Margaret May's Story 1894 - 1918

  Margaret May Sparkes 17th April 1895 - 12th August 1973

photograph c 1917 aged 23

This volume is the story of Margaret May Sparkes who was 5 years old in the year 1900 and her close family (see family tree below). It covers the period from Margaret May’s birth on 17th April 1895 to her marriage on 1st August 1918. It is not related in the form of a diary as I do not have any personal oral history on which to base it. The story has been reconstructed mainly from on-line sources such as census data and a few family photographs.

Birth of Margaret May Sparkes - 17th April 1895

Margaret May Sparkes was born on 17 April 1895 at Alvaston Street, Alvaston, Derby (no house number is given on the certificate). Note that Fanny ‘made her mark’ - and was thus probably illiterate. Note too the late registration - almost 2 months after the birth.

[This copy of the BC is a Copy obtained on 4th September 1909. I cannot remember where the original came from. Backing the original is an application form for the copy of the BC under the Factory and Workshop Act 1901. The BC was probably required when Margaret May started work at the age of 14 and had to be sent for as the original was lost.]

Arthur and Fanny Sparkes - c1901

By 1901 the family of Arthur and Fanny Sparkes was complete - 11 surviving children. The following births match with all the data with those specifying the quarter indexed on FreeBMD.

The unshaded child - Charles Harold - does not appear on any census form but is listed in the Smedley Family Tree on Ancestry belonging to Jill Mills. Jill has a family bible that mentions the death of this child although not his birth date. These records from Ancestry fill the gap.

All the births from Fanny onwards took place in Alvaston according to census data although the record office is given on the FreeBMD index as Shardlow.

Arthur and Fanny Sparkes - 1901 Census

In 1891 Arthur and Fanny are living in Clarence Road Derby. The enumerator did not record the number of the house but it was probably 80 as this was the address of Margaret May Sparkes in 1909 (see Factory & Workshop Act form below). The eldest three daughters Sarah (‘Nance’ aged 24), Mary (‘Nell’ aged 18) and Fanny (aged 16) have left home. They are not yet married but working in service and all will marry in the coming decade - see below.

For some reason Hetty has been recorded out of age order – probably just missed out as the form was being completed. Florence is now called Flossie and there are 4 more children than in 1891, Margaret May, George L, Sydney B and Kathleen D (Dora).

Arthur is listed as ‘Employer’ and his sons as ‘Worker’ - clearly Tom and young Arthur are working for their father as plasterers. As in 1881 and 1891 the place of birth for Tom is given as Chesterton, Staffs (where his mother came from). However the 1881 census showing a 6-month-old Tom, has the family living at 11 Pickering Street in Stapenhill, Burton-on-Trent which is some distance away from Chesterton. At that time they were neighbours to Fanny’s parents, Thomas & Ann Holmes who lived at number 27 Pickering Street. I am unable to find Thomas or Ann Holmes after 1881 so it may have been their deaths that prompted the Sparkes to move from Burton-on-Trent to Derby. Certainly Arthur and Fanny moved to, and settled in, Alvaston before any of the other children were born – sometime before 1886. In the 1891 census they lived in Alvaston Street in Alvaston. Clarence Road is about 3 miles away.

[In the 1930’s the Swinburn family lived close by this location in Ainsworth Drive and the children attended Clarence Road primary school.]

I am unable to find a 1901 census record for Sarah Ann (Nance) but Mary Ellen (aged 18) is in service to an educated family - the Whittakers - in Rose Hill Street Derby. There are no parents present although all the adults are described as “daughter” or “son” suggesting that the parents are still the owners of the house. Nell is described as “General Servant Domestic”.

Fanny (aged 16) is also in service with the family of William Morley - a grocer in John Street, Derby. She is described as Servant Domestic.

Sparkes Family - 1901-1910

The six eldest Sparkes children were all married in Derby in the next decade and most had almost completed their families. (Most of the information below comes from FreeBMD - the index of registrations of births, marriages, and deaths.)

Thomas Sparkes & Sarah Elizabeth Wray - Marriage 1901

Thomas Sparkes (b 1880) was Arthur and Fanny’s eldest son. He & Sarah had 4 daughters - Annie b 1902; Margaret (Nelly) b.1904; Florence (Flossie) b. 1907; and Nora b 1911. He is the grandfather of JM - a user of Ancestry with whom I swapped information in 2014-15. She supplied a copy of his BC (see Sparkes <1900) and this, the only known photograph of him (3rd from the right) taken in 1949 at the wedding of his grandson, Ronald James Smedley.

Nance Sparkes & Bert Mountford - Marriage 1904

Sarah Annie Sparkes (Nance) was Arthur & Fanny’s firstborn. She and Bert Mountford had only one child Maurice Mountford b.1911.

The long delay between their marriage and Maurice’s birth could be explained by the death of newborn (or stillborn) Mountford twins in Derby in 1908 (George Edward and Jessie Richard). There is another tragic child death that could also be a son of Nance and Bert: Reginald born in 1912 who died in 1914 at the age of 2.

I do not have these death certificates and thus cannot be sure that these are the children of Nance and Bert.

Arthur L Sparkes & Annie Gertrude Ashford (Gert) - Marriage 27 January 1907

A record from England Select Marriages shows this wedding to have taken place on 27th January 1907. Arthur and Gert had 6 children, all born in Derby:- Freddie b.1908, Irene b.1910, Sidney b.1912, Ernest b.1914, Benjamin (Bennie) b.1916 and Annie Gertrude (Gertie) b.1918. 

The 1911 census (see below) shows that they also had a child who died. Arthur William lived for only a few months.

George Sparkes b. 1917 in Derby is something of an enigma as he did not figure in the list of names of children in this family which came from Hetty’s old birthday book. However the inclusion of mother’s maiden name as Ashford in the registration index make it fairly certain that he does belong to this family. The fact that his cousins did not know of him might suggest he died in childhood but I could find no record of this.

Fanny Sparkes & Percy Rankin - Marriage 1907

Fanny Sparkes and Percy Rankin had 3 children Connie b.1908, Gordon b.1909 and Margaret b. 1911 - all births registered in Derby.

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Nell Sparkes & Sid Abbott - Marriage 1908

Nell Sparkes and Sid Abbott had 2 children Reggie (Francis Reginald) b.1909 and registered in Kingston and Doris L b.1911 and registered in Guildford. I knew from family records (see References section) that this family had moved south and later lived in Worthing so the Surrey registrations do fit.

Flo Sparkes & Alick Howard Brewster - Marriage 1910

Flo and Howard had one child Muriel Brewster b.1911 in Cheltenham. However they had also suffered an infant death as shown by the record of 1 child who had died on the 1911 census (see below). This was probaly Eric H Brewster b. & d. 1910 in Derby.

Margaret May Sparkes - 3rd September 1909

I do not know where Margaret May attended school but it could have been Clarence Road School. In 1929 when her son Dave Swinburn was there it was a Primary School but in 1909 it may have taken pupils from 5 to 14 - the normal leaving age for the majority.

On the reverse of the copy of the birth certificate of Margaret May (see above) is a form completed for: 

REQUISITION for a certified copy of an ENTRY of BIRTH for the purposes of the above-mentioned Act, or for any purpose connected with the EMPLOYMENT in LABOUR or ELEMENTARY EDUCATION of a Young Person under the age of Sixteen years, or of a Child

This was presumably completed when Margaret May left school and applied for a job at Rolls Royce which she would have done in the summer of 1909 when she was 14 years of age.

The form is not completed properly but has the following written entry across all columns:

Application made by letter dated 3rd September 09 from Miss M Sparkes of Clarence Road Derby

the year of birth being stated as 1895

Arthur & Fanny Sparkes & family - 1911 Census

The 1911 census was conducted on the night of April 2nd 1911.

Hetty, Margaret May, George, Sydney and Dora were still at home with their parents at 80 Clarence Road, Derby. The response in the “Particulars to Marriage - Children” column is clearly an error as they have only counted the children still at home. The correct figure would be 12 (11 still living).

Nance, Tom, Nell, Fanny, Arthur L, and Flo are now living away from home with their own families.

Nance and Bert Mountford are living at 80 Grosvenor Street, Derby and have Nance’s sister Flo staying with them. The data about their children is interesting. The form actually has 3 columns: children born alive; children still living; and children who have died. Nance and Bert report having had no children born alive so if the twins George & Jesse were their children they were presumably still born.

Flo is staying with her sister while her husband Aleck Howard Brewster is away in Cheltenham (his place of birth) visiting his married sister, Ethel Kate and her husband Thomas Ernest Andrews.

Interestingly, Flo reports having had one child who has died suggesting a birth before Muriel. The Free BMD record for Eric (see above) would seem to fit.

Thomas Sparkes is living in Derby with his wife and 3 children and working as a gas fitter. Staying with them is the widowed Barbara Walker with her granddaughter Annie. Sarah’s maiden name was Wray so this is not her mother and the relationship is not explained.

Nell and Sid Abbot are living with their 2 children at 22 London Street Worthing. The place of birth of the two children does not quite fit with the birth registrations above but the ages are right and I could not find any record of births in Worthing.

Arthur Leonard Sparkes & Gert are living at 4 Spring Gardens, Blackshaw Street, Derby.

Fanny & Percy Rankin were living at 96 Violet Street, Derby. They may be better off than others in the family as theirs is the only household with a servant.

There seem to be lots of child deaths amongst the family - Nance, Flo and Arthur L have all lost children and there have been 3 or 4 deaths amongst 17 living children. However, this is an infant mortality rate of 3 in 20 or 150 per 1000, which is typical for the first decade of the 20th Century.

Sparkes Family - c1917

The photograph shows several members of the Sparkes family and was taken outside their house, 82 Clarence Road, Derby.

Back row: Arthur Sparkes (61), Bertram Mountford (husband to Nance)

Middle row: Fanny Rankin (32), Fanny Sparkes (60), ?Nell Abbott (34) or Flo Brewster (28), Gordon Rankin (8), Nance Mountford (40) - with dog

Front row: Connie Rankin (11), Maurice Mountford (6), Margaret Rankin (6)

The date of this photograph is not known but the children especially Maurice Mountford look younger than in the 1918 wedding photograph of Margart May and Tom Swinburn (see Swinburn Story) so 1917 fits. Certainly most of the men are missing so it could have been in the war years. Bert Mountford is not in uniform - perhaps he did not serve for some reason. I had been told that the woman to Fanny’s left is Nell Abbott but this seems unlikely as the Abbott family lived in Worthing and if Nell were here surely her children would be too. It could well be Flo who no-one saw much after 1918 when she was committed (see Swinburn Story).

Sparkes family Military Service - 1914 - 1918

I have been surprised by how little information I have been able to find about the WW1 military service records of the Sparkes family.

Thomas Sparkes would have been 33 when WW1 broke out. Information from Jill Mills a direct descendent of Thomas is that he had a spoon from WW1 years with the number INF 3481 - possibly his service number. She reported that, "He was attached to those who looked after horses for the guns and helped to drag them through the mud. He was stationed at Albert in France and fought in the battle of Ypes and Paschendale. He may have been in the Pioneers attached to the Royal Engineers". I cannot find any service record on-line. He survived the war.

John Bertram Mountford - husband to Nance - would have been 34 when WW1 broke out. I cannot find any service record on-line. He may not have served as he is not in uniform in the 1917 family photograph or the photo of the wedding of Margaret May Sparkes and Tom Swinburn. However I do not know why he might have been exempt from conscription.

Sid Abbott - husband to Nell - would have been 30 when WW1 broke out. I have found a short service record for him showing his enlistment at the age of 32 - ie in 1916 (I cannot make out a date on the document). He survived the war. 

Percy Rankin - husband to Fanny - would have been 30 when WW1 broke out. I cannot find any service record on line. but I have this small photograph of him in uniform and he is also in uniform in the photo of the wedding of Margaret May Sparkes and Tom Swinburn at which he was Best Man.

Arthur Leonard Sparkes would have been 30 when WW1 broke out. I cannot find any service record on-line but there is a possible service medal record. There is very little information on these and nothing to confirm identity. He survived the war.

Aleck Howard Brewster - husband to Flo - would have been 24 when WW1 broke out. He served in the Worcestershire Regiment. He died on 22 January 1917 and is buried at Nottingham Road Cemetery, Derby.

On 2nd November 2016 I received this postcard and message in my email. 

Hello, I am a collector of postcards and recently purchased one of Matlock, on the reverse was the following enclosed message. I thought it may add to your excellent web site. Why they were in Matlock I do not know, neither do I know where 5 Dale Road is, or at least what it is today.

I wonder if Aleck died on the 22 of Jan from his wounds while at the hospital. The letter written by Hetty was only 25 days before he died, and the remark to “keep smiling” seems even more poignant when you know what was to happen just a few weeks later. Of course he could have been sent back to fight and was killed on the 22nd as his gravestone indicates.

What happened to little Muriel, after her mother was sent to an institution which is so sad. Would love to know. I can’t believe how one post card can reveal so many events from one tragic event.

Please let me know if you have any more about Muriel.    


This amazing postcard inspired me to research the story of Aleck Howard Brewster - one young soldier who lost his life in WWI. This can be accessed from a separate tab in the index - The Story of  Postcard.

Douglas Henry Sims - This card was amongst the Swinburn family photographs. It is not known what relationship he had to the family but he had been a close neighbour in Alvaston, Derby.. It tells of his award of the Military Cross in 1918 and his death in action on October 10th 1918. If anyone knows more please get in touch.

Marriage of Hetty Sparkes & Leo Handley - 21st April 1918

Margaret May (right) was bridesmaid to her sister and Leo’s brother (left) was the best man. The individual photo of Hetty dates from around the same time.

Margaret May Sparkes & Tom Swinburn Licence - 24th July 1918

This is the special licence for the marriage of Tom Swinburn and Margaret may Sparkes. The wedding on 1st August 1918 is covered in the Swinburn Story.

Mis-spelling of Sparkes on the licence is presumably a slip of the pen.

These photographs clearly taken on the same occasion may have been taken to mark the engagement.

For continuation of the story of Tom and Margaret May see the Swinburn Story.

The rest of the Sparkes Family - post 1918

Arthur & Fanny - Arthur had many jobs but he finished as a Master Plasterer in Derby. On retirement he and Fanny moved to Shelton Lock where they took over the lock keepers duties. They lived there until their deaths - Arthur in 1932 (aged 77) and Fanny in 1940 (aged 80). (The ages on the gravestone do not match up with known dates of birth.) They are buried together in Chellaston Church cemetery (thanks to JM for this photograph).

Nance Mountford (Sarah Annie Sparkes) & Bert - In 1911 Bert worked as a gas fitter. He and Nance lived in Derby until their deaths Bert in the second quarter of 1923 (aged 43) and Nance (aged 63) in the second quarter of 1939.

Thomas Sparkes & Sarah Elizabeth (nee Wray) - In 1911 Thomas also worked as a gasfitter. According to Jill Mills Thomas had an illegitimate child Phyllis Eileen James in 1929 who was raised from the age of 14 months by Thomas and Sarah. In 1930 the family were living at 25 Uttoxeter Old Road, Derby. He and Sarah also remained in Derby until their deaths - Sarah on 6th February 1947 (aged 65) and Thomas on 7th March 1954 (aged 73).

Nell Abbott (Mary Ellen Sparkes) & Sid - They moved to Worthing soon after their marriage where Sid worked as a warehouseman in a laundry. I have found a possible death for Nell in 1939 (aged 56) in Burton on Trent. I cannot find evidence of the death of Sid.

Fanny Rankin (Fanny Sparkes) & Percy - They were living in Derby in 1911 with Percy working as a grocers assistant. Percy was Best man at the marriage of Margaret May Sparkes to Tom Swinburn. There is a possible death for Percy in the first quarter of 1958 in Shardlow, Derbyshire but I cannot find a record of Fanny’s death.

Arthur Leonard Sparkes & Gert (Annie Gertrude nee Ashford) - In 1911 Arthur was a wagon repairer and the family lived in Blackshaw Street, Derby. According to Helen Ainsworth Arthur & Gert had 7 children including Irene May (b.27/5/1910) and Ernest (b.1914). According to Jill Mills Arthur later worked in a biscuit factory in Liverpool and died in his sleep when in his 30s. This information may have come from Don Handley. The closest fit I can find is a death of Arthur L Sparkes (aged 35) in Wakefield - not Liverpool - in the third quarter of 1922. This age fits with his birth in 1887. I cannot find a death for Gert.

Flo Brewster (Florrie Sparkes) - was widowed at the age of 28 when Howard Brewster was killed in WW1. She was left with a 6-year-old child, Muriel. Flo had a breakdown on the occasion of the marriage of Margaret May to Tom Swinburn. She was committed and spent the rest of her life in an institution. Her daughter, Muriel Brewster, was brought up by her grandparents, Fanny and Arthur Sparkes. I do not know when Flo died.

Hetty Handley (Hetty Sparkes) and Leo had one son, Donald Handley, in 1920 - see photo right. Leo died in 1933 and Hetty remarried in 1941 to John Athya who had a daughter Joyce. Hetty died on 28th February 1977.

George Lawrence Sparkes married Pearl Fraser in the first quarter of 1924 in West Derby. They had 6 children Sylvia (Muriel S b.1925 in Skirlaugh) Donald C (b. 1927 in Shardlow), Agnes G (b. 1929 in West Derby), Constance (b. 1931 in Romford) George W A (b. 1937 in Dartford), and Bernard (Lawrence B b. 1944 in Macclesfield). These births seem to indicate a lot of moving around but the names fit with those already known. I cannot find deaths for George or Pearl.

Sydney Bertram Sparkes was married in Derby in 1925 to Grace Linnett. They had one child, Delphinia, born in Derby in the second quarter of 1931. I cannot find evidence of their deaths. (JM tells me that Sydney had an oriental restaurant in Babington Lane, Derby in the 1950s which she visited.)

Catherine Dora Sparkes - see photo left - was married to Bernard Lloyd in Shardlow in the final quarter of 1924. Their daughter Marjorie was born in Derby in the first quarter of 1925. I understand that Dora died in 1992. I do not know of Bernard’s death.


Brief Biography of Margaret May Sparkes (17/4/1895 - 12/9/1973)

Margaret May Sparkes was born on 17th April 1895 at Alvaston, Derby. She was the eighth of eleven children of Arthur Sparkes, a plasterer and builder, and his wife Fanny (nee Holmes). Little is known of her childhood, although she probably attended St Augustine's Church in Derby and possibly Clarence Rod School. At the age of 14 (then living at 80, Clarence Road, Derby) Margaret May started work at Rolls Royce, a major employer in the city. There she may have met her husband to be, Tom Swinburn, although they more likely had known one another from an early age, as both originally lived in Alveston only a few streets away from each other. They may even have been in the same class at Clarence Road School. [1901 Census shows the Sparkes family in Clarence Road and the Swinburn family in Hastings Street.]

Tom and Margaret May were married, by special licence, on 1st August 1918 at St Augustine's Church in Derby. Matron of Honour at the wedding was Margaret May's favourite sister, Hetty, who had been married the previous year with Margaret May her bridesmaid. The wedding was marred by the distress of another sister, Flo, whose husband had been killed in the war. Flo refused to attend the wedding, remaining at home singing hymns. This was taken as a sign of insanity, and Flo was committed to Derby mental institution where she lived the rest of her life. Flo's daughter, Muriel Brewster was then brought up by her grandparents. 

After their marriage, Tom and Margaret May lived in a rented, terraced house, 91 Belvoir Street, and it was here that their three sons, Ray, David and John, were born over a period of 12 years. Soon after the birth of John, in 1934, the family moved to a semi-detached house at 14 Ainsworth Drive, Derby where Margaret May and Tom continued to live until Tom's death in 1960.

In the later 1920s, Tom was very ill with septicaemia. This kept him off work for 18 months during which time the family faced considerable hardship and Margaret May was both mother and father to the two young boys and full time nurse to her bed-ridden husband. Sanctuary could be found at the home of her parents, a pretty cottage on Shelton Lock, Derby where the boys loved to play and where they enjoyed the attentions both of their grandparents and of their older cousin Muriel Brewster.

In 1962, considering the house too large for a widow living alone, and wishing to be closer to her eldest son and his family, Margaret May moved to a bungalow, 16, Sundown Avenue where she lived until 1972.

Margaret May enjoyed quite good health for most of her life although in her early fifties (around 1946) she had a hysterectomy, 'the big one'. In her final three years she suffered from Alzheimer's disease and became incapable of looking after herself. In 1972 she went to live with her eldest son's family at 331 Stenson Road Derby, with two-week stays with her other sons and their families, organised to give Monica and Ray the occasional short break.

Margaret May died in Kingsway Hospital Derby on 12th August 1973 at the age of 78. She had been in hospital since June. The cause of death was 1a) bronchopneumonia  2) senile dementia and the death was reported by her son Tom Raymond Swinburn. The funeral was held in St Giles church followed by interment in Normanton Cemetery.

The photograph taken c. 1960 shows Tom & Margaret May at their home in Ainsworth Drive, Derby