John Woodley, our tame archives researcher, has unearthed the story of a man closely associated with our church in its earliest years.

James Eshelby – an appreciation

It was while travelling back from St. Mary’s church in Waterloo some months ago that I passed ‘Eshelby Close’, a small cul-de-sac of eighteen homes.  The name Eshelby struck a chord as I chanced upon it last year whilst researching a magazine article on our founder, Douglas Horsfall.

At the back of St. Faith’s church is a large oak commemorative panel, upon which are remembered previous Vicars, Churchwardens and Sidesmen that have served St. Faith’s over the last one hundred and fourteen years.  There you will see the name of James Eshelby, one of the very first Churchwardens of St. Faith’s.  With this in mind, I turned to my computer to see what online revelations might be revealed about James and his life in Waterloo.

Thankfully, Eshelby is an unusual name; searching through the 1901 census I found him living at ‘St. Leonard’s’ in Waterloo Park, along with his family and servants.  The census lists him as head of the household, aged 57, living with his wife (aged 67) and his daughter, Annie, aged 28.  Two servants are also listed as residing in the household: a cook and a housemaid.  James’ occupation is given as ‘Upholsterer’s Manager’ and his place of birth; ‘Upton St. Leonard’s, Gloucestershire’.  Further online research and help from the Local History unit at Crosby Library provided a more thorough picture of Eshelby (although, sadly very little imagery of the man).

James Eshelby spent all his professional life in the furnishing trade, acquiring his skills in London, before eventually moving to Liverpool, initially setting up home in Manley Road, Waterloo.  In the late 1890s he was associated with Warings (furnishing store) in Bold Street, Liverpool as a director.  His descendants tell me that he imported items (mainly ceramics) from places such as China.  He must have been doing quite well because sometime in the 1880s he moved to the much larger home, known as St. Leonard’s, in Waterloo Park.

As well as his commercial interests, Eshelby had a strong interest in local politics and was a stalwart of the local Conservative party.  Described in an election profile in the Crosby Herald of 1908 as a ‘rather democratic Conservative’, he successfully represented St. Mary’s ward on the Waterloo-with-Seaforth district council between 1889 and 1898 and was chairman of the council from 1906 to 1909. 

The Crosby Herald article goes on to provide a good insight into the goodly works and civic service that Eshelby provided over many years to the district.

“Mr. Eshelby has always been closely associated with church work.  Some years ago he was the superintendent of the Sunday school connected with St. Nicholas’ Church, Blundellsands, and at a later period took a close interest in the building at St. Mary’s Church, where he was an official for many years.  When St. Faith’s Church was established, feeling such a deep gratitude to Mr. Horsfall for the noble work he was doing, and having known Mr. Douglas Horsfall for a considerable time, he became his local agent, and threw all his energy into the completion of that beautiful church, and became its first churchwarden, working very hard to make it successful from the first as a church for the people.”

He embodied all that was good of the late Victorian gentleman: successful, honourable and willing to serve his community.  He had risen from fairly humble beginnings to achieve commercial success and enjoyed a full and active involvement in civic life.  However, he also suffered personal loss.  His eldest son, George, was drowned in a tragic accident in 1884.  As a fitting memorial, his daughter, Charlotte Ruth, embroidered an altar frontal for St Mary’s Church.

James was also director of the Liverpool furnishing company, J. O’Neill & Co. of Church Street.  I believe that it was O’Neill’s that provided furnishings to both St. Mary’s and St. Faith’s in the early years of their existence. As churchwarden and treasurer of St. Faith’s in 1903, he would be well placed to advise on possible sources for any drapes or curtaining required.

One of Eshelby’s notable achievements in the area was the formation and construction of the Waterloo Constitutional Club in South Road, Waterloo.  This undertaking was achieved through the cooperative efforts of like-minded Conservatives and served as a meeting place where those values and ideas could be discussed and promoted.  This red brick building in South Road was, in the 1980’s, a Job Centre before more recently becoming a restaurant; the upper floors being converted into residential accommodation.  The Constitutional Club was to play an important part in the story of St. Faith’s and St. Mary’s, as we shall see in a future article.

His wife pre-deceased him, dying in 1913.  The funeral was held at St. Faith’s with the service taken by the vicar of St. John’s; Rev. Douglas E. Morton followed by interment at St. Luke’s Church, Crosby.

James Eshelby died some eight years later, leaving an estate of £2903 to his daughter.  The Crosby Herald obituary of 1921, warmly portrayed him as a ‘tower of strength to the Conservative cause’ and a ‘staunch member of the Church of England’.  It was reported ‘that when the movement to erect St. Faith’s Church was brought about he was much interested in the project, and watched the building as it progressed on behalf of Mr. Horsfall’.  He was remembered for the ‘readiness with which he lent the beautiful grounds attached to his residence for entertainments’ (during the First World War). Despite his early and close association with St. Faith’s, his funeral took place at St. Mary’s, but it would seem no St. Faith’s representatives attended.

His daughter continued to live in the family home until her death in 1962.  ‘St Leonard’s’, the Eshelby family home is now the Woodlands Guest House. After her death, the land, previously the extensive gardens to the house, was developed and Eshelby Road built where a lake had been filled in during the war.

Little did I imagine, when I began this research, the impact and devotion that James Eshelby evidently had upon the community of Waterloo, over 100 years ago. Perhaps we should regard him as the first member of the United Benefice of Waterloo!  There remain several questions unanswered; why did he seemingly change allegiance from St. Mary’s to St. Faith’s (and then back again);  did he maintain his friendship with Douglas Horsfall in later years and what of his early work with St. Nicholas’ church? 

Whatever further research may reveal, I will view those names commemorated at the back of church with new found respect now…just a few more names to go!

John Woodley

St Leonard's                                                                       Waterloo Constitutional Club building

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