James FORREST was born in Mellor, Lancashire in about 1832/33 according to the 1851 and 1871 censuses, and a possible 1841 Census record; 1833/34 according to his wedding certificate, 1835/6 according to the 1861 census and 1834/35 according to his death certificate. Working on the principle that the earliest records are more likely to be more accurate then 1832/33 might be the best guess.
According to his marriage certificate of 1854 his father was William, a brickmaker.
There are no christening records (1829-1839) for a James FORREST christened by a father named William within 20 miles of Blackburn. Within 50 miles, there was one in Sandbach, Cheshire on 6 April 1834 to William, bricklayer, and Elizabeth, and one for a James Watson FORREST in 1831 in Liverpool by a William, a master mariner, and mother Sarah. The Sandbach christening is intriguing given the father's brick-related profession, but James consistently stated that he was born in Mellor, so why would he have been christened 50 miles away in Sandbach? Did the family relocate temporarily for work? It seems unlikely.
An alternative is a christening in the Chapel Street (Independent), Blackburn on 12 Jan 1834 of a boy called James born 13 Dec 1833 by parents William and Alice. Unfortunately no surname is given for a small cluster of baptisms including this one, but several other couples called William and Alice regularly christened children at this chapel, so this record simply belong to another family. Also no marriage between a William FORREST and an Alice has been found.
A James FORREST was baptized by Charlotte FORREST, spinster, in Blackburn in December 1835. Perhaps William was the birth father, or an adoptive parent. Charlotte went on to marry Richard GREENWOOD and was living her new family in 1841, so if this was James then he was relinquished for adoption at birth, perhaps to Charlotte's relatives. Charlotte was baptized in Church (4 miles East of Blackburn) in January 1810 by John and Margery FOREST. John (a travelling tinker from Darlington, Durham) and Margery baptized Swale FOREST on 17 Oct 1815 in Padiham (4 miles further east). They may also have baptized a Margery FOREST in Wolsingham, Durham (100 miles from Church, but 20 from Darlington) later that year.
In 1841 a James FORREST, aged 9, was living with William FORREST, weaver, 65-69, James FORREST, weaver, 35-39 and Ann FORREST 15-19. A William FORREST, warper, aged 45-49 was living as a lodger in Birley Lane, Blackburn. It is possible that this was James' father, and that James was living with his grandfather and Uncle. If that is correct then James' father could have been the William FORREST who committed suicide in 1844. This James would have been too old to be Charlotte's son.
An Ellen FORREST aged 15-19 was living in Mellor in 1841 with an elderly couple called CHADWICK near to the same people that James was boarding with in Blackburn 10 years later.
In 1851 James was lodging in Ainsworth Street, Blackburn with people (Sarah COUP and Thomas COWELL) who had also made the move from rural Mellor into the city. Blackburn's only theatre was on Ainsworth St at that time.
James married Elizabeth ARCHIBALD on 13 April 1854 and had seven children between 1854 and 1873. (The witnesses to the marriage witnessed all marriages in that church at that time so can be ignored as possible relatives.) In 1861 he was lodging in a beer shop on Grimshaw Park, but in 1871 he was back with his pregnant wife Elizabeth and his five children.
By 1881 he was out of the house again living as a boarder in a beershop at 42/44 Highfield Road. Meanwhile his wife Elizabeth was living 600 yds away at 22 Crossfield Street with his four youngest children. Tellingly he is listed as a widower and she as a widow suggesting that the breakup was irreconcilable.
James died of bronchitis in the Blackburn Infirmary on 5 Dec 1889. His age was given as 54 suggesting a birth date of 6 Dec 1834 - 5 Dec 1835. At the time of his death he was living at 42 Primrose Hill with his son John's family, so he was on reasonable terms with at least some of his family. His son was still at 42 Primrose Hill at the time of the 1891 census.
He worked in the cotton industry initially as a piecer in 1851 and then a spinner at the time of his son Firth's christening. A piecer was employed to piece together any threads which broke and was usually a child or woman. He was described as a cotton spinner on his death certificate and "piecer (deceased)" on his son William's wedding certificate in 1890.