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The Sykes’ from Diggle
[This item includes information about Bob, Jim, Hannah Jane ('Jinny'), Annie, Esther Ann ('Hetty') and Frances Sykes. It also covers Jesiah Warhurst, Annie's husband and their daughter Doris Warhurst, and Percy Cooper, Frances's husband, their son Raymond Cooper and his wife Lilian].
Betty (ca 1795 – 1867) and Before
Lying to the east of Oldham in deeply cut valleys at the foot of the soaring Pennine hills lie the villages that make up the community of Saddleworth. Administratively the area belongs to Yorkshire and it always had stronger connections with the woolen industry than that of cotton. Geographically, however, it is in Lancashire and its streams run into the River Tame and down to the Mersey. Ammon Wrigley, it’s most famous poet, said 'Saddleworth is a Yorkshire parish, with a Lancashire population'[1].

Into one of the Saddleworth valleys engineers took two turnpike roads, a canal and a railway, but before they were able to reach Yorkshire they needed to lift the roads over the hills and burrow the canal and railway through tunnels. This narrowing valley is the site of the village of Diggle – a name as singular as the location itself.

The Sykes’ are a Yorkshire family, shown to be genetically all close linked. A number of them worked their way across the moors of the Pennines via Huddersfield and settled in the valleys of Saddleworth generally, and at Diggle in particular. They had perhaps already been there for some generations when Betty Sykes was born in about 1795. She may have been the daughter of Joseph and Sarah Sykes, though I have no definite proof. However what is known with certainty is that she spent much of her life living in the picturesque Diggle hamlet of Diglee. Her childhood coincided with building of the Standedge canal tunnel, at 3.4 miles the longest and deepest in Britain, whose portal was cut precisely at Diglee in 1794.

Betty must have been quite a girl. Although she had at least four children, three girls then a boy, the 1851 and 1861 censuses indicate that she was unmarried! What is more, on the marriage certificate of her son, Robert, no father’s name or occupation is given. Either Betty never really knew who the father was, or she was keeping tight-lipped about it! We cannot know whether the four Sykes children shared the same father, or not. If they did not, when Betty passed by she would have set the girls’ tongues a-wagging, but the boys’ eyes a-glinting! Perhaps she was not all that exceptional; while searching through the birth records of this period for Saddleworth parish I noticed that spinster mothers were not altogether unusual, and in one case I was interested to see that the girl in question came from a place called ‘Back o’ th’ Quick Edge’ – perhaps the forerunner of ‘Back o’ th’ Bike Sheds’?

Without doubt, whatever else she was, Betty must have been a hard-working woman. She worked all her life in wool, either as a wool weaver or as a woolen manufacturer and the children were brought up as wool sorters , spinners or weavers. Saddleworth in general, and Diglee in particular, still retain many marvellous-looking wool weavers’ cottages with rows of stone-mullioned windows, especially in the upper storeys. These were designed to let in the maximum amount of light to the looms, which must have been particularly important in the dark winter days . The music of Betty’s life would have included not only the tinkling of streams and the songs of the skylark and blackbird, but also the rat-a-tat of the handloom as the shuttle flew to and fro.

Betty stayed on at Diglee and probably died there in 1867, in her early seventies. The record of her burial referred to her as a widow; thus she was granted a respectability in death that eluded her in life.

Robert Sykes (1824 - 1896)

Robert and Hannah Buckley (ca 1822 - ca 1866)
Robert Sykes and his sisters, Ann, Mariah and Sarah were born at Diggle between 1816 and 1824. Robert must have been brought up as a farmer-weaver and was described as a weaver on the 1841 census when he was about 15. He must have been very interested in the building of the first railway tunnel that started at Diglee and long remembered the day in 1848 when it was officially opened. Ammon Wrigley described how many people went down from the hills to see it. ‘They had never seen a “hellfire hurrycart”, as one old farmer described it, and some of the women folk could not be persuaded to go within three hundred yards of the railway. When the train came up the valley they crouched and peeped at it through holes in the fence walls[2].

In 1852 when Robert married he described himself as a farmer, but according to the 1851 census and his son’s birth certificate four years later he was a ‘wool sorter’. In fact it was usual for the farming folk of the area at that time to be involved in the wool industry. Some carried out spinning and weaving at home, others might work in one of the water driven textile mills that were set up in the stream bottoms of Saddleworth, perhaps working on a part time basis, or during the winter months when the harsh climate and short days meant there was little that could be done on the land. As mentioned, the early textile industry of the area was that of wool, typical of Yorkshire, and the small mills set up on the streams of these steep areas were mainly woolen mills.

Overlooking Diggle to the west stands Harrop Edge behind which runs the pretty Castleshaw Valley, the beloved childhood home of Ammon Wrigley. In this valley, beside the old packhorse road and turnpike trust from Austerlands near Oldham to Wakefield in Yorkshire, stood two or three isolated buildings at a locality called Causeway Sett. The inhabitants of this small community were farmers and weavers, like those at Diglee and in the early years of the nineteenth century Robert Buckley, a weaver, and his daughter, Hannah, were among the occupants. Wrigley said ‘at one time it must have rained Buckleys over the Saddleworth hills, and no shower that ever fell … has done more good[3]. Hannah caught the eye of Robert Sykes and they were married in 1852 at the local church of St. Chad’s in Saddleworth.

The young couple lived at Diglee, possibly with Betty. Diglee boasted its own railway station and canal facilities at the entrance of the two existing tunnels and Robert and Hannah must have often have watched the canal boats and the steam trains disappear on their way to Yorkshire, or alternatively emerge into the blinding daylight when Lancashire bound. In Robert and Hannah’s day the trains would be belching smoke and would, I understand, always whistle as they entered or left the tunnels. He and Hannah stayed there for at least fourteen years during which Hannah gave birth to four boys, Robert Buckley, Edward Thomas, James Hervey[4] and William F., who no doubt grew up helping their father in his farming and textile activities. It was quite unusual at that time to give children two forenames; given that ‘Buckley’ is a family name, I wonder if ‘Thomas’, ‘Hervey’ and ‘F.’ might not link to some earlier family members. At the time of the 1871 census Robert was described as a ‘cowman’ and this is the first indication that Robert had turned his back on the woolen industry and begun to take an interest in cattle farming, so becoming able to produce dairy products and meat for the nearby burgeoning industrial market towns such as Oldham and Ashton under Lyne.

Robert and Sarah Jane
Some time after the census of 1871 it seems that Hannah died, probably in her early 50s. Robert re-married, possibly about 1877, and his new wife, called Jane (although her full name was Sarah Jane), was born in Manchester. According to the 1881 census, Jane was 21 years younger than Robert and only eight years older than his youngest son, so he clearly still had plenty of go! On the other hand, Robert decided to move away from his boyhood home at Diggle – maybe wagging tongues finally got to him – and may have first gone to farm in the kindlier areas of Limeside at Hollinwood south of Oldham (see map). Perhaps that is where he met Jane. Where we can be more certain, however, is that by 1881 the two of them were married and farming at Woodhouses, a few miles south of Hollinwood and just east of Failsworth (see map).

The 1881 census shows that Robert’s farm was called Ash Bridge. It was situated to the south of Medlock Road and was quite small at 20 acres. Robert Buckley, Robert’s oldest son, had married by this time and was living close by, working as a farm labourer, quite possibly for his father. The other three boys all lived at Ash Bridge and, on the night of the 1881 census, at least, Robert’s sister Sarah was also with them.

Ten years later Robert and his wife were still farming at Ash Bridge, probably helped by Edward, their son, and employing at least one outside labourer. By the time Robert died in 1896, attended by his wife, he had moved from Ash Bridge farm to the nearby Brick Hall Farm. We do not know when Jane died, but I have been unable to find her on the 1901 census, so perhaps by then she was no longer alive. Ash Bridge farm has now been built over, but a road that probably marks the line of the old farm track preserves the name (see photo).

Robert Buckley Sykes (1856 – 1936)

Robert Buckley Sykes
Robert Buckley was the oldest son of Robert and Hannah and, as we know, he was born at Diglee. Hannah registered the birth, but was unable to sign the register, instead making her mark. In 1861 Robert, aged 5, was a scholar, presumably at a local school, and lived with his parents, his grandmother Betty, and two young cousins, Esther A. and Robert.

Robert must have grown up at Diggle, watching the trains and the canal boats pass in and out of the tunnels, playing in the fields and streams and taking part in all the village activities and rites of those times. However he must also have paid some attention to his school work because he was later able to sign his name on his marriage certificate. Besides playing, he no doubt had to work hard to earn his keep and help the family. His duties would have included work on the land with his father, wool sorting, carding and spinning, and later use of the loom to weave woolen cloth.

By the time of the 1871 census Robert had three younger brothers to keep in line and to receive his cast-off clothes. No doubt they got up to plenty of mischief One of the events that the boys probably looked forward to was the traditional rush-cart festival, the forerunners of the annual Wakes, when the villages of Saddleworth took turns to provide St. Chad’s church with rushes to cover the floor, competing to see who could produce the most spectacular cart and procession. In reality the rush-cart festival was an excuse for a jolly good party and eagerly anticipated by the population, as can be sensed from the photo.

Robert Buckley Sykes and Sarah Hales (1855 - 1921)
Probably to accompany his father, Robert Buckley moved away from Diggle at some time, perhaps about when he was 20 to 22 years old. In 1879, when he was 23, he was working as a farm labourer at Limeside, Hollinwood and there he met a young lady called Sarah Hales, two years his senior, who was working as a domestic servant in Hollins Road.

Surprisingly, Sarah originated from Wem in Shropshire, the daughter of William Davies and Elizabeth Hales. My mother, Irene told me of a rumour in the family, to the effect that Sarah was the daughter of a servant girl and her employer’s son, but said to be from Yorkshire, not Shropshire. Reality seems to be more prosaic. Sarah’s birth registration implies that her mother and father were not married. The birth was registered by another Sarah Hales, possibly baby Sarah’s grandmother, who made her mark. On Sarah’s marriage certificate her father is given as William Hales (deceased) with the humble rank of ‘Farm labourer’. So much for the noble origin – but we think no less of Sarah for that!

As an aside, there is a tantalising titbit of later information that may link in with the Hales. My mother, Irene, had photos of at least one visit that her family made to Colemere, near Wem, at Easter in 1935 and this suggests to me that there may still have been some family contact there at that time.

If it is surprising to learn that Sarah was from Wem, it is doubly surprising to discover that Robert Buckley’s oldest brother, Edward, also married a girl from Wem. Her name was Mary Jane Roberts and she was about four years younger than Sarah. I had long imagined there must have been a connection between the two and the 1861 and 1871 census data begin to shed some light on the situation. In 1861 Sarah, then almost six years old, was living in Wem with an uncle and aunt, respectively John and Mary Roberts, and their children. The evidence therefore indicates that Sarah and Mary Jane were cousins and, whatever took them to Oldham, it seems they must have gone together. John Roberts was described as a bricklayer at Mary Jane’s baptism in 1859 and a labourer in 1861. By 1871 he had moved with part of his family to Tunstall in Staffordshire (near Stoke on Trent) and it might be that he later moved to Oldham, seeking employment in what was then becoming the foremost cotton spinning town in the world.

Robert Buckley and Sarah’s marriage took place at Oldham Register Office in 1879 and by 1881 they had made the short move from Limeside to Woodhouses (see Greenwood's map, above), where they were to stay for the rest of their lives. Robert was then working as a farm labourer, probably for his father at Ash Bridge farm. Their first child, Hannah Jane, who was to be my great aunt Hannah Jane (‘Jinny’), had been born the previous year. She was followed by Annie, probably in 1882 and then by a son, Robert (Bob) in about 1885. My grandmother, Esther Ann (Hetty) was the next born, in 1887, by which time Robert Buckley’s family was living at Clayton View and he was still a farm labourer. Frances followed about 1890 and the 1891 census shows the family living at 112 Medlock Road. Robert Buckley and Sarah’s last child, Jim, was born about 1892.

Robert Buckley and Brick Hall Farm
Robert Buckley appears to have been making progress in the community and in 1894 was probably elected to the first Woodhouses Parish Council. By 1901 he had his own farm of 20 acres (8 ha), Brick Hall Farm, not far from Ash Bridge. Brick Hall was very old; it is known to have existed in 1618 and took its name from the fact that it was built of brick instead of the more normal daub and wattle, reinforced with timbers, of that time. The fields were built over with modern houses by the early years of the 21st century, and I am told the house was knocked down in 2008. My mother, Irene, remembered visiting the farm, probably in the mid to late 1920s and wrote down some of her recollections. She remembered that part of the old farmhouse was unoccupied and ‘when the weather was bad’ the children used to play hide and seek and similar games there.

The lived-in part of the house had flag (stone) floors that were scrubbed clean on a regular basis. Irene wrote:

The farm house (had) a large kitchen with (an) oak dresser, and (a) long table which was essential with a large family, and sometimes farm workers, and a fire-place with two ovens and (a) large brass fender with buffets at each end. It must have taken someone half a day to clean and polish (it). There were always geraniums in the windowsill, and of course a couple of high-backed rocking chairs, and large wooden wall clock. There were hand-made cloth rugs on the floor made during the long, dark winter evenings when the farm-work was done, and as an alternative to crocheting lacy mats, which was the girls favourite pastime, and a ball of crochet cotton bought with their pocket money for 1d gave them many hours of pleasure – their only entertainment except for reading, and whatever they did was by the light from an oil-lamp”.

The children also used to spend their pennies on liquorice, a sweet black confection, which they would buy from a nearby shop at Crime Lake, Daisy Nook.

Then there was the dairy, where the milk was put to settle for the cream to set, in several large earthenware mugs and then was churned into butter in a barrel turned by hand with a large wheel. Once started, it was essential it was kept turning until the process was finished, and woe betide the turner if he – mostly – left off before someone else took over, as was expected, so you can understand that the churning room was avoided and there would be pleas and threats when someone who should have relieved the turner made himself scarce. The butter was made into 1 lb pats using a wooden mould, and I was fascinated by the lovely sculpture of a rose on top, which it seemed a pity to spoil”.

There was also a parlour, used only on special occasions and full or ‘old things’.

Although the farm was fun for the children Irene remembered that:

it was jolly hard work for the grown-ups. At harvest time it was ‘all hands to the pumps’ and everyone was expected to be useful because animals – cows, pigs and hens – had to be fed and attended to”.

If the children were lucky they managed to have a ride on the hay-cart from the field to the large barn where they – together with sundry cousins - would frolic in the hay.

At other times the girls were expected to earn their livings as best they could. In 1901 Jinny was a towel weaver and Annie a tenter in the cardroom of a local cotton mill. It was the tenter’s job to scoot round the carding machines, fetching and carrying, and cleaning up waste whenever necessary. Hetty appears to have remained more involved with the farm and round about 1910 was delivering milk from a churn on the back of a horse-drawn float to peoples’ homes in Failsworth. The system was to measure the required quantity of milk from a measuring can into the householder’s container. As we know the farm also made butter, and quite possibly had eggs, chickens and perhaps other produce to offer. Frances had what appears to have been considered a more pleasant job, training as a dressmaker.

Life at Brick Hall farm must have been hard. Sarah would have run the house and was no doubt a tough lady. We are lucky enough to have a photo of her, possibly taken outside the farmhouse together with her daughter Annie and Annie’s daughter Doris, about 1910 (see above).

This was all I knew of Robert Buckley, the farmer from Diggle, until I was able to talk to a descendent of his son, Bob, in 2008 (see below). Sarah died in 1921 and thereafter Robert went to live in a cottage at 56 Ashton Road in Woodhouses where his daughter, Jinny, cared for him. He would lie in bed and take aim at the spittoon on the floor in the corner of the room, but his aim was not always accurate and Jinny had the task of cleaning up! Irene remembers Robert as a man with a head of thick white hair who would pay the children a penny to ‘look for bugs’ in it – an excuse to have someone tickle his scalp! Irene’s brother Richard added that he had a thick white beard.
I understand that Robert had helped his two boys set up as farmers, which might explain why, in his will of 1926, he made no provision for them, instead simply leaving his estate to be divided equally among his four daughters. The executors were Jinny and his son-in-law, Jesiah Warhurst (Annie's husband).

Robert survived as a widower for fifteen years and died in 1936, aged 80. He is buried with Sarah in Failsworth cemetery (see photo). The gross and net values of his estate were respectively £2,032-10-4d and £1,982-7-7d.

The Children from Brick Hall Farm

Jinny (real name Hannah Jane) never married, but cared for her father for as long as he lived. She maintained close contact with her sisters, especially Annie and Hetty to my knowledge. She was an executor of her father's will and benefited to the value of a quarter of his estate. After the death of her father she continued living in Woodhouses, presumably at 56, Ashton Road, where she had 23 years of time to herself before she died in 1959. She was buried with her parents (see photo above).

When Robert Buckley left Brick Hall farm he swapped homes with his oldest boy, Bob. Bob married Rose Edna Moult in about March 1916. They had four sons, the first of whom, Robert, died of diphtheria aged about two years. The second was James Frederick ('Jim'), born in April 1918, the third Syd, born April 1920, and the fourth Robert ('Bob'), born in July 1931.

After Robert Buckley retired he would walk up to Brick Hall Farm each day to read his newpaper  in the kitchen and often spent time with Syd, who he taught to play cards. They used to enjoy eating parkin, made by Jinny, and Robert Buckley showed Syd how to get up every last crumb by wetting his finger in his mouth and then dabbing at the plate.


There was always a big coal fire in the kitchen at the farm, with a tank behind the fireplace that heated hot water, accessible from the rear. This was used to scald the churns and other milk- and butter-making apparatus on the farm. 


There was a time when the farm appeared to be using rather a lot of coal. Syd was then just a lad, but he was old enough to be surprised when he saw his granddad secretly take a large piece of coal, wrap it in his newspaper and furtively hide it under the hedge that separated the farm from the lane, apparently with the intention of collecting it later on his way home. After his granddad had hidden the coal Syd removed it, putting it back where it had come from. He wondered what his grandfather’s reaction must have been when he found that his lump of coal had disappeared! 


Bob used to go round with a milk float to sell milk to customers, pouring a gill, or whatever measure was needed, into their cans . It seems that Syd used to go with him, and sometimes Richard (‘young Dick’, Syd’s cousin, Richard Tuson) went too. Bob used to say to young Dick ‘How’s your dick, Dick?’ - for which he used to get told off by Dick’s mother, Hetty. 


Dick was born in 1920 and he, Jim and Syd were good friends who used to play together. 

When  Syd was about 10 years old and his mother three-months pregnant with her youngest son, Bob, his father suddenly died, aged only about 45 (therefore about the end of 1930). While he was alive, Bob used to pay his father an allowance that was in effect a pension. According to Syd, Robert Buckley could have paid a National Insurance stamp to earn a state pension, but he did not do so, and therefore the allowance from Bob was important to him. 


When  Bob died Rose had no alternative but to leave the farm, which was rented. She sold all the equipment and saved the money careully - it was all she had to live on as she did not later get a job. She looked for accomodation and was eventually offered rooms by a local butcher, but over a second shop that he owned at Lower Broughton in Salford, several miles away. The family went to live there for a while but eventually returned to Failsworth.


Rose had certainly ended up in very difficult circumstances, which Jim and Bob were old enough to understand. To this day Syd experiences sharp bitterness when he reflects on the fact that not one of the Sykes family contacted her to try to help. Even worse, Robert Buckley started legal proceedings against her to claim the allowance that he felt was due to him. The action probably took place in Oldham and as Robert Buckley had appointed a solicitor Rose Edna felt obliged to do the same. It appears that the action never  reached court because the two solicitors agreed to recommend a ‘fifty-fifty’ accommodation, presumably meaning that Rose Edna paid Robert Buckley half the allowance that had been agreed. 


Robert Buckley died in 1936 and as his will shows that he left an estate valued at £2,032 gross (£1,982 net), which one feels would not have been an inconsiderable sum in those days. Some - perhaps much - of it would have been in ’bricks and mortar’ and therefore illiquid, but if we consider that a small house at that time might have been worth about £300 it seems that Robert Buckley was quite well off. It is therefore hard to understand his motives in pursuing Rose Edna and her young family. Syd believes that Robert Buckley was a hard and unreasonable man whose word in the family was tantamount to law. If he prohibited his children from making contact with Rose Edna, Syd feels that they would have found it very difficult to go against the prohibition. Such autocratic behaviour by the male head of the family in those days was perhaps common. My mother, Irene, remembered that her father, though hard-working and often kind, required obedience of the family. When he was about the children dared not misbehave, and even the cat kept out of his way! 


My Uncle, Richard Tuson, who had enjoyed playing with Jim and Syd, was puzzled as to why he had lost contact with his cousins and it was in response to his request to try to find out that I eventually tracked Syd down. Syd was able to tell me that his brother Jim married Mary Agnes Hughes in Oldham in 1940 and they had two girls.  He worked at Ferranti’s in Oldham and was a member of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade - Syd thinks he might have joined St. John’s because it entitled him to free entrance to the local cinema where he could be on first aid duty but see the film! 


Unlike Syd, Jim was a good agriculturalist and would have done well on the farm at Brick Hall. He moved to near Windsor - within sight of Windsor Castle -  where he established a nursery and grew tomatoes which he sold in great quantities. Later he was at Louthwater, near Wycombe. Jim joined the Tank Corp just before the outbreak of the Second World War and, according to Syd, was for a time in the same army unit as ‘young Dick’ (Richard Tuson). Jim died in about February 1993 at Wycombe.

Syd's youngest brother, Bob, married Margaret Spence at Christ Church, Chadderton, about 1959. All three of the brothers, Jim, Syd and Bob had children of their own.


Bob’s younger brother, Jim, also continued in farming. Robert Buckley set him up on a farm at Hindley Green, near Wigan. Jim married Annie Forester at the New Jerusalem church in Failsworth on 25th April 1923. They had one child, a daughter called Doreen May. Irene remembered visiting Uncle Jim and Auntie Annie there. She remembered that Auntie Annie was very hard working and very nice. Jim was very fond of Doreen who later married and had one son. On their visits to the farm Irene remembered that they always had fruit and cream! Jim fought  in the First World War as part of the 21st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, serving in France, Belgium and Italy. Although he would not talk about his experiences, Doreen said that he helped to look after the pack animals, a job for which, having a farm upbringing, he was well-qualified. His work may also have helped him survive the conflict. Jim's wife, Annie, died at 842 Hollins Road in 1951 but Jim lived on until 1981. Doreen's husband was Granville Harrop. She died in 2012, Granville soon after in 2013.

Annie married Jesiah Warhurst at Holy Trinity church, Bardsley, near Woodhouses, in 1907. Jess, as he was called, was the son of Henry Warhurst of Padfield in Derbyshire and Hannah H. Roberts from neighbouring Hollingworth in Cheshire. Henry's parents were Lessial and Mary Warhurst, both from Padfield, and they had at least five children. Hannah's family was more numerous, comprising at least nine children. Both families were involved in the cotton industry.

Henry and Hannah were married in Hayfield in 1866 and had seven children, three boys and four girls. They had something of a penchant for obscure biblical names, inherited from their parents, because besides Jesiah there was also a girl called Achsah; there must be a good chance they they were non-conformists. In 1881 Henry was an engine driver and his oldest son, George, was an engine driver’s assistant – probably in a textile mill. An ‘engine driver’, or ‘engineer’ as we would now call them – was a very good job – one of the most important, responsible and best paid in the mill.
Henry was a cotton spinner in 1861 - already quite a good job. However the census evidence shows that he moved about, probably to better himself, and had lived in Warrington and Denton, near Manchester, before settling at Hyde in Cheshire by 1901 as the engineer in a cotton mill. Jess followed a similar sort of career. He started off as a piecer in a cotton mill at Hyde, but by 1891 had moved to Farnworth, near Bolton, where he was learning the trade of an engineer, working as an 'Engine Tenter' - an engineer's assistant. The 1901 census found him back with his parents, but now with the coveted rank of 'engine driver (cotton mill)' and  it was probably soon after that he moved to Failsworth where he obtained the position of engineer at the Wrigley Head cotton mill.

The Wrigley Head mill was also known locally as Johnson’s Mill, as it had been built by Samuel Johnson & Co. in 1882. It was extended in 1888 and again in 1911 and at the time that Jess was the engineer it had a 350 hp engine built by Benjamin Goodfellow[5].
Annie and Jess had only one child, a daughter called Doris, a dear and intelligent lady who never married but was a good friend of her many cousins, especially Mary and Irene Tuson, throughout her life. They shared a number of outings and holidays together in the 1930s, including to Bridlington, Rhos on Sea, and to Colemere.

Jess died in 1948 at his home, a neat terraced house at 30, Ashton Road East in Failsworth. As far back as I can recall, perhaps about 1954, Annie and Doris lived at that address, and even as a small boy I remember that the house was always nicely kept. I remember my Auntie Annie as a busty lady with a twinkle in her eye who enjoyed a cup of tea and a good natter in Lancashire dialect with her sisters Jinny and Hetty. She was very possessive of Doris and allowed her little freedom.

Doris became a secretary - probably at quite a high level - at, I understand, Ferrantis in Hollinwood. She always lived with, and cared for, her mother until she died, in 1969. After that Doris was able to enjoy a series of holidays with Mary and Irene and their husbands including to Ireland and Norway. Eventually she bought a bungalow at Clitheroe but sadly died in 1977 before she could move in. To the general surprise of the family Doris turned out to be quite wealthy, presumably benefiting from money left by her father. Most of it went to Mary and Irene, but she also remembered two other cousins, Richard Tuson and Raymond Cooper, and others. Her will details her wishes, and there is a probate statement.


Frances Sykes married Percy Cooper in 1916 at the New Jerusalem church in Failsworth. Percy’s parents were James and Sarah Cooper who were living at number 5, Pump Street in Hollinwood (Oldham) in 1901. Besides Percy there was an older brother called Fred and a younger sister called Elsie. It appears that Sarah’s maiden name may have been Edwards, because a brother-in-law of that name was living with them. At the time James was a cotton spinner who originated from Failsworth.

Percy was born in 1892 and attended Bourne Street Council and Hollinwood Council schools. A Labour Certificate of 1905 records that he was then living at Alford Street, which was very near Pump Street. Children needed the certificate in order to start work as it demonstrated their school work was of a reasonable standard. This system ensured that the workforce was competent at reading, maths and general knowledge, and guaranteed all children a basic level of education. Unfortunately it put pressure on bright children from poorer families to leave school as soon as possible. Once they had reached this basic standard of education they could start work and bring an extra wage to their household[6].

Percy became a good cricketer and stories and photos of his prowess survive. In later life he worked at Avros, an aircraft manufacturer that became part of the Hawker Siddley Group, and he played some of his cricket for them. However he was associated with the team at Woodhouses, where Frances had been brought up, which had a very good reputation. A local newspaper wrote a report of how he saved the team in a vital match against Milnrow in the semi-final of the Wood Cup in 1927.

Percy worked for Avros for over twenty-five years, for which he was presented with a clock, and rose to the position of Aircraft Works Supervisor.

At the time of their marriage, in 1916, Percy was about 24 and Frances 27. He was living at number 21 Knowl Street in Hollinwood – at precisely the same time that Frances’ sister, Hetty Tuson, was giving birth to my mother Irene at number 18 in the same road. Frances would have been living on the farm at Woodhouses at the time, but perhaps she used to visit Hetty and that is how she met Percy. At some time after the marriage the couple made the short move to Roman Road in Failsworth.

Frances and Percy had a son called Raymond, who was rather precocious – he was born only six weeks after his parents’ wedding! It seems that there may have been a daughter too, but she died either at birth of soon afterwards [7].

Percy was probably a very good provider for his family as one of his grandchildren wrote:
"I remember Grandma and Grandad living at 128 Roman Road, which I considered 'posh'! It was always tidy. Grandma was a very smart and precise lady. She was always dressed well with her hair immaculate and always the same type of lace up shoes with a heel, almost like a boot. Life was lived in a routine. The same meals were cooked on the same day every week and from as early as I can remember, she used to come and visit us on a Thursday. She was regular as clockwork, arriving and departing on the same bus from Failsworth to Hollinwood. My mother had to sit and talk to her when she visited and we had to be good! … Grandad was not seen as often but he had a twinkle in his eye and smoked cigars. Whenever I smell a cigar, it always reminds me of him.”
Raymond pretty much fulfilled his precocious start. His daughter wrote:
"Dad went to [Oldham] Hulme Grammar School in 1928 on a scholarship from Lancashire County Authority. On leaving his headmaster described him as: '….a hard working and painstaking student. His demeanour has been somewhat quiet and retiring but he has great strength of personality and a dourness which will not allow of him giving up any problem until it has been solved'. It goes on to mention his prowess at cricket and finishes by saying, 'He is a good type of English schoolboy; keen, dependable, alert, cheerful, intelligent and a gentleman….'
Raymond went on to study as a chemist, with Oldham Industrial Co-Op for four years from 1933, and eventually qualified as a pharmaceutical chemist. The Second World War interrupted Raymond’s plans, as it did so many others at the time. He eventually ended up in India. His daughter wrote:
“I remember him telling us that when he first joined up he put down to go into the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) but there was a mistake made and he was sent to the RAC [the Royal Armoured Corps] as a driver and he couldn't drive. He was eventually transferred. He seemed to enjoy the army and Mum said that he never got into the action! He wrote plays when he was there and he carried on doing this when he got home. I have some of them. I remember that when I was young, they were performed at Ross St Methodist Church [at Coppice, Oldham]. Although my Dad was not religious, he was a member of the Men's Group at the church. Dad always played the piano and he was very good. He could pick up tunes easily…”
By 1941 Raymond had met Lilian Brown, for there are photos of them together at Otley in Yorkshire. They married in 1942, in Oldham – probably juggling the wedding with war duties. Their daughter said:
"I think he met Mum when she was a St John's staff nurse at Brunswick St First Aid Post [in Oldham]. She also worked at Walco Bros. shoe shop. Walco manufactured and distributed footwear. She left there as Manageress. It must have been a totally different background as Mum came from a large family who was more working class. I remember my Mum saying that she was really worried when she realised she was older than Dad and it took her a while to confess!"
Interestingly, the Browns appear to be yet another family that arrived in the Lancashire cotton towns from Norfolk.

After the war ended Raymond and Lilian had two children, a boy and a girl. Raymond opened a chemist’s shop:
“Dad owned a chemist's shop below Failsworth Pole [Manchester side] for many years and then after I left home he was approached by … [a friend] … to go into partnership. He had a shop above the Pole. Dad went in with him (I think there was some sort of deal as [the partner] had no family). … He also opened a shop in later years in the Coppice called Cooper and Moore … [with a younger partner] and as well as that he went into a cooperative in Failsworth when a pharmacy opened at the new health centre. Dad was quite shrewd and was prudent with his money. Mum and Dad moved from James Street in Failsworth to Hollinwood to a terraced house when I was very young and never moved out although they could easily have afforded a better house.”
Raymond was always popular, no doubt enhanced by his sporting and musical abilities. But he also enjoyed a chinwag with friends:
“When I was a child and right up till Dad died, I remember him going for a drink with [his cousin] on a Friday. He used to meet up with friends …. from boyhood.”

“Dad loved the countryside and we used to go out for a Sunday run [in the car] when we were young. He then joined the camping club, firstly with a tent and then a caravan as times moved on and although he had to work until 6pm on a Saturday, we used to go off for the weekend and come back on Sunday evening. He enjoyed this right up to his death and was very active in the Lancashire and Cheshire District Association of the Camping Club of Great Britain, being Treasurer for many years."
Raymond and Lilian’s children were a very considerable credit to their parents and gave them the happiness of grandchildren. Their daughter turned out to be an excellent athlete, competing at national level.

Raymond eventually died in 1993, Lilian in 1997. Although I did not know them very well, I remember them, especially ‘Uncle Raymond’, with real affection. He always had time to notice children, a twinkle in his eye and an attractive personality.

The last of Robert Buckley and Sarah’s children was my grandmother, Hetty Sykes and her story can be read here



Many thanks to John Harrop and family for kindly making available several of the photos used in this item.

Sincere thanks also to Raymond and Lilian's daughter for photos, text contributions and permission to include her comments here.

I am also very grateful to Syd Sykes and his wife, Betty, for information and photos.


Notes and References


[1]. Wrigley, A., 1940, 'Old Lancashire Words and Folk Sayings - Parish of Saddleworth', p. 3, Geo. Whittaker & Sons, Stalybridge.

[2]. Wrigley, A., 1931, 'O'er the Hills and Far Away', p. 169, Geo. Whittaker & Sons, Stalybridge.

[3]. Wrigley, A., 1916, reprinted 1991, 'The Wind Among the Heather', p. 315, R. E. Greenwood, ISBN 0 9518303 0 9.

[4]. I know that this son was 'James H.', but have not proven he was 'James Hervey'. My deductiontion is based on the only plausible birth reference on the FreeBMD website, which identifies him as 'James Hervey'. See record on 1863, Jun, Saddleworth 9a, 245.

[5]. Gurr, D. & Julian Hunt, 1998, 'The Cotton Mills of Oldham', Oldham Education & Leisure, ISBN 0 902809 46 6.

[7]. I searched the Civil Registration Index from 1916 to 1921 but did not find any record of this rumoured birth. The baby might have been stillborn.


Written by Philip Dunkerley