known children: Ann, Richard and Addison.

The late 1700s and early 1800s saw the building of numerous canals throughout Britain which improved the transport of coal, textiles and other products of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. Prior to this, goods had to be transported by road, a very costly method with tolls at turnpikes adding to costs. Canals now made transporting goods cheaper and more reliable, and available to more people. It also led to the rise of factories and mills, employing hundreds of thousands of people (particularly from rural areas) and changed the nature of work, society and the landscape

The nearby Rivers Aire and Calder had been made navigable in places in the early 1700s and in 1759, construction began on the Calder and Hebble Navigation to link the navigable waterway to Halifax. However, with the advent of the railway, the use of canals began to decline somewhat after the 1840s, though manufacturing in Halifax still relied on the canals well into the 20th century.

The Listers moved around, living in the Halifax/Brighouse area and by 1841, they were living in the village of Brook Foot near Brighouse, right next to the Calder and Hebble Navigation, which ran more or less parallel to the River Calder. People who worked the canals, like the Listers, tended to be removed from land-based folk and married into other canal families and had their own traditions and customs. Their boats were known as ‘short boats’, about 60 feet long and 14 feet wide (about 18m by 4m) which also had a depth of less than 4 feet (1m) to accommodate the  locks required in the hilly terrain.

John probably worked for a carrying company or a trader who owned a few boats, rather than have his own boat. His family would stay on shore and he would find crew to help him, paying for their wages, food and water out of a fixed amount given to him for his work. He would also be given money to pay the canal tolls. John would supervise the loading of the cargo and make sure it was distributed evenly to avoid capsizing. The boat would be on the move from very early in the morning to late at night.

It is not known when Mary died but John was lodging with a number of other people in Halifax in the 1851 census. He died in Salterhebble, Halifax, 06 August 1859 and was buried three days later at All Saints Parish Church, Salterhebble. The cause of death was ‘old age’ – he was apparently 78!

Ann (c1813 - ?) was baptised 21 February 1813 at St John the Baptist Church. Nothing else is known of her.

Richard (c1815 - ?) was baptised 25 June 1815 at St John the Baptist Church. He became a waterman, like his father, and married Elizabeth Green 23 November 1837, also at St John’s. Nothing else is known of him but it was not uncommon for watermen to be missed off census returns. It is also possible he died soon after his marriage.

More information about Addison (1820 – 1900) appears in Part 2.

Next: Addison Lister