Tyne & Wear

US Election 2016: Hillary Clinton's English mining roots

Hillary Clinton Image copyright Carolyn Kaster
Image caption Hillary Clinton has spoken about her immigrant grandfather during the election campaign

If Hillary Clinton is elected president when millions of Americans vote next week, a small corner of England will be claiming links to the most powerful woman in the world. BBC News went to the mining region where her grandfather's journey started more than 100 years ago.

"There's a girl in my class who looks identical to Hillary Clinton."

It was the early 1990s, and this innocuous comment by a teenager, about the wife of the new President of the United States, would usually have raised no more than a passing interest.

But the teenager in question was the son of local historian Jack Hair, a man intent on uncovering the history of the town of Stanley, in County Durham, north-east England.

Mr Hair's curiosity piqued, he decided to speak to the girl's father who confirmed there was indeed a family link to Mrs Clinton, setting the amateur historian off on a mission to establish the then-First Lady's roots.

Image caption Local historian Jack Hair has written about Hillary Clinton's English roots

He discovered that in 1879, Hillary's great-grandfather Jonathan Rodham was working in the mines that ran like veins through the County Durham countryside.

The 36-year-old was an overman, the third in rank of the officers down the pit.

He would have been in charge of safety by looking at air currents, and responsible for deploying the miners so they got as much coal out of the seam as possible.

Things were not easy.

"In the late 19th Century life in this area was very hard," Mr Hair said.

"Virtually the only occupation was coal mining. The miners' cottages were very basic, simply one big room downstairs, one big room upstairs, outside toilets, with no running water or electricity, and poor sanitation.

"Jonathan was an intelligent man, an athletic man, an ambitious man, and had a reputation as a hard worker.

"He moved from colliery to colliery, constantly improving himself and life for his family."

He and his wife Isabella already had six children when they welcomed their latest addition, Hugh, to their overcrowded cottage in the small village of Oxhill on the edge of Stanley.

But desperate to find a better life, three years later Jonathan boarded the SS Alaska and moved his family to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Image caption Jonathan Rodham made the 3,360-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean to start a new life in the USA

It was there that Hillary Clinton's grandfather Hugh was raised, alongside three other brothers and a sister who were born stateside, documents from the 1900 census show.

Hugh Rodham grew up, worked in a lace factory and fell in love with a Welsh woman called Hannah Jones.

The couple had a son, also called Hugh, in 1911. His daughter, Hillary Diane Rodham, was born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois.

Image copyright Hillary Clinton
Image caption Hillary Clinton's father Hugh served in World War Two
Image copyright Hillary Clinton
Image caption Hillary with her grandparents, Hannah and English-born Hugh, in the 1940s

Mrs Clinton's Durham connections emerged as her husband Bill successfully fought to become the 42nd US President.

Now Mr Hair lives just a stone's throw from the spot where her great-grandfather lived 135 years ago.

The street of former pit cottages is long gone, and his home, 20 Hill Top, is just a scrap of empty land.

Image caption The place where 20 Hill Top once stood is a patch of empty land

But it has not been forgotten.

The former secretary of state, who is running for president against Republican candidate Donald Trump, has previously spoken with pride about her British ancestry.

And in an election campaign in which immigration issues have been prominent, it is perhaps unsurprising she has drawn on her own family's experience.

Speaking in Iowa in April last year, Mrs Clinton said: "My grandfather went to work in a lace mill in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and worked there until he retired at 65.

"He started there when he was a teenager and just kept going.

"So I sit here and I think 'well you're talking about the second, third generation. That's me, that's you'."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Donald Trump has attracted support and controversy for his stance on immigration

But while scores of Rodhams remained in the Durham area, not all residents are aware of the link to one of the world's most famous women.

One woman I asked did not even know who Hillary Clinton was.

Image caption Stanley resident John Donaghy was unaware of Mrs Clinton's links to the area

John Donaghy, who was born in neighbouring New Kyo, said: "I'm amazed. I had no idea and I've lived here 59 years and I've never heard this story. She's lost her accent!

"It was a local pit village. People around here are hardworking, good people, they're fighters. She might have a bit of fight in her with that Geordie blood."

Another resident talked about playing bingo with a Mrs Rodham, who lived further down the road.

Joe Dover, who also lives a few doors down, said: "I didn't know (about Hillary's roots). It's very good - I'm a bit proud of that."

Image caption Joe Dover said he was proud of Mrs Clinton's link to the North East of England

Brian Boggon, 58, who works for Darlington Borough Council, says he is one of Mrs Clinton's distant cousins.

His great-great-grandfather, Ralph, was the brother of Joseph, who was the grandfather of Jonathan Rodham.

While Mrs Clinton's great-grandfather moved to the US, Ralph's family stayed in County Durham, moving gradually east as the mines inland were exhausted.

Mr Boggon said: "It's not quite pride I feel, just interest. I'm more interested in the historical context of the beleaguered mining communities and the migration that took place.

"Whether I ever meet Hillary Clinton remains to be seen, but I doubt it!"

Image copyright BBC/Google
Image caption The grave of Hillary Rodham Clinton's father and grandfather is in a small cemetery in Scranton

The late Durham county councillor Tony Moor wrote to the First Lady in 1993, inviting her to visit and research her roots, but the offer was declined.

Instead, he and Mr Hair organised an event inviting all those who believed they were related to Mrs Clinton to meet at County Hall.

More than 150 people showed up.

Mr Hair said he remained hopeful she would visit one day.

"The invitation is a standing invitation. If she is ever within our vicinity she will be made more than welcome in Durham county."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mrs Clinton, with husband Bill on his inauguration day in 1993, has yet to visit County Durham

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