My Family: Sell the Shops and Follow Me.
Sell up and follow me.
My Grandfather James Lee, came from a family with engineering interests in Cheshire. The business provided a living for his parents, himself and two brothers. In 1895 there was a dispute amongst them over the way the business was managed. My Grandfather wanted change, the others did not. This led to James leaving the family home, and the dispute was never reconciled. For the rest of his life James never saw his Father or Brothers again, he did see his mother but only once as I shall reveal later.
The Start Of A New Life.
James was not without money and was well able to fend for himself financially, he had extensive experience in metal work and knew he could find work elsewhere. So came the day he set off with a new cart and a strong horse to pull it, he knew there was call for engineering and forge work in the north of England. He decided to head for Newcastle. In those days of main roads and side roads I guess it must have taken him a week to get there. On arrival he set up a small forge and was soon undertaking work from local businesses. As time passed he moved into operating as a full time wheelwright, this meant travelling from place to place repairing or making cart wheels. There was considerable skill required for this work and business was good.
Settling Down And Romance.
James was a tall man who had a 'handlebar' moustache and always wore a bowler hat, usually wearing a waistcoat and without a jacket. He was a friendly approachable man who worked hard and liked a pint or two in the evening. It was one evening in 1900 that he went into a pub in a village outside Newcastle, there he was served by a lovely barmaid her name was Isabella and James was smitten. They started a courtship and soon they set up home together. Before long they needed somewhere to live and James bought a Greengrocery shop. At some point James decided to cease working as a wheelwright and bought the shop next door. Here they opened a pot shop selliing pots, pans and other kitchen utensils. All seem to have been well because their first child came along in 1903, a boy and they named him Jack. Three years later in 1906 came a second son, he was named Frederick and he was to become my Father. Two years later in 1908 came a daughter she was named Maisie and now the family was complete. They stayed in the shops throughout the years of the first world war, 1914-1918, times were tough but, like everyone else they had to put up with austerity.
The Years Pass By.
We move on now to 1920 by now James was known as Jimmy and Frederick was of course known as Fred. Jimmy who by now the reader must have realised was a free spirit, organised a trip to Manchester to watch Newcastle play Manchester United. The all male trip was made up of local men and customers of the shops. Having watched the match they were to stay overnight in Manchester. Sometime over the weekend Jimmy made a decision. When the party set off for Newcastle on the Sunday morning Jimmy wasn't with them. He had decided he liked Manchester so he sent a Telegram to Isabella ' Sell up and follow me '
Another New Beginning.
How long it took to 'sell up' I don't know but sell up she did and the four of them set off for Manchester. They loaded the cart with light furniture, boxes and bags, and a Parrot in a cage. Many times my Father laughed when telling us about this but of course it was not so funny at the time. The horse they used must have been strong, I don't know how long it took them but they got there in the end. Where they found accomodation each night I don't know, but having sold the shops money was not an issue. Indeed due to Jimmy's original background and his ability to find a good deal, money seemed not to have been a problem for most of the time.
The New Shops.
Jimmy who had now aquired the family term of 'Pa' had not been idle during his time in Manchester. He had been staying at the Midland Hotel, at that time it was Manchester's finest and to my mind it still is. To stay there one had to have funds to say the least and Pa had spent several weeks there. He also had access to enough money to buy a large double fronted shop on Stretford Road, a main thoroughfare through Manchester at the time. He immediately moved the family into these premises on arrival from Newcastle. They were to live upstairs and downstairs was opened as a new furniture shop.
A Meeting With Mother At The Midland Hotel.
Business was good and soon a second shop was rented half a mile down the road, this was opened as a new carpet shop. Pa walked between the shops during the day by this time they had employed two assistants. Over the years Pa had contact with George, one of his brothers. George had also left the family business and had gone to London, where he was now a Wholesale Jeweller. One day he contacted Pa and told him that he had told their mother that Pa was now in Manchester, she was coming to the Midland Hotel, she would be there for three days and she wanted to see him. She also knew from George that he had three children and that he had taken up with a Barmaid. Reluctantly Pa decided to go and see her, it was to be the last time. My Grandmother asked Pa to come back home and rejoin the business. Time had passed and his answer was no. His mother was even conditional on her offer he could come, 'but not the barmaid' neither did she mention his family can you imagine how he felt? I certainly can. So he left her that day and they never met again.
The Years Move On.
We are now in the1930s and Britain was hit with the slump as it was called. Furnishings were a luxury that few could afford and Pa like thousands of others, went bankrupt and closed the shops. He contacted George to tell him, George sent him an open cheque with a note to say take what you want. Pa thanked him but said no to his offer and returned the cheque. George came up to Manchester a few days later, he pleaded with Pa to take the cheque. He offered to go and pay any creditors personally, again Pa said no. At this George went back to London, I think that was the last time that they met. Things get a little patchy here. Pa and my gran eventually married in the registry office at All Saints in Manchester. The last I can remember is that they moved to Stretford an area four miles away and opened a cafe. It was there my Dad Fred met my Mother Violet. They were both looking in a pet shop window, a chance remark by Fred regarding the pets in the window, led to courtship, two children and 63 years of happy marriage. Pa died sometime before 1939, I know it was on New Years Eve because throughout my life there was always a toast at 12.00 midnight. Dad would raise his glass and say 'To Pa' we would do the same and say 'To Pa'. Even now on New Years Eve, my sister Dot and I still say 'To Pa'
Family history and business.
Working Class Business
The business family.
© 2012 Graham Lee