John Bradley LEDLEY was born in Stockport in 1829 and was the son of Francis LEDLEY (1793-1833) and Ellen BRADLEY (1800-1868). John’s parents were married at St Mary’s, Stockport on 19 August 1823. Ellen had been born in Bollington on 29 May 1800 and was a daughter of John BRADLEY and his second wife, Hannah BURGESS. Ellen was baptised at St Peter’s, Prestbury in June 1800.
Francis and Ellen had three surviving children, Elizabeth (1827-1857); John Bradley (1829-1895) and William (1832-1896).
Francis died in Stockport in 1833 and Ellen returned to live in Bollington with her children. In 1841 the family was living on Water Street and Ellen and the two older children were working in a local cotton mill. In 1851, the family had moved to High Street. John was now working as a cotton spinner and younger brother, William, as a cotton weaver.
In 1848, John’s older sister, Elizabeth, married a widower, William ROBERTSHAW, in Manchester. In 1849, William became the landlord of the Unicorn Inn, Deansgate, Manchester, and in 1851 the couple were resident at that address with the children of William’s first marriage and their young son, Francis, born in 1850. William died in 1854 aged about 47, and the Publican’s Licence for the Unicorn was transferred to Elizabeth, his widow, in July 1854. In November of that year, Elizabeth married another widower, John (Hartley) BUDD in Manchester, and the Licence was transferred to her new husband in January 1855. Elizabeth died on 13 April 1857 at the age of 30, and immediately afterwards on 23 May, the Licence for the Unicorn was transferred from John Hartley (BUDD) to Elizabeth’s brother, John Bradley LEDLEY. John held the Licence for almost eight years until January 1865, when it was transferred to his younger brother, William.
Marriage to Sithey RYDER
In 1858, John Bradley LEDLEY married Sithey RYDER who was ten years his senior. The marriage took place at Manchester Parish Church (now the Cathedral) and John was described as ‘Publican of the Unicorn Inn’, 204 Deansgate, Manchester. The 1861 Census shows John as the innkeeper at the Unicorn and also resident was his brother, William, who was working as a boiler maker. John‘s wife, Sithey, was living elsewhere with her aunt (also with the unusual name Sithey) at another Manchester pub called ‘The Duke of Cumberland’. John and his wife continued to live apart and Sithey died in Manchester in 1880.
John’s mother, Ellen LEDLEY, was still living in Bollington in 1861 in what was a newly built terrace on Henshall Road between Princess Street and Ledley Street. Her orphaned grandson, Francis ROBERTSHAW aged 11, was living with Ellen. Significantly, Ledley Street, Princess Street and Henshall Road were all included with those names on the 1861 Census, which means that the first properties in this location were built in the late 1850’s. Prior to this, all of the land on the south side of Bollington Lane (which became Henshall Road) formed part of Sych Farm, and the existing track leading to the farm from Bollington Lane became Ledley Street. The freeholder of the land and buildings at Sych Farm was Charles William BECK, Lord of the Manor of Upton (close to Prestbury). The long-term tenant of the farm, Richard DEANE, retired in 1857/58 and a new tenant, William TRUEMAN, took over. This change of tenancy may have been the opportunity for part of the land to be leased to John Bradley LEDLEY for development of his houses.
That John Bradley LEDLEY was instrumental in first developing this area is not in doubt. He clearly named Ledley Street for himself and, in the 1860’s, built Ivy House on Ledley Street for his own use. The 15 properties comprising the first four houses on the right at the bottom of Princess Street, the first three houses on the left of Ledley Street and the eight houses on Henshall Road linking Princess Street and Ledley Street (one of which was occupied by John’s mother) were all built at the same time since they can be seen to share a single common roof, and these properties were included in John’s will at the time of his death.
Marriage to Hannah WILSON
In 1865, John transferred the licence for the Unicorn Inn to his brother, William, and at the age of 35 he retired to Bollington to live in the newly built Ivy House on Ledley Street. No doubt he was joined there by his mother, Ellen, until her death in 1868. For the next 13 years, John lived alone at Ivy House, described as a retired innkeeper on subsequent census returns, but on 28th April 1881, the recently widowed John married a widow, Hannah WILSON (née CARTER), at St Peter’s Church, Prestbury. Hannah lived in Glossop and was the widow of a Glossop shoe maker, John WILSON, who had died in 1877. Newspaper reports of the wedding show it to have been a lavish and expensive occasion and on a scale rarely if ever seen in Bollington.
During his retirement, John served for many years as an active member of the Bollington Local Board of Health (precursor to the Bollington Urban District Council). As such he played a leading role in the building of the Bollington Gas Works situated almost in his own backyard at the top of Princess Street which, among other things, enabled street lighting to be introduced for the first time.
John Bradley LEDLEY died in Bollington in 1895 leaving the sum of £3505-17s-5d in his will, being roughly equivalent to £500,000 at current (2023) values. Apart from Ivy House, he was the owner of the 15 houses previously mentioned on Princess Street, Ledley Street and Henshall Road from which he received rents. He was also the owner of Alstonlee Farm in Combs, Chapel en le Frith, bought in 1868 for the sum of £1940.
John’s widow, Hannah, died in Bollington in 1902.
But there is something of a mystery. How did John Bradley Ledley accumulate such wealth? He started life with very little, and working in the cotton mills of Bollington in the 1840’s and 1850’s wasn’t going to make anyone rich. Unless he was a very lucky gambler or perhaps robbed a bank, the only explanation must lie with his time as the licensee of the Unicorn Inn in Deansgate, Manchester, but would this have made it possible to retire at 35 and never work again?
Deansgate, like other parts of central Manchester, was a very different place in the 1850’s and 60’s than it is now. At that time the warren of streets was full of criminals and violent criminal gangs and little in the way of law and order. Robbery, extortion, receiving stolen goods and prostitution were all rife, and it could be a very dangerous place, but while there was money to be lost, there was also money to be made. It was a dangerous and overcrowded slum with dreadful living conditions. The Unicorn Inn, apart from providing food and drink, would have had cheap lodging rooms for hire with few questions asked. The local public houses provided a meeting place where all manner of shady business and transactions could take place, and it may be that the publicans were in a position to benefit more than most provided they were prepared to turn a blind eye and keep quiet. Was this the environment in which John made his money? Was everything above board? Sadly, we shall never know since dying childless in 1895, his story died with him.
The story of John Bradley LEDLEY has been very kindly researched, written and donated by Mrs Lynne Edwards and Mr John Medley, February 2023, to whom the webmasters are much indebted. Mrs Edwards also discovered and very kindly provided the photograph of John Bradley Ledley.