A while ago someone got in touch with me to ask whether I knew how Miss Sarah Barlow, who gave £8000 for a church to be built in Clarendon Park, happened to have the money to do so. I didn’t know, so I did a bit of digging.
Sarah’s parents were Lemuel Barlow (c1750-1801) and Rebecca Morris (c1764-1826), who married at All Saints on 4th November 1782. They had eight children – Mary (1783-1825), John Clay (1786-1863), Ann (1788-), Sophia (1790-), Elizabeth (1793-), Sarah (1796-1801), Robert (1799-1853) and Sarah (1801-1886). Our Sarah was the youngest, born just three months after her older sister of the same name died in 1801 aged 4. Lemuel died in November of the same year, aged 51, so Sarah never knew her father. He was buried at St Margaret’s.
Rebecca remarried after 18 months. Her second husband was William Bosworth. Rebecca and the younger Barlows moved to Sanvey Gate, where Rebecca died in 1826. After Rebecca died Sarah moved into the home of her eldest brother John Clay Barlow, who was a coal and timber merchant who also owned properties in Rothley and Leicester which he rented out. They lived at Horsefair Street between 1841 and 1849 and at Prebend Street from 1851 to 1853. By 1861 John and Sarah lived at Leamington, which is where John died – unmarried – in 1863 aged 77.
Sarah was extremely attached to John and clearly missed him badly after he died. She dedicated a window to John at St Mary’s, Knighton. In 1878 she paid £600 for a new lifeboat to be built and named the “John Clay Barlow.” This was one of two National Lifeboat Institute lifeboats funded by Leicester benefactors and stationed at Hartlepool of all places. In 1881 the John Clay Barlow saved the life of three men from the schooner Thomas and three men from the Yorkshire Lass, which had run ashore near the Beacon Rocks. However Sarah’s most glorious memorial to her brother was the erection of St John the Baptist Church. I have sometimes wondered who chooses the saint to which a church is dedicated. It’s pretty clear in this case isn’t it. St John…
As an aside, Sarah’s second brother Robert seems to have been a much more interesting character. He was just two years older than Sarah and emigrated to America soon after the death of his mother, but not before establishing Barlow’s Rooms, a well used venue for meetings and lectures of all kinds including in 1838 the first public lecture of Owenite Socialism by E Nash. Robert was an elected Freeman’s Deputy and was active in trying to end the misuse of the Freeman’s income from Freeman’s Common. He died in Virginia in 1853.
After her beloved brother died, Sarah lived alone apart from servants. She rented and lived at 5 Upper King Street, opposite Holy Trinity Church, from 1882 until her death. No wonder she felt inspired to build a beautiful church after having to look at Holy Trinity all the time, which is surely one of the ugliest churches ever erected.
As well as founding a lifeboat and a church, Sarah established an almshouse in Knighton Drive to accommodate 4 poor women of good character, although she didn’t name it the John Clay Barlow almshouse. Sarah died after a short illness on 7th May 1886 aged 84. Her funeral quite rightly took place at St John the Baptist on 13th May. The weather was very poor and the congregation was small. The Leicester Journal described the funeral in some detail – the 90th psalm was sung, as well as the hymns Jesu, Lover of My Soul and O God, Our Help in Ages Past. Sarah’s body was placed in a polished oak coffin with brass mountings in the family vault at St Mary’s churchyard. The Leicester Journal published Sarah’s obituary, describing her as “a lady whose name is well known as one of our local philanthropists…a most munificent contributor to the various charitable institutions in the town.”
Sarah does seem to have been a bit of a character. Despite her wealth – she died with an estate worth over £47,000 even after building churches, boats and almshouses – she always lived fairly frugally with just one or two servants. One of these was Elizabeth Hall (c1825-), whose mother Frances was remembered in Sarah’s will to the tune of 19 guineas. After many years of service Elizabeth herself was in line for an annuity of £20 a year until Sarah revoked the bequest, perhaps because of some falling out. Just before her death Sarah decided to give Elizabeth Hall £460 instead. Sarah changed her will five times before she died, including giving her great nieces and nephews the princely sum of £100 each. She took those £100s straight from the pockets of The Society at Leicester for Indigent Old Age, The Leicester Infirmary, The Leicester Dispensary, Mr George Muller’s orphanage at Bristol, the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society – all originally line for £100 each and all revoked in 1879.
The rest of Sarah’s estate – mainly real estate at Earl Shilton and Leicester – went to Charles William Cooper (1842-1899) of Leicester, except for £5000 which was placed in trust for ten blind women of good character. Charles was for many years honorary physician to the Leicester Infirmary. I haven’t been able to find a family link between Sarah and Charles but it would make sense if he was a great nephew.
If you have reached the end of this and wondered why I still haven’t answered the question of how Sarah become possessed of enough to build St John the Baptist church, let me tell you that it’s because I don’t know. Sarah’s father Lemuel didn’t leave a will that I can find and there is little else to say about him except that I imagine he was a well off manufacturer of some kind, as his sons certainly had money and property. When John Clay Barlow died in 1863 he left his sister £25,000 but Sarah amassed at least the same amount by other means. It may well be that she lived so frugally that her income greatly exceeded her expenses. Whatever the case, it’s a great thing that she built a beautiful church for Clarendon Park.