Altrincham History Society

Biographies of local people

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Allingham, Helen

Helen M E Allingham was born in Derbyshire in 1848 where her father was a doctor. The family moved to Market Street, Altrincham in 1849 and later to St. John’s Road, Bowdon. Her father and a sister died in a diphtheria epidemic of 1862 and the family moved to Birmingham where she was encouraged in art by an aunt. She went to Art College in London where she studied under Millais, settled in London and then Surrey. There she became a leading watercolour artist famous for her cottage scenes, much used on chocolate boxes. Helen was the first woman to become a member of the Royal Watercolour Society. She died in 1926 and there are Blue Plaques at 16 Market Street, Altrincham, and at ‘Levenhurst’, St. John’s Road, Bowdon.

Armitage, George Faulkner

George Armitage whose father William was a cotton manufacturer in Manchester was born in Townfield House, Church Street, Altrincham in 1849. He qualified as an architect and furniture designer and became internationally known. He lived at and ran his business from Stamford House, Church Street (where the Cresta Court and offices are now), which was originally the Stamford Arms and Bowling Green Hotel, famous in the Manchester area for its bowling green. He designed and furnished many large properties in London and he designed the memorial cross in the Garden of Remembrance opposite to St. Margaret’s Church. He married his cousin Annie, became a magistrate, was mayor of Altrincham during the whole of the 1914-18 War and died in 1937.

Broun, J H

John Henderson Broun (or Brown) developed Station Buildings (now Stamford House), which was the first office block in Altrincham, in the early 1900s when he employed local architect John Macnamara following national tenders. He had previously bought Middle and Further Uttley Croft, Near Jenkins Croft, and Middle and Further Meadow and created Willowtree Road, Altrincham. He developed the terrace on the even side of Willowtree Road in the 1890s using Ruabon Brick and terracotta facings, later used again in Stamford New Road. He owned the land up to Ashley Road, which was still fields in the 1920s, and donated a strip of land to widen Ashley Road from Hale Road to the traffic lights at the bottom of Stamford Road, Bowdon. In 1899 he built the Post Office block in Stamford New Road, Altrincham and in 1905 he built Station Buildings (now Stamford House), Stamford New Road. In the early 1890s he was living at 5 Queens Road, Hale. However in 1896 he built his retirement bungalow in the terracotta style of Station House overlooking the Bollin and originally called The Bungalow, later renamed Riverside, Ashley Mill Lane.

Coward, TA

Thomas Alfred Coward, MSc, FZS was born at 8 Higher Downs, Bowdon in 1867 and Coward was still there in 1910. His parents were Thomas and Sarah, and older siblings Charles, Alice and Annie. Thomas was educated at Brooklands School, Sale and at Owens College (now Manchester University). In 1901 his profession was stated to be an agent/merchant and at that time he was working in his father’s calico bleaching and finishing firm. In the early 1900s the firm was taken over and he retired to become an internationally recognised ornithologist who wrote extensively on nature, on local history and on Cheshire. His first of 10 publications was The Birds of Cheshire in 1900, at which time he was living at Tryfan, Warwick Road, Hale. He later wrote Picturesque Cheshire, The Vertebrate Fauna of Cheshire, The Birds of the British Isles and their Eggs, Bird Haunts and Nature Memories, Life of the Wayside and Woodland, Bird Life at Home and Abroad, Bird and Other Nature Problems, Cheshire - Traditions and History and The Mammalian Fauna of Cheshire. During the 1914-18 War he was Acting Keeper of the Manchester Museum and was variously Chairman and President of the Altrincham and District Natural History and Literary Society. There is a Blue Plaque at Brentwood Villa, 6 Grange Road, Bowdon where he moved in 1911. When he died subscriptions were publicly raised to buy and preserve Cotterill Clough near Castle Mill, Ringway as a Nature Reserve. He was also an amateur astronomer who owned his own telescope. All of his field notes have been preserved and are archived at in the Department of Zoology at Oxford. There is good information on the web on all of his publications. He married Mary Milne in 1904 and died in Bowdon in 1933.

Crossley, Frank & William

Francis William Crossley was born in Northern Ireland in 1839 of a Protestant Huguenot family, trained as an engineer and came to England in the mid-1860s with his family including his younger brother William John who was born in 1844. In 1867 they acquired an existing business in Great Marlborough Street, Manchester and set up as Crossley Brothers making machinery for producing India rubber and flax. In the late 1870s they secured rights to sell the Otto-Langden gas engine and by 1881 they were employing about 300 men. They later produced their own designs, leading to the establishment of Crossley Motors in 1910. The business was very successful and eventually moved to making buses. Francis married Emily Kerr, who was born in Canada presumably of Scots descent, at St. Margaret’s Church in 1871. Francis, William and sister Emyline were all lodging at 1 Bell Place, 24 Stamford Road, Bowdon in the 1871 census with Martin Stone, the builder of Altrincham Town Hall, all shown as born in Ireland. Francis and Emily set up home on The Firs, Bowdon where they had children Helen, Richard, Alan and Erskine. From 1874 to 1890 the family lived at Fairlie on Catherine Road, off The Firs Bowdon, now used as an annex by the Altrincham Grammar School for Girls. Francis and Emily left Altrincham to live at Star Hall, Ancoats amongst the poor. All of the Crossleys donated much to charity, including helping to build a new wing to St. Anne’s Home, Altrincham, the now demolished Dome Chapel and funding both girls orphanages in Hale (the old Hale UDC building now demolished and the present Conservative Club on Ashley Road). Francis and Emily retired leaving William (who was knighted in 1909) and later William’s son Kenneth (also knighted) to run the business and concentrated on missionary work, including in India. Francis died in 1897 and left over £600,000. Frank was buried in Philips Park Cemetery and the following year Emily came to live in a cottage at 38 Henry Street, now Oak Road, Hale and possibly funded the setting up of the Oak Road Methodist Church. She moved to Frodsham in 1904, died in Switzerland and left £164,000. William was a founder-director of the Manchester Ship Canal and an MP for Manchester. In 1905 the Crossley Sanatorium was opened at Delamere. William’s name is on a 1908 memorial foundation stone of Altrincham Baptist Church, Hale Road. He died in 1911.

Ewing, Juliana

Juliana Horatia Ewing Orr was born in 1841 and died in 1885. She was the second of the ten children of Doctor and Mrs Gatty. She wrote the Nursery Magazines from about 1856 and her first book appeared in 1862 as ‘Melchior's Dream & Other Tales’. One of her well-known stories was ‘Jackanapes’ 1884. Her mother started the Aunt Judy's Magazine and editorship continued under Juliana after the death of her mother. In 1867 she married Major Alexander Ewing and they immediately sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he had been posted. There is a Blue Plaque at Downs Villa, 14 Higher Downs where she lived briefly from 1877 to 1878.

Gow, Ronald

Ronald Gow was born in Heaton Moor in Stockport in 1897. His parents were Anthony and Clara and his father was the manager of what is now Barclays Bank on Railway Street where the family later lived over the bank from 1900 until 1910. Afterwards his father became an Attorney when they were living at Oakleigh, Portland Road. Ronald went to Culcheth Hall kindergarten and was an original 1912 pupil at Altrincham Grammar School. At AGS Ronald was the first person to win the Bradbury Prize (donated by Judge Bradbury, the first Chairman of the Governors). He took a degree at Manchester then taught at the Altrincham Grammar School from 1923. He made short films during the 1910s, and later during the 1920s at school he produced several semi-professional educational films on 35mm film, which was unusual for an amateur. His films were shown in Altrincham initially then nationally and are now in the National Film Archive. They included ‘The People of the Lake’ for which Professor Sir Williams Boyd-Dawkins provided advice. The film was shown at the Altrincham Picture Theatre and well publicised here and in the USA. It was hired out to several schools and scouting organisations and a copy sold to the Scouting Associations for hiring out to scouting organisations around the world. Ronald belonged to the Garrick Theatre in Barrington Road, Altrincham in the 1920s, which put on his plays and he was made an Honorary Life Member. He was Chairman for 1927-28. He left the area about 1930 to write or adapt about 30 stage plays and was later involved in films and TV. In 1936 he married film actress Dame Wendy Hiller from Bramhall and they had two children Anthony and Anne. Ronald is perhaps best known for dramatising Walter Greenwood’s novel ‘Love on the Dole’ about the depression years in Salford and which eventually went on the stage in London and New York with Wendy Hiller taking the lead. He died in 1993 aged 95 after 56 years of marriage. There is a Blue Plaque on Barclay’s Bank, Goose Green commemorating his dramatic achievements and a Cinema100 Plaque at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys for his film pioneering work.

Ingham, Alfred

Alfred Ingham FRHS was born in Illingworth, Yorkshire in 1849 and became a journalist. He set himself up as a local bookseller, stationer, publisher and historian. He lived at 6 Norman’s Place, Altrincham and had his shop at 84 George Street. He published the ‘Altrincham Advertiser’ and in 1896 wrote ‘A History of Altrincham and Bowdon’.

Le Breton, Edith

Edith was born Edith Sapple in 1915 at a farm in Salford and was of French descent, probably from Jersey. She started painting at six and was awarded a scholarship and studentship to Salford School of Art in 1925. She held her first exhibition in 1937 and is known as an Artist of the Northern School. She married Cyril Jackson and they had two sons. peter and Dennis. For severl years after the war Edith kept an off-licence in Pownall Street (now Road), Altrincham. She was an Elected Member of Manchester Academy of Fine Arts in 1952 and was a member of The Lancashire Group. She was awarded a Fellowship in 1959 by the International Society of Arts and Letters and in Manchester arranged an International Children’s Art Exhibition for the United Nations. She exhibited in all the main art galleries in Great Britain. She was a friend of L S Lowry who encouraged her to paint and, like him, she often painted Salford street scenes as well as those of Altrincham. She also painted a Manchester United match for Matt Busby and painted the 1972 Preston Guild. She exhibited nationally, sold at Sotherby’s and wrote poetry. She retired to Magnolia Cottage, Dunham Massey then 1 Big Tree Cottages, Dunham Massey, then to Sheltered Housing in Newtown, Altrincham. She died in 1992 and Cyril died about 2002.

Macnamara, John

John Macnamara was born in 1845 and became an architect, surveyor and property agent living and working at 35/37 Hale Road c1900, later at The Hermitage on Bancroft Road where the 1960s houses are. He taught in the Altrincham Technical School, which was linked to the old Free Library in lower George Street. He worked with J H Broun to design and build the Station Buildings (now Stamford House) in Altrincham and the buildings around the Post Office. He was elected on to Hale Urban District Council in 1902, opposing Alfred Tarbolton. He represented the poorer people in Hale, criticised the right-wing council and planned to build affordable housing. He supported amalgamation with Altrincham to allow better-shared facilities. He later put up for Altrincham Council but came back to Hale Council in 1911 for a couple of years. He gave £250 and land for the building of St. David’s Mission Church on Grove Lane, and persuaded his clients to donate land to the community. He was the second president of the Altrincham and District Natural History and Literary Society. He died in 1925.

Siddeley, John

John Siddeley was a Chemist, Druggist and Seed Merchant at 30 Church Street then at Springbank in Stamford Street, Altrincham in the 1860s and 70s. His advertisements indicated ‘physician’s prescriptions carefully prepared’ and that he sold ‘genuine patent medicines’. He also offered toilet soap, perfumery, tooth, nail and hairbrushes, colza oil, genuine wax, sperm & composite candles, teas, coffees, spices etc and ‘every kind of garden flower and agricultural seeds’. At the time he also owned a pub in Police Street called The Rising Sun. He is perhaps most famous for his brewery which stood on the triangle of land opposite to the Railway Inn near Hale Station from about 1863 to 1907. His special brew was known as Siddeley’s Purge which was recreated for the Millennium celebrations and is still brewed. John Siddeley was mayor of Altrincham in 1878. There are Siddeley graves in Bowdon churchyard.

Sidebotham, Joseph

Joseph Sidebotham was born in 1824 in Hyde, Cheshire. His wife Anne Coward, was born in 1823, in Manchester. She was the aunt of ornithologist Thomas Alfred Coward. Joseph was a successful calico printer, and a colliery proprietor by inheritance, as well as being a talented photographer, astronomer and botanist. He was the founder of the Manchester Photographic Society in 1855 and took some of the earliest photographs in the Altrincham area. From 1866 to 1879, the family lived at The Beeches, on the corner of Higher Downs and Woodville Road, then in Dunham Massey, previously Beech Grove and built in 1837. They had children Joseph, Edith, Lilian, Annie and Nasmyth, who along with their father, contributed to the illustrated ‘Family Diary’ in the 1870s. Joseph considerably extended the house and built an observatory and greenhouses in the extensive grounds. By 1879 they had moved to Erlesdene on Green Walk, Bowdon and sold The Beeches to The Manchester Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Throat for £5000, donating £2000 towards converting the house into a Tuberculosis hospital. The hospital opened in 1885 as the only free sanatorium in Britain and was called St. Anne’s Home (still on the iron gates) after Joseph’s wife Anne, who had died in 1882. 1886 saw the opening of a new specialist wing, financed by engineer William J Crossley. Joseph had died in 1885 and is buried along with other members of the family in Bowdon churchyard.

Sparkes, Curtis

Curtis Albert Sparkes was born in 1905 into an old Altrincham Family where his grandfather Albert Curtis Sparkes was a farmer who had organised the 'Broadheath Blockade' in 1903. He attended the Oldfield Brow Seamons Moss Endowed School and then Altrincham Technical School. On leaving school he briefly worked for Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company Limited in Trafford Park and then joined H W Kearns in 1919. When he was 16 he built his own motorbike. After serving an apprenticeship in the works he entered the Drawing Office. He attended the Manchester College of Science & Technology, later the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), now merged with the Manchester University, and gained his Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering there in 1926. He became a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, and a member of the Manchester Association of Engineers, to which he belonged for 70 years. He became Kearns’ Chief Designer in 1938, Technical Director in charge of design and development in 1955 and Managing Director from 1969 until his retirement. He spent 50 years of his working life with Kearns and invented the world’s first computer-controlled boring machine in 1955. After retiring from the merged Kearns-Richards at 65 he continued as a consultant with Budenbergs and with Fairey Engineering at Stockport until he was 95. In 1988 he gained his Master of Science at the Victoria University of Manchester, and was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy there in 1991 at the age of 86, the oldest person in Britain to achieve this. As a leader of the Machine Tool Industry Curtis was a member of many national and regional committees. He was a past President of the Manchester Association of Engineers, a Member of the Council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Chairman of the North West Branch of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a Member of the Production Engineering Research Association Technical Policy, a Committee Member of the Ministry of Technology Committees on Machine Tools, Founder Member of the Machine Tools Industry Research Association, and several other worthy bodies. He was also a member of UMIST Council and several of its committees and was a consultant on Machine Tool Developments for the United Nations. For his contributions to the Machine Tool Industry he was awarded the Constantine Medal by the Manchester Association of Engineers and won the UMIST Medal for outstanding services to that institution. The Altrincham Court Leet made him a Burgess and Freeman of Altrincham in 1991. In his spare time Curtis invented a number of devices for hospital laboratories including a fast-working filter to speed up blood tests. He also designed a unique folding baby push-chair, which is still manufactured in Japan. Over the last 10 years of his life Curtis wrote a book on the Machine Tool Industry in Broadheath entitled Famous for a Century. Curtis died in 2002, leaving his wife Erika and son Edouard, a daughter-in-law and a grandchild.

Speakman, William

Private Bill Speakman 14471590, who was born in Altrincham in 1927 at 17 Moss Lane, is one of the few privates to have been awarded a Victoria Cross and is probably the best-remembered Korea VC. He attended Oakfield Street Infant School then Wellington Road School. At 15 he joined the cadets of the Cheshire Regiment and at 18 joined the Black Watch, The First Battalion The Kings Own Scottish Borderers. He was and still is six feet seven inches (2m) tall and although born in Cheshire has dark Scottish looks. After serving in Trieste, Hong Kong and Germany he volunteered for Korea in 1951. In 1952 he was awarded the VC for his actions when wounded and under fire from the Chinese in November 1951 and came home to an official reception in Altrincham. When King George VI died he represented the Army when the Services broadcast tributes. He married Rachel Snitch in Singapore and they had six children. He retired from the Army at 40 and bought a house in Huntingdonshire. He sold his war medals for £1,500 to repair the house, which were later sold in 1982 for £20,000 but are now in the War Museum of Scotland at Edinburgh Castle. He later moved to Torquay, was divorced in 1972 and went to South Africa where he changed his name to Speakman-Pitt, remarried, and had another daughter. Bill has now moved back to the Altrincham area and is president of Altrincham and Bowdon Civic Society.

Uttley, Alison

Alison Uttley was born at Castle Top Farm in Cromford, Derbyshire in 1884 as Alice Jane Taylor, father Henry Taylor. She took an honours physics degree at Manchester in 1906. She was a suffragette and a close friend of Ramsay MacDonald. When first married she lived in the Old Vicarage in Knutsford which had featured in Mrs. Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’. She married James Uttley from Bowdon and they had a son John and moved to Bowdon in 1924. Alison was a prolific writer of some 20 adult books and 40 children’s books from 1931 to the early 1970s and is particularly remembered for the Little Grey Rabbit books, which she wrote while living in Bowdon. Much of her inspiration came from Castle Top Farm. There is a Blue Plaque at Downs House, 13 Higher Downs, Bowdon, where she lived from 1924 to 1938. She then retired to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire where she continued to write, including a cookery book and a history of Buckinghamshire, and where she died in 1972.

Wallis, Hugh & Brian

Hugh Wallis was born in Kettering in 1871 and trained in art at Bushey, Herts in the 1890s. It is not known where he trained in metalwork. He went into business initially as an artist in which he excelled but moved to metalwork because it paid better. In 1900 he opened a studio at 7 Market Street, Altrincham when he was living at The Poplars, Burlington Street (now Road). In 1907 he moved to 2 Station Buildings, Stamford New Road, Altrincham, at that time living at Carn Brae, Hazelwood Road, Hale. In 1911 he and his wife Dora moved their home to a large house at 72 The Downs, Altrincham, now three 1960s houses and renumbered as 80, 80a, 80b. In 1918 he still described himself as an Artist and at some stage exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy. Hugh did much of his metalwork at The Downs, had a studio in the house and employed five or six employees in workshops behind. His showcase was on the left-hand wall of the front garden and always contained examples of his work (which were never stolen) and the remains of the wrought iron supports for it are still there. Hugh became a leading figure in the Northern Art Workers Guild and was a founder member of the Red Rose Guild of Artworkers, which was established in Manchester in 1920 and of which he later became chairman. Meetings were for some time held at the Whitworth Art Gallery who still have a close interest in Hugh. Pilkington’s Tiles supported the guild and Margaret Pilkington acted as Honorary Secretary. Hugh produced some outstanding beaten copper, pewter and brass, usually in combination, often bought for special occasions such as weddings and now much collected and often seen for sale on the Internet. Examples are oval bowls, rose bowls and mirrors in copper with diagonally inlaid bands of pewter or white metal around the edge. Pieces however also included trays, bowls, vases, jugs, tea sets, fire screens, curbs, coal buckets, ashtrays and wall lights. He produced wall lights for the new Council Chamber in Altrincham but they are no longer there. He was also a silversmith and produced ewers, crosses, alms dishes, altar ornaments, challenge shields, cups, trophies and memorial tablets. He illustrated books, painted in oils and water, produced colour prints from stencils and woodcuts and sold pottery and pulp-ware from his studio. Hugh’s brother Thomas moved to the area to join him and was living 20 Hale Low Road, Hale in 1939 and they continued to work together until Hugh died in 1944. Hugh had a son Philip who lived in several counties and became county chess champion of each. Hugh’s younger son Brian who was born in 1915 joined the family business in 1930 and continued the metalworking tradition until he retired to Penzance in 1964 with his sister Ruby where he died in 1981. Brian produced bowls of the same style and quality as Hugh and continued to use Hugh’s logo so it is probably difficult to distinguish the two. Brian also produced small items such as bowls and ashtrays, which were often used for presentation purposes for example for retiring schoolteachers. The Government of the day used to present visiting dignitaries with them. Brian was also an amateur authority on butterflies and an enthusiastic cricketer with Ashley Cricket Club where he was known for his effortless and laconic sense of humour. He also took a lead in The Old Altrinchamians Football Club and was an accomplished after-dinner speaker at reunions.

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