What started out as an investigation to learn the identities of the two men who lost their lives in a boating accident on Windermere on Tuesday 13th September 1853, at a spot which subsequently became known as White Cross Bay, quickly turned into a surprising journey through some of the social history of Wigan during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, highlighting the relationships between four families who played an important part in the commercial development of the town during the reign of Queen Victoria. With a common interest in Wigan Old Bank and related through marriage, it appears the Woodcock, Thicknesse, Ffarrington and Eckersley families were key players in the towns emerging prosperity in those times and left an indelible impression on the town's landscape, a legacy reflecting their involvement in every aspect of public life. The following is a brief description of the family background and the circumstances surrounding the drowning of Thomas Woodcock age 19 and Ralph Thicknesse age 20 whilst on holiday in Ambleside.
Thomas Woodcock (1768 - 1850) and his wife Elizabeth (1775 - 1857), came to Wigan from Newburgh in 1792 where he set up the Wigan Old Bank with partner Ralph Thicknesse. He and Elizabeth raised seven children, the eldest John born in 1800 was baptised at All Saints Church Wigan in 1801. Whilst running a successful banking business Thomas also served five terms as lord mayor of Wigan.
John Woodcock and his wife Sarah (nee Hodson) were married November 30th 1829 at St Thomas' Church Upholland and set up home in Pemberton. John and Sarah went on to have three children, Sarah Elizabeth (1831), a second daughter (1833) who died only nine days old, and Thomas born September (1834), before moving to Douglas Bank House in Wigan in 1835, where fourth and fifth children Frances Ellen (1836) and Frederick Edward (1838) were born. Sadly Frances Ellen died in January 1840 at the age of three followed by her mother Sarah on 22nd May1841, at which point John and his three surviving children move to The Elms Wigan Lane. John served a term as lord mayor of Wigan in 1832.
John married second wife Alice (nee Knowles) October 1st 1844 at St Pancras Church London and a further 5 children born:- Herbert Spencer 1846; Adilaide Mary 1848; Amy Katherine 1850; Caroline Florence 1852 and Arthur Baldwin 1853. Subsequently the family is struck by a series of tragedies with the death of Thomas Woodcock senior in 1850, followed in 1853 by the death of John's niece Eleanor Thicknesse age 17 and his son Thomas Woodcock age 19 drowned with nephew Ralph Thicknesse age 20 in a boating accident on Windermere.
Ralph Thicknesse (1768 - 1842) a coal proprietor in Wigan with interests at Birkett Bank and Ince collieries, and his wife Sarah (nee Woodcock 1771 - 1802) lived at Beech Hill Hall Wigan. Ralph married Sarah, his partner Thomas Woodcock's sister in 1798 after which Ralph A Thicknesse was born in 1800 followed by younger sister Ann. Ralph senior retired from the bank he co-founded in 1829 leaving it in the sole hands of the Woodcock family.
Ralph A Thicknesse (1800 - 1854) and his wife Mary Ann (nee Woodcock his first cousin and John's sister), were married in 1828 at All Saints Church Wigan. Four children born to Ralph A and Mary Ann Thicknesse:- Sarah 1830 - 1833; Ann 1831 - 1886; Ralph 1833 - 1853; Eleanor 1836 - 1853. Ralph A Thicknesse is elected MP for Wigan 1847 - 1854 but tragedy strikes in 1853 when Eleanor dies age 17 followed by son Ralph age 20 drowned with his cousin Thomas Woodcock age 19 in a boating accident on Windermere. Having lost his only son in the boating accident on Windermere the previous year, when he died in 1854 his estate was inherited by his daughter Ann.
Henry Ffarrington and his wife Elizabeth (nee Woodcock) lived in Chorlton Manchester. Married in 1824 at All Saints Church Wigan, Elizabeth is the daughter of Thomas Woodcock wealthy Wigan banker. Henry Ffarrington is related to the Lords of the Manor of Leyland and is recorded as a manufacturer during his time in Manchester. However in 1848 Henry, his wife and four children move to Wigan where they are resident at an address in Standishgate, Henry now being referred to as a coal proprietor but later becoming a partner in his father-in-law's bank Thomas Woodcock and Sons. In 1852 Henry and Elizabeth's eldest daughter, Elizabeth married Nathaniel Eckersley the local mill owner.
Richard Atherton Ffarrington 1837 - 1910 born in Chorlton Manchester to parents Henry and Elizabeth, was educated at Wigan Grammar School and Rossall School on the Fylde coast, then in 1854 was articled to John Lancaster mining engineer at Shire Oaks Colliery in Staffordshire a newly opened mine owned by Wigan Coal and Iron Company, later returning to Wigan to work at the Wigan Coal and Iron headquarters at "top place" Kirkless where John Lancaster was manager. When his father died in 1859 Richard joined the bank, later becoming a partner himself in 1866. Richard and his wife Everilde Mary (nee Woodcock daughter of his uncle Henry Woodcock) married in 1867. In 1869 they were living at Springfield Place and in 1871 at Marylebone House with son Henry Nowell age 3 and Richard's mother Elizabeth. When the bank finally merged with Parrs Bank of Warrington, Richard stayed on as manager of the Wigan branch until his retirement in 1907. Richard served a term as mayor of Wigan 1879 - 1880 and later was made an alderman. In 1909 he inherited Worden Hall and the title of Lord of the Manor of Leyland on the death of his young cousin. He died there in 1910 at the age of 73.
Nathaniel Eckersley 1815 - 1892, mill owner, banker and Conservative politician who lived at Standish Hall near Wigan. He married Elizabeth the eldest daughter of Henry Ffarrington and sister of Richard at All Saints Church Wigan in 1852, becoming a partner in the Woodcock family bank in 1860 when the bank takes on the title Thomas Woodcock, Sons and Eckersley. In 1866 he is elected MP for Wigan defeating Liberal candidate John Lancaster, only to lose it again to John Lancaster in 1868 when Liberals took both seats. In 1871 as Mayor of Wigan Nathaniel Eckersley was instrumental in the planning and arranged purchase of land to construct Mesnes Park which included old colliery workings, he also performed the opening ceremony in 1878 as the High Sheriff of Lancashire.
The Bank (timeline)
|Wigan Old Bank established by Thomas Woodcock and Ralph Thicknesse.
|Ralph Thicknesse retires and John Woodcock joins his father at the bank
|Bank becomes Thomas, John & Henry Woodcock when son Henry joins.
|Thomas Woodcock dies leaving his two sons in charge.
|Henry Ffarrington becomes partner.
|Henry Ffarrington dies and his son Richard joins the bank.
|Nathaniel Eckersley becomes partner and the bank renamed Thomas Woodcock, Sons & Eckersley.
|Richard Ffarrington becomes partner.
|The bank merges with Parrs Bank Warrington, then absorbed by and incorporated into Westminster Bank, later National Westminster Bank currently part of Royal Bank of Scotland.
At the time of the tragedy at White Cross Bay the families of Ralph Anthony Thicknesse the MP for Wigan, and Henry Woodcock the banker were on holiday in Ambleside and were later joined by Thomas Woodcock, Henry's nephew, eldest son of his brother John his partner in the bank Thomas, John and Henry Woodcock. Thomas Woodcock was 19 years old and an articled clerk with Wigan solicitors Woodcock, Just & Scott and also a lieutenant in the Royal Lancashire Militia, Ralph Thicknesse, the son of Ralph Anthony Thicknesse, was 20 years old and a student at Trinity College Cambridge. Cousins Ralph and Thomas had grown up together and were the best of friends. On the day of the accident the two young men set out in a two man rowing boat from Waterhead intending to meet up with the rest of the family at Bowness. A local man fishing off Ecclerigg Crag saw the pair and heard cries for help when their boat overturned after appearing to strike some rocks. The alarm was raised but by the time rescuers arrived at the scene, the full scale of the tragedy was emerging, both men had disappeared under the water and grappling irons were brought in as the group sought to recover the bodies.
The boy's deaths left both families devastated and large crowds turned out to line the route of the cortege from the station to The Elms and to Beech Hill Hall when the bodies were returned to Wigan, a token of respect repeated later when the victims were interred in the family vaults at All Saints Church.
The following year whilst holidaying with his family in Harrogate Ralph Anthony Thicknesse was himself taken ill and died from a heart condition and having now no male heir his only remaining child, daughter Ann inherited the family wealth. When she married Francis Henry Coldwell in Clitheroe in 1855, a member of the clergy, later to become an Anglican bishop, he took the name Thicknesse and the family crest to ensure the family name continued after the death of Ralph Anthony. He and Ann went on to have five sons and two daughters.
A white cross was erected at the scene of the accident by the families inscribed with the names of the victims and a quotation from the the bible Matthew 25:13.
"Watch therefore for ye know neither the day nor the hour"
More recently White Cross Bay was the site of an airfield for the assembly of Sunderland Flying Boats during world war two and today is the location of a holiday park bringing pleasure to thousands of visitors each year.
Palfreyman June 2017.