Saddles Away!

M y father was born into a family of comfortable farmers who had farmed in the Bredbury/Denton area of South east Manchester for the whole of the 19th century.  They had come out of a family of saddlers who had plyed their trade in the Poynton area of south Stockport in the late 18th century.  Besides farming my great grandfather, Joseph (1849-1923) owned three pubs and leased three farms of land.  He must have been relatively wealthy towards the end of the 19th century.  He married Elizabeth Knowles, sister of Samuel Knowles whose family had leased Whittles Farm in Denton since 1820.  My grand father Ellis, (1886-1963) was born in one of the pubs, the Arden Arms on the Denton-Bredbury Road in 1887 where the family farmed Castle Hill Farm  and amongst other things bred Shire horses for commercial purposes to the likes of Robinsons Brewery in Stockport whose beers the pub still sells.

Joseph had three sisters and five brothers, the men were all carters and farmers and the women were all maids and hatters.  Women were never allowed to go beyond their station in life those days and Denton along with Stockport was famed for its hat manufacturers.

Due to complications at Ellis’s birth his mother Elizabeth (1842-1887) died, leaving Joseph to care for his seven children, (Edith born 1877, Martha Alice born 1878, Elizabeth born 1880, Ellen born 1881, Joseph born 1882, John, born 1884, Ellis born 1886) alone no easy task for a publican and farmer In about 1888 Samuel Knowles, the lessee of Whittles Farm,  also died leaving his second wife , Alice, in charge of two children from his first  marriage and three children of their own.  Joseph Malpas took over the lease of Whittles Farm and after a period of familiarity married Alice in 1886 and between them took over the responsibility of 12 children plus  one other.  Clara Heath who was the product of a liaison between Mary Jane Knowles, Samuel Knowles ‘s younger sister who was committed to a mental hospital having threatened to kill her illegitimate child Clara after a liaison with a local doctor called Heath who did not take responsibility for his actions and who subsequently died, so was declared an orphan.  This was a match made in heaven, satisfying the children’s need for parents with the business opportunities of an extra farm. The age range of these children in 1892 was 18 years to 5 years old and Joseph was known to have said, “there is always room for one more.”

There were many mouths to feed and slowly the riches Joseph accumulated, evaporated to a certain extent but through it all the Malpas and Knowles siblings remained good friends although there was talk in the neighbourhood of this marriage  of Joseph and Alice being illegal and therefore sinful.  In laws were not encouraged to marry in those days.

Alice and Joseph lived together for30 years before both of them died within three days of each other in October 1923, Ellis, my grandfather who had married Avis AllenSanderson(1890-1974) in October 1916, a girl from Arlecdon near Millom in Cumberland who had come down to Oldham to ply her trade as a dressmaker.  Ellis had four sisters, and two brothers, Joseph and John who had died young in 1916 aged 32.  Ellis had farmed Whittles Farm in Joseph’s old age and eventually bought it in 1923 when it came up for sale with presumably Joseph’s money when he died.  It was a substantial holding of 138 acres surrounding Denton St Lawrence Cricket Club.  Ellis’s older sister Edith had married at the turn of the century and was living in Leigh.  His other older sister Elizabeth or Aunt Lizzie born in 1880, never married and lived at the farm all her life, working as a general dogsbody until she died in January 1953.  Such was the life then of an unmarried daughter.

Avis was a coalminers daughter and the product of  a mining family the Allen’s, marrying into a farming family the Sanderson’s.  Henry Allen  had come up to Cumberland via Llantrisant in South Wales via Cornwall  chasing the work in the newly opened copper seams around White haven and their daughter Agnes had married Thomas Sanderson in 1885, the younger son of the Sanderson family who had farmed 800 acres at Thornthwaite outside of Keswick. Both hard rock mining and farming hundreds of acres in the Lake District in the late 1800s was no place for soft men.  Thomas died a violent death a few years later, when he drank a draught of acid one summers day, thinking it was lemonade.

Ellis and Avis had five children, Agnes born in 1917, comparatively early for a late 1916 marriage, who went onto become a prison officer at Strangeways prison in Manchester.  She met a Canadian Army Officer who had come up to Denton to meet his relations, in the in the early part of WW2.  Samuel Norman Knowles was an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who fought the war with a Canadian military regiment.  He was already married and was 10 years older than Agnes.  He was the son of Norman Knowles who was the first born  in  Samuel Knowles first marriage who had escaped to Canada in the late 1890s fleeing from a couple of paternity cases in the Denton area courts

Norman had his first marriage annulled after the war and the pair went off to Jasper in Alberta to be married followed by McBride and Kamloops in British Columbia following his postings in the Mounted Police.  They had three children and Norman died in the 1970s.  Agnes was a very able and friendly woman, in contact with the world via her PC dying a few years ago in her late 90s

Ellis and Avis fed their family well.  After Agnes came Alan, my father who died in 1916 aged 98 and Ellis Jnr, a farmer all his life marrying Muriel and having two kids, dying aged 93 and then came Joseph who died in his late 80s and who lived all his life in Denton marrying Joan and had one daughter and last came Elizabeth (Aunty Betty) who worked the farm all her life dying in her early 90s.  Her claim to fame was that she fell off her horse when she was 72  and damaged her hip.  She should have been treated by her family doctor but having spent her whole life surrounded by animals she chose her vet, her local doctor was Harold Shipman, the mass murderer who on the latest count had over 200 victims to his name.

My father, Alan who was born on 31st March 1918 weighed only 2lb when he was born and the doctor threw him to the end of the bed saying “He will not last”  But Aunty Lizzie knew better and put him in a drawer and fed him a diet on Cognac and beastings.  He thrived on it, surviving diptheria when aged 2, a killer disease then but he hated alcohol all his life, finally reverting to Cognac in his early 90s when he had nothing else to live for.  Incidentally when he was transferred to the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home when sheltered housing was proving too much for him at the age of 92, the sisters were concerned that there was no medical records  forwarded on.  On investigation it was discovered there was none to be had.  He had not seen a doctor since 1920,  that must be a record on this Big pharma/ NHS era.  When he was born his sister,  Agnes was only was only a baby, so he was farmed out to Aunty Edith in Leigh who had been married for almost 15 years without progeny.  It seems it was a custom of the time and he did not return to the family for three or four years by this time his brother Ellis had been born and was thriving.  This  divorce from his maternal care affected him most of his life and he found it hard to relate to his family and his own children and grandchildren.

My grandfather, Ellis, in1920 with horse and dray.


Ellis and Muriel had two children, Janet and David and Joseph and Joan had one child Linda.  We cousins met every year at Christmas. There was a massive divide between our families except on this day when my grandmother sent the Lord Mayor of Manchester’s Rolls Royce round for us.  The chauffeur was a neighbour of hers in Denton and to the consternation of all in Duncan Road in Longsight up came this gargantuan monster to our terraced house door.  Registration No N 10, I can recall and delivered us to the farm for the party of all parties organised by Aunty Betty.

Scene at Whittle’s Farm



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