Burnley Civic Trust Heritage Image Collection


At the base of the granite Memorial Stone, near Burnley Central Library, there is an inscription:

Unveiled by Miss Annie Ratcliffe, 30 October, 1966

Annie Ratcliffe had the honour of unveiling it, because she more or less paid for it.

When the Burnley ex-Servicemen's organisations began an appeal for funds to create a town centre war memorial, which would be more accessible than the one in Towneley Park, they expected it to take them years to raise the money. However, thanks to a donation of *GBP1,000 by Miss Annie Ratcliffe, it was created much sooner than expected. When she made her donation she told the Express "I feel that the provision of a memorial is something which I can do for my home town - and for the boys who gave all they had." (*For technical reasons we can't use the Pound sign, so all figures are given as GBP )

At the first Remembrance Day service at the new Memorial in 1966, the Burnley Express reported that "Miss Annie Ratcliffe who had donated GBP1,000 towards the cost of the war memorial attended the Central Area service...She laid a wreath at the memorial. Miss Ratcliffe watched the march-past from the steps of the court building." Annie is shown, an elderly lady in a long black coat.

To see more images of the event, search on our website for Annie Ratcliffe.

That was a very substantial donation, the equivalent perhaps of GBP20,000 today. How could she afford it? The answer to that is not immediately obvious, so let's start at the beginning.


"RATCLIFFE'S famous mixture, snuff etc., at Smith's Tobacco Manufacturer 1, Market Street, Burnley."

Annie's father, Abraham Ratcliffe, ran a successful wholesale and retail tobacco manufacturing business, later trading as Tom Smith's tobacconist. Photograph from Burnley Library via the Lancashire Library Red Rose Archive.

He and his wife Elizabeth had 9 children, of whom three boys and five girls reached adulthood. The family lived in the Manchester Road area, and worshipped at St. Matthews. Abraham and Elizabeth were active in the local Conservative Party, with Abraham winning the Healey Ward seat in 1894.

When Abraham died four years later, in his late sixties, his children were all pretty much already launched on their adult lives. The 1901 census sets the scene nicely.

Joseph, (34), the eldest, was married, living in Birmingham, and well on the way to eminence as a physician/scientist.
Beatrice (29) was a lady's help, and was staying with a lady in King's Norton, Birmingham, perhaps because Joseph and his wife, from a prominent local family, also lived in that area.
The six children still living with Elizabeth at 44 St. Matthews Street were:
Edwin (27) a commercial traveller for the family wholesale and retail tobacco business;
Annie (24) a shop assistant;
Edith (22) a school teacher;
Henry (20) an assistant analyst/chemist, at the gas works;
Ethel (16) a telephone operator;
Florence (13) had not yet started work, but at 14 she also became a hello girl for the Post Office Telephones.

Let's take them one by one, starting with :

Dr. Joseph Riley Ratcliffe, the scientist and visionary

Joseph Riley (his mother's family name) Ratcliffe, was given a surprisingly good education. He went to Burnley Grammar School and results published in the Express in July 1884, show he had passed Advanced Stage, Second Class, Magnetism and Electricity. The Grammar School was said to have one of the best equipped school laboratories in England at the time. He qualified as a doctor/surgeon at Edinburgh University, and after working in pathology there for a time, spent the rest of his career in Birmingham as a hospital surgeon, physician and scientist. His name is still mentioned in connection with his friend and colleague, Dr. John Hall Edwards. Both men had a keen interest in photography, and when Roentgen discovered X Ray imaging in Germany in 1895, they became pioneers in England of the use of X Rays as an aid to surgery. Hall Edwards experimented so much with radium that he suffered horrifically and died from the effects of radiation and is designated a "radiation martyr".

Joseph had a keen interest in all the arts and sciences. In 1902/3 he patented an improved hypodermic syringe, the Moseley, named after the leafy suburb where he lived in some style. He was an early expert in photography, and wireless waves. He was interested in antiquities, and natural history, donating several items to the fledgling Birmingham Museum. He was a member, and often an officer, of a huge number of associations and societies, from eminent medical associations to social groups such as the Freemasons, Warwickshire County Cricket Club, and the Birmingham Society of Lancastrians. He gave lectures on every conceivable subject, frequently lecturing on the miracle that was radium. In one of those illustrated lectures, he said he didn't think radium would cure internal cancers, because of the surface damage it would do.

Despite his very public profile, the only photo which has been found of Joe, is in a journal of the Midland Institute, dated February 1914, held by Burnley Library, which contains a fulsome tribute to Joe. Note the cigarette, following in the family tradition.

He was a founder and President of the Birmingham Aero Club, where enthusiasts built model aircraft and was a judge at this club competition in 1915.

Joseph was a great enthusiast for aviation, and Burnley Central Library also hold a lovely certificate to prove he flew as a passenger on 20 June 1914, from Castle Bromwich air field with the pilot Claude Grahame-White, who was doing exhibition flights on the occasion of the Hendon to Manchester air race. There is also a photo of Claude Grahame-White, signed and thanking Joe for his help. Claude Grahame-White was possibly the best known British aviator of the day. Joseph was much in demand during WW1 as an expert speaker on aviation, telling an audience in 1914 England had two defences against aerial attack, "aeroplanes and our uncertain weather", and was certainly ahead of his time in his enthusiasm for aviation.

Home Life

He married Florence Amy Ward, from a well known and prosperous family of Birmingham gun-makers, in 1898, and by the time of the 1911 census his sister Ethel had come to live in their household, and seems to have stayed for the rest of her life. Ethel was 18 years younger than Joseph and may have been more like a daughter to him and Florence Amy, who don't appear to have had any children. They lived at 22 Wake Green Road, Moseley, a large house, with "three principal and six secondary bedrooms". When he retired from medicine, Joseph, Florence Amy and Ethel moved to a large flat with sea views in Llandudno, where he took up bowls, and where he died in 1946, in his late seventies, leaving an estate of nearly GBP 50,000 to his widow. He left GBP100 to William Cook, who had been in his service for nearly 50 years, first as a groom and then as his chauffeur, so covering the transition from horse-drawn to motorised vehicles. William was one of the mourners at his funeral, as were unnamed relatives. His obituary says he left a widow and three sisters and a brother, (Florence, Ethel, Annie and Henry). Ethel and his widow Florence Amy lived on together in Llandudno until Ethel died first in February, 1960 aged 76, followed by Florence Amy a couple of months later, aged 94.

Surprisingly, Ethel left around GBP55,000, for which probate was granted to Annie, who presumably inherited, so from that time at least, Annie was a wealthy woman.


Edwin - the sportsman

Edwin, born in 1874, was the next brother after Joseph, but his life was very different. He stayed in education until his late teens, and then joined the family wholesale and retail tobacco business, becoming their commercial traveller and a Director.

In September 1901, he was brought before the Magistrates for gambling and drinking beer in the early hours of the morning in Weston's Hotel, Market Place, Burnley. The very diligent Police climbed on the roof and looked in through a skylight to see a group of commercial travellers in the kitchen playing cards for money (ha'penny nap) and allegedly drinking beer. The magistrates deliberated at length, but then fined the landlord, and let Edwin off for lack of evidence. Later objections to the licence renewal at Weston's show that the Police felt it had become disreputable.

In his youth Edwin had been a good track runner, ice skater and shooter. He became an acknowledged expert in breeding and showing gun dogs and fox terriers, organised Rabbit and Cavie (guinea pig) shows, and won lots of prizes in local and national shows for his pedigree cats.

Edwin was already 34 when he and Charlotte Burwood were married, possibly in a bit of a rush, in Halifax, in the third quarter of 1908. Their only child Eric was born just before Christmas that year. The family lived at no. 10 Board Street, in Daneshouse. a nice terraced street, but comfortable rather than wealthy.

His 89 year-old mother, Elizabeth, died on 25th February 1935, and Edwin died suddenly, the very next day, aged 60. Mother and son were buried in the family vault in Accrington Cemetery. Elizabeth was said to have known a lot about local history and her passing was much mourned by Daneshouse Conservatives. Edwin's obituary says "He was a good conversationalist and popular with all who knew him." Elizabeth and Edwin both only left modest amounts of money.


Edith Binns, nee Ratcliffe, wife, mother and tragic widow

Edith, born in 1878, was a teacher, until, on 3rd September 1908, she became the only Ratcliffe daughter to marry. She was 30 when she married Verney Binns, who lived just up Manchester Road, and whose family had a substantial painting and decorating business in Burnley, Crawshawbooth and Rawtenstall. Florence and Ethel were bridesmaids, and Joseph gave her away. The Binns employees gave them a canteen of cutlery and a clock.

Verney was a well known tenor, a member of the Manchester Road Wesleyan choir, a singing teacher and involved in amateur theatricals with the Burnley Players, so probably quite a lively character, and this grainy image probably doesn't do him justice.

Their only child, Florence Marjorie was born in 1910 in Crawshawbooth. By 1913 they were living just across the road from Edith's family, at no. 15 Carlton Road, where Verney offered singing tuition, and was frequently in the Burnley papers performing in local concerts and entertainments. The family moved to Lytham when Verney became a commercial traveller for a paint manufacturer. (Possibly after a failed business venture in Burnley). By 1928 he was based in Leeds, working as a commercial traveller for Leyland Paint. One December night, his car skidded and overturned on a lonely country lane near Masham and he died at the scene. He was only 50. Edith only inherited a small sum.

The 1939 Register shows Edith, a housewife, and Florence Marjorie, who was a ladies and children's hairdresser, living in Lytham, at 77 St. Andrews Rd. possibly in a flat, as there were other households listed at the same address. Some time after that we know they went to live at 12 Carlton Road, with Edith's sisters Beatrice and Florence, (Annie had been living in Halifax for some years), as they both died there, Edith in July 1943, and then Florence Marjorie, who was only 33, died in April, 1944. They were buried at Crawshawbooth Wesleyan Chapel, as was Verney Binns.


Beatrice, a quiet life?

Beatrice, the eldest Ratcliffe daughter, also died at the end of 1943, aged 71. She was a retired Lady's Companion, an occupation which has echoes of a more genteel age and we know nothing more about her. Florence was presumably now living alone at 12 Carlton Road.


Florence, the dedicated public servant.

When Florence retired from the Post Office Telephones, due to ill health, in November 1946, she had risen from being a "Hello girl", nearly 40 years before, to chief supervisor. (Photo is again taken from newsprint, as we do not have the negative, so the quality is unfortunately rather poor.)

Florence had been at the forefront of a revolution in modern telecommunications. Reporting on her retirement, the Express described in detail how the telephone service had developed in her time, including the fact that before the wireless (radio), people would ring the telephone exchange for national news. For the price of a penny call people could also get an up to date weather forecast, a service said to be popular with farmers, and more generally so on the eve of the Burnley holidays.

Co-incidentally, when a new more automated telephone exchange was opened in 1927 on Coal Street, it was on the site of the former depot of Binns Decorators Supplies, the family firm of Verney Binns, her brother in law.

The work of the Post Office telephones was critical for civil defence and war work during the second World War, and Florence's workload would have been very demanding, on top of losing two sisters and her niece in a period of just a few months in 1943/4.

Florence was awarded two public service medals.

The first one was the Coronation medal, given to public servants to mark the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.

After retirement she was awarded the Imperial Service Medal for more than 25 years' public service.

She was obviously highly esteemed as shown by the presentations made to her by colleagues and management when she left.

Sadly, Florence, the youngest of the 8 children, didn't get to enjoy her retirement for long, dying on 19th July, 1949. The Express reported that "The esteem in which she was held was reflected by the number of mourners at her funeral and in the floral tributes." The report does not mention any family mourners.


Henry, the Chemical Engineer

Harry the third brother, born 1881, was also a scientist, like Joseph, but didn't have his university education. He became a chemical engineer and analyst in the coal gas industry, which was transforming modern life. After training at Burnley Gas Works, he moved to the London area where he lived for the rest of his life. The 1911 census shows him aged 30, lodging in a nice house on Ribblesdale Road, Hornsey, so perhaps he was working at the near-by Hornsey Gas Works, with its famous geodesic gas holders, erected in 1892.

In the autumn of 1911, he married Edith Maud Coombes, and a daughter was born in 1912, and then a son in 1916, who also became a chemical analyst. The family settled in a very nice suburban villa in East Barnet. Henry is only a fringe player in our story, but his death in 1962, aged 81, meant that Annie was the last surviving sibling. Harry left about GBP 4,000.


And finally, Annie, a grand old lady

Annie had always worked for her living, her chosen path being shop work, the 1911 census shows that she had risen from being a shop assistant to manager of a fancy goods shop, possibly Lupton's on Manchester Rd. Burnley, before moving to Halifax. In 1921, she was living in a ladies only boarding house and was the "Manageress, F. King & Sons Ltd., Commercial St. Halifax, Fancy, Stationers and Leather Goods." This may indicate that she had only recently moved there, and was still in temporary accommodation. King's were a very well known local business, offering books, fancy goods, stationery, toys, photographic apparatus and countless other items. They also had a separate publishing arm, printing books on local subjects. The shop closed down in 1925 and the printing business in 1946.

By the early 1930's Annie was living in 8 Emscote Gardens, a nice modern little house, with a large garden. The 1939 register shows her sharing this with a widowed lady of her own age, whose occupation was "domestic help", whilst Annie's was given as Office Duties. She was by then in her early sixties.

It seems likely that she would have moved back to 12, Carlton Road, about the time of Florence's death in 1949 but we have found no newspaper reports about her until her 90th birthday in July, 1966, when the Express reported that she had received lots of cards and bouquets, including one from the Mayor, whose Kidney Machine appeal she had supported. She was described as being one of the town's most active and prominent citizens, a lifelong Clarets fan, until she was too frail to go on the Turf, and a local benefactress. She may have shared her brother Edwin's love of animals, as she supported the Agricultural Show Committee, and the RSPCA. She was President of the local branch of the Ex-Servicemen's Association, and the report confirms she was helping them with their Memorial appeal. She enjoyed going to their meetings, and in the snap used by the Express she certainly looks happy but unfortunately we don't have the original negative so this, like several images in this article, is copied from newsprint.

On her death, Councillor Blackston from the Ex-Servicemen's Association, who is shown gently ushering her across the grass in the Remembrance Day photo said, "We only hope this grand old lady enjoyed our company as much as we did having her among us."

Annie died from pneumonia aged 91 on leap year day 1968, after being in hospital for some time. There was a nice notice placed about her in the paper which read:

"The late Miss Annie Ratcliffe would have wished to thank all the kind friends who visited her in hospital, who sent messages, flowers and gifts to her while she was there, for which she was very grateful. "

There is no mention in the funeral report of any close family. She had outlived her siblings and possibly some of their children, of whom there were not very many anyway, although Edwin's son, Eric, was still alive, and living locally.

Her funeral was, nevertheless, well attended by friends and representatives of all the many causes she had supported. She is buried in the family vault in Accrington Cemetery. Her estate was valued at GBP157,991.

Annie Ratcliffe was born in the middle of the Victorian era and died in the middle of the swinging sixties. She could remember seeing men marching off to fight in the Boer War. She was about 5 years old when Burnley F.C. was formed, and lived to see them become champions of England.

Despite being born in an age when women were expected to marry and just be home-makers, she lived an independent life, as a single woman, working in businesses in both Burnley and Halifax.


The Ratcliffes - just an ordinary family?

Unfortunately, newspaper reports and public records don't tell us what the Ratcliffes were really like as people. From what we have learned of the family, we can suggest that they were clever, hard-working, and competent, careful with their money, sport loving, sociable, and probably rather good company. They were well educated, the boys more so than the girls, public spirited, and probably Conservative and Anglican, we know that Annie certainly was. The men, and Edith, were all in their thirties before they married, three of the girls never did, and Edith, having been widowed, never re-married, and they didn't have many children between them.

Florence was awarded two medals for dedicated public service, but otherwise the Ratcliffes might seem to be an ordinary, middle-class, successful Victorian family with their roots in trade. However, their lives, from Joseph's birth to Annie's death, offer a snapshot of a hundred years of remarkable events and immense social change, particularly reflected in the life of Joseph, who was not at all ordinary.


The Ratcliffes' Lasting Legacy

Joseph Ratcliffe was a very remarkable man, and this story which started off being about Annie, became mostly about Joseph. Joseph was the only one of the Ratcliffes who was truly wealthy. None of the other children had left unusually large amounts. We don't know if his wealth came solely from medicine, but when Joseph died in January 1946, he left his widow nearly GBP48,000 which would now equate to at least GBP 2 million.

14 years later, when Ethel, the sister who had lived with Joe and Florence Amy, died, she left GBP55,407, with probate granted to Annie, and when Florence Amy died soon after, she left GBP80,000. Perhaps another of Joe's many talents was sound investment, so that his wealth continued to grow after his death. Joe may have made provision for Ethel during his lifetime, and his widow, Florence Amy, may also have had money or assets of her own. Probate for all three estates, of Florence Amy, Ethel and Annie was granted in Birmingham, which indicates a link to Joseph, perhaps through a firm of family solicitors. It seems reasonable to assume that Annie's wealth late in life came to her from Joseph via Ethel. However, it is still surprising that, when she herself died in 1968, she was worth GBP158,000, which equates to some GBP2 million today.

However it came about, Annie was very generous to a lot of good causes, and the Ratcliffes left a lasting legacy to Burnley in the shape of the Memorial Stone, for which they themselves deserve to be remembered.