Children of the Jordan Family
Research by Christine Armstrong
William Huggins was born on 13 May 1820 in Liverpool, the son of Samuel Huggins and his wife, Elisabeth. He had a younger brother, Samuel, an architectural historian, and two sisters, Sarah (1853-1865) and Anna (1854-1862).
William taught both his sisters to paint and they both exhibited at the Liverpool Academy and the Liverpool Society of Fine Arts. William himself was taught drawing at the Mechanics' Institute in Liverpool and, at the age of fifteen, won a prize there for an ambitious design, Adam's Vision of the Death of Abel. (1)
Not only did he always keep a house full of pets but he also spent many hours making life studies at the Liverpool Zoological Gardens. He was especially fascinated by the lions and tigers of Wombwell's Travelling Menagerie, which he sketched whenever the opportunity allowed. (2)
He never saw big cats in their natural environment and consequently his backgrounds were understated. However, their subtlety served to focus all attention on the powerful depiction of the animals themselves. The influence of George Stubbs, which Huggins readily acknowledged, may be seen in his early painting of two pumas.
In mid-career Huggins developed the highly individual technique that characterized some of his best work. Having first drawn a pencil outline on smooth white millboard, he then glazed in oils, which allowed the white background to show through, creating a luminous effect.
Huggins first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842 with Androcles and the Lion, then became a regular exhibitor until shortly before his death. His connection with the Liverpool Academy began when he attended life classes as a student. He was elected an associate in 1847 and a member in 1850. His active connection ceased in 1856. He also exhibited at Manchester, Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In 1861 Huggins moved to Chester, where he lived with his brother. It was presumably under his influence that he took up architectural drawing and he painted many views of the city. He developed a particular liking for its red sandstone, which featured prominently in his later works, The Ruins of St John’s, Chester and View from St John's, Chester, plus a general view of Chester from the other side of the river.
In 1876 he left Chester for Betws-y-Coed, where he painted landscapes including The Fairy Glen, exhibited in Liverpool in 1877. He eventually settled at Rock House in the village of Christleton in Cheshire.
In his last years he suffered partial paralysis, which stopped him from painting. He died on 25 February 1884. (1)
His death was reported in several newspapers, the main one being the Liverpool Mercury, where he was described as being 'a great connoisseur of china, Chelsea, Derby and other ware, and old glass; was an amateur musician, playing on the guitar to accompany his voice. In appearance, he was described by one who knew him well as having a head and countenance not unlike one of his own lions. In society he was very retiring and somewhat eccentric in his ways'. (3)
Other descriptions of the artist included Albert Nicholson and the Reverend Mark Pottle, who said, 'Huggins had unusually long hair and dressed somewhat shabbily. He was of less than average height, with a florid complexion, but good-natured and helped friends who were in financial straits, despite often facing difficulties himself. But he could also be shy and prickly'. (4)
According to Rupert Maas, 'Huggins was an eccentric individual. He preferred the company of animals, especially chickens, than of his fellow men. He hated travelling through tunnels, and so would get off the train before Liverpool and walk the rest of the way home'. (5)
Huggins was buried in the graveyard of St James Church, Christleton and the headstone, dated 1884, has been
Grade 2 listed. It is a pointed arched, pink sandstone slab with a carved posy of flowers above the inscription. His epitaph, which he composed himself, reads, 'WILLIAM HUGGINS, an Historic and Animal Painter of acknowledged eminence. A just and compassionate man who would neither tread on a worm or cringe to an emperor'. The stone also carries a memorial to Samuel, his brother, who died the following year and Hannah, his sister. (6) His estate was £1623 5s. (7)
The oil painting depicts Emily Jordan with her three brothers: from left to right, Harry (2), Emily (4), Thomas (9) and Charles (7).
Emily Jordan was the mother of the donor, Miss Margaret Jessie Gourlay. It was painted in 1845.
We can see that Harry was wearing a dress, which he would have done up to the age of five or seven years, until he was 'breeched'.
Breeching was the occasion when a small boy was first dressed in breeches or trousers. From the mid-16th century until the late 19th or early 20th century young boys in the western world were unbreeched and wore gowns or dresses until an age that varied between two and eight. Breeching was an important rite of passage in the life of a boy, looked forward to with much excitement. It often marked the point at which the father became more involved with the raising of a boy.
The main reason for keeping boys in dresses was toilet training, or the lack thereof. The change was probably made once boys had reached the age when they could easily undo the rather complicated fastenings of many Early Modern breeches and trousers. Dresses were also easier to make with room for future growth, in an age when clothes for all classes were much more expensive than now. (9)
It has been commented that when studying the contemporary portraits of children you cannot always tell boys from girls, except by name. (8)
The donor was Margaret Jessie Gourlay, born in 1871 in Birmingham, West Midlands, to Emily Pearson Jordan (1841-1934), born in Wolverhampton and William Gourlay (1836 -1917), born in Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.
Margaret’s mother, Emily Pearson Gourlay (nee Jordan), was the little girl in the painting of the Children of the Jordan Family.
In 1851 Emily Pearson Jordan lived in Edmonton, Middlesex, with her parents, Sarah, born 1814 and Thomas, born 1812. She had six brothers and one sister.
In 1851 Emily’s husband-to-be, William Gourlay, was living at the High Street, Penninghame, Wigtownshire, with his parents, three sisters and two brothers. His father was a watchmaker and he became his apprentice.
In 1861 William was living in lodgings at 48 Howe Street, Aston, Birmingham and working as a watchmaker, having served his apprenticeship. Emily was living with her mother, Sarah, and seven siblings, her father Thomas having died. Somewhere their paths crossed and they married in 1863 in Staffordshire.
The next census was in 1871 but their movements can be traced by the places their children were born: in 1865 their son, James W, was born in Coventry, as was their daughter, Ellen C, in 1866. They then moved up to Glasgow, where they had another daughter, Emily, in 1869, before returning to Birmingham, where Margaret Jessie, the donor, was born in 1871. On the 1871 census we find them living in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Lancashire.
The 1881 census recorded their address in Barton-upon-Irwell, Lancashire. William was a watchmaker jobber and his son, James, was an apprentice.
By 1891 they had moved to 11 The Groves, Eccles, Lancashire. William was a watchmaker to the trade but James had moved out of the family home. Their eldest daughter, Ellen, was a dressmaker, Emily was a boot and shoe shop woman and Margaret was an embroiderer.
In 1901 the family had moved to 84 Lord Street, Blackpool. William was still a watchmaker jobber but working for himself at home. Ellen was unemployed and Emily was a boot and shoe keeper on her own account, employing her sister, Margaret, as an assistant.
In 1911 their address was 8 Park Road, Blackpool. Emily was now 70 and her widowed sister, Annie Maria Jones (nee Jordan), aged 63, had moved in with them as a help and companion. Emily and Margaret were both boot and shoe dealers. William was visiting friends in Bournemouth during the census and was reported as being a retired watch maker.
William died in the Fylde district in 1917, aged 81, followed by Emily Pearson in 1934, aged 93.
On 25 July 1955, Margaret Jessie Gourlay of 57 David’s Road South, Lytham St Annes donated the painting to the Lytham St Annes Art Collection, prior to moving to 19 All Saints Road. Her final place of residence was the Kingstown Nursing Home in Lytham St Annes, where she died on 2 June 1957.
Councillor Crook reported the gift of the following paintings at the Council meeting held on 25 July 1955, all donated by Miss Margaret Jessie Gourlay of 57 St David's Road South.
Family Oil Painting W Huggins (1845)
Water colour H C Fox RBA (1912)
New Forest, Hampshire (w/c) Fred Hines.
A Haunt of the Wild-Duck (w/c) Tayler-Ireland
articleid=14052&back= the Oxford DNB
The Victorian Web - London:
Peter Nahum, Leicester Galleries
Sally Burgess, Pre-Raphaelite-Symbolist-Visionary
(3) Liverpool Mercury, Thursday, 28 February 1884,
Albert Nicholson and Rev Mark Pottle
The Victorian Web: Maas, Rupert, British Pictures, London,
The Maas Gallery 2006
administration, 30 May 1884, CGPLA Eng. & Wales
(10) Council meeting memo, 25 July 1955
More paintings by William Huggins can be seen at: