Godfrey William Bonson
Godfrey William Bonson, son of Abraham Bonson and Emma Radford, was born on 9 Jun 1858 in 1 Margaret Place, Lower Bland Street, Newington, Southwark, was christened on 1 Aug 1858 in Trinity Church, Newington, Southwark, died on 5 Sep 1932 in Aston, Ollerbarrow Road, Hale, Cheshire, at age 74, and was buried on 8 Sep 1932 in Hale Cemetary, Altrincham.
Below is a Brief Biography
- 1858 Born in London in 1858
- 1862 Godfrey was only 4 when his father died.
- 1870 his first visit to Altrincham at the age of 12, he stayed for 12 months
- 1871 returning to London for schooling He is shown as a 12 year old choolboy on the census
- 1873 came back to Altrincham as an apprentice to his brother in law at the age of 15.
- 1873 Will written by his mother at 32 George Street, Altrincham
- 1879 At the age of 21 he finished his apprenticeship and joined the firm of Kendal Milnes in Manchester
- 1881 Married to Elizabeth Partington on his marriage certificate in 1881 he gives his residence at the time of marriage as Altrincham - but without a full address. He is described as a cabinet maker.
- 1881 Census He and his wife, Mother and sister in law are living at 29 King Street, Stretford. He is unemployed.
- 1882 He started his own business in Altrincham?
- 1883 living in Manchester when his first child was born
- 1884 His mother who moved to Cheshire to live with him died in October 1884 at 71 George Street, Altrincham
- 1887 Moved to first premises on Stamford New Road
- 1889 Premises extended and carpet beating machinery was installed.
- 1894 he moved to the premises at Stamford New Road with the workshop and warehouse next to the railway.
- 1903 Offered as a candidate for local council - not elected
- 1909 Elected Mayor of Altrincham
- 1911 Elected a member of the Urban District Council and continued to represent the Central Ward until 1926
- 1915 chosen as one of the Overseers
- 1916 Death of his wife Elizabeth.
- 1917 Appointed Chairman of the council
- 1919 Chairman of the Overseers a position which he continued to hold until 1927
- 1926 his address is given as 13 Stamford New Road in a list of councillors where he is representing the West Ward. At some point the business has sold the prime corner site to the bank and moved into the shop next door where it remained until its closure. The Warehouse & workshops were retained.
- 1927 Walking the Bounds of Altrincham
- 1928 placed on the Commission of Peace for the County of Chester and appointed as a magistrate
- 1931 will written at 13 Stamford New Road
- 1932 Died. Living at "Alston", Ollerbarrow Road. His estate was valued at over £15,000.
Godfrey had been born in Margaret Place, Newington. This was described in 1898 as;
- “2 storey cottages light blue as map. In Margaret Place and probably in the other, three rooms to a cottage; rents from 7/- to 7/6.”
The light blue coding gave a description for the typical occupants of the street of;
“Intermittent earning. 18s to 21s per week for a moderate family. The victims of competition and on them falls with particular severity the weight of recurrent depressions of trade. Labourers, poorer artisans and street sellers. This irregularity of employment may show itself in the week or in the year: stevedores and waterside porters may secure only one of two days' work in a week, whereas labourers in the building trades may get only eight or nine months in a year. Or Small regular earnings. poor, regular earnings. Factory, dock, and warehouse labourers, car men, messengers and porters. Of the whole section none can be said to rise above poverty, nor are many to be classed as very poor. As a general rule they have a hard struggle to make ends meet, but they are, as a body, decent steady men, paying their way and bringing up their children respectably.”
He was quite a bit younger than his brothers and sister; they were 18, 16 and 14 years older than him. He could have barely rembered his father as he died on Christmas Day when Godfrey was only four.
When he was about twelve he had spent a year with his sister and brother in law in Altrincham, but he had gone back to London to complete his education.
1871 Census - 1 Margaret Place, Bland Street, Newington
- Emma Bonson, widow, aged 55, formerley an upholsterer born at Shirland in Derbyshire
- John R Bonson, son, single aged 24 an upholsterer, born at Lambeth in Surrey
- Godfrey W Bonson, son, single aged 12 a scholar, born at Lambeth in Surrey
When he finished his schooling at the age of 14, he returned to Cheshire and became an apprentice to his brother in law John Halloran, learning the Cabinet making trade until the age of 21.
Godfrey married Elizabeth Ann Ravenscroft Partington, daughter of John Partington and Mary Percival, on 1 Mar 1881 in St Georges Church, Altrincham.
She was only eight years old when her mother died. Her father remarried just over one year later.
She was the eldest daughter of Mr John Partington, a member of an old Ashley family who held the Birkin Farm on the Tatton estate for a long period.
When she married in 1881 at the age of 21 she was described as a spinster, living at Bowden without an occupation. The witnesses were James Hodgkinson and Mary Partington.
She must have tried to have another go in business as a month after her marriage, she was a Confectioner employing her sister and they had moved to Stretford. It must have been a stressful time as she not only had her mother in law living with her but her new husband was out of work.
1881 Census 29 King St, Stretford, Lancashire taken 4th April
- Godfrey Wm. BONSON, married age 22, born in London S E , Surrey, a Cabinet Maker (Unemployed)
- Elizabeth Anne BONSON, Wife, married, age 21, born in Ashley, Cheshire, a Confectioner Employing 1 Female
- Emma BONSON, Mother, widowed, age 65, born in Shirland Park, Derbyshire, Formerly Upholstress
- Mary PARTINGTON, Wife's Sister, unmarried, age 18born in Ashley, Cheshire, a Confectioner
It is around this time that according to his later biographies Godfrey worked for the well known furnishing houses of Gillows of London and Kendal Milnes & Co of Manchester.
A Brief History of Gillows
Robert Gillow (1704-72) began his Lancaster cabinetry firm around 1731. His sons Richard and Robert both joined the firm in time. The Gillows were the best-known makers of English furniture for a very long time. Both Sheraton and Hepplewhite designed for them (Hepplewhite was an apprentice at Gillow's). Around 1765 they invented the original form of the billiard-table; they patented the telescopic dining-table; they certainly made (and perhaps invented) the desk named for their customer, Capt. Davenport.
While their London shop had developed a loyal carriage trade, the Gillows also sought the custom of the growing middles classes; their goods were solid, well-made, and attractive. Expensive crossbanding and carving were minimized in order to keep the goods affordable. Furniture painted to complement wall hangings and upholstery were popular for the last quarter of the 18th Century, until supplanted by rosewood pieces. In the 19th Century, Gillows (eventually run by a grandson, Richard, who died in 1866) followed the trends, producing Elizabethan, Greek, Olde English revival furniture. Gillow Furniture from the 18th and 19th Centuries show fine quality, simple design, and excellent proportions.
Gillows was so well known, they are mentioned in the books of Thackeray, Jane Austen, and even in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta! Gillows merged with the Liverpool firm of Waring in 1897, creating Waring & Gillows. Gillows Furniture is sometimes stamped; early pieces may be stamped GILLOW. LANCASTER, later pieces can be marked GILLOWS or GILLOWS & CO.
Kendal Milne & Co. Department Store
The enterprise began when John Watts, his wife and six sons, were farmers in Burnage, Manchester, who opened a draper's shop in Deansgate. As business expanded Watts took on several partners, including Thomas Kendal, James Milne and Adam Faulkner. Watts' business and commercial holdings in Manchester continued to grow; his greatest legacy is the Watts Warehouse on Portland Street, which opened at a cost of £100,000 in March 1858. In 1836 Watts sold out his remaining interest in the partnership to the others. James Milne was to become High Sheriff of Lancashire and Mayor of Manchester, and was knighted in 1857. Meantime, Kendall and Faulkner concentrated on developing the business.
Early department stores catered primarily for middle and upper class consumers. They specialised in the purchasing, display and merchandising of more specialised high quality goods. Indeed the opening of Kendal Milne, the first major department store in the regional city of Manchester, in the UK in 1873, saw comparisons with the most prestigious 'London houses' of the time.
The company in its heyday had a reputation as eminent house furnishers and had their own workshop. Department stores of the Nineteenth century would not just be retailers of high-quality furniture but also makers. This store received a Royal Warrant in 1901 and was named 'Upholsterers to the Royal Household'.
Following a furniture trade slump in the early 20th century the two firms merged to form Waring and Gillows. The Deansgate store is now known simply as Kendals, part of the House of Fraser Group.
How long he worked for these firms is not known, but it cannot have been long, because in the biography in ‘The town and Trade of Altrincham’, he started in business for himself in 1882 at the age of just 23. In his biography in the Altrincham Yearbook of 1910 it says that he worked for these firms for ‘some years’ and then took over the business of his brother in Law , John Halloran which at the time was located in George Street.
Descriptions of Altrincham
By the late 1880’s the business was prospering. They had outgrown the premises on George Street that he had taken on from his brother in law and moved into larger premises, also on George Street. By 1887 he had moved as a tenant into still larger premises on the newly developing Stamford New Road, the carpet beating and storage warehouse came in 1889 and then finally in 1894 the shop moved to the impressive premises at North End, Stamford New Road.
Altrincham Guardian 18th February 1889
'It is always an agreeable duty to have to comment upon the business activity of which many instances are to be seen just now in Altrincham. The most recent example of local enterprise is to be seen in the extension of the works of G.W. Bonson in Stamford New Road where an elaborate installation of machinery has been erected for the purposes of carpet beating. The appliances are the most perfect of their kind, and in a district where carpet beating, common and prosaic a business as it may seem, is an important industry during times of spring cleaning, the new facilities are bound to be largely used. New storage rooms have also been built adjoining Moss Lane, making the works the largest & most complete of their kind in the suburbs of Manchester.'
1891 Census, Altrincham
Godfrey is aged 32, a Cabinet Maker, Upholsterer and House Furnisher living at Stamford New Road with his wife Elizabeth A, aged 31, born in Ashley, sons John P (scholar aged 8 born in Manchester), Walter (scholar aged 6 born in Altrincham), daughter Emmie (aged 2), and son Godfrey W aged (7 months).
Also there was his wifes uncle, Peter Partington a retired Farmer, aged 65, widowed and born at Rostherne. According to the family, he had been a farmer at Sugar Brook Farm, Ashley and then for some reason he went to Hull and worked for Peter in a bakery business he owned. He then became ill and went to live with the Bonson’s where he died.
Peter Partington died 8th September 1897 aged 72 years - he was buried in the same grave in Rostherne churchyard as his brother John (Elizabeth’s father) and their family.
Town & Trade of Altrincham 1897
Mr. G. W. BONSON, North End, Stamford New Road, served his apprenticeship in Altrincham, and was afterwards some time with Messrs. Gillow and Co., London. Later he was with Messrs. Kendal, Milne and Co., of Manchester, and has had experience in other large towns.
He commenced for himself in 1882, and in 1894 came to his present premises, which consist of a handsome shop in a good position near the Railway Station, and a commodious warehouse and workshop at the back. The large workshop is fitted with wood-working machinery and the electric light installation. There are also spacious furniture store rooms, which are well heated with hot water apparatus. Furniture removing, for which he has every appliance, is another branch of Mr. Bonson's business.
The stock is large and miscellaneous, and includes, besides drawing-room, dining-room, and bedroom suites, cottage and kitchen furniture, brass and iron bedsteads, mail carts, wringing machines, linoleum, carpets, &c.
Mr. Bonson has a large business connection with the families of the neighbourhood, and personally superintends the execution of all the orders placed in his hands
By the turn of the century the business was doing well and so was Godfrey and his family. They had their impressive premises in the heart of the town, the family was nearly complete and they could even afford to have a maid ‘living in’.
Below are some Photog
raphs and Adverts for the Business
This was already an impressive social movement by a lad from a poor area of London, but now he was to begin to get involved in the local political scene. He was invited to join the Court Leet at around this time as one of the burgesses.
1901 Census, Altrincham, Stamford New Road
Head of the family is Godfrey Bonson, age 42, born London Newington, whose occupation is a Cabinet Maker; his wife is Elizabeth Bonson, now aged 41, born in Cheshire at Ashley; their oldest son John Bonson, is now 18, and is shown as being born in Lancashire at Old Trafford, and is working as a Furnishing Salesman And Book Keeper, the next son Walter Bonson, is 16 and was born in Altrincham, his occupation is also given as a Cabinet Maker; then come the younger children, Emmie Bonson, 12, born Altrincham; Godfrey Bonson, 10, born Altrincham; Elizabeth Bonson, 8, born Altrincham; Lilian Bonson, 5, born Altrincham; James Bonson, 1, born Altrincham and also in the household is Harriett Walton, a general domestic servant aged 21 from Middlewich.
He became a well known figure on the Altrincham scene. Tom Ryder recalled in 1992
"Some of the Partington girls from Ashley married farmers and several of them used to go to Altrincham show. G.W. Bonson used to have a cold lunch set out for them in the big sitting room over the shop and the various farming relations used to wander in as it suited them. Some of the names were Lea from near Nantwich, Percival and Hollingshead. The husband and wife of the latter family were killed at an unmanned railway crossing in 1924, but I can't say which generation they were. Another of that tribe married a man named Dinely who was something of a showman. I am told he had a high diving act, diving into a large tub of water covered with flaming oil.”
In 1916 things were to take a turn for the worse. Two of the sons were away fighting in France and Elizabeth contracted throat cancer. She died in a nursing home in Manchester. This must have been a blow as Godfrey and 'Lizzie' appear to have had a very happy marriage, certainly they were dearly loved by their children. Her husband did not get around to administering her will until 1923.
At some stage in the 1920’s things must have become more difficult for the business as they sold the prime corner shop to the Bank and moved into the shop next door at No. 13 Stamford New Road. They still retained the Warehouses and workshops on Moss Lane.
His public life continued too, the final accolade being when he was chosen to be a Justice of the Peace in 1928.
He retained many other interests too, as described in the obituary that appeared on his death in 1932.
Altrincham Guardian 9th September 1932
DEATH OF MR G. W. BONSON
AN EX-CHAIRMAN OF ALTRINCHAM COUNCIL AND A FORMER MAYOR
NOTABLE PUBLIC CAREER
After more than half-a-century's connection with the business life of Altrincham, and, having served the public faithfully and well for a number of years as a member of the local authority, and in other spheres of usefulness, the death occurred on Monday night of Mr. Godfrey William Bonson, at Aston, Ollerbarrow Road, Hale, where he had recently resided. Mr. Bonson, who was 74 years age, was born in the South-East of London on June 9th, 1858, and received a commercial education in the Trinity Public Elementary School. He left school at an early age, and in 1873 began a term of apprenticeship with his brother-in-law, Mr. John Halloran, who then carried on business as a cabinet maker and upholsterer in George Street, Altrincham. At 21, he had completed his training, and for some years was engaged with the firms of Gillows, of London, and Kendal, Milne and Company as a journeyman in Manchester.
He then returned to Altrincham, and took over the business of Mr. Halloran, which, by that time, had been removed to other premises. As his trade grew, Mr. Bonson took a larger shop in George Street, and in 1887, became the tenant of a still bigger place of business in Stamford New Road, which was then in the first stages of its development as a trading centre. Seven years later he built an establishment for himself in the same road, and was soon able to add carpet-beating machinery and to erect extensive store-rooms, so that the premises became the largest of their kind in the district. For many years he gave his undivided attention to almost every branch of the furnishing trade, and the success of the business was entirely due to his personal care and energy.
It is more than 20 years ago since Mr. Bonson was induced to take an active part in the public affairs of the town, and he had previously been for some time as Burgess of the Court Leet. In 1911 he was elected a member of the Urban District Council, and continued to represent the Central Ward until 1926, when he retired, having then become the "Father" of the Council. He was appointed Chairman of the Council in April, 1917, and discharged the onerous duties devolving upon him in that responsible office with honour to himself, and credit to the town. He was chosen as one of the Overseers in 1915, and four years later, he became their chairman, a position which he continued to hold until 1927 when the Overseers ceased to function under a new Local Government Act.
An interesting event happened during the year that Dr. Harry Cooper was Mayor of Altrincham and Mr. C. F. Redford was Chairman of the Council, when these two gentlemen, along with the Overseers " walked " the boundaries, this being the last occasion on which this ancient custom was observed. Photographs were taken by the late Mr. Stanley Derbyshire at various points during the survey and these were afterwards arranged in album form, and presented to each member of the party, who had spent two arduous, but very pleasant days. The arrangements for the "walking" of the boundaries were made under the direction of Mr. Bonson and his three colleagues. For a few years before his retirement from the Council, Mr. Bonson was Chairman of the Highways Committee.
In 1928, Mr. Bonson was placed on the Commission of Peace for the county of Chester and his appointment as a magistrate was a fitting recognition of his long public services. He was also a member of the Board of Management of Altrincham General Hospital.
OLD MEMBER OF THE COURT LEET
Mr. Bonson had had a long connection with the Court Leet, and he was elected Mayor of Altrincham in October, 1909. It was a popular choice, and he thoroughly justified the confidence reposed in him by worthily upholding the traditions of this old institution. He had continued his interest in the Court Leet as an ex-Mayor, and was a familiar figure at the different functions. For upwards of 30 years, Mr. Bonson had been a staunch supporter of Altrincham Agricultural Society, and, as a member of the General Committee, he gave a good deal of time to the promotion of its interests. He was for some years a member of the Finance Committee, and became its Chairman shortly before his illness, when he had to relinquish the office. His connection with the Society began as an exhibitor at the shows, and the first year that the Mayor's cup was offered for tradesmen's turnouts, he carried off the trophy, a success which he repeated in the two following years, Mr. Bonson was one of the founders of the local Ratepayers' Association, and he also played a prominent part in the formation of the Traders' Association, now the Chamber of Trade. Mr. Bonson found his chief recreation in bowling, and he was one of the oldest members of Stamford Bowling Club and an ex-president. In the summer months he spent much of his leisure time on the green and was not only an enthusiastic, but a capable exponent of the game. It was a matter of regret to him when he was stricken down with a seizure, and was no longer able to indulge in his favourite pastime.
MARRIED 51 YEARS AGO
It is about 51 years ago since Mr. Bonson married Miss Partington, eldest daughter of Mr. John Partington, a member of an old Ashley family, who held the Birkin Farm on the Tatton Estate for a long period. The Partington family were for many years known as members of the Tatton Troop of the Earl of Chester's Yeomanry. Mrs Bonson died in 1916.
In his will he instructed that all of the shares in the company to be shared equally by all his children who were alive when he died. All household furniture and effects to be sold at public auction & put in residuary trust fund. The Company was to have an assured tenancy of the shop for 10 years with a right to buy, after which the trustees could sell. The policy of Assurance & 'Halefield', Queens Road, Hale was to go to Walter Bonson. The trust fund to be shared equally between the living children (and children of deceased) except Walter whose share was less £565 (£500 being the price he had taken over Halefield for, and £65 being the price he took over the Policy of Assurance for). It was signed on the 18th May 1931 The Estate included; 5% War Stock, Shares in Public Companies, cash at bank, IOU from J.R. Bonson, insurance moneys, household furniture, rents etc - plus freehold properties = Gross estate of £15,757 The properties that he owned at his death were; 36 Ellesmere Road & garages, 19, 21 & 23 Harcourt Road, 13 Stamford New Road, 17 Kingsway, 'Alston', Ollerbarrow Road, 'Halefield', Queens Road. All of which was not a bad sum total for a poor boy from London.
The list of those who attended his funeral is equally impressive, representing most of the influential people in the town; report
After Godfrey’s death, the running of the shop had passed to his sons, but not all were involved in it’s day to day running and the shares had been spread throughout the family. By the 1960’s concern was being expressed about it’s future; James sent this letter which summed up some of the problems;
Letter from Jim to nephew Harold 7/7/1969
Thank you very much for the birthday card. I am surprised that you know the date. I am sorry to confess that i really don’t know anyone’s birthday except Dorothy, ___ & ___ and possibly one or two others. Aunty Betty used to take care of the sending of cards for birthdays & Christmas.
I hear that you, Harold have not been too well again. Perhaps you are prone to worry & be over conscientious. It is so easy to exaggerate the importance of many things that trouble us and to forget that everything passes so quickly that before we have finished worrying about the future, that future has become the past.
Does that sound a bit Irish?
Of course we can't just not bother about anything but we can do our best to cope with situations as they arise and then sleep with a clean conscience.
My prominent problem is what to do about the business. Soon nearly all the shares will be held by those who have never been actively involved in the firm. Then the dividend will not compare with what could be obtained from the proceeds of the sale of the shares or the sale of the premises and distribution of the proceeds and the liquid assets.
While of course, the odd one or two carrying on the show could earn a comfortable income they could not buy out the other shareholders and no outsider would be interested in buying anything less than a controlling interest.
The employees are mostly of long service and would qualify for substantial redundancy pay but the older they get, the harder it would be to get fresh jobs.
I hate the idea of selling out even for sentimental reasons and I hope some way might be found to put it on a good basis satisfactory to all concerned.
Kindest regards, your affectionate,
In the 1970’s an offer was made for the building by the Midland Bank next door and it was reluctantly agreed to sell, ending the business after nearly 90 years.
Children from this marriage were:
- i. John Partington Bonson was born on 29 Aug 1882 in Manchester, Lancashire, was christened in St Brides Church, Old Trafford, Manchr, and died on 14 Oct 1948 in Altrincham, Cheshire, at age 66.
- ii. Walter Bonson was born on 6 May 1884 in Altrincham, Cheshire, was christened in St Johns Church, Altrincham, died on 21 May 1960 in Altrincham, Cheshire, at age 76, and was buried on 25 May 1960 in Hale Cemetary, Altrincham.
- iii. Mary Bonson was born on 16 Nov 1885 in Altrincham, Cheshire, was christened in St Johns Church, Altrincham, died on 30 Jun 1890 in Altrincham, Cheshire, at age 4, and was buried on 4 Jul 1890 in Bowden Church.
- iv. Emily Bonson was born on 21 Apr 1888 in Altrincham, Cheshire, was christened in St Johns Church, Altrincham, died on 9 Mar 1925, at age 36, and was buried on 11 Mar 1925 in Hale Cemetary, Altrincham.
- v. Godfrey William Bonson was born on 10 Aug 1890 in Altrincham, Cheshire and died in 1978 in Altrincham, Cheshire, at age 88.
- vi. Elizabeth Gladys Bonson was born on 27 Feb 1893.
- vii. Lillian Bonson was born on 22 Mar 1896.
- viii. James Radford Bonson was born on 5 Jul 1899 and died in Mar 1972, at age 72.