From Wigan to Cornwall and Back

I never knew my mother’s parents as they passed away in the 1920s. I only found out about my mother’s early life after her death and only then obtained the odd photograph from contacts and relatives. 

My mother, Stella Sparkes was one of five children. Lily, Alice, May, Stella and John. Their parents were Elizabeth Anne Fairhurst and Edward Sparkes. Elizabeth Anne came from the Scholes/Whelley area and Edward went to school in Ashton-in-Makerfield.

Edward Sparkes is kneeling by the window. I often wonder if that is my grandmother peeping through the curtains at the back of the men.

In September 1923, Edward was killed by a fall of stone from the roof at Ravine Mine, No. 3 Pit, Garswood Hall Colliery. At the time the family were living at 7 Crofters Inn Yard, Hallgate, Wigan.

Crofters Inn Yard

Their father, Edward, would have been age 45. Their mother, Elizabeth Anne, was aged 41, daughter Lily 14, Alice 13, May 8, my mother Stella age 6 and son John aged 3. The property in Crofters Inn Yard was owned by a Walter Downall Molyneux. 

When Walter Molyneux first visited the family to pick up the rent after Edward’s death, he realised the family needed help but knew they wouldn't want charity so he asked them if Lily, the eldest daughter, would be willing to work as a nanny for his children. This she willingly did and Walter was able to pay her a wage to help the family. Elizabeth Anne, May, Stella, and John continued to live in Crofters Inn Yard, Wigan. Lily possibly moved in with the Molyneux family to help with the children. Daughter Alice was in service, probably in Liverpool. Walter Downham Molyneux died on the 9th April 1924 and was survived by his wife Isabella Molyneux.

Stella and May Sparkes also continued to attend the nearby National Bluecoat School.

May Sparkes is in the middle of the front row in this picture taken at the Blue Coat School.

My mother, Stella Sparkes is the girl in the check dress in the middle of the second row.

May Sparks, aged 14, died of influenza on 26th October 1929. Her mother, Elizabeth Ann Sparks, age 49, died of bronchitis soon after, on 23rd November 1929. My mother always said her mother, Elizabeth Anne gave up with the death of May and died from a broken heart. When their mother died in 1929, Stella and John joined their sister Lily and moved in with Isabella and the rest of the Molyneux family.

Walter’s widow, Isabella Molyneux, had apparently always wanted to live in Cornwall and took her 5 children, the three Sparks children and her niece in her battered Rolls Royce to a hamlet near Redruth, Cornwall, called Tolgus Mount. By that time she apparently considered Lily, Stella and John her children and treated them like her own. She drove all of them down to Cornwall. When they arrived in Cornwall the furniture had not arrived and there were family tales of Isabella Molyneux making up palliasses with straw stuffed in sacks to sleep on and how itchy and scratchy that first night was!

My mother and her brother John lived in a little cottage near the main house and were looked after by their big sister Lily, who was also working for the Molyneux family. 

My mother Stella, her brother John and the Molyneux children all went to school in Cornwall until returning to Lancashire after a few years.   

My mother, Stella, with Betty Molyneux in Cornwall, I'm always amused used by their grubby knees from picking flowers.

My parents met at Springs Branch railway shed where they both worked in the office. My father, being a cunning devil apparently, suggested to my mother that he could help her with her shorthand if she wished. I found the note he wrote to my mother with this suggestion, very formal, saying that she should ask her uncle’s permission, who she must have been staying with at this time, before taking up the offer of tuition.

By now, big sister Lily had met a local man and decided to stay in Cornwall. This explains why, when my mother and father married on 2nd September, 1939, their honeymoon was to have been in Cornwall.

My mother and father, Ernest and Stella Woodcock, were married at Wigan Parish Church on the 2nd September 1939. My father was a keen amateur photographer so naturally did his own wedding photographs. He set up the “shot” and then got an assistant to click the shutter.

From the Parish Church they walked across to the Minorca Grill Room for the wedding “breakfast”. As you can see from the receipt below, the total cost of 33 meals was £4.7s.9d.

After the reception they proceeded to Wigan North Western Station for their train journey to Cornwall for their honeymoon. Unfortunately they only got as far as Bristol before World War 2 was declared and they had to turn round and return to Wigan. 

My mother always insisted that peace was never declared in our house. I think she was joking.

Their rented house was unfurnished and they had ordered their new furniture the day before their wedding, to be delivered during their honeymoon. As can be seen from the receipt, their new furniture was for a total of £66.10s.

They arrived at their new home on Sunday 3rd of September 1939 to an empty house. Apparently, they had to borrow furniture from friends, neighbours and family, which they carried through the streets. 

Not the best of starts to a marriage which was to last fifty eight years until the death of my mother. 

It’s also strange to think about the number of times my mother and I stood outside Lowe’s Department store at Market Place, Wigan, waiting for the bus to Beech Hill and she never mentioned that she had lived further down Market Street behind the Crofter’s Arms. Possibly a time of her life she didn’t want to remember.

Bill Woodcock 2024

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