Pat's Crabtree family is linked to the Stansfields going back five generations and with very little to show for it so far. An odd name here and there and great gaps in knowledge, whether it be in church or census records. Ordinarily the link back on the family page would be to the earliest known family member, but the Stansfields deserve their own as it is my first example of a 'Merry Widow', at least one that is verifiable.

Manchester Cathedral
The story begins, as it often does, with a wedding. Richard Stansfield married Esther Riley on 12 June 1823 at Manchester Cathedral, nothing especially grand in this as all marriages in Manchester at the time took place there. No definite date of birth for him as yet for reasons that will become obvious, but Esther had been born about 1804 in Miles Platting, Manchester, according to later census records.

The couple had five children — Elizabeth (more on her later), Thomas, James, Mary and Thomas. Elizabeth gave Newton Heath as her place of birth, while her siblings were born in Hulme. There is not much of a trace of the two eldest boys other than baptism records and the assumption is that both died young. As did their father who didn't make it to the 1841 census, presumably having passed away around 1838 in Manchester.

Why Esther and remaining children should have moved to Haughton is debatable. There were certainly Stansfields in the area, mostly coal miners, but then you would have expected Riley family members if she was looking for support. Whatever the reason, the census shows that she, Elizabeth, Mary and Thomas were there in 1841, Esther in her 30s and recorded as widowed in the 1851 census.

Which is where the 'Merry Widow' observation comes from. In 1845 she gave illegitimate birth to Edward Stansfield as recorded at his christening at Denton St Lawrence. I'm not sure whether he died but I have found no trace of him other than at that census. In 1860 Esther married Henry Fletcher, both then in their mid-50s. They died in the 1870s and you wonder what daughter, Elizabeth would have made of it all....

Thomas married Mary Wrigley in 1859 and lived at various address in Godley and Newton, Hyde, with their children Louisa, Wilbraham, Herbert and William Thomas. They did have another son called Herbert in 1865, but he died the same same year.

Their homes were on the High Street and Commercial Street suggesting that Thomas, had a retail business, especially as he had two apprentices at the 1871 census. This is supported by Wilbraham who in 1891 was a 'hatter and dealer in millinery', while his wife, Emma, was a 'dress and mantle maker'. They were still on Market Street in 1891 when who was a felt hatter with two apprentices in1871, was a draper and shopkeeper.

Wilbraham Stansfield
Wilbraham had trained as a hatter at Oldham and Fogg's and he married Emma Wilde in 1884 at St Paul's, Portwood, Stockport. He was a little hard to trace as his surname sometimes omitted the second “s”, while his first name could be spelt Wilbram. He was even called Warden in at least two newspaper reports. He first appears in print in 1903, appearing in court to protect his 14 year old apprentice, Benjamin Cook, from bullying. (See Yesterdays)

Hippodrome Advert
The second week's ad for the Hippodrome in the North Cheshire Herald on 26 September 1914 — click for larger image

On reaching middle-age, Wilbraham had a dramatic career change, quite literally. In the early 1900s, he went into the entertainment business using a building that was part of the old Long Meadow Mill (see fire report) to show a mix of variety and music hall acts and moving pictures. He also had become the proprietor of a billiard hall by 1911.

By 1914 he had commissioned the building of the Hyde Hippodrome and Opera House on Clarendon Street which opened in September that year, a month after the outbreak of World War One. It was designed by the architect, John H Fletcher, who had also designed the town hall, swimming baths, the court and other public buildings in Hyde. He was commissioned in 1911 to design it to be as much as possible like the Tivoli Theatre in Manchester. The building was delayed and there was a legal dispute over the architect's fees which Wilbraham won. (See report in North Cheshire Herald)

Although intended primarily for theatre and variety, Wilbraham had problems securing the acts because of the hostilities and so relied increasingly on showing films. By 1918, he had turned it over completely to pictures and in doing so became a cinema pioneer in the area.

Broadway Melody Poster
The theatre was twice extended to accommodate the growing audience as it was the only cinema in the area when it turned itself exclusively to showing films (bar a rowdy political meeting or two) in 1918 and it was the first to feature a 'talkie' when it showed the 1929 version of The Broadway Melody.

Wilbraham eventually sold the business in 1937 to the J F Emery* Circuit, as well as the Lyceum in Hulme, which he had also owned for many years. In both cases he retained ownership of the properties. The Hippodrome closed its doors May 1960, its last showing the 1958 x-rated Frankenstein's Daughter.

Wilbraham also traveled and in 1932 he visited Russia, staying in Leningrad, Moscow, Nizhny, Morgorad and Stalingrad. He wrote about his experiences in the North Cheshire Herald, describing Russia as “the filthiest place I have ever put my boot in”. In 1931, he had spent a month in North America as part of the Manchester Evening Chronicle Tour, arriving on 3 July on the SS Duchess of Richmond and returning on the SS Melita from Montreal to Liverpool on 1 August. On both journeys, he was accompanied by his daughter, Beatrice.

Hyde Hippodrome
The Hippodrome in the 1950s — Tameside Image Archive

In addition to the cinema business, Wilbraham also built and owned the shopping arcade that sat along side the theatre as well as the billiard hall above which he continued to run. He was a Liberal councillor for the Newton and Godley Ward for 14 years until 1936 and was a member of the Hyde Fortitude Lodge of the Freemasons. A report on his 80th birthday stated that he was still a keen cyclist. He died in 1955 aged 93 at his home, The Lawn, Pudding Lane, Godley.

His eldest daughter, Beatrice, married late in life to Richard Frederick Hadon Wilkinson at St John the Baptist, Godley, in 1935. She was then in her mid-forties, while he was ten years her junior. Richard (known as Fred) had been born in Westhaughton and had been stationed in Denton with the Lancashire Constabulary. He was then stationed in Morecambe where the couple were to live before returning to Hyde.

Mabel Stansfield married John Leigh in 1924, also at St John's. He had studied at Manchester University and was the cashier at William Kenyon's in Dukinfield. The couple had two daughters, Antonette in 1926 soon after they married and Pauline in 1930. It isn't clear what became of the family beyond that time.

Wilbraham's only son was his namesake, Wilbraham Grenville Stansfield, although he was known as Grenville throughout his life. He followed his father into the cinema business and from 1941 was the proprietor of the Savoy Theatre in Mottram as this extract confirms:

SAVOY THEATRE (AWH) 1937 prop. C. Seymour. 450 seats. 1941 – Lessee/Prop., Wilbraham G. Stansfield. 500 seats. Booked at Hall. Once nightly. Twice Sat. Prices 4d. to 1s. Phone Mottram 356. Station, Broadbottom.

Grenville also tried his hand at film production at least once with a silent black and white short in 1925 showing the final of the Stansfield Cup between Godley Hill and Ashton Brothers. The four minute film shows shots of the teams, and of the match being played. Also a match between Hyde United versus Denton Brotherhood played at National Park, Denton. The film is held by the North West Film Archive.

He married Annie Rutherford in 1926 and the couple had a daughter, Jane, in 1930. Again I am uncertain about what became of Grenville beyond the report of his sister's marriage in 1935.

William Thomas Stansfield
In 1891, Lily Marshall was living with Mary Stansfield, described as her adopted daughter, as was Joshua Marshall, although he was a boarder. Mary had died by 1901 and Lily was living as the adopted sister of William and Esther Stansfield. Lily and William married soon afterwards at Werneth St Paul.

The couple had one daughter, Elsie, born in 1907, but she died in 1912 aged five. William himself died in 1918 and was buried with Elsie at Hyde Cemetery. His middle name is recorded there as Thompson, rather than Thomas, but the North Cheshire Herald dated 16 November 1918 confirms that it was indeed Wilbraham's brother. Lily remarried to Abraham Kenning in 1922.

Louisa Stansfield
Louisa was the eldest of Thomas Stanfield's children, born in 1860. She married William Alexander Bancroft in 1883 at St John the Baptist, Godley, in 1883 and the couple apparently lived their lives on Dukinfield Road, Newton, where William was an overlooker in a cotton mill. They had two daughters, Annie who married Frank Dunkerley at St Stephen's in 1910 and Bertha who died at the age of 14 just before the 1901 census.

The Crabtree Connection
James Crabtree married Elizabeth Stansfield in 1844 at All Saints, Glossop, both of them living in Dinting. Why they were there isn't at all clear as they were back in Denton a few years later when the eldest son, Samuel, was born. The marriage certificate doesn't provide many clues, other than correct names and occupations for the couple and the groom's father, Joseph. They were described as being of full age, which they were, but a more precise age would have been helpful. Also Elizabeth just described her father as 'dead' rather than his name and deceased in brackets as was usually the case.

* Sir James Frederick Emery, proprietor of the Manchester-based cinema circuit founded 1919, Mayor of Salford 1932-33 and Conservative MP for Salford West 1935-45. Back to text.

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