Ozzy’s origins

Ozzy’s origins

Genealogist Anthony Adolph delves into the famous rocker’s humble origins in England’s West Midlands

Anthony Adolph, professional genealogist

Anthony Adolph

professional genealogist

Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne has a strong sense of family. He’s allowed TV cameras into his home to film his family life, and made public his belief that his family is cursed (because he was almost killed while quad-biking, his mansion nearly burned to the ground and members of his family have struggled with drug addiction and cancer).

Taking a longer-term view of the Osbourne family, however, Ozzy’s rise to fame and wealth could be seen as a singular stroke of good fortune. Before he came along, earlier generations of the family were forced to work extremely hard for relatively little reward. He is vastly better off than any of the forebears whom I have traced so far.

Ozzy’s real name is John Michael Osbourne, though he was originally registered as plain John. He was born on 3 December 1948 at Marston Green Maternity Hospital, Coleshill, Birmingham. His parents were John Thomas Osbourne – known as Jack – and Lilian Osbourne, formerly Unitt. They lived at 5 Swain Grove,

Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath pictured in 1970. Ozzy Osbourne (aged 21) is at the far right

Anerley Road, Kingstanding, Birmingham, a two-bedroom house shared by Ozzy, his parents and four siblings. Both his parents had jobs which were typically associated with Birmingham. Ozzy’s father was a tool maker who worked nights in a steel plant. His mother worked the day shift making electrical circuits in a car assembly plant. Of course, the family couldn’t possibly afford to buy a car of their own: Ozzy’s father spent any pennies left over after basic food, clothes and rent in the local pub.

Ozzy Osbourne’s birth certificate
Ozzy Osbourne’s birth certificate – he was born plain ‘John’

After enthusiastic participation in school musicals, especially productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operattas, Ozzy got a job in the Lucas electrical plant, tuning car horns. After many further jobs and a spell in Birmingham’s Wiston Green Prison for petty theft, Ozzy joined a rock group called Music Machine, hoping to follow the Beatles’ example by making money from pop music. A combination of talent and being there at the right time led to Ozzy’s sensational rise to popularity as lead singer for the rock group Black Sabbath from 1969 to 1978. Meanwhile, his subsequent dependence on drink and drugs – not to mention further brushes with the law and biting the heads off a live dove (on purpose) and a dead bat (by accident – he thought it was a rubber model) – kept him firmly in the public eye.

After his first marriage to Thelma Mayfair fell apart, Ozzy married his second wife, Sharon Arden – the daughter of his business and contracts manager – on the beach at Maui, Hawaii in 1982. At one stage he was reported to have been ‘pleading’ with Buckingham Palace for a knighthood, so that Sharon could become ‘Lady Osbourne’.

Ozzy’s parents Jack and Lilian married in 1938, at St Edward’s Church, Birmingham, with witnesses including a rather grand-sounding HRH Osbourne. This sounds like an echo of some of Ozzy’s wilder fantasies, but in fact it turned out to be Jack’s mother, Harriet Rose Hannah Osbourne, then 65 years old. Jack himself was born in 1913, son of Joseph Osbourne, a metal polisher, and HRH Osbourne, whose maiden name was Roe (so before her marriage she was HRHR!). Her father, William Roe, was a painter, perhaps of buildings or otherwise of ornaments, such as fans.

Jack’s place of birth was Back 177, New Town Row, Birmingham. This unusual-sounding address tells us that the house was one of the famous back-to-back houses typical of Birmingham and other Midlands and northern industrial towns. Built in the 19th century to accommodate industrial workers’ families, they consisted of rows of three-storey terraced houses, with one room per storey, built facing onto courtyards, but with the rear wall forming the back wall of the house behind. Consequently, the houses’ only windows faced out onto the claustrophobic courtyards, making ventilation virtually non-existent. All the houses in each courtyard shared a single washroom and a couple of outside loos. The back-to-backs had a fantastic community spirit, we are told, but they were also extremely unhealthy, and once disease took root there was little that could be done to escape it.

Birmingham was then a centre of the car and aircraft building industries. These had evolved out of earlier metal-based manufacturing industries. Just as Jack’s generation built cars, his father Joseph’s generation worked mainly on making bicycles. Further back, towards the time when Joseph was born in 1868, Birmingham’s metal-working industry had turned out all manner of industrial goods, not least guns of every sort.

Although once listed as a metal polisher (1901), Joseph’s career was mainly spent in a subsidiary, but still typical Birmingham industry, working on pearls to create ornaments and buttons. He had migrated into central Birmingham from nearby Aston, where he was born at 6 Court, Heneage Street – another typical ‘back-to-back’ address – for Aston was already part of the area’s sprawling industrial complex. Joseph’s parents were William Osborne, an iron moulder who himself became a pearl worker by 1895, and Sarah, daughter of James Harrison, who worked in the tin industry.

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Joseph’s father William and grandfather John Osbourne were from Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Famed for the crooked spire of its medieval church, Chesterfield is some 45 miles to the north-east of Birmingham, and on the flanks of what is now the Peak District national park. The area is full of fast-running rivers which, in the 18th century, had been a power-house of the early Industrial Revolution. John was a blacksmith of Hollywell Cross, Chesterfield, when he married Martha Broomhead at the town’s Unitarian Chapel in Saltergate in April 1846: their son William was born at Cowley’s Yard, Chesterfield a mere two months later. Ozzy may have cut an unconventional figure in his own generation, but his ancestors hadn’t all been a prim-and-proper lot either.

1871 census
Above: part of the 1871 census entry for the Osbo[u]rne family at 7 C[our]t, 3 ho[use], Snow Hill, Birmingham. Left: the Chesterfield baptism of Ozzy’s great-x3- grandfather in 1801

By the 1851 census John, Martha and young William had settled in Birmingham, where John worked the rest of his life as – variously – a blacksmith, metal moulder, machinist, hammer man and engine fitter: the move was probably due to the greater opportunities for employment there. The 1871 census for 7 Court, 3 House, Snow Hill, Birmingham, provides an interesting snap-shot of the family, with John, then working as a machinist, his wife Martha, and their grandson (Ozzy’s grandfather) Joseph, then aged only 3, staying with them.

Back-to-back houses in Birmingham toiletBack-to-back houses in Birmingham
Back-to-back houses in Birmingham, now preserved by the National Trust

Ozzy’s great-great-grandfather John was born in Chesterfield in 1825. This was before General Registration started (1837), but the parish registers show his baptism taking place on 2 June 1825. His parents were Charlotte Hudson and John Osborne, a shoemaker, once described as a cordwainer. This term was used of higher-quality shoemakers who traditionally used expensive leather from Cordoba in Spain. John was baptised at the Elder Yard Presbyterian (later Unitarian) Chapel in Chesterfield on 4 January 1801, the son of David Osborne and his wife Ann.

Although now spelled Osbourne, most of the earlier records of the family use the simpler spelling Osborne. The surname is a patronymic, taken by an unknown medieval ancestor of Ozzy’s from the name of his own father: he was literally the ‘son of Osborne’. The personal name was originally Norse, and was brought here either by the Normans (who were themselves of Norse origin) or by the Vikings who settled in northern Britain – including the Chesterfield area – in the 10th and 11th centuries. It derives from as, meaning ‘god’, and bjorn ‘bear’. This does not prove Ozzy has Viking ancestors, but it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if he had!

In 2010, Ozzy’s genome was sequenced and an even more interesting (or predictable?) ancestor was found for Ozzy – a Neanderthal. That, at least, is how the press reported it. In fact, it’s been established that all Europeans have a very small dose of Neanderthal DNA inherited from the early interbreeding – perhaps a one-off encounter – between modern humans and our Neanderthal cousins soon after our modern human ancestors left Africa, about 70,000 years ago. It doesn’t make Ozzy more or less remarkable than all the rest of us, and there is not much evidence that Neanderthals were any more violent than anyone else – but it is still amusing to be able to say – with absolute certainty – that once there was a Neanderthal roaming about Europe whose direct descendant would one day be known to the world as Ozzy Osbourne.

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