Poet, Philosopher, Failure

Bob Fleetwood looks at the life of one of Heysham’s greatest characters James Jones who died in 1930

Friday, 11th June 2021, 3:06 pm

Visitors to St. Peter’s Churchyard in Heysham may have seen the unusual gravestone of two of the wives of James Jones.

The inscription “Poet, Philosopher and Failure” does not refer to his wives but to James Jones himself.

He was probably the greatest character to ever live in Heysham, although he spent most of his life elsewhere.

James Jones (Poet, Philosopher and Failure) 1838-1930.
James Jones (Poet, Philosopher and Failure) 1838-1930.

A keen cyclist he was a familiar sight in Morecambe and Heysham riding his tricycle. He was interviewed by the Morecambe Guardian in 1923 and he told of going to the USA during the Civil War and then joining the Union Army. He told of seeing General Ulysees S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

After the war, he said he worked for Hiram Maxim the inventor of the machine gun on a device to obtain gas from petroleum, and helped lay out Washington Circle on Pennsylvania Avenue.

He lived in both Brooklyn, New York and Washington. He ran several businesses whilst in America. In Brooklyn, James, who had a good tenor voice sang in the choir of the Plymouth Church whose pastor was Henry Ward Beecher the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Madame Antionette Sterling the famous soprano was the church singer. Whilst in Washington he said he had free run of the Capitol Building and was introduced to President Grant.

Ulysees S. Grant (Union Army General and US President).

He also attended the same Metropolitan Church in Washington as President Grant and sat opposite him.

Born in Aston, Birmingham in 1838 he became an engine fitter and married Maria Butlin in St Pancras, London in 1859.

They were living in Birkenhead in 1861 and he left for America on his own before being joined by his wife later. They had two sons and a daughter Martha in Brooklyn, but she died young.

The family returned to England in the late 1870’s and James said he was the under manager at the Redheugh Chemical Works on Tyneside which caught fire and was destroyed in 1881.

Poet, Philosopher and Failure gravestone in St Peter's Churchyard, Heysham.

He then moved to Halifax to be involved in the building and running of the Hebble Chemical Works. He then went into semi-retirement, moving about the country and was living in Newton Heath in Manchester in 1891.

There he was involved in the setting up of the first “Cinderella Club” with Robert Blatchford which provided holidays, etc. for poor children.

He contributed poems to The Sunday Chronicle newspaper on a regular basis. His wife Maria died in Newton Heath in 1898 and James married Sarah Hannah Ramsbottom a native of Normanton, Yorkshire in 1899 at Newark, Nottinghamshire. They moved to Heysham in 1902 and bought a house on Granville Road where Sarah sadly died in 1909.

She was the first of his wives to be buried at St Peter’s, Churchyard, Heysham. James was employed by Heysham Urban District Council as the Hackney Carriage Inspector and the Water Inspector.

Full inscription of the gravestone of James Jones' wives.

In 1911 James married once more to Sarah (Sadie) Elizabeth Heaton who had moved to Morecambe from Keighley where she had run a grocery shop with her late mother.

James and Sadie were both deeply involved in the new Sefton Road Congregational Church which opened in July 1929 and he provided the lyrics for a hymn that was sang at the opening service. Sadie died in October 1929 and became the second wife laid to rest in St Peters Churchyard.

James Jones died in Heysham in October 1930 aged 92 and was buried in Torrisholme Cemetery, not with his wives as is commonly thought as his name is on their gravestone.

The churchwarden of St Peter’s has also been in touch. He told me that there was an unmarked grave in the churchyard for a James Jones, although this contradicts the Morecambe Guardian 1930 article which said that he was buried in Torrisholme Cemetery.

Thanks to Bob Fleetwood for this article.