Glossop Heritage Trust

Theo Walter Ellison's Glossop Dale Reminiscences.


Francis James Sumner – The First Mayor (published 25 January 1935).

Francis James Sumner, our first Mayor was born in 1807 at Foleshill, Coventry; his mother died when he was but three years of age, and his father, Robert Sumner, married in 1812 at Glossop, for his second wife, Barbara Ellison, a daughter of Matthew Ellison, of Glossop Hall then the agent for the Glossop Estates, and died five years later, having just purchased an estate at Foleshill from Lord Clifford for £11,200, to which Francis James succeeded as heir-at-law, his father not having made a Will. The purchase not having been completed and difficulties arising, proceedings in Chancery were necessary. His stepmother Barbara, who had no children, was appointed his Guardian, and devoted herself to his education and advancement. Her two brothers, Michael and Thomas Ellison, were appointed Receivers, and Matthew Ellison and Joseph Hadfield their sureties.

Mr Sumner was educated at a school of good standing at Baddeley, near Birmingham, and was expected by his relatives to become a farmer, but his stepmother and her brothers saw better prospects for him in a business career in the cotton trade, and, on the 17th August 1822, his stepmother wrote to him: ‘You know I wish to procure for you the advantage of being in your uncle Tom’s office that you might improve in accounts writing and obtaining general knowledge of that kind of business which will be of use to you whatever you afterwards engage in. Should you still feel inclined to be a farmer, it will enable you to manage any affairs of the Parish where you may be placed and give weight and respectability to your character. As my brother has consented to my wishes I have planned for you with him about the middle of October’.

And so the young man who was to become our first Mayor, came to Glossop and was established in the original part of the Wren Nest Mills of the Ellisons.

The protracted Chancery proceedings were eventually ended, his father’s estates sold by auction at Coventry, and Francis James became possessed of over £10,000 in cash. In response to a payment made in recognition of the management and realisation of his estate Mr. Michael Ellison wrote to him from Sheffield, on June 17th 1831: ‘My dear Sir, I have the pleasure to receive your letter of yesterday with its handsome enclosure to me. When I undertook, on the death of your father, the management of your affairs, it was at the request of, and with a view to relieve my sister of a very responsible and harassing duty. It was not my intention, therefore, to charge anything more than the amount of what I had expended in travelling to and from Foleshill during a period of 14 years; these journeys have been numerous and, of course, expensive, but your remittance will amply cover the sum I have disbursed on account of this. It is gratifying for me to know that my services are regarded by yourself as valuable, and that you are perfectly satisfied with the result of the disposal of your property in Warwickshire. The sum you realised from it and which you have now embarked in trade will I hope to be productive of a return equal to what your attention to and industry in business entitle you to expect. I shall at all times be glad to see you at my house, and hope you will ride over as often as your business will allow you time for the journey. Very truly yours, Mich. Ellison’.

Business transactions with Gibsons, the well established Merchants in Manchester, led to the marriage of George Gibson with another daughter of Matthew Ellison in 1820, and from that union sprang the Reynolds family and the well known firm of cotton brokers in Liverpool, ‘Reynolds and Gibson’, who have long been, and are today, associated with the Wren Nest Mills. Valuable advice and assistance was ever to hand, of which Mr Sumner was not slow to avail himself, and so the business flourished, the fine range of mills were erected, and phenomenal prosperity followed.

Mr Sumner held the office of Mayor for two years, 1866-7, but on the expiration of his term of office as Alderman he did not seek re-election, and thenceforth confined his part in public affairs to the Magistracy. He was also treasurer of the Glossop Reservoir Commissioners. He resided at Primrose House until 1857, when he purchased and rebuilt ‘East View’, now ‘Easton’, and resided there until his death. In 1869, he invested part of the profits of his trade in the purchase of Park Hall, Hayfield, and the extensive grouse moors and farms known as the Park Hall Estate, which had been the property of Captain White, and, from time to time added other estates, including the Beard Hall and Ollerset Hall Estates in New Mills, all of which he possessed at his death.

The position he thus attained qualified him for nomination as High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1881, an event he celebrated by giving a breakfast in a marquee in the grounds of Park Hall, to which many of his friends and his tenants were invited.

Mr Sumner regulated his life for many years to meet his business requirements. A week’s holiday in Blackpool – not the Blackpool of today – a week in London, when a visit was paid to the Royal Academy and to Ascot Races, and relaxation and sport during the shooting season at Park Hall when he entertained his friends – these were his usual holidays.

He appreciated and kept horses of good quality, and in his early days enjoyed, like most good sportsmen, a little wager on the Derby with friends of sporting proclivities. Dogs also, both for coursing and shooting, interested him, and a silver snuff box, which was held by my father, bore the inscription ‘Presented to the Glossop Coursing Club by Francis James Sumner, Esq., and won by Mr T.M. Ellison’s ‘Echo’, 1854.

It was on the occasion of his annual visit to London in company with Mr. Francis Hawke, Lord Howard’s agent, that Mr Sumner succumbed to a heart attack and died in the night at St. Pancras Hotel, on the 12th June 1884. He was a bachelor, and strange to relate, although in his 77th year, and owner of important mills with 1,400 employees, and of estates valued over £100,000, and with full knowledge of the consequences of his father’s omission to make a Will, he himself delayed too long the testamentary disposition, which judging from correspondence with some of this relations he had intended, and died intestate. The whole of his freehold estates passed (according to the law then existing, but since altered in 1925) to his heir at law, John Sumner, a first cousin and then in advanced years, who immediately transferred the estate to his son, Francis John Sumner, under whose Will they have been sold during recent years. The Mills, being leasehold, passed with his personal estate to his next of kin, nine first cousins, who on 1885 formed Francis Sumner and Company Limited, of which members of the Sumner family and others, including my father, were Directors, and Mr. W.H. Thorpe the General Manager, and myself the Secretary, and thus a difficult situation was overcome and a continuance of the Mills permanently secured. Mr Thorpe died in 1918, and was followed by Mr. T.C. Fielding as Manager, and after thirty years I resigned the Secretaryship and was succeeded by Mr. F.H. Cooke, and later I became a Director. Then, in 1920, a syndicate acquired all the shares and themselves formed the present Company, of which Mr. W. Hilton is the Manager.

The St Mary’s Catholic Church with Presbytery at Glossop was erected and endowed by the next of kin as a memorial, but it was unfortunate that his sudden death prevented Mr Sumner, had he so minded, providing some lasting permanent memorial in the Borough, of benefit to the general community, having regard to the positions he had held and his successful and prosperous career in his adopted County.

The late Mr. Francis Hawke, who was a constant visitor at East View, was presented with a picture to be selected by him from the valuable collection left by Mr. Sumner, and his choice fell upon a picture bearing the appropriate title ‘L’homme propose, et Le Dieu dispose’ (Man proposes, God disposes).

My expatiation upon the subject of this sketch is induced by a long association covering a period of 120 years between the Ellisons and the Sumner families, myself being one of the Trustees of the Will of Francis John Sumner, who died in 1907, and Solicitor for members of the family. Members of the two families are shareholders in the Company now owning the Wren Nest Mills. Many inhabitants ‘of the old school’ are, I know, interested in the biographies of their townsmen of today and of by-gone days.


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