13 Nov 1842 - 14 Apr 1935

Sarah around 1870's
Photograph courtesy of Oldham Local Studies and Archives

Dame Sarah Lees
Blue Plaque on Sarah's marital home
photo courtesy of Jennifer Lever


Monument to Dame Sarah Lees, situated in Werneth Park
photo courtesy of Jennifer Lever
Dame Sarah Lees (was Buckley)

Sarah was the youngest daughter of John and Sarah Anne Buckley, of Carr Hill, Mossley.  She was tutored at home.

She married Charles Edward Lees of Werneth Park on the 30th July 1874 at Heaton Mersey Chapel.  The wedding party consisted of 12 private carriages and the church was filled with spectators and whose who could out get a seat spilled out of the Chapel and into streets, to see the bride arrive and the well to do wedding guests. The bride wore white satin with a wreath of orange blossoms and a veil made of Brussels lace.  Her brother Frederick escorted her down the aisle.  Mr Lees best man was James Watts.  The reception was held in the family home at West Bank.  The couple honeymooned in the south of England, in Leamington.
The coachmen and footman 26 in all were treated to an excellent lunch at the Bleachers Arms, where they all toasted the newly married couple.

The couple settled in at Werneth Park, Oldham. During the next twenty years,  they had two daughters, Dorothy (1876) and Marjory (1878),  the girls were home tutored, Dorothy took up the violin and Marjory the piano, the family went on Mediterranean cruises, and visited Charles' father Eli who had retired and lived in Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park, London.

Sarah and Charles had just celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary, when Charles was taken ill and within the week, he died.

The Lees women were besides themselves with grief at the loss of a beloved husband and father.  They left and went to Eastbourne, finding no solace and missing home.  Dorothy and Marjory went to boarding school but left after a year because they were homesick.  In the spring of 1896 and 1897 they all went to Italy.  In the autumn of 1897 Dorothy was seriously ill but she eventually recovered.

According to the Probate Office dated 27th October 1894, Charles left Sarah, Dorothy and Marjory nearly 890,000 to be divided three ways, excluding land and property.

Sarah in her own words:

   "I feel it my bounden duty to spend for the good of the town where it was made, and for the benefit of those by whose labours it was acquired".

She gave to Oldham several recreational grounds and and continued to support the Nursing Association and Oldham Hospital, which Charles had supported before his death.  Along with various workshops, she created scholarships at the Grammar Schools in Oldham, with she interest in education her first public roll was on the Education Committee in 1902.  Sarah founded the beautification of Oldham society.  She was continually receiving correspondence asking for donations to a variety of charities or causes.

Elected in 1907, Sarah at 65 was the first woman Councillor elected in Lancashire, representing the Hollinwood Ward as Liberal.

She received the Freeman of Borough of Oldham in Nov 1909 (first woman), then the following year became the first female Mayor, only the second woman in Britain. As Mayor her Mayoress was her daughter Marjory.  During her time in office as Mayor the Tramway Service was involved  in  a Strike  and when resolved  the public  were concerned  when the trams  would  be  running  again, it was  Sarah  who  drove the  tram through Oldham  so that the tram would be  in the right place for the right  time.

She gave a statement to the Press in Nov 3rd 1910 regarding the escalation of anti-government policy of the Suffrage movement.

     "I am convinced that anti-government policy in Oldham would seriously      injure the suffrage cause".

Neither she or Marjory supported the militant side of the suffrage movement.

On the 18th June, 1913 National Union of Womens Suffrage organised a walk from Lands End to Hyde Park to highlight the movement this was to be a peace procession through the country.  The North West Region started at Carlisle and Marjory lead the Oldham contingency.  Most of the women were on foot, some ladies rode horse or bicycles, pony traps were used for luggage.  Sarah read in the newspapers that the women on the walk were being stoned and pelleted with rotten food.  Sarah send two gardeners to make sure Marjory was safe, she drove down and join the women to support them.

Sarah was created a Dame in 1917 in recognition of her work during the First World War.

She retired from public office in 1919.

Oldham celebrated Sarah's birthday each year until her death. 

Although Sarah did not give interviews after her retirement in 1933 a reporter appeared on her doorstep and wanted to interview her, not about politics but her love of Jigsaws.  He was invited in.  Sarah was not as active as she had been, housebound and she did not play cards, she did enjoy doing Jigsaws spending between two to seven hours a day on them.

When Sarah died in 1935, according to Probate she left around 24,500.

Werneth Park which was her home from her wedding day to her death, was given to the people of Oldham by her daughter and granddaughter.

1897 - National Council of Women (Oldham Branch) - President

1902 - Co-opted Woman representative on Education Committee when 1902 Act came into force, and serve on that Committee for a number of years
1907 - Elected on Oldham Borough Council as a Liberal Councillor for Holliwood
1910 - Elected Mayor
1910 - Freeman of the Borough in March
1913 - Alderman in November
1914 - LL.D (Hon.), conferred by Manchester University, 14th July
1917 - Created a Dame of the British Empire.

Last updated 13th August 2017


My thanks to the staff of the Oldham Archives,
The Lees Papers
A History of Oldham by Hartley Bateson
Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester by Terry Wyke
The Internet
Wiki/PMSA/A history of Oldham
Find my Past

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