George Leedham Muirhead (1889-1969)
Fish fryer and merchant born in Chile served with Royal Garrison Artillery
George Leedham Muirhead was born at 30 Placeres, Valparaiso, Chile, on 1 October 1889 (although owing to some confusion between his parents and the Chilean authorities his original Chilean birth certificate gives his birth date as 1 September). He was the son of Robert Muirhead and Sarah Muirhead (nee Chance) and Leedham was his maternal grandmother’s maiden name. George’s father was from Airdrie in Scotland and his mother Sarah was born in Sunderland in 1866. Robert Muirhead had travelled to Chile a few years before to work as a railway blacksmith and Sarah, who was Robert’s second wife, is thought to have travelled to Chile as a lady’s maid and she met Robert in Valparaiso.
George had two younger sisters. His sister Emma was born in Valparaiso in 1891. By the time his youngest sister Mary Forrest Muirhead was born, in 1894, the family were living in Scotland at Mill Street in Airdrie. They later moved to Viewpoint Place in Airdrie. In 1901 the household included George’s older half brother Samuel Hanna Muirhead, who was one of Robert Muirhead’s children from his first marriage. His first wife Margaret Arnot Burnside had died in Partick, Glasgow, in 1886 and their children had been cared for by relatives while Robert was in Chile.
In 1901 George’s father was employed as a ‘Foreman Blacksmith’ yet by 1902 he had moved to Sunderland and had opened his first fried fish shop at 6 Wardell Terrace, on Fulwell Road in Sunderland. He was probably inspired to do this by the success of his mother-in-law’s family, the Leedhams, who had opened two fried fish shops in Sunderland in Hood Street, Monkwearmouth, and in Crow Tree Road. Another member of his wife’s extended family was trading as a fish merchant in Mainsforth Terrace in Hendon. So, Robert Muirhead had several contacts in the local fish trade who could have helped him establish his first shop.
This sector of the local fish trade was booming and, between 1901 and 1911, the number of fried fish shops listed in the local trades directories increased by over fifty percent. A shop might be bought for as little as thirty pounds – with a down payment of fifteen pounds and the balance by weekly payments of ten shillings. Another forty to sixty pounds might be needed to refurbish or fit-out the premises. A successful fryer also needed rudimentary business skills. They needed to be able to buy and sell at a profit, keep basic business records and be able to work long hours six days a week. Wardell Terrace was a short row of Tyneside flats and number six had been a green-grocers before Robert took it over. In 1904 and part of 1905 he was living next door at number five, presumably with his wife and children. Some months later they moved next door to live above the shop. Robert opened a second fried fish shop at 44 Dundas Street in 1905.
The business prospered, and Robert had a large end of terrace house named ‘Kinver House’ built at 54 Roxburgh Street, in Fulwell, Sunderland, which by 1911 was the family home. The census taken that year shows George Leedham Muirhead living there, along with his parents, his two younger sisters, an aunt (his mother’s sister) and a cousin. Everyone living at the address was recorded as being employed in one way or another in Robert’s business, with twenty-one-year-old George’s occupation being given ‘as assisting in the business’. By 1914 the family business was trading as ‘Robert Muirhead and Son’ and they were listed, in Kelly’s Directory, as ‘fried fish dealers’ with business premises at 6 Wardell Terrace and 44½ Dundas Street.
During the First World War George enlisted in the army and became a Bombardier in the Royal Garrison Artillery. His service record has not survived but we know that he was awarded the Military Medal in 1918 ‘for gallantry in bringing in a wounded comrade at the risk of his own life.’ There is also a family tradition that after the armistice his unit marched to Cologne where it formed part of the army of occupation. In 1920 George married Maggie Lindsay Jarvie in Glasgow. Maggie was the youngest daughter of John Jarvie, a farmer, and his wife Agnes Lindsay. Her brother Gavin Jarvie was a professional footballer who played for Sunderland, as well as elsewhere, during his career. George and Maggie had three children Robert (1922-1988), Agnes (1926-2012) and John (1929-1931).
After his father retired George took over the family business and, in the 1930s, he was trading as a fried fish dealer at 6 Wardle Terrace and as a fishmonger at Crozier Street. A house that his father had owned, in Laburnum Road, Fulwell, had probably been converted into another fried fish shop – which the family called ‘the top shop’ – by this time. It may be that the shop in Dundas street had been given up by then. George’s business interests led him to become an active supporter of the National Federation of Fish Fryers. In his spare time George was a stalwart of Sunderland Amateur Swimming Association and Redby Community Association. He was also a skilled gardener and grew beautiful roses.
Civil Birth, Marriage and Death records from England, Scotland and Chile
Baptism records from Chile
Census records from England and Scotland
UK WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls
Newcastle Journal, 1918
1939 National Identity Register
Birth date: 1-Sep-1889
Death date: 1969
Armed force/civilian: Army
Residence: 30 Placeres, Valparaiso, Chile
Mill Street, Ardrie, Scotland
Viewpark Place, Ardrie
6 Wardell Terrace, Sunderland
54 Roxburgh Street, Sunderland
52 Roxburgh Street, Sunderland
Mansfield Terrace, Sunderland
Employment: Fish Fryer and Fish Merchant.
Family: Parents: Robert Muirhead and Sarah Muirhead (nee Chance)
Siblings: Emma Muirhead (1891-1962), Mary Forrest Muirhead (1894-1983)
Spouse: Maggie Lindsay Jarvie (1891-1975)
Children: Robert Muirhead (1922-1989), Agnes Lindsay Muirhead (1926-2012), John Jarvie Muihead (1929-1931)
Bombardier, Royal Garrison Artillery
Medal(s): British War Medal
Contributed by Susan Muirhead and George Muirhead
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