Wigan and Leigh Archives Online

1864-1865, Thomas Knowles, Mayor of Wigan

THOMAS KNOWLES, JP, MP                  

Mayor of Wigan 1864 – 1865

b 30 May 1824     Bapt 4 July 1824, St Luke’s Church, Lowton                                                     Parents: John Knowles (engineer) and Martha Partington, m 4 Jan 1824, St Oswald’s Church, Winwick

m1 Mary Foster, 15 Aug, 1846 All Saints Parish Church, Wigan                                                                                                                                                                    Children: Samuel (1847 - 1847) ; Martha (1849) ; Robert (1851- 1853) ; Elizabeth (1852) ; John (1853) ; Mary Ellen (1855) ; Sarah Jane (1856 - 1857)

m2 Mary Longworth 17 Oct 1866 St Paul’s Church, Astley Bridge

d 3 Dec, 1883 at Darnhall Hall, Cheshire aged 59

Burial 6th Dec, 1883 Ince Cemetery plot A146 C of E

Will proved 4 Mar, 1884 by Sir John Sutherland Harmood Banner of Puddington Hall, Cheshire [accountant / son-in-law] ; Thomas Fielden of Stockeld Park, Yorks [son-in-law] also Israel Knowles of Westwood Cottage, Ince, Lancs [brother]: executors.


Thomas Knowles was born 30 May 1824 in Ince, the first child of John Knowles and his wife Martha. He had only a rudimentary education before starting work in the mines at the age of nine, but had an ambition from an early age to manage a colliery and, eventually, to own one. With this end in sight, he used his pocket money to pay for night school classes to improve his education.

After working for some years at the colliery of Mr Thomas Swarbrick of Ince, he was put in sole charge of a winding engine at the age of 15, responsible for the safe daily ascent/descent of about 100 miners.

In the 1841 census, the family were living at the Railway Tavern, Hindley, where John Knowles was recorded as publican and colliery underlooker [an official in charge of a mine, responsible to the undermanager and supervising the fireman]. The children were engine worker Thomas (1824); Mary (1825); John (1827); Robert (1831); Adam (1832); Ellen (1833); Israel (1836).

Two years later, Thomas became a sinker [sinking new mineshafts] at the Ince Hall Collieries, after which he worked as a collier earning 3s 6d per day, the highest wage available in the district. He went on to become underlooker at the Stanley Pit in Scholes, continuing his studies all the while.  

On 15th Aug 1846, at the age of 22, Thomas married Mary Foster, the daughter of a stone-mason from Golborne, at All Saints Parish Church, Wigan. The couple settled in a small cottage near the railway bridge at Springs Branch on the way to Platt Bridge, rented for 2s 6d per week.

He had been married for two years when he was appointed by Thomas Pearson as underlooker at the Old Ince Hall Collieries, and he worked there for several years. During this time he supervised the sinking of the Top Pit and developed the Arley Mine. This colliery was being worked at a loss and Mr Pearson was thinking of giving it up, but Thomas advised him to persevere. Mr Pearson made Thomas the manager and the failing concern quickly became profitable under his control.

In the 1851 census, Thomas and Mary had two children, Martha and Robert, having lost a first child Samuel. Thomas was working as a colliery agent. By the 1861 census he was a coal proprietor and the family were living in Ince, with children Martha, Elizabeth, John and Mary Ellen. Son Robert had died in 1853 aged 2, and another infant, Sarah Jane, was born in 1856 but died before her first birthday.


Thomas had achieved his ambition to manage a colliery and, in 1855, also became an owner when, along with two partners, he took a lease of the Barley Brook mines in Wigan. He resolved to end his involvement with Ince Hall Colliery but, keen to retain his services, Mr Pearson offered him an interest in the company. Thomas accepted, and it became known as ‘Pearson & Knowles’ in 1854.

Then, together with Pearson’s son John, Thomas took a lease on the Stoney Lane Pit in Hindley and, after the death of old Mr Pearson in 1864/5, the Old Ince Hall, Barley Brook and Stoney Lane collieries were amalgamated.

Thomas also had interests in ironworks, in Ince and the Dallam Forge in Warrington. These were subsequently joined with the mines to form a limited liability company known as ‘Pearson and Knowles Coal and Iron Company Limited’. Thomas was elected the first chairman and retained this position until his death.

Thomas was very well-known in business in Lancashire. Apart from his interests in coal and iron, he owned Sovereign Mill in Wigan (cotton); a corn mill and model farm in Cheshire; the Springfield Bleachworks, near Bolton, which he had previously managed for his wife’s family; he leased an extensive sheep farm in Scotland and held directorships of the London and North Western Railway Company, the Lancashire Union Railway and the Manchester and Liverpool Banking Company Ltd.


Thomas had left his humble cottage behind and moved to The Platts in Ince, where he began to take an active interest in public life. He was a generous benefactor, donating liberally to any cause for the moral, educational or religious well-being of the community, including the erection of Ince Parish Church, where he served as churchwarden for many years, and the vicarage.

His firm, Messrs Pearson & Knowles built the Hall of Ince Schools in Lower Ince in 1866 at a cost of £1500 to provide schooling for the children of their workers, also later the Ince Central Schools. One of his last acts was the anonymous donation of £5000 towards building a new church in Lower Ince.

He was a member of the Ince Cemetery Board, the Ince Highways Board, and for three years, 1863 - 5, occupied the post of honorary overseer for Ince. When Ince Local Board was formed, Thomas became one of the first members and he also served for a short time on Hindley Local Board.

From 1859 – 67 he represented Ince on the Wigan Board of Guardians and, in Nov 1863, was elected a councillor for Scholes Ward in Wigan Town Council, an office he continued until his death. He was elected Mayor of Wigan on 9th Nov 1864 and held this office for two consecutive years, 1864-5.

He was also a J.P. for both Lancashire and Cheshire, vice-president of the Infirmary, a trustee of the River Weaver, a governor of Wigan Grammar School and he took a keen interest in the Wigan Mining and Mechanical School, where he presented an award of a gold medal every year.


Thomas’ wife Mary died at home at The Platts, Ince in July 1863, aged 40, and was buried 1 Aug 1863 in Ince Cemetery, plot A146 C of E. He remarried on 17 Oct 1866 at St Paul’s Church, Astley Bridge. His new wife was Mary Longworth, daughter of William Longworth, bleacher, of Little Bolton.

In Oct 1871, there was an explosion at Ince Moss, one of the Pearson & Knowles mines. The inquest into the Ince Moss Colliery Disaster was held at the Railway Tavern, where Thomas Knowles grew up and where his younger brother Adam was now publican.

A Conservative politician, Thomas was elected Member of Parliament for Wigan in the Feb 1874 general election with 2,401 votes. He took a great interest in the working classes and seldom addressed the House of Commons unless he could contribute some special knowledge or experience, most particularly on issues concerning coal mining and the health and welfare of workers, but also on railways, education for the poor and extending the franchise to allow more people the vote.

As one of the founders of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners Permanent Relief Society and a vice-president of the Central Association for dealing with distress caused by Accidents in Mines, he took an active part in debates about mines and mining, including the rating of mines, the proposal to appoint additional inspectors, the Haydock Colliery Explosion and the welfare of families affected by industrial accidents. He held his seat in the House of Commons until his death in 1883.

In 1875, his daughter Elizabeth married John Sutherland Harmood-Banner (1847 – 1927) in Whitegate, Cheshire, who entered the family accountancy firm of Harmood Banner & Sons and became a partner there in 1870. He was appointed as deputy chairman of Pearson & Knowles Coal and Iron Co in 1883.                                                                     In 1878, daughter Martha married Thomas Fielden at St George’s Church, Hanover Sq, London. Thomas was the son of Joshua Fielden MP of Stansfield Hall, Todmorden, landowner, merchant, cotton spinner and farmer of 135 acres. Thomas also went on to become an MP, representing the Middleton constituency 1886 – 92 and 1895 -7.                                                                                                                        

These two sons-in-law went on to become Thomas’ executors after his death, along with his brother, Israel.

After leaving The Platts in Ince, Thomas went to live at Halton, near Lancaster for a while, but in March 1875, he purchased the estate at Darnhall, Winsford, Cheshire.

In 1878, Thomas was appointed President of the Mining Association of Great Britain. His second wife, Margaret was involved with a movement to provide public baths in Wigan, towards which she offered a donation of £1000, but did not live to see the baths completed. She died, aged 53, on 25 Nov 1878 in Southport, where she had moved for her health. She was buried in Ince Cemetery plot A145 C of E. After her death, Thomas donated the £1000 and took a continued interest in the project.

In April 1881, Thomas went to Canada and the United States with a party of men interested in railways administration. He had previously suffered a serious illness, and the heat and long tiring journeys proved too exhausting for him. He was forced to abandon the trip and return home, but never fully regained his health.

He died at his home, Darnhall Hall near Winsford on 3 Dec 1883, aged 59, leaving a personal estate of £194,727 8s. He was buried in the family vault at Ince Cemetery.


Sources :         Ancestry ; Lancashire Online Parish Clerks ; Wigan Observer ; Wigan World

Lancashire BMD ;   FamilySearch ; Hansard   ;  England & Wales, National Probate Calendar ;

Memoirs of the late Thomas Knowles                       

1 item was found within 1864-1865, Thomas Knowles, Mayor of Wigan