Robert James Lees - Aston Associations

Robert James Lees


 

Aston Associations

Robert James Lees lived his younger teenage years in the Aston district of Birmingham. His family were members of the Congregational Chapel in nearby Erdington, and it was in the chapel's Sunday school class that Lees met Sarah Ann Bishop, his future wife 
 

 
   
Robert James Lees was introduced to Sarah Bishop by his older sister, Elizabeth. Sarah’s family also lived in Aston, in Victoria Road, just a few minutes’ walk from the Lees' home in Whitehead Road. The 1861 Census records Sarah’s father as Henry Bishop, then aged 31 years, and her mother as Esther Bishop, then aged 29 years. At the time of the census, Sarah had one younger brother, Alan, then aged seven years.

Henry Bishop, worked in the silver trade. Unlike William Lees, Henry appears to have been a very stable and reliable man, well respected in the large company for which he worked for many years. He tried to keep his fellow workers away from the `demon drink', and followed a path of caution. When Lees decided to move from Manchester to London, a few years later, Henry Bishop advised caution, warning the young couple that if they went against his advice, and fell on hard times, he would not bail them out.

 

J.T.Lees


James Thomas Lees

 

Memorial to Emma Lees

 

Memorial in Aston Churchyard to James Thomas Lees and his wife Emma Lees

 

Robert and Sarah were married in the Erdington chapel, on 17th December 1871, exactly one week before Sarah’s twenty first birthday. At the time of the marriage, the Lees family’s address is given as Whitehead Street in the Aston district of Birmingham, and William – still trying to earn a living - is described as a cabinet-fitter.

 

J.T.Lees Memorial in Aston Churchyard


Memorial to James Thomas Lees in Aston churchyard
 

 
It is possible that a commercial association was formed between the Lees family and Aston Villa Football Club. Spiritualist sources in Leicester claimed that Sarah, or Lee's mother, Elizabeth, made the strip for Aston Villa’s players. This is possible as Aston Villa Football Club started life as a Methodist church cricket team. 

In the early months of 1874, members of the cricket team belonging to Aston Villa Wesleyan Church, met to discuss ways of keeping fit during the winter months after the cricket season had ended. Club legend has it that this discussion took place as the team made their way home one day along Heathfield Road in Birchfield, the road that is now dominated by the Villa Park stadium. They decided to form a football team, and their first-ever football match was played in either March or November of that year. 

With the Lees family’s strong non-conformist loyalties, it is possible that some of the younger members of the family knew of the Wesleyan Church’s initiative, or were even involved.
Certainly, the family lived for several years in the neighbourhood of Aston Hall in Villa Park, and Lees’ sister, Mary, later ran a shirt factory in Birmingham. However, this particular trading activity must have taken place some years after Robert James Lees left home, because the club was not founded until 1874, when Lees would have been about twenty-five years of age. Aston Villa’s archives include early records of orders for a chocolate and blue coloured strip but no indication of the identity of the supplier.

What is certain is that one member of the Lees family, James Thomas Lees, later became a director of the club. There is a memorial to him in the local churchyard and an obituary notice for his wife in an early copy of the club’s magazine.  It is said that the Hutchinson family, the descendants of one of Lees’ sisters, continued the association with the football club for many years.


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© 2003 Stephen Butt