Queens Award for Voluntary Service

Triangle History: Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson was born in Salford on 15 March 1856; in the 1881 census he was listed as a 25 year old paviour, working for Salford Corporation like his father, John, who was a foreman in the same trade. The surveyor was moving to Lancaster in the early 1880s, and asked Joe to join him there as there was work to be had building new streets; Joe made the move but felt so homesick that he asked for a rise to make the transfer worthwhile.

Portrait of Joe Johnson in later years
Joe Johnson in later years

At a Lancaster Council Streets Committee meeting on 18 July 1887 (reported by the Lancaster Gazette on 30 July) it was agreed that “a portion of land … abutting on the canal” should be let for £1 a year; this may have been the land that we know as the Triangle but which Joe Johnson used as his yard. If so, he must already have been in business elsewhere in the town, as his daughter remarked in 1984 that the firm would have been 100 years old. Indeed, in July 1887 the same copy of the Gazette reported that Joe Johnson’s tender for work on “various back streets” had been accepted at £220 19s 3d.

The following year, on 25 August 1888, the Gazette reported that another meeting of the Streets Committee declared the following streets “to be highways, the same having been sewered, levelled, paved, flagged, metalled, channelled and made good to the satisfaction of the Urban Authority” namely Regent Street including South Regent Street, Back Regent Street, Portland Street and Carr House Lane. Presumably Joe Johnson and his men were responsible for much of the above work.

Pavior, asphalter, and general contractor

In 1893 Joe Johnson again tendered for work on Carr House lane, together with Eastham Street and Back Westham Street, for the sum of £280. 13s 6d, and the following year the Surveyor recommended him for work at the West End of Morecambe. By 1899 he had placed a block advertisement in Cook’s Directory as “Pavior, Asphalter, and General Contractor, dealing in Setts, Flags, Curb, Channel, Cobbles, Tufa Rockery, Spar Gravel, etc.” The building still remaining on the Triangle was used as Joe’s office, and the other buildings, now demolished, were his workshops. There was a gate on the canal side of the Triangle for the delivery of sand from Carnforth and stone from Silverdale.

On 19 December 1894 Joe finally won the hand of his sweetheart Ann Fox, who lived across the canal from the Triangle in the Canal Yard Cottage, and was working as a weaver at Storeys Mill. He had courted her unsuccessfully for some time but, as the eldest daughter of the widowed joiner Anthony Knowles Fox, she needed to stay at home to bring up her younger siblings. The Fox family had moved into the cottage with its joinery workshop in the 1860s and put down roots to such an extent that Basin Bridge came to be known as Fox’s Bridge.

Annie is born

Joe and Ann lived initially at 16 Brook Street, where on 31 March 1897 daughter Annie was born, but Joe had already been given planning permission to build 6 houses on Cromwell Road just the other side of the railway line. When Annie was two, the family moved into 36 Cromwell Road, at the far end of the eastern terrace, and Joe’s brother Edward, who had become a partner in the firm, joined them at no. 3.

Annie recorded in her later years that her father had told her about the time in 1896/98 when his firm had won the contract to lay a pipe across the canal at Hest Bank. One evening about 10 pm Edward went to check that things were satisfactory, only to find to his horror that the canal had burst. The quickest way to bring his brother Joe to the scene was to send a light railway engine to Lancaster to pick him up; presumably Joe had to scale the embankment at his home on Brook Street to gain access to the locomotive! The damage was repaired, and Joe was relieved to learn that the borough surveyor had given him the wrong measurements, thus absolving him of blame. He went on to win two contracts to install pipes across the Lune too.

View looking down on lorry in Joe Johnsons yard
Joe’s yard – a hive of industry

One of his incidental jobs included replacing the horseshoe at Horse Shoe Corner whenever they became worn; his granddaughter still has one in her possession. He also did work at the Projectile Factory down on the Quays where shells for the first world war were filled.

Sadly Joe’s wife Ann died in 1916, and ten years later daughter Annie married Stanley Tordoff and set up home in Prestwich, a suburb of Manchester. With declining health, Joe moved in with his daughter and son-in-law until his death in 1938, but he is buried with his wife at the cemetery here in Lancaster as the town had always been the hub of his universe.

In the 1930s Joe’s former office boy, John W. Illingworth, became a partner, and after Joe’s death carried on the business after the second world war.

Much of the above information has been kindly made available to the Triangle team by Joe Johnson’s descendants, who are continuing to take an active interest in the ongoing legacy of their forbear.

Joe Johnson Timeline

1881 Census

Joe Johnson, 25, pavior, son of John Johnson, foreman pavior, was living in Salford (Pavior = someone who lays paving).


Letter to the Lancaster Gazette on 26 Nov 1890 by a resident of Brook Street:

Wanted information as to when the roads situate, lying and being in front of all those messuages and tenements in the said roads or streets known by the names of Hope Street, Eastham Street, and Westham Street will be paved? During the past three years the first-named thoroughfare has been in bad weather a paradise of mud. Residents in these parts will have to get up a procession and like pilgrims in the slough of despondency chant the following:—

‘O Mr. Pavior, be our saviour,
For our hearts are sore afflicted,
And our path to bliss restricted
Through the careless ill behaviour
Unto which you are addicted.
Careless pavior, naughty pavior !

Daily twenty pounds of blacking
Are our kid and calf boots racking,
And each act of ambulation
Here is fraught with aggravation ;
Oft in sorrow, oft in woe,
Onward here we cannot go.

When will vict’ry tune our song,
When shall we like Dale Street’s throng
See the precious stones laid down,
Ah, such stones as those in town ?
With unflagging zeal we cry
Mr. Pavior pass not by.’

Lancaster Gazette – 16.11.1889


Letter to the Gazette by Kritikos, an anonymous reader :

Sir, allow me through your columns to call attention to the disgraceful condition of the roads in Carr House Lane and Brook Street. What is our Surveyor doing? Surely his time is not fully occupied at the Damas Reservoir? Has he no competent assistants amongst his staff who might take this matter up, and if it necessary, superintend the construction of two short streets, the approach to which is now in an impassable and disgraceful condition to any borough or official. Our specific members of the Council promise to give us redress, but in what shape is it to come?

Lancaster Gazette – 26.11.1890

1891 Census

Joe Johnson, pavior, was now lodging at 49 Willow Lane in Lancaster


Streets Committee meeting 13 Feb 1893:

Private Improvement Works. – Tenders were submitted for the private improvement works in Eastham Street, Back Westham Street, and Carr House Lane. Resolved that the following tender of Mr. Joe Johnson be accepted:- Eastham Street, £99 12s 8d; Back Westham Street, £61 9s 2d; Carr House Lane, £119 11s 8d; total, £280 13s 6d.

Lancaster Gazette – 25.2.1893


Joe Johnson marries Anne Fox in Lancaster


Annie Johnson born to Joe and Anne living at 16 Brook Street


Cromwell Road:

Planning permission was given in 1894-5 for 18 houses to J. Greene and in 1896-7 for 6 houses to J. Johnson.

Victorian Terraced Houses in Lancaster by Andrew White

1901 Census

Joe, Annie and Annie jr living at 36 Cromwell Road

1911 Census

Johnson family still living at 36 Cromwell Road

1934 Street Directory

No Johnson family at 36 Cromwell Road.

1970 Directory

Johnson, Joe (Contractors) Ltd. Ajax Works, Ridge Lane

1984 London Gazette

Liquidation of Joe Johnson (Contractors) Ltd. Ajax Works, Ridge Lane, Lancaster, 17.12.1984