Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Death in the Hayfield

The old cottage on Mount Pleasant, Lacey Green. (picture courtesy of Google Maps c. 2009)
In the middle of the graves that cover the 19th-century extension of the Cemetery towards the Bollin is a relatively plain stone, shaped like a Gothic window.

It records:




The stone originally attracted our attention as it is one of about a dozen in the cemetery that records the death of family members in the First World War, but are actually cenotaphs, rather than actual war graves, as the majority of British War dead were buried close to the place where they died.

We will discuss George Henry and his family in more detail elsewhere, but for today and because of the current topicality we will concentrate on Joseph Bayley, the first person to be commemorated.

Joseph Bayley (or Bailey, there seems to have been a life long debate with officialdom how to spell his name), was born in Wilmslow, and by the time we first find him in the Census records in 1841, he worked as an agricultural labourer in Morley. Married to his wife Mary, they had a 6 year old daughter, Elizabeth Ann.
Ten years later, Joseph had changed farms and was now working on one of the farms close to Lacey Green. The family had grown with John (b.1842), Mary Ann(1846), Joseph (1847) and Hannah (1850), while the Census description is very sketchy, and the area has changed a lot since the mid 19th century, but it is quite likely that they Bayley lived in one of the cottages that originally surrounded the white cottage at the end of Mount Pleasant road and which served as accommodation for the farm of the same name.

By 1861 Joseph’s first wife had died and his oldest daughter, Elizabeth Ann, who had been married and widowed herself in the meantime, was running the household and looking after the family. Their direct neighbour was the Massey family, George Massey (also a farm labourer) with his much younger wife Sarah (née Holt) and their three boys George, Henry and William). Relationships were clearly friendly and the families appear to have had a lot of contact because when George Massey died between 1865 and 1868 Sarah married Joseph Bayley. The new marriage did not last very long.

On the 22 July 1876 the relatively new Wilmslow and Alderley Advertiser (Also the Knutsford Gazette) reported that “a man of the name of Bailey (sic!) who had been working in the hayfields during the recent and continued sultry weather, was seized with sunstroke early Saturday and has since been in a precarious condition”

A week later the paper reported that despite medical car under Dr. Shaw and initial ‘favourable reports’ Joseph Bailey of Mount Pleasant died on Monday 24th July 1876.

The gravestone is one of the earliest in the graveyard extension that records a member of Wilmslow’s working classes. Before the extension, no permanent graves were granted except to the highest tithing members of the Congregation. Less affluent members were buried in temporary graves and after a while moved to the mortuary chamber, under the main altar (now the chapel of Peace). It was only, with the creation of the extension that room became available for more permanent burial plots for all members of the congregation.

However, having a permanent plot and having a headstone are two different issues and it seems many of the earliest graves were only marked with small or non-permanent markers. The fact that this grave has such a substantial marker might suggest that the interest generated by the newspaper article in the Community helped to raise the money to buy this stone of Joseph Bayley, the man who worked too hard in the heat of the July of 1876.

Birgitta Hoffmann

Monday, 5 March 2018

Eliza, Ann and Sarah Mottershead, a mother from Northenden and her two daughters

From our Secretary Kathleen Morris: 

In memory
Eliza daughter of Henry
and Ann Mottershead who died
June 24th 1871, aged 21 years
Also the above Ann Mottershead
Who died Septr 30th 1879
Aged 59 years
Also Sarah their daughter
Who died March 19th 1908
Aged 63 years
It is often accepted that women were semi-invisible in past centuries. Is this always the case? Well, not if you look around in churchyards.
The inscription quoted above is one taken at random from St Bartholomew's churchyard; it commemorates three women from one family. Henry, their father/husband, is only mentioned in passing.
Why isn't Henry mentioned here? A look at the burial registers of St Bartholomew's parish church shows that in fact he is buried there. He was actually the first member of the family to be buried there. He died at the early age of 27 in 1851, and was buried on 23rd December.
The census taken earlier in the year shows that both he and his wife Ann were handloom weavers of cotton, members of a diminishing profession at that time, as power looms were becoming more common and weavers were moving from a home-based economy to being factory workers.
Henry was born around 1824 - on the 1841 Census he is listed as being 17 years old. He was already working as a weaver, as was his elder brother. His mother seems to have been a widow by then.
Henry married Ann Hudson at the Collegiate Church in Manchester (it became the Cathedral three years later) on 16th November 1845. Their marriage entry is a most unusual one - there is the signature of one witness, but the space where they should have signed or made their mark says 'This party left the church without signing the register'. We could speculate for a long time about how this happened- did they not realise they were supposed to sign? Could they not sign their names, and did not want to let anyone know that? Were they just carried away by the excitement of the day, or in a hurry to get to a celebratory party? It didn’t affect the validity of their marriage, but it must have created an administrative problem for the church.
By 1851 they were living in Northern Etchells (now Northenden), their address given as Outwood. It is at this point that Henry gives his place of birth as Wilmslow, so we can see the connection with the town. Henry and Ann had three daughters by 1851, Sarah, Mary and Eliza, who was just one year old. The daughters, like their mother, were all born in Etchells.
Only a few months later, Henry was dead. As if being a widow at the age of 30 wasn’t bad enough, Ann was pregnant when Henry died. Their last daughter, Elizabeth, was born early in 1852.
Ann remained in the Etchells area, but as handloom weaving was dying out, she could not continue earning her living at this. In the 1861 Census she is described as a charwoman. By 1861, her second daughter, Mary had disappeared from the census. It may be that she too had died young, as two people called Mary Mottershead died in the Wilmslow area in 1857.
Sarah and Eliza were earning their living as fustian cutters in 1861. This was a low paid job; fustian was not an expensive fabric. It was a hard wearing cloth, usually, by this date, made from cotton and used in working clothes, rather like a corduroy material. The cloth was woven with a looped finish, and the fustian cutter’s job was to cut the loops to give the material a pile finish rather like that of velvet. Sarah and Eliza would have spent their working days walking up and down alongside a workbench on which a length of cloth was laid out, wielding a long thin blade which they inserted under the loops of the pile to cut them. A monotonous and wearying job, and one for which they were probably paid piecework rates. If they made a mistake and spoiled a length of cloth they were probably docked part of their pay. There were many fustian cutting workshops in Cheshire in the 19th century, so we cannot identify which mill Sarah and Eliza worked in.
By 1871, Ann and Eliza were both working as laundresses – still in Etchells (Northenden). Sarah and Elizabeth were no longer living with them – perhaps they had married, or just moved away to other jobs. Eliza. Like her father, died soon after a census, at the age of 21; she is the first name on the grave marker in St Bartholomew’s.
Her mother died 8 years later, and the third member of the family to be buried, Sarah, lived into the 20th century. However, although we have an exact date of death for Sarah, this does not tally with any official entries for anyone called Sarah Mottershead. There is a possibility that she married but that her married name does not appear on her gravestone. 
Although we know Henry is buried there, his burial is not recorded on the stone. This raises a likely scenario that the stone was not placed there until many years later, when perhaps either Henry’s burial had been forgotten or the details of it could not be remembered. Given what we know about the family’s circumstances, it does not seem as though Ann could have afforded a memorial when Henry died. It must have placed there later when other members of the family had a little more money. Thus, only the women in the family have their details listed and  Henry is given only a passing mention.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The texts from the Bower exhibition

Following more requests (please keep them coming), we are this week putting the texts of the Bower exhibition in Wilmslow Library online, we hope to add some of the images at a later time. 

Since the beginning of the 15th century and from the start of local written records the Bower family can be found in the Great Warford area, the area between modern Alderley Edge, Mobberley and Nether Alderley . They were farmers, their holdings centering around Fields Farm, today best known for its greenhouses visible from the bypass.

By 1759 the then head of the family Ralph divided his lands between his two sons John and Ralph. While John inherited lands around Mottram and Rainow, Ralph inherited the main lands in Warford and Wilmslow. 
John's descendants continued in various roles as farmers, traders and pharmacists in Macclesfield and Wilmslow and his descendants still live in the area today.

Ralph the Younger soon decided to move away from farming and used the families longstanding experience in running grain mills to take advantage of the Industrial Revolution, by establishing spinning mills. The resulting thread was handed out to local hand loom weavers which returned the woven cloth to Bower's shops in Wilmslow and the Hough, who then sold the produce in Manchester. 

Since 1784 the Bowers had direct competition with the arrival of the Gregs at Quarry Bank. The pre-existing Bower Mills forced the Greg family to place their mill in Styal away from the main route into Manchester.

Ralph the Younger divided his holdings equally between his sons in his will.  To judge from the records the sons worked together, without forming a formal partnership and their descendants continued to develop their own businesses in Manchester, Cheshire and Derbyshire.   

The oldest son, also Ralph (III), was possibly the most successful member of the dynasty. After his father's death in 1801 he used the opportunities of the Napoleon era and the lack of competition from the Continent to expand.
Sales notices from the years document the continuing restructuring of the family holdings, maximising income, including renting some of the mill space to competitors. These sales/rentals of "room and power" limited the exposure to risk from a very volatile market.
In these early years we see a lot of investment in a 'diversified portfolio' with shares in grain mills, land, farms, tenements (low quality housing for rental), workshops, shops and inns, usually with facilities for coaches. There are also references to haulage firms. 

To document the wealth of the family the family bought Hawthorn Hall from the Leigh family thus taking over one of the old medieval seats in the parish and de facto esta-blishing themselves as one of the leading families in Cheshire. As such the Bowers are involved with many of the infrastructure projects in the area, including the enclosure and development of Lindow Common and the construction of the turnpike from Manchester to Stoke and Oxford (A34). 
One of the lasting results of this is the laying out Grove Street named after one of the Bower residences and estates it ran through. 

The infrastructure projects coincided with creation of the Bower mills. In addition to the original spinning mill in the cemetery, the Bowers also owned a weaving mill on Mill Lane, the Old Silk Mill in the Carse, shares in the Wilmslow Mill and possibly others. 

Ralph had a large family and formed partnerships with some of his adult sons, preparing them to take over his empire.
Not all of the businesses were successful and one son Warburton eventually went bankrupt in 1828. Another, Charles died two years before his father and Ralph's own 18-page will proved disastrous for the family fortune, locking much of the capital out of the control of the family and binding it in litigation for decades.
Ralph’s son, William, continued to run the business. By now the cotton industry was undergoing rapid changes. Steam engines were replacing water power, weaving machines were replacing handloom weaving and the introduction of gas light allowed the use of the cotton mills for longer hours even in the dark winter months. William converted the mill at Mill Lane to steam power and was one of the first to built a gas works to provide gas lighting for the mill and Church Street. 
However, the arrival of the railway and general recession of the 1840s, coupled to a shortage of disposable capital forced William out of cotton spinning and weaving (while other members of the family continued until the late 1860s). 

The closure of the Mill Lane and Cemetery mill meant a sudden break in the industrial development in Wilmslow and the new land owners led by the Prescott family used the opportunity to completely change the future developments, banning the further deve-lopments of mills in the centre of Wilmslow, only the Old Silk Mill and possibly a small mill at Little Lindow were allowed to continue. 

Instead Wilmslow was to be developed as a leafy and “healthy suburb” to Manchester, providing homes for the mill owners and their managers, if on a less luxurious level than Alderley Edge further down the railway line.

The Bower family was able to regroup after the disastrous 1840s. Due to careful management and a number of very fortuitous inheritances, the family quickly rebuilt its influence in Wilmslow. By the 1860s Joshua and William Bower were leading members and churchwardens of St.Bartholomew’s. They and other members of the family owned  large houses in Swan Street, Church Street and of course Grove Street, as well as owning several businesses both in Wilmslow and Manchester. 

Using the opportunities offered by the new idea of Wilmslow as an affluent residential suburb to Manchester, the Bowers became property developers.

One of the first houses built was Albury Villas in Hawthorne Lane, which was originally built by William Bower as residence for the manager of the Gasworks. 

Several members of the family released land for development throughout Wilmslow during the second half of the 19th century, while others built themselves new residences in Hawthorne Lane and Grove Avenue. 

By the 1880s the building boom had taken off for good and the Bowers together with the Masseys and other Wilmslow residents formed a development company. These houses can still be seen in Pownall Park and around Gravel Lane in Fulshaw. 

Joshua Bower, one of William’s brothers was Wilmslow’s first fully university qualified surgeon and practiced for many years from his house in Swan Street, where he had a large practice. 

In addition to his position of respected medical man, he was one of the last churchwardens appointed by the minister of St.Bart’s, one of the many “peculiarities” of the parish, that were reformed in the 19th century. 

He was honoured by the congregation with his own window in the church after his death.

During the 1870s and 1880s the most influential member of the Bowers was Ann Bower, the unmarried aunt of William Bower, who used her considerable wealth generated by rental income from land and houses particularly along Gravel Lane and the Knutsford road to support numerous projects associated with St. Bartholomew's.

One of these is the completion of the such as the restorations of St. Bartholomew’s originally supported by William and Joshua in the 1860s which resulted in windows dedicated to various members of the family and numerous smaller ones.
She also supported the creation of St.Anne's and the two schools at St.Anne's and on the site of the current Parish Hall.

Anne's nephew, Ralph (IV), lived and worked originally as a cloth merchant in Oldham Street in Manchester, before he retired to Laurel House in Church Street. With the creation of the Urban District Council Ralph became a Councillor for the Tory party. He was reelected several times and eventually became the leader of the council, who provided the water drains we still use today.

With the death of Ralph Bower in 1901, the Bower dynasty comes to an end, at least in the male line. However, many of the girls throughout the generations had married a number of successful businessman and started large families in Wilmslow, Macclesfield, Manchester, Buxton and elsewhere in Derbyshire.

One of these descendants was Frank Ollerenshaw, a Wilmslow butcher and businessman, who was a life long collector of Wilmslow historical objects as well as a collector of contemporary  studio ceramics. 
He was a longterm proponent for the creation of a Wilmslow Museum, which unfortunately never materialised. His collections were in the 1930s donated to the Manchester Museum, the Manchester Gallery and the Buxton Museum, where some of them still survive.  

The Bower family shaped Wilmslow over four generations. They created large wealth from agriculture and cotton mills and through their investments gave Wilmslow gas lighting, and a lot of the high quality 19th century housing, as well as Wilmslow's main shopping street, two of its churches, and two of its schools. Their continuous influence is still with us today.

Thank you

To Cheshire Libraries and Archives, Ancestry, Findmypast, the National Archives, St. Bartholomew's parish, Wilmslow Historical Society, a number of residents in Wilmslow who shared their documents and records with us, while we have been researching this exhibition. 

Our special thanks to the

Mailboxes etc. Wilmslow
and the Waitrose Community Fund, who supported this exhibition with generous grants. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Pictures of an (old exhibition)

Following our exhibition in the Wilmslow Library on the Bowers we have received a number of requests, if it would be possible to publish the posters we produced originally for our first exhibition in Wilmslow Parish Church in 2011 as part of the Heritage Open Days.

The posters have been reused a number of times since (and may appear again, when appropriate), but in the meantime, we hope that they will be of use to you.

Thanks for getting in touch.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

How the Bowers obtained Hawthorne Hall

"Hawthorn" is a very common name element in the centre of Wilmslow with at least half a dozen streets and numerous houses and businesses including it in its name. The origin of this naming practice dates back to Hawthorn Hall and its estate, which seems to have been in existence since the late Middle Ages.

In the late 18th century the Hawthorn estate consisted of 44 Cheshire acres (which seems to have been a bit of a moveable feast in terms of size), much of which was held in tenancy by a number of local farmers, including Samuel Roylance, Thomas Clarke and William Lawton with most of the land lying around the old Hawthorne Hall. Today this hall still exists and is now back in use as a private residence after a long and varied history of a school and later as offices. It lies now in the middle of the Pownall part of Wilmslow, but by the early 19th century, it was considered to be part of Morley, a term used to describe the entire Western part of the town from Kennersley's Lane to the parish boundaries to the West and to Knoll's Green in the South. For the most part, the area consisted of the moor and heathland of the Lindow Common with a few well-established farms around modern-day Morley and Pownall Hall - and of course Hawthorn Hall.

In addition to the main hall and the farm land, Hawthorn Hall had its own private chapel as part of St. Bartholomew's, documenting the pre-reformation origins of the Hall and its importance to the parish life. Unlike the main nave, it was private property and could (and was) sold and rented out at the will of the owners of the Hawthorn estate, who had the right to be buried in perpetuity inside the chapel and later inside the nave, when the majority of parishioners saw their remains moved from temporary graves in the outside cemetery to a communal ossuary after 20 years (this practice only changed with the extension of the cemetery in the 1860s).

By the late 1700s the estate had long since passed out of the original ownership of the younger branches of the Booths of Dunham Massey (and via the Lathom family) into the hands of the Leighs, some of which served as Sheriffs of the County of Cheshire. In the 1770s the Hall was owned by Thomas Leigh Page and his wife Susan, two of whose children were born in the Hall (and christened in St.Bartholomew's) in 1772 and 1774. However, by 1799 the family decided to move to Devon, where Thomas Leigh Page's will was proved in 1810.

The estate and all its furniture and equipment were put up for sale from the 28th May onwards and the sale advertised in the Cheshire Courant, the Chester Chronicle and the Manchester Mercury.
The Pages clearly decided to make a fresh start in Devon and the sales notice most of the house inventory, including a mahogany dining set, four-poster and "tent" beds (we would call them canopy beds) and dressing glasses (large dressing mirrors) as well as several draft horses and 'brewing equipment' (Chester Chronicle 31/5/1799).

Despite this far-reaching advertising, no buyer could be found for the Hall on the first sales day on August 26th and the sale (which took place in the Swan Inn (now Anthology) in Swan Street) had to be rescheduled for the 23rd of September 1799 (Manchester Mercury 3 September 1799), when Ralph Bower decided to buy the entire estate.

This slow sale of a large house is by no means unusual during the Napoleonic era. It is thought that the period 1795-1820 saw the biggest upheaval in land ownership until the 1920s. The British economy was very much under stress, with the Continental Blockade cutting Britain off from some of its export markets and also to a lesser extent from its possessions and trade partners in the Caribbean and elsewhere. On the other hand, the blockade also stopped the import of a lot of Italian, but especially French luxury goods and opened large business opportunities for businessmen willing to run high risks. With these large changes, it is hardly surprising, to see that large estates unable to adapt might run into financial difficulties or decide to restructure, while a lot of the entrepreneurs especially in the North of England were able to take advantage of offers and invest heavily in land, and the opportunity it offered in providing amongst others beef to the British forces for the duration of the Napoleonic Wars.

By 1799, the Bower family had already invested heavily in a diverse portfolio of businesses, from cotton spinning and weaving to ownership of mills (including for grain) and different farms as well as investment into Turnpike Trusts. We don't know, what attracted Ralph Bower specifically to buy the Hawthorn Estate, but it is possible, that beyond the economic opportunities he saw the chance to obtain a prestigious seat for the family and the chance to document for the rest of Wilmslow that the Bowers had arrived.

T.Cadell and W.Davies (1810), The county Palatinate of Chester. Vol. 2,2.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Ann Bower's Lifeboat

During the 1870s and 1880s the most influential member of the Bowers was Ann Bower, the unmarried cousin of William Bower, who used her considerable wealth generated by rental income from land and houses particularly along Gravel Lane and the Knutsford road to support numerous projects associated with St. Bartholomew's. 

Ann’s wealth was the result of a series of inheritances, first from her father William Bower, who in 1827 split his estate of the Grove (roughly both sides of Grove Street from Hawthorne Lane to Water Lane, and to Old Street (now Green Lane) to the East and to Grove Way in the West. 
His only son, George, became a successful lawyer in London, while the two daughters Ann and Isabella remained in Wilmslow (both the 1861 and 1871 Census shows them living in Grove Street). 

After George’s death in 1865, both sisters inherited his wealth and with it his executors as wealth managers. While at first, they appear to have continued in Wilmslow, by 1877 they had moved to their brother’s estate in Kent, where on the 27th May Isabella died, aged 69, leaving her property of slightly less than 7000GBP to her sister as well. 

In the years following Isabella’s death, Ann continued to administer her wealth with the help of her brother’s friends, whose help is expressly acknowledged in her 1884 will. Her support for charitable causes must have been very important to her as she actually mentions a special fund set up to maintain her charitable giving. Thanks to various local sources (and not least her own epitaph in St.Bartholomew’s) we know that she supported a large number of causes in and around Wilmslow, but occasionally her activities stretched much further afield.
According to her epitaph, she also donated a lifeboat named in memory of her brother and sister the “George and Isabella”. Now East Cheshire, and even more so Wilmslow is not generally known for its coastal sites and thus the support for a lifeboat is slightly unusual. Her support becomes even more noteworthy when it is realised that the “George and Isabella” was a lifeboat that was stationed in Ackergill bay, just north of Wick at the very northern tip of Caithness, as far as possible in Britain from Ann’s other sphere of interest in London and Cheshire. 

So what could possibly have led Ann to support this cause? First of all, this may have been a matter of timing. The lifeboat was very much a memorial, and her sister Isabella died on 27th May 1877 (Wilmslow Advertiser 4 June 1877). We know the names of many of the other lifeboats donated at the time and they were frequently named after people close to the donors so this may have seen to have socially acceptable precedent as a form of memorial to an unmarried sister. 

At this time, furthermore, Britain was facing a number of inquiries into the performance of lifeboats in the hands of various organisation throughout the British Isles and the newspapers carried every month stories about the efforts to save lives by the lifeboat crews around the coast. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) had been founded in 1824, but had been given a Royal Charter only in 1860 and was at this point a cause celebre, rapidly replacing other providers of these services such as the Fisheries Board with a reputation of efficiency and devotion to the cause.

In the spring of 1877 a board of enquiries into the wreck of the Emilie with heavy loss of Life in Wick had called for the establishment for a new lifeboat at Ackergill bay and much advertised fundraising in support of the boat, boathouse and maintenance of the crew was well underway, although short of the GBP1000, with initial donations at first coming to GBP158. We do not know when or how Ann heard of this appeal, but it must have been before she returned to Wilmslow, as in 1878 she is described as still living in Kent. The newspaper articles at the time describe her as paying for the entire boat, GBP 278 in total. To put this in proportion, Trollope describes GBP 800 a year sufficient for a Gentleman and his family to live on, while a railway porter was earning about GBP40 a year and a senior manager would make about GBP300.

By the middle of March 1878, the “George and Isabella” was ready to launch in Wick. National newspapers as far south as the South London Gazette (23 May 1878) carried notices about the opening ceremony, which was attended by the head of the (then) Royal Lifeboat Institute as well as all local dignitaries and about 4000 visitors. (In 1881 the towns of Wick and Pulteney had just 6820 inhabitants (F.H.Groome 1882-5, Wick)). The lifeboat is described as self-righting and thus the latest and best design available at the time. Ann Bower, while named as the donor of the lifeboat appears not to have been in Wick for the occasion (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 15 March 1878). This may not be too much of a surprise, however: officially she was still in mourning for her sister and would not be expected to take part in public meetings. But even more so, Ann Bower was by now 75 years old and the Railway line from Inverness, opened in 1874 would take about 7,5 hours to get to Wick, making this probably too arduous a journey for the lady, who would have had to travel from Kent, where she still seems to have resided at the time. 

The George and Isabella lifeboat remained in use in Ackergill bay until 1888, when it was replaced with a more modern design. Ann Bower died four years earlier and her epitaph in St. Bartholomew's in Wilmslow is the last reminder of this lifeboat. 

Research by Howard Barlow and Birgitta Hoffmann 


Andrew D. Anderson, Ackergill Lifeboat (1877 ‑ 1932). Caithness Field Club Bulletin 2002. (Now available at (accessed 8/10/2017)

Francis H. Groome (1882-1885), Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, Thomas C. Jack,  Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh. (Accessed via (accessed 8/10/2017).

The Highland Council (2014) Population change in Caithness and Sutherland 2001 to 2011.  Planning and Development Service. Policy and Information Briefing Note 57. Inverness: The Highland Council.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

New exhibition opened in Wilmslow Library: The Bowers. The family that shaped Wilmslow

Some of you must have thought that this blog is now officially defunct and my apologies for making you think that.

But over the last six months, several volunteers of the Wilmslow Community Archaeology and me have been very much working behind the scenes putting together a new exhibition in Wilmslow Library. At times it felt as if we would never manage to get all the research done and then it turned  suddenly into, how much of this will we have to cut, to fit it still all on the boards?

Yesterday evening we finally managed to set it all up and the first visitors made some very nice comments - Thank you, to those who came to the early viewing.

The title of the exhibition is "The Bowers. The family that shaped Wilmslow".

During our years of research in and around Wilmslow, the name of the Bower family kept appearing in the records again and again - usually as one of the people who were able to move events along and change the history of what was when they started a village of about 4000 very dispersed souls.

By the time Ralph Bower the councillor died in 1900, the place had become a very prosperous suburban town at the fringes of Manchester, with a very international outlook on life and business.

The exhibition traces the history of the Bower family over four generations from the first Ralph Bower, who moved from the family farm at Great Warford to Wilmslow and started a spinning mill in a property next to the Parish church, via his sons who developed the family business to a considerable size and that made them into one of the wealthiest families on North Cheshire and Wilmslow into one of the first town in the Northwest to have Gaslighting, to the change of direction in the 1850-1880s away from the manufacturing into property development and the creation of the high-quality houses and neighbourhoods that they built for other businessmen, who were moving into the suburbs.
The family was very much engaged with the local churches and the creation of the schools at St.Bartholomew's and the church and school of St.Anne's in Fulshaw and in the last generation as members and eventually chairman of the newly created Urban District Council.

Tracing the history of the Bower family through the original records of the 18th and 19th century revealed a family that emerged from the local area and remained true to their roots over 150 years and saw a lot of change in Wilmslow parish, a lot of which they had helped to create. The amazing fact is that with this huge importance for the area, they have attracted very little attention in the past, possibly because they were neither titled aristocracy nor did they leave impression industrial structure, but instead an infrastructure framework, without which this town would look very different, whether it is through their generous gifts to local schools and churches, their far-sighted investment in the A34 turnpike or the creation of Grove Street as Wilmslow's shopping and business centre.

The exhibition will be open at Wilmslow Library until Friday 20th October during normal Library opening hours ( and we hope to use this blog in the coming weeks to add a bit more background information on the family to the story of the exhibition.

Thank you

To Cheshire Libraries and Archives,, Findmypast, the National Archives, The British Library, St.Bartholomew's Parish, Wilmslow Historical Society and a number of residents in Wilmslow who share their documents and records with us, while we have been researching this exhibition. 

We are very grateful to Mailboxes etc Wilmslow and the Waitrose Community Fund for supporting this project.