For almost 100 years the Roberts family of solicitors, father and all three sons, lived and practised in and around Salford and Manchester. During most of that time Eccles Old Road was home to James and his sons, first at no. 20, Laurel Bank, and then for over 40 years at no 17, Prospect Hill.

James Roberts (1815-1875) was born in Manchester to Joshua and Elizabeth (nee Chapman). Joshua died when James was only eight years old but his mother must have ensured that he received a good education. At the time of the 1841 census aged 26, he was staying at Lord Street in Southport, and gave his occupation as Attorney. He was in a household with Ruth and Elizabeth Chapman, probably members of his mother’s family.

By 1851, James had married Margaret Wroe and they had a young son, who only lived for nine months. Business must have been going well as James was living on Salford’s prestigious Crescent, and was a neighbour of the eminent scientist James Joule. In 1856, he was referred to in the Manchester Courier as, ‘Mr James Roberts, solicitor, 42 Fountain Street, Manchester’. This was to remain the family business address for many years.

At some point in the following ten years, James moved to Eccles Old Road. The 1861 census recorded the Roberts household at no. 20. This was known as The Laurels (sometimes Laurel Mount or Laurel Bank) and was on the north side of the road. James and Margaret now had three more children, Annie Elizabeth (b.1852), James Woolley (b. 1856) and Arthur Wroe (b. 1859). They employed three female servants, including 40 year old Elizabeth Curwell.

Throughout the 1850s and 1860s local newspapers made reference to solicitors Chapman, Roberts and Beck of Fountain Street. Property sales and transactions appear to be their core business. James may well have been in partnership with one of his mother’s Chapman relatives.

1893 OS map showing houses north and south of Eccles Old Road
1893 edition of OS map, surveyed 1888/89 and showing both The Laurels and Prospect Hill

In the late 1860s the Roberts began their long residency in Prospect Hill. On the night of the 1871 census, James and Margaret were away from home with their daughter Ann at a lodging house at 50, The Promenade in Southport, presumably taking a seaside break. Sons James, Arthur and eight year old Humphrey were at Prospect Hill in the care of servant Elizabeth Curwell.

James Roberts died on 2 April 1875 aged 60, leaving an estate valued at under £50,000. None of his sons was yet 21 years of age and his daughter was unmarried. James appointed four trustees to manage his estate – his wife Margaret , his sister-in-law, Mary Wroe and two friends, Henry Armstrong, a wine merchant of King Street, Manchester and James Chapman, merchant of Fountain Street.

His will indicates that he owned Prospect Hill as a leaseholder. Margaret was to have occupation and use of the ‘dwelling house in which I now reside with the garden and land adjoining situate in Eccles Old Road’, for as long as she remained his widow. The house could not to be sold without her permission.  He also left her ‘all the household goods furniture books paintings plate linen china garden tools and implements wines liquors and consumable household stores and other articles of domestic use or enjoyment…’  and a sum of £250 to be paid within 28 days of his death.

Another property which he owned at the corner of Fountain Street and York Street in Manchester, together with £2000 stock in the London and North Western Railway and £8000 sterling was to be held in trust to provide income for his daughter and her descendants. His eldest son, James Woolley Roberts, was training for a career in the law. James bequeathed to him on qualification all his shares in the partnership with John Beck along with ‘all law books papers drafts tenants fixtures furniture and office effects..’ All the remaining estate was to be held in trust until the youngest son reached 21 years, and then divided equally between the three sons.

The only other bequest in James’s will was that the trustees purchase from Manchester Corporation an annuity of £26 for the lifetime of Elizabeth Curwell, ‘my nurse..and for her kindness to my children I give such annuity free from legacy duty..’ . James had written his will in 1871. He must have been in poor health for a few years before his death if he had needed nursing. Elizabeth Curwell had spent at least 15 years in the family’s service, caring first for the children and later for James himself. He had left her the equivalent of around £3000 a year for life.

James was buried in a family vault at St. John’s church, Pendlebury on 7 April 1875. Margaret survived him 14 years and continued to live at Prospect Hill with sons Arthur and Humphrey and three female servants. She died on 3 November 1889 and is buried with her husband in St John’s. Arthur and Humphrey never married and both lived the rest of their lives at Prospect Hill. Both were members of the West Salford Conservative Association.

In 1877 they added a billiard room to the house. When Arthur Wroe Roberts died in 1908, he left most of his estate of around £99,000 to his brothers and sister. Two codicils provided for a legacy of £1000, changed in 1901 to an annuity of £260, to be paid to Elizabeth Haywood, spinster of Greenheys. We do not know who Elizabeth Haywood was, but she must have been a significant person in Arthur’s life. The annuity would be worth over £30,000 today.

The codicil of 1901 also stated simply, ‘I wish to be cremated‘. This wish was complied with and a report of the funeral in the Manchester Courier of 18 June 1908 tells us that ‘the ashes were placed in an oaken casket, and later they were placed in the family vault at St. John’s Church Pendlebury’. The list of mourners did not include Elizabeth Haywood.

Humphrey Wroe Roberts, the last member of the family to live at Prospect Hill, played an active life in public life in Salford. He was a magistrate, a member of St Thomas’s church, and in 1915 was elected Chairman of the Salford Volunteer Training Corps., based at the Cross Lane Barracks. When he died in 1918, he left an estate of over £127,000. A legacy of £2000 to the Diocese of Manchester in trust was to augment the income of the vicar of St Thomas’s church. A further £300 was left to the fund for the enlargement of the Chancel at St Thomas’s. Salford Royal Hospital was bequeathed £5000 to endow two beds to be named ‘The Arthur Wroe Roberts (Prospect Hill) Bed” and “The Humphrey Wroe Roberts (Prospect Hill) Bed”. Any surplus from this bequest was to be used for the hospital’s general purposes.

Miss Gertrude Bailey Chambers, Humphrey’s nurse, would receive £200 if still employed at the time of his death; Miss Emerson and A.Brown, servants, were to get £200 each if employed by him or by the government when he died. Another servant, referred to simply as Hemming, got £50. The rest of Humphreys estate, was left in trust for his surviving brother and sister and their descendants.

Only one of the three Roberts sons had married. The eldest, James Woolley Roberts had married Claudine Celia Beachcroft in London 1878 and was living at Park Road off Eccles Old Road at the time of his daughter’s baptism in June 1880. Less than a year later the 1881 census records the young family at the far west end of Eccles Old Road at 3 St George’s Crescent, Gilda Brook. They are still there in 1891. The house was then called Fern Bank. The household had grown, with four children and four female servants, including a nurse. Within two months of the 1891 census being taken, the family had moved to ‘Westfield’, Singleton Road in Higher Broughton, and their infant son, Henry had died.

The 1901 census records James and Claudine at Singleton Road with daughter Claudine Margaret and eldest son James Beachcroft. At 18 years of age, the James Beachcroft was a solicitor’s clerk and appeared ready to continue the family law business. Younger brother Ernest Woolley was away at boarding school in Rhyll. James’s wife Claudine died in 1906 at the age of 54. In 1915 2nd Lt. Ernest Woolley Roberts was killed in action in Gallipoli aged 29. A bed at the Salford Royal Hospital was endowed in his memory.

James Woolley Roberts would live the rest of his life in the Singleton Road house. In 1924 he married again, to Christina Adelaide Stuart. On his death in 1938 he left the house and all its contents to Christina, with the exception of the family photographs and the medals awarded to his late son Ernest. The rest of his £278,000 estate was divided equally between his two surviving children.

Anne Elizabeth, the Roberts brothers’ only sister, married twice and was twice widowed, with no children. After the death of her second husband, she moved back to Salford from Bedford and lived close to her remaining brother James Woolley on Singleton Road. The year after his death she was recorded on the 1939 register, age 87, living comfortably with a companion, Florence Emily Tucker and four female servants. Ann died in Arnside in the Lake District in 1948, aged 96, leaving £49,000. Florence had remained with her as her companion and was appointed executor of her will.

James Beachcroft Roberts, son of James Woolley and Claudine, looked set to continued the legal traditions of his father, uncles and grandfather. In 1901 at 18 years of age he was recorded as a solicitor’s clerk. He clearly felt he was not cut out for the role and switched career. By 1911 he was living in Rugby and working as a schoolmaster in a preparatory school. He spent the rest of his working life in teaching and was recorded on the 1939 register as a retired schoolmaster, living in Dormansland in East Grinstead, where he died aged 78 in 1960.