Cox’s Farm (also spelt Coxes) was an old farmstead located on Bolton Road, Atherton. The farm existed across some three centuries before it was destroyed and today there are no signs of its existence. This is the long lost history of Cox’s.
Eighteenth Century Origins
The farm dates back to the eighteenth century at least, John Lunn’s History of Atherton states the farm was sometimes recorded as “kxives”. During the nineteenth century the name of the farm is often recorded as “Coxes” and by the twentieth century it became “Cox’s”. The house was a substantial Georgian property over three floors, with eight windows on the front (although one was bricked up) and a later brick addition on the side of the building.
During the 1790s the farm was occupied by Thomas Withington, who in 1792 was recorded as “gentry” in the Universal British Directory. Thomas married Ellen Heyes on 26th December 1774 at St. Mary’s in Leigh, by license rather than the usual banns. The license was often used for hastily arranged marriages, as banns would be announced to the congregation of the Parish over a few weeks. Thomas and Ellen’s first child, George, was born four months later in April 1775, which reveals why the couple used a license. Thomas and Ellen has several children; Catherine (1776), John (1777), Sarah (1779), Martha (1781), Ann (1782), John (1784), Ellen (1785), Ellen (1788), Margaret (1790).
In 1798 the farm was sold at an auction held at the Bears Paw public house in Atherton (see below). During the late eighteenth century there was a small coal pit, known as Coxes Pit, within close proximity to the farm. In 1804 subsidence from the workings of this pit created a hole in the road, close by the Turnpike road (it is estimated this would be roughly where the bridge over the railway is today on Bolton Road). As this road was the one of the main routes from Bolton to Atherton, Leigh and Warrington it was repaired as a matter of urgency, using timber from Cox’s Farm.
The Nineteenth Century
By the time of the 1841 census, Cox’s Farm is occupied by Hamor Grundy (b.1806) and his wife Betty (1811) who were both born in Westhoughton. The Grundy family are still farming at Cox’s a decade later in 1851. The census from that year reveals the children are assisting in the family business; 18 year old James and 17 year old Betty are both engaged in farm work. Their younger sister, Jane (aged 15) works in the house and presumably helps look after younger siblings; Alice, Mary Ann, Esther, Hamor and Ellen.
Hamor Grundy also reared prize winning livestock at Cox’s Farm. In February 1852 he entered the half-yearly cattle fair at Westhoughton. He won 15 shillings for “Best in-calf Heifer, not exceeding 3 years old” and he also won £1 at the same fair for “Best draught horse for agricultural purposes” (£1’15 shillings in modern terms works out at £174).
By 1859 the Grundy family had left Cox’s and the farm was purchased by the Speakman family. Head of the family was Thomas Speakman (1799-1876), who farmed 56 acres and employed two labourers. Living with him at Cox’s was his wife Mary (1806) and son Thomas (1832-1924). In the 1860s the substantial farm also had an orchard. In September 1864, four homeless men were caught stealing apples from there and were each sentenced to one month’s imprisonment.
Thomas Sr. had previously lived at Bee Fold Farm with his other children and grandchildren. In 1853 Thomas Sr., a widower, married Mary Radcliffe and they subsequently left Bee Fold Farm under the control of the oldest son Richard. Cox’s Farm was about half the size as Bee Fold and therefore would have been easier to manage. By 1871 Thomas Sr. and Mary have left Cox’s and moved to a terraced house on Bolton Road.
The Late Nineteenth Century
Thomas Speakman Jr. married Mary Ann Pendlebury (1843-1891) in February 1867. Their first son Thomas was born in 1872, followed by a second son James Pendlebury Speakman in 1874. The farm appears occasionally in the newspapers, in 1879 Thomas Speakman was selling a “powerful, dark bay two year old gelding” and a decade later in 1888 he advertised an “iron land roller and reaping machine” for sale. In December 1887 there was a large auction at Cox’s farm including the “whole of his valuable farm stock, implements, produce, manure, dairy utensils and a portion of the household furniture &c.” The family continued to reside at Cox’s until the early 1890s and its likely they left the farm due to the ill-health of Mary Ann Speakman who died later in 1891.
By the census of 1891 the farm changed hands and was owned by James Speakman (1863-1921) and his sister Ellen Speakman (1858). Also recorded on the census form is a niece Ellen Faulkner Smith and three farm labourers. James and Ellen Speakman were the grandchildren of Thomas Speakman Sr. through his other son, James Speakman (1822-1891). James Speakman ran a successful corn dealers business and a provision and sundries business from Nos. 12 & 14 Market Street for well over forty years. The business was most likely supplied with stock from his brothers’ farms (remember Thomas Jr. farmed at Cox’s and Richard farmed at Bee Fold).
In 1893 James Speakman married Kate Hully (1871-1944) and then had five children; Constance Ellen (1894), Isaac Hully (1896-1963), James (1896-1899), Leslie John (1900-1903) and Katie (1904-1993). The 1911 census records the Speakman family at the eleven roomed Cox’s Farm. Besides James, his wife and children, the household also consists of James’ two unmarried sisters Sarah and Ellen, who live on ‘independent means’ and also two Irish farm labourers, James Dohey and John Cunning.
In 1914 Constance was entered into a dairymaid’s competition of butter-making at the Royal Lancashire Show. She won first place in the County Challenge Cup but as she had already won the cup previously in 1912 the rules forbade her from winning it again. Instead she was “highly complemented by the judges” and awarded second prize of £3 (£264 in modern terms).
The Twentieth Century
The early 1920s were marred by tragedy, in 1921 James Speakman died aged only 57 and left £2875 16s 1d (£117,000) to his wife and two sisters. The following year his sister Ellen Speakman also died at Cox’s and she left £3721 18s (£180,000) to her sister; Sarah died later in 1931 and she had moved to Newbrook Road by this time.
However in 1922 Isaac Speakman, who was now running Cox’s Farm, married Margaret Rowson (b.1896) at St. Mary’s Leigh. They had two children together; James (b.1923) and Constance (b.1924).
In May 1935 Isaac Speakman dropped a heavy stone paving flag on his foot but continued to work. He later went to the doctor who sent him to Leigh Infirmary to have three toes amputated. His commitment to work, despite his injury, meant that a notice of the incident even appeared in the Dundee Evening Telegraph.
The Second World War
In September 1939 the Second World War broke out. Britain had been preparing for war for some months and took immediate action evacuating children, filling sandbags and distributing gas masks. However as Hitler had focused his attention on mainland Europe, quickly invading countries such as Poland, the Netherlands and France, life in Britain carried on as normal and this period up to May 1940 came to be known as “the Phoney War”. However the Battle of Britain in summer 1940 and the subsequent nation-wide Blitz raids quickly brought the War to the home front.
As an outlying industrial town, Atherton was not a priority target for the Luftwaffe bombers, however it did not survive the War unscathed. In April 1941 bombs were dropped destroying houses on Car Bank Street. Ten days later the town was under attack again. On the night of 7th May 1941 two bombs were dropped on Atherton, one landed near the brook behind the Station Hotel (later known as the Bluebell and now a veterinary surgery) and the other fell in front of Cox’s Farm house.
The land mine itself did not fall on the house, but the blast from the two bombs are what caused the devastating damage, including destroying Cox’s Farm and killing three civilians and injuring many more. The Journal, although under wartime censorship, reported the bare facts of the night:
” One bomb dropped in front of a farm and the other in a stream quarter of a mile away. This scattered mud and water for a considerable distance. Houses and shops and a nearby mill got the main blast and suffered severely. Windows over a wide area , including some in the main shopping street [Market Street] three quarters of a mile away were blown out.
Fires were started but were soon under control. A number of cattle in the farm shippons were killed. One person was killed and another is believed dead. There was about a dozen ambulance cases, one or two serious, and many people were treated for minor injuries and shock. People rendered homeless were taken in by neighbours, whilst others found refuge in a school.”
Three men were killed that night at Cox’s Farm; Harry Wadsworth (aged 37), a fire watcher, James F. Grundy (aged 55), a fire watcher and Peter Arthur Shaw (aged 50) a senior Air Raid Warden.
Fortunately, despite the extensive destruction of their home, all members of the Speakman family survived. James Speakman, writing about the event later in 2004, recalled: “My parents and I survived by taking refuge in the cellar but we were covered with debris. My sister was blown the full length of the hall and also survived, although badly shaken.” James Speakman’s account also lists those who were severely injured from the blast. He also notes that a hen turkey survived in the ruined barn, still sat protecting her eggs.
Reverend Glyn Evans, an Unitarian Minister, lived at Harrison Parsonage, which was adjacent to the entrance of Cox’s. His home was badly damaged by the blast but reconstructed afterwards. Speakman noted that surgeons at Leigh Infirmary wanted to amputate his legs but he refused and eventually he was able to walk again, assisted by a stick. Ken Pearce was taught Sunday School by Rev. Evans and he recalled after the bombing his gold pocket watch turned black and the colour never returned. Jack Edge (aged 17 at the time) was badly cut by shattered glass and fortunately his eyesight was saved by surgeons at Bolton Infirmary. Jack Edge later worked with my Grandad at Stirlings Furniture Shop in Leigh.
Cox’s Farmhouse, having stood for two centuries, was demolished in the wake of the bombing in May 1941. When local MP Mr. Tinker visited the site of the bombings, it was noted the crater was big enough to hold ten double-decker buses. The Speakman family were housed at Park End Farm on the Hulton Estate and a temporary shelter was erected for the surviving cattle so the milk rounds could continue. In May 1942 the family moved to Waterworks Farm in Worthington.
The land at Cox’s stood empty and derelict for the next few decades. My Grandparents moved to Weston Street (just meters from the farm) in 1955 and were told stories of the windows being blown out and the gable end of the terraced houses being destroyed. As a child in the early 1960s, my aunt would play on the site and remembers tiles on the floor (presumably from rooms in the house) and recalls finding rotten eggs in the ruins of the farm buildings.
In the 1970s the ruined outbuildings were removed and garages were built on the former farmland. By the 1980s the former site of Cox’s Farm was changed forever as modern housing developments on Stamford Street and Martin Drive were built on the land.
- John Lunn, Atherton: A Manorial, Social and Industrial History, (Atherton: Atherton Urban District Council, 1971)
- Alan Davies, Atherton Collieries, (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2013)
- PastFoward, Issue 38, Nov 2004 – March 2005, p.32 (Wartime Blitz on Atherton by James Speakman)
- PastForward, Issue 39, March-July 2005, p.41 (Atherton Blitz by Ken Pearce)
- Manchester Mercury, 3 May 1796
- Manchester Mercury, 14 August 1798
- Bolton Chronicle, 25 February 1852, p.5
- Leigh Chronicle, 24 September 1864, p.3
- Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 2 November 1879, p.2
- Leigh Chronicle, 16 December 1887, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 2 March 1888, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 13 April 1888, p.4
- Wellington Journal, 18 April 1896, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 7 August 1914, p.5
- Dundee Evening Telegraph, 31 May 1935, p.8
- The Journal, 9 May 1941, p.6