Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The multi-talented Hezekiah CLOSE 13.1.1885 – 20.6.1950

I'm grateful to Ian Johnson for the following account of his grandfather (and my 2nd cousin once removed), and look forward with interest to the day when Ian publishes the full biography.

Hezekiah Close 1885-1950
Hezekiah was born in the mining & cotton mill town of Leigh in South Lancashire, a town in previous agricultural times noted for its excellent Leigh `Toaster` Cheese.  He was the fourth child and only surviving son of coal miner Melchizedeck Close and cotton weaver Jennet Jamesey Porteous. His CLOSE family origins go back from Leigh via Westhoughton, Pemberton, Orrell and the Shevington areas of Lancashire then back in the 1790`s to the Grinton area of Swaledale in Yorkshire where Hezekiah`s 2x Great Grandparents James CLOSE and Ann (Nanny) Harker married just prior to them `emigrating` to the Wigan area of Lancashire.  The reason for the move is not known but more than likely could have been the running down of the lead mining industry in the Swaledale area with the increase in the coal mining industry in Lancashire offering a more secure future.
As a young child Hezekiah attended the local Methodist School and showed an aptitude early on for music as well as demonstrating an interest in all things mechanical, both of which would serve him well in his future working life. He was also a keen footballer, playing for two local sides in Leigh. Two team photographs have survived showing him as a teenager representing Bedford White Star FC in the 1899/1900 season and Leigh Villa FC in 1900/1901 season.
He was the first of his known CLOSE family male line to deviate from being a miner (either lead or coal) but whether this was influenced by the death of his grandfather William CLOSE at Albert Colliery, Westhoughton in a fall down the pit shaft in 1854 can only be speculated upon. On leaving school at age 12 he was apprenticed in 1897 to a local foundry which specialised in the manufacture of farming implements and he eventually learned his trade as a mechanic. He combined the work of a mechanic in the foundry during the day with that of a musician playing in local theatres and brass bands during the evening and weekends. He was certainly  strongly endowed with the work ethic.
In 1905 he was playing in the orchestra of the Leigh Theatre and was part of the Glazebury Prize Band that played at the civic opening of Leigh`s new Town Hall in 1907,  also performing in the orchestra at the new Leigh Grand Theatre and Hippodrome which opened in 1908. 
He became proficient enough both as a mechanic and a musician to acquire sufficient capital to set up in his own business in the first decade of the 20th century with a shop and workshop in premises on Railway Road, Leigh. Marriage followed in 1908 to Louisa Shuttleworth at Hezekiah`s Methodist church in Leigh with a second ceremony being performed a year later at Louisa`s RC church in Bedford, Leigh. Louisa was to play a full part in Hezekiah`s business whilst bringing up their three children. The business of servicing farming implements and vehicles, motorcars and motorcycles as well as selling motor cycles prospered until the onset of WW1 when Hezekiah was seconded in a reserved occupation to the war effort as a mechanic in civilian war work being based in London, only returning home on a monthly basis.
After the end of WW1 he re-joined his business which had been kept going in a reduced capacity by Louisa and one employee. Hezekiah was an avid motor cycle enthusiast having a motor cycle and sidecar in 1910 which enabled him to take his young family out on regular Sunday trips. The business continued to prosper and in 1922 Hezekiah designed his own marque of motor cycle named the HCL (Hezekiah Close of Leigh). Again fortune has looked down as far as family history research goes in that a sales leaflet for the HCL survives from 1922 which includes a photograph of the motor cycle that bears his initials complete with a full technical specification as well as blueprints.
Unfortunately only six of the HCL motorcycles were manufactured by Hezekiah before a local company whose fleet of vans he had contracted to service went bankrupt, owing him the then princely sum of over £800. He was unable to recover from this financial blow and had to close down his business, but in a couple of years he had worked hard enough as a professional musician to pay off any creditors and start again as a publican in a mining area of Leigh in a public house called the Spring View Inn (which he kept until his death in 1950).  By now he and his wife Louisa had a family of three girls Ena, Ivy & Louie – the latter being my mother.
As a musician he had a varied career which took him abroad for the first time in 1929 to Spain where he performed at the “International Exhibition of Barcelona” and on one occasion performed before King Ferdinand of Spain, again fortunately a photograph survives of this event. A second journey abroad came in 1931 with a trip touring Canada performing with the World Champion Brass Band, St. Hilda`s, culminating with the band performing at the Vancouver Exhibition. His commemorative medal for partaking in the exhibition has survived.
A feature of the St. Hilda’s concerts included Hezekiah`s soloist performances on the xylophone and the glockenspiel with his speciality piece called “The Two Imps”. In addition to his Brass Band career he played in orchestras in various theatres around Britain including summer seasons at Colwyn Bay, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Nottingham, Derby, Dundee, London, Wigan and Liverpool to name a few.

He also combined seasonal theatre work with spells touring in theatre company revues (musicals of their day) and the traditional pantomimes at venues around Britain as well as abroad. Perhaps the most notable of the revues performed by the musical companies he was involved with was the revue “No No Nannette”.  Many photographs and documents (contracts etc.) relating to his musical work have survived which serve to add a great deal of depth and colour to his life story.
From the early 1930`s  he had owned a car which was a rarity in the area he lived in although it was necessary for him to be able to attend the theatre and return home long after public transport had ceased for the night. His last position in the theatre was with the orchestra of The Royal Court Theatre in Warrington where he played from 1935 until the evening before his death in July 1950. A stark contrast could be seen in the public house as he prepared to leave home for work and chatted to black faced miners in their working attire whilst he was dressed in an evening suit complete with silk scarf, silk top hat, expensive Crombie overcoat, silver topped cane and grey spats covering his black patent leather shoes - his sartorial elegance standing out as he made his way out amongst the regular public house clientele.
It was not only the difference in clothes that set Hezekiah aside from his public house customers as his working life had been far more interesting, varied and exciting than theirs and that of his CLOSE ancestors. Despite his many friendships with the stars of the stage, who often stayed as guests at the public house, he remained a working engineer at heart as well as a humble drummer.
He was the last male of my CLOSE ancestors with his middle daughter Ivy, my aunt, being the last of the line to die in 2009 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa at the age of 95. Although I was only eight and a half years old when he died, due to my living with him at the public house I retain many happy memories of a talented and loving grandfather and soon hope to do justice to his life by completing a biography of him.
 Ian Johnson