Joseph North was not a native of Berkhamsted but was born and grew up in the nearby market town of Aylesbury. His birth was registered in the December quarter of 1851 and he was the son of John and Elizabeth North,. He had two sisters, one older and one younger.
After leaving school Joseph was apprenticed to a wheelwright. On becoming a master wheelwright in 1873 he married Charlotte Wright, the daughter of James and Ruth Charlotte Wright, who came from Hawridge, ‘a hilltop village of the Chilterns’. Sometime between then and the 1881 census Joseph and Charlotte moved to Berkhamsted where they were to live for the rest of their lives. From the 1861 census we learn that Charlotte’s parents and Charlotte and five younger brothers had moved to Thorn’s alley in Northchurch. Both Ruth and James Wright died in the summer of 1864.
Initially Joseph and Charlotte North lived in Park Street, at the west end of Berkhamsted, conveniently close for Charlotte to keep an eye on her younger siblings.
According to Percy Birtchnell Joseph North later claimed to have arrived in Berkhamsted with all his worldly goods wrapped in a red handkerchief, but that could well have been an exaggerated comparison with his later wealth. He worked initially for East’s, the well-established timber merchant and as a side-line he had a stall in the market taking orders on Saturday evenings for picture frames. He experimented also with a greengrocery and also a confectionary business. After that he began to deal in furniture and took two cottages opposite the George and fitted in a shop window. This brought him to the culmination of his enterprise when he began to deal in property acting as auctioneer. He started first with the development of what was later to become North Road. Later he helped to develop the upper part of Cross Oak Road, Shrublands Avenue and Park View Road.
Whilst amassing wealth and dealing in property he began to take an active part in local affairs. He served on the Berkhamsted Urban District Council and at one time was Chairman. He was also a Magistrate. Additionally, he was Chairman of both the Great Berkhamsted Gas, Light & Coke Company and the Water Company. He was clearly an astute business man but what sort of person was he? Joseph’s marriage was a childless one but his numerous nephews and nieces on his wife’s side played an important part in his life. Charlotte North died on 3rd October 1925 and Joseph remained a widower until the spring of 1931 when he married Asa Spicer, who was considerably younger than he. A closer idea of Joseph’s character can be gained by looking at his lengthy and detailed will, in which he took care of the needs of his wife, his numerous nephew and nieces and of local and national charities. He was a wealthy man and had obviously been investing his wealth wisely. He was a Weslyan Methodist and considered not only the needs of his local church but also left money to the Weslyan Foreign Missionary Society and to the Weslyan Methodist Local Preachers Mutual Aid Association. Other local charities were not forgotten since he also left money to the Berkhamsted and Northchurch Nursing Association and to West Herts Hospital. Any surplus money was to be equally divided between the National Children’s Home, Dr Barnado’s Home and Orphanage, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Joseph North, originally a wheelwright, later an auctioneer and property dealer left effects of £31,505 16s 4d. Probate was granted to Charles Edward Seagrave, upholsterer, his nephew, and to William Rivers Keen Saville, insurance broker. In a money-raising pamphlet for the Wesleyan Methodists’ Circuit he appears as ‘Joe North, the Berkhamstead (sic) Croesus. He nearly owns the town. Why don’t he build a nice new Church, and pull the old show down?’ Joseph is buried in a simple grave in Rectory Lane Cemeter,y together with his first wife, Charlotte and Charles Edward Seagrave and his wife Charlotte.