Thomas Spencer (7TH November 1851 to 25th July 1905)

 

Can there be anyone in the western world who hasn’t visited a Marks & Spencer’s store? My mum liked their stuff so much she bought nearly all her clothes from there. When she died my dad found mostly M&S stuff in her wardrobes (including 20 dark blue skirts.)

 

A few years ago I found the grave of Michael Marks in a Jewish Cemetery which had no sign and wasn’t easy to find (see link below…

 

http://www.johnhalley.uk/Grave%20-%20Michael%20Marks.htm

 

On a recent run into the Staffordshire countryside I decided to go have a sandwich and coffee at the church in Whittington where his business partner Thomas Spencer is buried. My belly was rumbling when I arrived at the quite churchyard amid suburbia. I decided I’d only have something to eat as a reward for finding the headstone. This can sometimes take 30-50 minutes however I found it quickly and was able to guzzle peanut butter sandwiches quickly.

 

To say M&S in now a retail colossus not much is known about Thomas and there’s only one photograph of him on the internet. He was born in Skipton in Yorkshire and through his thirties he worked as a cashier for a wholesaler called Isaac Dewhirst. Aged forty he married Agnes in Leeds and two years later a business opportunity arose. One of their customers was a n ambitious Jew called Thomas Marks who was needing to spread his commercial wings. He asked Isaac Dewhirst if he’d like to form a retail business but Isaac refused and suggested one of his employees Thomas. Thomas agreed and they formed Marks & Spencer. Thomas invested his savings of £300 to cover his half of the business which in 1894 was worth £8600 today.

 

They were a winning combination: Thomas was inside running the office and warehouse and Michael Marks was outside running the series of market stalls . In the early years Thomas’s was probably the most effective in that he’d used built up many vital contacts while working for Dewhirsts. He dealt directly with manufacturers he already knew personally and was able to levy steep discounts.

 

Soon they were to open stores in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Bristol, Hull, Sunderland and Cardiff. Things were so healthy he was only 45 when he oversaw the building of a new huge warehouse in Manchester. This would become the honeypot around which the empire buzzed, supplying thirty-six branches. Soon they had stores in Wales (Swansea) and they ventures down south and soon had seven branches in big London.

 

In 1903 aged 51 the £300 investment was worth£15,000 (about £1.5 million in today’s money) and he retired. Both the M&S founders passed on their thriving business to their sons but neither got to enjoy a long life. Michael Marks died of a heart attack aged 51 and Thomas died aged 54. How did this Yorkshire man end up lying in a grave in Staffordshire? He and Agnes bought a farm in Lichfield to fulfil a long-held dream but it only lasted for three years and he died aged 54 (even though it say 55 on the headstone). Agnes returned to her roots in Middlesborough and outlived her husband by 54 years.

 

As usual I had a stroll around the cemetery. I’m drawn to war graves and there was a clump of them together. I always look at the name and age of the deceased and do a salute. I’ve been gawking at these war graves for years but never seen one so young - one poor lad was sixteen years old - sixteen! He must have lied to have joined up. I was a naïve greasy spotty lad at school when I was sixteen. I had done the Rubik’s Cube once by then but never been up a ladder. Poor kid (see last photograph.)

 

 

He’s here somewhere…

 

 

Initially M&S would have had a stall outside Leeds Market…

 

From small starts…

 

The grass has been mown around the cemeteries famous resident…

 

Strolling by the war graves…

 

…I spotted a sixteen year old….sixteen!