Mr Samuel Leach

In the Harris Reference Library there is a book I have only recently discovered, entitled 'Old Age Reminiscences' by Samuel Leach. He wrote this in 1916, when he was eighty-six years of age, and it begins - "I was born on the 5th December 1829, in a house, (one of a terrace of three), on the lower, which is the south side, of Winckley Square, Preston."

Samuel was the youngest son of Thomas Leach, Hosier and Draper, whose business premises were at 130 and 131 Fishergate, though an early Trade Directory gives the address as 1 Cheapside. This is born out by the front page of issue No. 24 of “THE STRUGGLE” which shows Preston Obelisk where the Perpetual Auctions were 'A Sign of the Times' and where the name 'LEACH' can be seen on the shop at the top of Cheapside.

It was when Samuel was about five years of age that his father acquired one of the few vacant plots of land in the Square and built two houses, closely adjoining that in which they already lived. One of these was for his own occupation and the other for a tenancy; both houses were in Camden Place, but Mr. Leach's house, being on the corner, with the front door in Camden Place, had many rooms, which overlooked the Square. With the house went a large garden plot in the central area of the Square, which could be seen, from the drawing room windows and from the bedrooms above. This garden was a source of delight to the youngsters in the family and also provided a most plentiful supply of fruit, flowers and vegetables for the household. The younger boys had plots to care for but their elder sister who was very devoted to this task did most of the gardening.

The main feature inside the house was the wealth of storerooms! Favourite amongst these was the one in the dining room, which was very large and shelved from top to bottom. It was the boys' sanctum sanctorum and contained boxes of toffee, gingerbread, parkin, groceries, string, joinery tools of every description and, at Christmas, raised mince pies.

It was a lovely house in which to play hide and seek, containing only two living rooms, one on each side of the front door; the dining room to the left, looking into Camden Place; the drawing room to the right, with two windows to the Square.

Samuel's parents had their bedroom on the first floor; in winter over the dining room for warmth, and in summer over the drawing room, which faced north. Both rooms had fine old four-poster beds with curtains to draw all round. Other bedrooms on this first floor were those of Samuel's only sister and the servants. The boys' bedrooms were on the second floor.

The house was cellared throughout, there being a larder, washing cellar with a huge mangle, coal and wine cellars. Candles were used for illumination, two in each sitting room on ordinary occasions, but four on 'state' occasions. For night lights in a case of sickness or otherwise they had small wicks floating on the top of oil in large glasses, "much the shape and size of a rose bowl".

Samuel Leach describes the weekly ritual of doing the household washing. As boys, he and his brothers were allowed to sit up until the watchman's first round, "and to see him cloaked up to the chin, a dark mysterious figure with a lantern on wet and windy nights, was quite awe inspiring. It was part of the watchman's duties to knock with his stick on the wall just under the maids' bedroom window and so awake them, and this took place on Monday mornings at half-past two o'clock for the wash, so that by the time we came down to breakfast we often saw the clothes, already dried, being brought in from the grass plot at the bottom of our garden". "What", he asks in 1916, "would the today maids have to say to this? And yet we kept them as a rule for periods of six, eight, or even ten years, or until they left us to marry."

Before the age of six, Samuel was sent to a mixed boys' and girls' school kept by a Miss Foster in Charles Street, "now swallowed up in the Station buildings". At eight years of age he went to the Grammar School in Stoneygate, this being moved in 1842 lo "fine new buildings in Cross Street, in the same block as the museum, library and lecture room of the Literary and Philosophical Society; many of my dinner hours were spent reading in this library, as the family had tickets admitting us to all the privileges in connection with this Society".

At the Grammar School he was required to learn "for night work" thirty to fifty lines at a time of Latin and Greek. "I used to sit half-way up our stairs at home, where we had a convenient gas jet, night after night, learning Latin by heart."

Amongst his principal 'playfellows' were James Brown, brother of the future Sir Charles Brown, and John Rofe, son of the Gas Engineer, whose "principal use was his having access to the Gas Works, his father being chief man there, and our delight was to dance about on the top of the big gasometers before they filled for the night's use, and no dancing floor was ever so springy as those elastic tops".

Samuel and his friends had little in the way of entertainment as we know it today. They went, in winter evenings, for tea to each other’s homes where they had games, piano music or singing. They went, also, to an occasional lecture, this being a great period for lectures and sermons, but never to the theatre or concert room.

The family holidayed in Lytham or Blackpool and, to get there, travelled in a hired covered green market cart. The journey to Lytham would take fully two hours, and an hour longer to Blackpool! Samuel well remembers getting up at six o'clock one morning when he was eight years old, to see the first train start from Preston. That was in 1838 when the North Union Railway began running trains as far as Wigan.

In June 1845, Samuel elected to go into business with his brother John in Manchester, rather than go to university. There he remained for five years, working long hours, from 8.30 a.m. till 7.30 p.m. every weekday. He and his brother went every fortnight from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning to the old home at Preston. Their father always met them at the station. Thomas Leach, although born in Clitheroe, had been almost a life-long resident in Preston and worked constantly for the town's welfare. Among the many positions he occupied were; Director of the Gas Company from its formation in 1815; Director of the Preston Company from its formation in 1815; Director of the Preston Banking Company; Director of the Steam Saw Mill Company, a large interest in the Ribble Navigation Company, Trustee of the Savings Bank: local Treasurer to two of the large Missionary Societies; and for some years a member of the Town Council, with an offer of the Mayoralty, which he declined.

In June 1850, Samuel left Manchester to join his other brother, Joseph, a cotton-broker in Liverpool, becoming his partner at the close of the year when he was twenty-one. Business hours were shorter in Liverpool, being from nine to five or five-thirty. Joseph and Samuel still spent occasional weekends at Preston.

In 1851, Samuel had a wonderful time visiting the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London with his Aunt Cowell who seems to have been a very sprightly old lady. In August 1855, he was married, we are not told to whom, except that she was a bridesmaid to Samuel’s sister-in-law. With this marriage Samuel ends his story, leaving his children to complete it. He died on the 12th March 1923, being in his 94th year.

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© Marian Roberts 1996