Top row: John Craven as he is today; with fellow Countryfile presenter Matt Baker. Middle row: On-screen in John Craven’s Newsround; with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Bottom row: John with his 1981 paperback, John Craven’s Wildlife Report; a panorama of photos of John over 40 years.
We’ve never met but I feel a sort of affinity with John Craven, the popular TV presenter. We’re both Yorkshire lads, born very close in time to one another, and we both began our careers as junior reporters on local newspapers, John in Harrogate and I in Halifax.
However, I went to Fleet Street to work on national newspapers and he became a famous face on television, a much-admired presenter of first the eponymous John Craven’s Newsround for children and later the BBC’s magazine programme Countryfile, which he fronted for 20 years as it tackled rural issues and revelled in the beauty of Britain’s countryside.
Though he’s no longer the main presenter, John still appears on Countryfile, focusing on investigations into the farming and food industries, and his style is as perceptive and forthright as ever. Craven was awarded the OBE in 2000 for services to rural and children’s broadcasting
John Raymond Craven was born on 16 August 1940 in Leeds, just six weeks after my birth in Bradford, so we were both World War II babies.
He is the son of Willie Craven and Marie Noble, who were married just after Christmas on 27 December 1937 at Kirkstall Congregational Chapel, Leeds. Willie, aged 27, was a grocer’s assistant and Marie, 25, was a printers’ envelope maker. The marriage certificate shows Willie’s father as William Henry Craven, a blacksmith, and Marie’s father was Percy Noble, an assistant overlooker.
Marriage of John Craven’s parents, Willie Craven and Marie Noble, at a congregational chapel at Armley, Leeds, two days after Christmas Day 1937.
John’s dad, Willie, became a prisoner of war in the Far East during WWII and later suffered agonies from recurring malaria attacks, which prompted John to make an Internet video urging people travelling abroad to take precautions against the disease.
Willie Craven – he appears in the GRO birth indexes as Willie, not William – was born in the registration district of Bramley, Leeds, on 29 November 1910, but his birth wasn’t registered until the following quarter, January-March 1911. I discovered the actual birth date from the index record of Willie’s death in 1990.
Willie just crept into the 1911 census, aged four months. He was living at 4 Drury Street, Armley, a large suburb of Leeds, with his parents William Henry and Sarah Ann Craven. William Henry, blacksmith, and his wife were both aged 32 and had been married six years.
The Craven family, including young Willie, aged four months, with his parents and older sister in the 1911 census at Armley, Leeds.
Also in the household was Willie’s older sister, Mary, aged two, and a boarder, Charles Henry May, 28, an iron moulder and the brother of Sarah Ann Craven whose maiden name was May. The whole family gave their birth place as Leeds. The 1911 census also revealed that William Henry and Sarah Craven had lost one child who had died.
I found a baptism record for William Henry Craven at St Stephen’s Parish Church, Kirkstall, Leeds, on 17 March 1880, and this also gave his birth date as 26 December – Boxing Day – 1878. His birth wasn’t formally registered until the January-March quarter of 1879.
John Craven’s paternal grandparents, William Henry Craven and Sarah Ann May, were married in 1905 at St Bartholomew’s Church, Armley, when both were aged 26.
Marriage of John Craven’s grandparents, William Henry Craven and Sarah Ann May, at Armley, Leeds, in 1905.
In the census of 1901, William’s family were at 13 Temperance Street, Headingley cum Burley, Kirkstall, Leeds, with William then single and aged 22, the eldest of three sons and two daughters whose ages ranged down to five. Head of the household was William’s widowed mother, Eliza Craven, a 45-year-old charwoman.
One slight surprise was that, while all the children were shown as being born in Leeds, Eliza’s birth place was given as Stratford, London – the only one of John Craven’s direct paternal line ancestors I came across who was born outside Yorkshire. In the 1911 census Eliza, a charwoman, was still at 13 Temperance Street, but this time her birth place was given as Epping Forest, Essex.
I turn now to a tragic chapter in John Craven’s family history. Trying to discover a death date for his grandfather, William Henry Craven, I could find no record that fitted in Leeds or anywhere else. However, after much further research I found the death of a William Henry Craven, of Kirkstall, Leeds, who died during the First World War in Mesopotamia on 30 August 1917, aged 38. I was uncertain initially whether I had the right man, but then I found at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website a commemorative certificate and this revealed that he was the husband of Sarah Ann Craven, of 18 Pratt’s Terrace, Commercial Road, Kirkstall. Since I could find no other couple in the 1911 census who fitted the record, it would seem that this William Henry Craven was indeed John’s grandfather – something which does not seem to have been been mentioned anywhere in any of the online biographies of John Craven.
The certificate revealed that William Henry was a Sapper in the Inland Waterways and Docks section of the Royal Engineers, his military number being 174730. He was commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq, which commemorated more than 40,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Mesopotamia campaign from the autumn of 1914 to August 1921 and who had no known graves. Sadly, the original memorial was removed during the regime of Sadam Hussein and re-located in the desert outside Basra. According to a news story in 2013, it was severely vandalised and wrecked following the demise of Hussein and little now remains of it except stones.
I also found in the Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper of 30 August 1937 an In Memoriam notice for Sapper William Henry Craven, inserted by his wife and family on the 20th anniversary of his death.
Above: a commemorative certificate at the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for Sapper William Henry Craven and an In Memoriam notice in the Yorkshire Evening Post on the 20th anniversary of his death; Below: the former Basra War Memorial, now vandalised and destroyed following the Iraqi War and the fall of Sadam Hussein.
Researching John Craven’s paternal family tree farther back beyond his grandfather William Henry, the blacksmith, I discovered three successive generations of direct male ancestors who were all called Joshua Craven. For simplicity, I will refer to them as Joshua Number One, Joshua Number Two and Joshua Number Three, but they will appear in this account in reverse order as we go farther back in time. Hopefully, all will become clear!
I looked for William Craven in the 1891 census and found him with his parents, Joshua and Eliza Craven, at 20, Club Row, Headingley With Burley, Kirkstall, Leeds. William was then a scholar of 12 with an older sister Mary, 15, and two younger brothers, George 6 and Albert 1, all born at Kirkstall.
The father, who I will call Joshua Number Three, was a forgeman (iron worker) of 38, born at Armley, and his wife Eliza was 36, born in London, just as she had appeared in the 1901 census. I found from the GRO death indexes that Joshua died in the first quarter of 1900, aged only 45, which accounted for Eliza being a widow in 1901.
In the 1881 census Joshua’s name was abbreviated to Josh and the first name of his wife Eliza was enumerated as Elixer! Initially, I thought this must be a mistranscription, but a close examination of the schedule revealed that this was how the enumerator had written it.
I’ll make the point here, for the benefit of beginners to family history, that you should never submit a correction to an enumerator’s entry if it has been correctly transcribed, even if you believe it to be wrong. The golden rule of census transcribing is that you write exactly what you see and what the enumerator has put down.
The family were at 7, Woodgrove St, Headingley With Burley, with Joshua aged 27 and an iron forgeman, Eliza (Elixer) 25 and a woollen weaver, and two children, Mary 5 (identifand son William H, then only two.
In the 1881 census Joshua Craven appears as Josh and his wife Eliza as “Elixer” – obviously an error by the enumerator.
The birth of Joshua Craven (Joshua Number Three) was registered in the Hunslet registration district of Leeds in 1854 and he married at St Mathias’ Church, Burley, Leeds in 1875 to Eliza Slater. These were the parents of William Henry, the blacksmith, and thus the great grandparents of John Craven.
At birth Joshua was given the middle name of Standfield and when he married it was shown as Stanfield. This would later become important in getting the Craven family tree back further.
Marriage of Joshua Stanfield Craven (Joshua Number Three) and Eliza Slater, John’s great grandparents, at Burley, Leeds, in 1875.
I looked for Joseph Number Three in the censuses of 1871 and 1861 and found him in 1871 with his mother and four siblings at St Ann Row, Headingley Cum Burley, Leeds. Joshua was then aged 17 and described as a forge boy in the iron trade. He had two sisters and two brothers, while the head of the household was Hariet Craven, aged 44 and born at Armley.
Hariet was a widow, which meant I had to go to the census of 1861 to try and discover who Joshua Number Three’s father was. This I was able to do. Living at Far Fold, Armley Leeds, was the family of Joshua and Harriet Craven with a family of three sons and two daughters including Joshua jr, born in 1854 at Armley. The family are spread in the census over two pages.
Joshua Craven senior (Joshua Number Two) was aged 32 and an iron forgeman – just as his son, also Joshua, became – born at Wortley, near Armley. His wife Harriet was a couple of years older at 34 and this couple were John Craven’s great great grandparents.
The 1861 census is particularly significant in the Craven family history because all three Joshua Cravens who were John’s ancestors appear in it. I have already mentioned Joshua Number Three and Joshua Number Two, but also in the census of 1861 were Joshua Craven (Joshua Number One) and his wife, Sarah.
They were living at Wingate Road, Armley, Leeds. This Joshua was John Craven’s great great great grandfather and he, too, was an iron worker, a forge labourer, like his son and grandson. Joshua Number One was born about 1803 at Pudsey, an industrial town midway between Leeds and Bradford, while his wife Sarah, also 58, was born at Wortley, Leeds.
The entry for Joshua and Sarah Craven in the 1861 census. They were the great great great grandparents of John Craven.
I will explain shortly how I managed to tie the three Joshuas together, who were all linked by the middle name of Stansfield, Standfield or Stanfield – undoubtedly the common factor, never mind the spelling!
But first I found the death in 1864 at Bramley registration district of Joshua Standfield Craven, who was Joshua Number Two born about 1829, so he was only in his mid-30s when he died. This explained why Hariet Craven was a widow in 1871.
Going to the 1851 census, I came across something which initially threw me somewhat and made me wonder whether I had the right man. Joshua Number Two was there alright – however, his wife’s name was given as Elizabeth and not Harriet! Everything else seemed to fit: Joshua’s age was given as 22, his birth year 1829, his occupation as a pudler (another iron trade job) and his birth place as Armley.
The couple were living at Win Gate, Armley, Leeds. and Elizabeth was also aged 22 and described as a domestic. With them was a two-year-old son, Thomas Craven. After research in the GRO marriage indexes and also the marriage indexes at Yorkshire BMD (the indexes from the local register offices at http://www.yorkshirebmd.org.uk), I established that a Joshua Craven married Elizabeth Nichols at the parish church of St Peter’s, Leeds, in the second quarter of 1849.
A search of the death indexes produced a number of Elizabeth Cravens who died in the Leeds area between 1851 and 1854, one of whom was the wife of Joshua Number Two. The most likely candidate was an Elizabeth who died in the April-June quarter of 1851, for in the first quarter of 1852 Joshua Craven married Harriet Atha at St Philip’s Church, Leeds.
And so the mystery was solved! Poor Elizabeth died young at only 22, Joshua remarried a few months later to Harriet and had more children with her, including Joshua Number Three.
The two marriages of Joshua Craven (Joshua Number two), firstly in 1849 to Elizabeth Nichols and then in 1852 to Harriet Atha, Elizabeth having died young.
The father of Joshua Number Two – Joshua Number One – was also found in the 1851 census living near his son, also at Win Gate, Armley. The two Joshuas appeared on adjacent pages and were just a few doors from one another. Joshua snr’s birth year was shown as 1803, his wife Sarah Craven’s was the same, and there were three sons whose ages ranged from 19 down to 11, the whole family being shown as born at Armley. A nephew and niece were also in the household.
In the 1841 census both Joshuas, with other sons of Joshua Number One and Sarah, were found at Wingate, Armley, with the ages of Joshua snr and Sarah rounded down to 35 and Joshua jnr aged 12.
Now to the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle which enabled me to get the family tree of John Craven back yet one more generation. Joshua Craven Number One died in 1878, aged 75, so he outlived his son, Joshua Number Two, by some 14 years. I mentioned that Joshua Number Two was described at death as Joshua Standfield Craven and his son (Joshua Number Three) was registered at birth also as Joshua Standfield Craven.
I discovered from the International Genealogical Index at FamilySearch that a Joshua Stansfield [sic] Craven was baptised at Wortley by Leeds on 11 April 1830, son of Joshua and Sarah. The likelihood is high that this was Joshua Number Two.
I was unable to identify for certain the maiden name of Joshua’s mother, Sarah, for there were several possible marriages in the Leeds area for a Joshua Craven to a Sarah between 1818 and 1823. However, from the IGI I believe I found the baptism of Joshua Number One at Pudsey on 29 August 1802, the father being shown as Abraham Craven. Pudsey was given as Joshua’s birth place in the 1861 census.
Pudsey had a Chapel of Ease to the then larger parish of Calverley and the registers are online in a superb database at: http://www.calverley.info. This revealed the extra information that Joshua Number One’s mother was called Elisabeth – and I then found at Calverley on 8 December 1793 the marriage of Abraham Craven, a clothier, to Elisabeth Stansfield.
So it looks as if Joshua Stansfield Craven (Joshua Number Two) was given his grandmother’s maiden name as a middle name and he then passed it on to his own son, Joshua NumberThree.
If my speculation is correct, then Abraham Craven and Elisabeth Stansfield were the great great great great grandparents of John Craven.
The surname Craven appears in the registers of Calverley many times, going back to as early as a baptism of Robert Craven in 1585 in the time of Elizabeth I, with the earliest marriage being that of another Robert Craven to Sybil Baytson in 1596. Who knows? Maybe these were much earlier ancestors of John Craven, too, but it would take considerably more research (and substantially more space than I have here) to get the pedigree that far back.
Sources of research include:
FreeBMD (http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl) which has many millions of birth, marriage and death records from the General Register Office for England and Wales.
Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.co.uk/) a major genealogical website which carries all the census records and images from 1841 to 1911, also the US censuses.
FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/), the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ancestry, West Yorkshire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 (http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=2253)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (http://www.cwgc.org/)
British Newspaper Archive (http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/)
Calverley.info (http://www.calverley.info) an excellent database for the parish of Calverley, Yorkshire