Colonel John Francis Haswell (1864-1949)

Colonel John Francis Haswell

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupations: Soldier and Surgeon

Early Life, Education and Family

John Francis Haswell CIE VD TD MD MRCS was born in North Shields on 29 December 1864 and baptised at Christ Church in nearby Tynemouth on 4 February 1865. He was known throughout his life as Francis Haswell. All his family roots were in the north east of England. His paternal grandfather was the Reverend John Partis Haswell (1790-1870), who was born in Durham and was a Wesleyan Methodist Minister, initially preaching in and around London. There the family lived for some years in Sloane Square in Chelsea and thereafter they retained freehold property in that part of the capital, whereby the Reverend John Haswell held voting rights in Westminster into the 1860’s as a result of his ownership of 12, Lawrence Street in Chelsea and two cottages in the adjoining Justice Walk.

The Reverend John Haswell then held ministries in Birmingham, Leeds and finally Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he died on 17 May 1870 at the age of 80. On 5 March 1828 in York he married Mary Newton Wilson (1796-1868), a native of that city, and they had three daughters Jane Mary (1829-1853), Frances Mary (1832-1835) and Eleanor Mary (1837-1917) and a son, Francis Robert Newton Haswell (1834-1912), the father of John Francis. Francis Robert Haswell was born in Southwark on 31 March 1834 and baptised at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel there on 9 August of that year but then came to the north east with his parents upon his father’s return. 

Francis Robert Haswell qualified as an architect, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and he practised in North Shields and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1858 he established a partnership with Robert James Johnson (born 1832) who had been an assistant to George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Johnson also supported Haswell’s application to the RIBA and they were both founder members of the Northern Architects Association in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1858. The partnership built St Mark’s Church at Ninebanks, near Alston in 1871, the Memorial Church in Albion Road, South Shields in 1889-91 and the bank in Howard Street in North Shields 

Francis Robert Haswell also had a parallel military career in the 1st Northumberland Artillery Volunteer Corps, being a Second Lieutenant in 1866, a First Lieutenant in 1867 and a Major in 1883 before attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Tynemouth Royal Artillery Volunteers in 1892. This set a pattern of military service which was to be followed by his son and grand-sons. He also became a magistrate in 1890. Francis Robert Haswell died in Tynemouth on 18 November 1912.

On 14 August 1861 at St Cuthbert’s Church, Darlington Francis Robert Haswell married Anna Young (1837-1923), the daughter of Thomas and Mary Young of North Shields. They had three sons and three daughters, Mary Emily (1862-1883), Frances Anna (1863-1927) and Catherine Eleanor (1871-1939). Their second son William Cyril Haswell (1869-1945) became a surgeon in Yorkshire and their youngest son Frederick (1878-1956) joined his father’s architectural practice as an assistant and in due course became its principal upon his father’s death. Francis Haswell was their eldest son and he lived with his parents and siblings in some style at Cauldwell House, then North Farm, both in Monkseaton, then at 3, Lovaine Terrace in North Shields (where the family lived at the time of the 1871 census) and all within easy commuting distance of the architectural practise in Newcastle city centre. 

Francis Haswell was sent away to school. He first attended the Friends’ School in Stramongate in Kendal (where the children’s author Theodora Wilson Wilson (1865-1941) (qv) was a contemporary) and then the Leys School in Cambridge, where he was a student at the time of the 1881 census. He also accompanied his brother Cyril on two extended European tours, the first in 1880, going to Rouen, Kronstadt (a Russian port city on an island in the Gulf of Finland) and St Petersburg and the second in 1881 to Barcelona and North Africa. Francis Haswell then went to Edinburgh University to study medicine in September of that year but he did not take his MD there until 1898. In the meantime he studied at Durham University Medical College in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where he qualified as MB, CM in 1886 and was made a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1890.

Army Career

Francis Haswell joined the Tynemouth Artillery at the age of 18 in 1882 with the rank of second lieutenant and in time he became their acting surgeon with the rank of Surgeon-Captain. In 1892 he enlisted as a volunteer in the 2nd Section 2nd Border Rifles and he then served with the Volunteer Force (the Volunteer Company of Cumberland) as Second Battalion Border Regiment in the South African War (the Second Boer War) in 1900-1901, where he was awarded the Queen’s Medal with three clasps. He received a sword of honour on his return to Penrith in 1901 and, in reciprocity, he was a staunch supporter of the erection in 1906 of the Penrith war memorial known locally as ‘The Black Angel’. The monument is dedicated to the men from the town who died during the South African War and has a central panel listing them, surmounted by a winged angel holding a wreath and signifying ‘Peace crowning the heroes’; it is this silhouette, formerly sullied by soot and framed against the sky, which gives the memorial its local name. It was designed by Francis William Doyle Jones (1873-1938), sculptor, medallist and painter, and is a copy of his Gateshead memorial to the fallen of the same war. It was originally erected in Corney Square outside Penrith Town Hall but was moved to its current elevated position in Castle Park in 1964 due to concerns about pollution damage. Colin Bardgett’s ‘The Black Angel’ details the stories and letters written by men of the Penrith Volunteer Company who fought in that war and has several entries about Captain Francis Haswell. 

Francis Haswell remained in the Volunteer Force after returning from South Africa, and then from its formation in 1908, he joined the Territorial Army. He served in 1st Battalion Border Regiment and when war broke out in September 1914, though by then fifty years old, he went with his regiment to India. From 1914-1917 Haswell there commanded 2/4th Border Regiment with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel before he was transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps at ADMS Quetta for the remainder of the conflict. After the end of the Great War, his unit was deployed to the North-West Frontier of India and his final service was in the Afghan War of 1919, before he was invalided home. He retired in 1920 with the rank of Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, an award reflecting his highly meritorious conduct as a commander.  This promotion award entitled him to retire with the rank of full colonel and accordingly, as Colonel Haswell, he remained for many years thereafter a member of the Cumberland and Westmorland Territorial Force Associations. Francis Haswell’s military service led to his receipt of the Volunteer Decoration in 1901 and the Territorial Decoration in 1921 and most importantly he was made a Companion of the Indian Empire in 1920, the highest honour which he received. 

Medical Career

Francis Haswell’s first medical appointment after graduation in 1886 was as a junior house surgeon and assistant physician at the Northern Hospital in Liverpool and junior house surgeon at the city’s Children’s Hospital, fulfilling both roles from 1887-1890. During this period he wrote two medical articles, one on ‘Hereditary Amblyopia’ or lazy eye in 1888 and the other on ‘Chylous Ascites’, a condition where fluid builds up in the abdomen, in 1889. He then became senior house surgeon at Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle in 1890 after obtaining his MRCS and he also acted for several years as Assistant Medical Officer to Morpeth Asylum. In 1905 Haswell took up the joint posts of Senior Medical Officer at Fairhill Infectious Hospital (the Penrith Fever Hospital) and Medical Officer of Health for Penrith Urban and Rural District Councils; the latter position he held for 30 years until 1935 when he retired aged 70. He was also in private medical practice in Penrith from about 1892 where he first acted as assistant to Dr Wilson of 7, Portland Place and whose practice he took over upon the retirement of the incumbent several years later. He also served on the Penrith Board of Guardians, as well as acting as a Medical Referee for the Ministry of Pensions. Until his marriage, he lived at Portland Place, Penrith from which premises he also carried out his private practice; the 1891 census shows him there with a housekeeper and describes him as a physician and surgeon. On the 1901 census however Haswell’s Penrith practice was being run by a locum whilst he served in South Africa, with the family consisting of his wife and two young children being assisted by two servants.

Marriage and own family

On 24 July 1895 Francis Haswell married Frances Mary Little (1869-1951) at St Andrews Parish Church in Penrith. She was the eldest daughter of William Little (1832-1930), a local solicitor and JP, and his wife Mary Ann and who lived at Hutton Hall in Friargate in Penrith town centre. The ceremony was so popular that guests were in place a full ninety minutes before the service was scheduled to commence. At its conclusion a grand garden party was held at Hutton Hall at which the Volunteer Band played dance tunes. After their marriage the Haswells lived very close by at The Friarage, an early Georgian house built in 1717 on the site of the Austin Friars’ house and which they bought from another local eminent physician, Dr James Robertson. There they had two sons and a daughter. 

Their elder son was Francis William Haswell (1898-1973) who served in the 6th Border Regiment and the Pioneer Infantry before rising to the rank of Colonel in the Indian Army. He was awarded the DSO in 1941 and died in Natal in South Africa. Their younger son Reginald Hugh Haswell (1904-1989) also followed a military career, serving in the 1st Border Regiment and rising to the rank of Major. After leaving the army he settled in Edenhall near Penrith, acquired extensive estates and at his death left £665,537. Their daughter was Beatrice Mary Haswell (1896-1981) who lived at home, became a nurse and inherited The Friarage upon the death of her mother in 1951. She never married but devoted herself to the care of her parents and to local causes. In particular she was a member of the House Committee of East Cumberland Hospital Management Board, Assistant Commandant of the 14th Cumberland (Penrith) Women’s VAD and Camp Adviser to the Mid-Cumberland Guides. Mary Haswell was made a magistrate in August 1949 but sadly her father had died earlier that year and was unable to see his daughter achieve that distinction. She did however share with him an enthusiasm for antiquities and was an active member of the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society (CWAAS) from 1931 until her death. 

Later life, CWAAS and antiquarianism

Francis Haswell became a member of CWAAS in 1893 and at his death was one of its longest-serving members at 56 years. He was elected a member of its Council in 1894 and in 1911 became Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Parish Register Section. In 1913 he was made a Vice-President of the Society and in 1945 was elected an Honorary Member, a rare distinction which recognised his long and invaluable service. The Parish Register Section constitutes the most obvious and impressive memorial of those services; [Francis] Haswell being [was] responsible for nineteen of the thirty-four volumes which had been issued at the time of his death. Some of the weightier volumes such as Volume 12 ‘The Parish Registers of Middleton-in-Lonsdale Westmorland 1670-1812’ (1925) and Volume 15 ‘The Parish Registers of Crosby Ravensworth 1568-1812’ were published as separate books and can still be purchased today. Francis Haswell transcribed the registers, compiled the indexes and read the proofs ‘with equally meticulous care’, according to his CWAAS obituary. 

To the Transactions of the Society he contributed a series of important articles being ‘Notes on local heraldry’ (1897), ‘Heraldic Glass in Edenhall Church’ (1899), ‘Notes on the Friary at Penrith’ (1903), ‘On armorial stones at Yanwath and Barton Church’ (1905), ‘The castle of Penrith’ (1907), ‘The family of Dalston’ (1910), ‘Cliburn Hall’ (1912), ‘The college of Kirkoswald and the family of Fetherstonhaugh’ (1914 written jointly with Mrs Fetherstonhaugh), ‘The Irtons of Threlkeld’ (1924), ‘The Whelpdale family of Penrith’ and ‘The Hutton effigies in St Andrew’s Church, Penrith’ (both 1943). He also wrote many lesser notes and it is clear that, apart from the period when Francis Haswell was serving overseas during the First World War, there are few volumes of the Transactions during the long period of his membership which do not contain evidence of his activity, in particular after his retirement from medical practice in 1935. He spoke on excursions, took photographs, acted as referee on matters of heraldry (a subject which he had made peculiarly his own), preserved chance finds and exhibited them as and where appropriate. In addition, behind the scenes of the Society, he was in constant demand as a consultant on questions of local history in general and on the history of Penrith in particular. Upon his death his papers passed to his daughter Beatrice Mary Haswell who left them to Trinity Hall Cambridge as research material upon her own death in 1981. His ‘Genealogical Notes on families in Cumberland and Westmorland’ in particular have provided a bed rock for subsequent academic study of the field. He was also for many years a churchwarden at St Andrews Church in Penrith.

John Francis Haswell died at The Friarage on 3 February 1949 at the age of 84. His probate was granted on 18 March 1949 with his personal effects valued at £15,000. The bulk of his estate was left to his family but he left a specific annuity to his daughter ‘in some slight acknowledgment of her energy, skill and courage and who I believe saved my life on 26th November 1943 and of her steadfast devotion’. The precise nature of the event is not specified but her training as a nurse may have been relevant; her father would then have been in his eightieth year.


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