From pit to palace: Kate Middleton traces ancestry

She’s not exactly a coal miner’s daughter, but Kate Middleton has deep family roots in the grim coal pits of northern England.

In this Friday

In this Friday

She’s not exactly a coal miner’s daughter, but Kate Middleton has deep family roots in the grim coal pits of northern England.

Middleton has already captivated the world’s imagination with her Cinderella story of going from middle-class girl-next-door to queen-in-waiting, but until recently few knew of her family’s connection to coal mining, once a prime source of Britain’s prosperity that has now fallen on hard times.

Her great-grandfather left coal country nearly a century ago in pursuit of a safer way of life in the London area, but his siblings stayed behind and spent their working lives in the coal pits. She still has relatives in the area who expect her to bring a practical, no-nonsense approach to royal life once she and Prince William tie the knot at Westminster Abbey on April 29.

John Harrison, a cousin who still lives in Hetton-Le-Hole — once a bustling mining centre now down on its luck — doesn’t expect Middleton to act all high and mighty when she officially becomes a princess.

Harrison believes she still has a bit of the coal country in her, a head-screwed-on-straight practicality more common to the grit of northeast England than the gilded parlours of Buckingham Palace, with its priceless art collection and stifling protocol.

“I think she’s going to stamp her northeast way of life on William,” said Harrison, who has lost touch with Middleton’s side of the family but still plans to celebrate the royal wedding with his family’s own party-of-the-year.

“She’s told him they’re going to be more normal, more down to earth.”

The fact that the offspring of a coal mining family will soon be a princess — and a likely future queen — is taken by some as proof that Britain’s once-rigid social system has become more malleable.

“It says a lot about social mobility,” said Geoff Nicholson, a retired genealogist who lives in Hetton-Le-Hole, the town 270 miles (435 kilometres) north of London where Middleton’s ancestors lived.

“They certainly wouldn’t have done that in the hundred years before that. They went from the bottom to the top.”

The upward mobility — tabloids are calling it “From Pit to Palace” — began when Middleton’s great-grandfather Thomas Harrison, fed up with the grim prospects of life in a coal town, packed up and took his family to the London area, not with any grand plans, but simply to get cleaner, safer work.

Harrison, using his carpentry skills to avoid the coal pits, left behind most of his brothers and sisters, including his brother George, who became John Harrison’s father.

Thomas Harrison moved first to Ealing, a suburb west of London, and his granddaughter Carole eventually married Michael Middleton, who came from a successful family of lawyers and businessmen.

That was a distinct step up in the world. Their daughter Kate Middleton went to the best schools, and met a prince. They had an eight-year, on-again-off-again courtship that — finally — led to an engagement in November.

It was not unusual for men to leave the coal regions if they could, said Kate Reeder, a curator at the Beamish Museum that documents the region’s history.

She said coal mines in the Hetton area reached their peak in 1913 — when miners were relatively well paid — but then went into a sharp decline that prompted some men to abandon the mines in search of better jobs.

“It was a really, really unhealthy activity,” she said.

“Just being underground for most of your life is not a healthy thing to do, plus there’s the dust and the noise and the repetition of their work, and a lot of dangers from the machinery, and from explosions and gas incidents. So it’s not unusual for people to leave.”

Many who left did well for themselves, but the Harrison story is unprecedented.

“I suppose it’s a bit like winning the lottery,” said John Harrison.

“You’re not going to get any money out of it, but at least you’ll have memories. We’ll still be working class, but it’s a nice feeling to know there’s something there in the family, that we’re going to be related to royalty.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says she has not received an official request from any other school board for a similar move to online learning. (Advocate file photo)
’Operational pressures:’ Calgary schools shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12

School boards can ask to move online for a number of reasons

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Coordination Center of the Russian Government in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. The centre was set up as a line of communication with the whole of Russia for analysing and collecting information, promptly using big data and solving arising problems. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Months after hack, US poised to announce sanctions on Russia

First retaliatory action against the Kremlin for last year’s hack

FILE - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during the “Topping Off” ceremony of the New York Islanders new home, the UBS Arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mary Altaffer
Islanders close to selling out inaugural season at UBS Arena

Arena capacity of about 17,000 for hockey

An Uber Eats delivery person carries items near the Japan National Stadium, where opening ceremony and other events are planned for postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with engravings in honor of 1964 Tokyo Olympics seen on the side of the stadium wall behind the fence Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Tokyo. Two top officials of Japan’s ruling LDP party on Thursday, April 15, 2021, said radical changes could be coming to the Tokyo Olympics. One went as far to suggest they still could be canceled, and the other that even if they proceed, it might be without any fans.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Officials say Olympic cancellation, no fans still an option

COVID-19 cases have been rising across Japan

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2020 file photo, co-directors Jim LeBrecht, left, and Nicole Newnham, center, from the documentary “Crip Camp” pose with film subject Judith Heumann during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The disabled have a moment in the Oscar spotlight that they hope becomes a movement. LeBrecht, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, says a golden age for disabled films could come if Hollywood lets them tell their own stories. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
The disabled hope their Oscar moment can become a movement

Traditionally the disabled appear only when an actor seeking an Oscar-worthy role plays one on screen

FILE - Diane Warren poses for a portrait at the 90th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 5, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Warren is nominated for an Oscar for best original song for her work in “The Life Ahead” starring Sophia Loren. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
12-time Oscar nominee Diane Warren hopes for ‘awesome’ win

Third movie adaptation of the 1975 Romain Gary novel ‘The Life Before Us’

Opinion: Waiting 4 months between vaccine doses too long

“It’s not just a matter of potency, it’s a matter of the… Continue reading

Richie Laryea of Toronto FC, left, and Jean Meneses of Mexico's Leon battle for the ball during a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Leon, Mexico, in Leon, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Toronto FC hosts Club Leon in the second leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 tie holding a valuable away goal after a 1-1 draw last week in Mexico. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mario Armas
Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Winnipeg Jets' Dylan DeMelo (2) skates the puck around Ottawa Senators' Thomas Chabot (72) as he holds off Winnipeg Jets' Mason Appleton (22) during first-period NHL action in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

Most Read