Robert James Lees - Sarah Lees

Robert James Lees


Sarah Lees

Sarah was a tremendously strong supportive wife. Lees, in his preface to The Life Elysian wrote of her:

“Then I married, and the one beside me who has ever been as the angel of a holier presence – without whose patient suffering and encouraging assurances all must have been so different to what it is.”

Lee’s autobiographical novel The Heretic is dedicated to Sarah as “the best and most inestimable earthly gift, a devoted and heroic wife.’  This dedication is accompanied by an Appreciation in verse:

As ever this first to my beloved
If every wife were like to thee
Earth might the Life Elysian be
And Paradise be Heaven.
Alas for earth, this is not so!
God’s angels rarely come. They go.
To me His best was given

Young Sarah Lees

Young Sarah, at the time of her marriage to Robert James Lees (1871)


There are several further references to Sarah in The Heretic, which all underline the support she gave her husband and the strength he derived from her:

 “He married and gained no little consolation from his wife’s ardent encouragement to continue his studies.”


Sarah Lees at Lionel's wedding

Sarah Lees at her son Lionel's wedding. This portrait is `signed' Philips & Lees (this being her son Claude's studio).


During their years in the Aston district of Birmingham, the Lees family attended the Congregational Chapel in Erdington, and it was in the chapel’s Sunday school class that Lees met Sarah Ann Bishop. Lees’ older sister, Elizabeth, introduced them. Sarah’s family also lived in Aston, in Victoria Road, just a few minutes’ walk from the Lees in Whitehead Road.


Sarah Lees at Lionel's wedding

A portrait at the time of the wedding of Lionel to Jessie Thorne (26 December 1899)



Sarah Lees - A formal portrait

A further study of Sarah at her son Lionel's wedding. This portrait is also `signed' Philips & Lees (this being her son Claude's studio).


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. 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 on the 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 they fell on hard times, he would not bail them out. Robert and Sarah married, at the chapel, on 17th December 1871, exactly one week before Sarah’s twenty first birthday. 


Sarah and Robert - formal portrait

Another formal studio portrait, probably by Claude Lees.


Sarah's obituary

The report of the death of Sarah Lees (Mrs R.J.Lees), and her funeral, from the Ilfracombe Gazette and Observer issue of Friday 23 February 1912.


Sarah and Rovbert - Atmospheric portrait

A wonderfully-lit portrait of Robert and Sarah. The date and location is not known, but comparison with other photographs would suggest 1900-1912

Sarah and Robert

Robert and Sarah Lees, c. 1900.


At the time of Robert James Lees’ marriage, his 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.

Robert and Sarah’s first child, a son whom they named Norman, was born in the Birmingham area in 1873.  Soon afterwards, the couple, with their young son, left their respective families and moved to Manchester where a new era in their lives began.

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© 2003 Stephen Butt