The Family

The Leech family lived in Urmston, a village in the suburbs of Manchester, from the 1830’s to the 1850’s. Thomas Leech and his wife Rachel had five children. Leech had business interests in Manchester, including investments in canals and cotton, and the family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Thomas Leech also played a part in the wider community. For many years he was the poor law guardian for Urmston, then part of the Chorlton-on-Medlock Poor Law Union. He was also an active supporter of the free trade movement. His wealth meant that he associated with powerful figures within the Manchester middle-class community. The Leech children were well educated and some of them were to have a major role in Manchester’s business and political affairs later in the century. The most well-known member of the family was the eldest son, Bosdin Thomas Leech, who played an important part in the project to build the Manchester Ship Canal, served as mayor of Manchester and was knighted by Queen Victoria.

The Leech family had a tradition of reporting their daily activities in personal diaries and memorandums. These resulted in a large collection of diaries written by different members of the family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These diaries were donated to Chetham’s Library in Manchester in 2007. This website provides extracts from three of the earliest diaries in the collection. They were written Thomas Leech, Rachel Leech and Sarah Ann Ellis Leech in the period from the 1830s to the 1850s.

Below are the names of the family members from the diaries. You can click on any of the names to find out more. Click the name again to close it.

Thomas Leech (1790-1863) ›

Thomas Leech is the father figure in the Leech family who lived in Urmston Cottage, in the suburbs of Manchester in the mid-nineteenth century. Born in 1790 in Yorkshire he married his first wife Ann Herbert died in 1828, they had two children, Ann/Nancy Browne and Louisa.

He married Rachel Leech in 1833 whom he had six children with, many of which became hugely valued and important figures in the Manchester middle-class community. He was a businessman within Manchester, and created a huge amount of wealth for himself and his family.

He was a strict father and husband, and enforced his rules through discipline. On the other hand he was often kind and generous to his children, providing for all their needs. The majority of his income came from Brownsfield Mill, which his ancestors owned as absentee Landlords for over a century, and Thomas Leech moved to Manchester in order to manage the mill with family members such as Mr Phillips.

Thomas was Guardian for the Chorlton Poor Law Union in the 1840s and 50s, and proved important in the local middle-class community of Urmston. Thomas Leech began the family tradition of diary writing, the diaries studied suggest the task of diary writing was completed by the children under his supervision as an educative process. He is an important figure in the local community and throughout his life played a valued role. He was an astute businessman and his many diaries provide an insight into the lives of the middle-class man within a thriving industrious centre.

Rachel Leech (1799-1856) ›

Rachel Leech is the mother of the six children and the wife of Thomas Leech, married in 1833. Records suggest her marriage to Thomas was that of convenience as her first child was born two months after they were married.

This perhaps explains the unhappy marriage in which she found herself, which was often shown as aggressive and confrontational. Her diary is an outstanding historical source, entirely unique and hugely valuable to the gender and social historian.

Regressing into psychological illness towards the end of her life the diary of this lady outlines the struggle of an unhappy marriage with her duty to act as domestic leader and provide dutifully to her husband and children. The diary further outlines the menial tasks of daily life, and her domestic duties within the household as no other source can. The daily essence of the diary writing proves most useful and we can gain a deep understanding of this lady and her role within the Victorian middle-class home.

Sarah Ann Ellis Leech (1833-1904) ›

Daughter of Thomas and Rachel Leech, born in Brook Hill, Yorkshire. Her role as eldest daughter was important to the family household, yet it is clear her brother Bosdin, three years younger, was brought up with higher expectations and certain education. Sarah Ann was educated to become a ‘home maker’ and her daily duties were centred on the domestic chores of women within the household.

However, it is clear her education surpassed that of her mother, in comparison Rachel Leech had poor spelling, bad grammar and non-existent punctuation, while Sarah Ann’s diary maintains high standards of handwriting form, punctuations spelling and grammar.

From this were can see the progression of education for the female within one generation, and it is clear that the nineteenth century saw a change in expectation of female education for those who could afford it. Where Sarah Ann is different is that her father played a central role in her education, and his requests to write a diary and copy out letters were part of the education process. Yet there is one example when Thomas Leech taught his daughter accounts, whether household or business accounts it is unclear, but the very act of Thomas undertaking this task proves the important aspect of education for his children. Sarah Ann’s diaries are a valuable resource in understanding her role as wife, sister and daughter, and as such give an insight into the expectations of a woman in her position.

Sir Bosdin Thomas Leech (1836-1912) ›

Bosdin Leech as the eldest son of this family was a hugely important figure from a young age. Thomas Leech was sure to educate Bosdin to the highest level, and by the age of twelve the diary extracts provide evidence of Bosdin partaking in business activities with his father at the mill. As a young man Bosdin was a keen cricketer and played regularly for Urmston cricket club, the team was not successful within the local league. The earlier diaries of the 1840s and 50s provide an insight into the early life of a later extraordinary individual.

Bosdin Thomas Leech, as an adult, was one of the most influential figures in Manchester’s political and economic scene. The transcriptions provided by this website of the diaries of Bosdin in the 1890s provide hugely valuable information of key events in political history. These include Bosdin’s presence in Queen Victoria’s visit to Manchester and further events which present previously unknown insight. Bosdin was a key player in the Manchester Ship Canal for which he was crowned for in 1894 and was Lord Mayor of Manchester 1891-2. His diaries are hugely valuable and present a minute section of the intimate writings of a very influential figure in late nineteenth century Manchester.

Other members of the Leech Family ›

Maria Laurina Leech (1835-1915)

Daughter of Thomas and Rachel Leech, born on 1st September 1835 in Brook Hill, Yorkshire. Her role in the household is similar to that of Sarah Ann Ellis, yet her responsibilities are reduced due to her younger age. Again her education from her father is unique, and this high standard of education is proved through her handwriting and her ability to produce sound written documents. She lived the longest out of her siblings, though was often fraught with ill health, including abbesses in her mouth. It is clear through her mothers diary that they had a close relationship, but both on occasion found themselves in the way of Thomas Leech’s bad temper, and verbal punishments were given out. There is currently no diaries written by Maria, although we are sure each family member was instructed to do so. However, this means little is known of her life other than that known through the diaries of other members of the family.

Eliza Leech (1838-1898)

Eliza Frances Leech was born on 10th July 1838 in Urmston and was christened in the Old Church Manchester in 1838. Eliza appears to have been close to Bosdin as a child as both were the eldest children living at home as Sarah Ann and Maria were attending boarding school. Eliza also appears to have been one of the most devote Leech family members by attending church on a regular basis alongside Bosdin. Eliza is an ordinary wealthy middle-class female, and knowledge of her daily routine and minute details of daily life successfully illustrate the average life in Victorian Manchester.

Daniel Leech (1840-1900)

Daniel John was born 12th January 1840, as one of the youngest of the Leech family. Most notably this individual in later life became a medical academic at Owen’s College which later became the core of Manchester University. Daniel John was a forerunner in the medical community and the opportunity for this position in the research community was only attainable due to the early education provided through the wealth of his father. An obituary written for Daniel Leech in 1900 states: ‘By the premature death of Professor Leech at the age of 60 years the medical profession in Manchester loses one of its most distinguished leaders, and the city has to mourn a citizen who for many years has been closely identified with all public movements towards promoting healthy conditions of life, the spread of education, and the advance of social progress.’ This proves the later importance of Daniel John providing insight into the further importance of this entire family. The collection held at Chetham’s Library contain a number of Daniel's later journals which contain unique and exacting information which may be useful in tracking the progress of medical research in the North West.

John Joesph Leech (1842-1901)

John Joseph was born on 19th February 1842 in Urmston. The diary of Rachel Leech, in particular, demonstrates the treatment of John Joseph from an early age. This intimate diary gives insight into the treatment of young children within a wealthy middle-class Victorian household. Whereas in pre-industrial times young children would be passed to nannies or governesses who would perform the child care duties; in post industrial society the wealthy family would pass childcare duties to the head female, no longer were wealthy families entirely leisured in their daily activities.