Chris Sparrow, great-grandson of William Sparrow, made contact in 2015 to find out what was known of William Sparrow of Irene (70) Station Road. We had little to go on, other than that the outbuildings behind Irene were his builder’s yard, that he was advertising his services in the Herts Advertiser in 1890 (along with Henry Salisbury), and that the death of his daughter, Florence Mary aged 12 was registered on 7 April 1895.
Further research has traced William’s birth in Kettering in 1845, but by the 1851 census his father Samuel Sparrow, a [stone] mason, had moved with his family to Wrawby in North Lincolnshire, and then in 1861 the family were in Attercliffe, Sheffield where both father and son were listed as bricklayers. In the 1871 census William was still in Attercliffe as a builder and contractor. He had married Elizabeth Norton of Wellingborough in 1866, but she was absent for the census and their three year old son was being cared for by a house-keeper. In 1881 the family, now with two sons, had moved south to Rushden near Wellingborough, and by the 1891 they were settled in Irene, Station Road, Harpenden, with a growing family.
We can therefore deduce that William Sparrow moved to Harpenden by the mid 1880s, when the building boom following the sale of Packe & Pym lands in central Harpenden in 1882 was getting underway – and this is confirmed in a display advertisement in the Herts Advertiser of 25 September 1886.
Meanwhile, Chris Sparrow mentioned that William had been granted a patent for gas-lit shop-front illumination in 1888, and that his most important installations were for shops in Liverpool Street Station – of which it seems that no images survive.
However, repainting of Thorns shopfront at 3 High Street in the spring of 2017 has revealed “W Sparrow, Patentee, Harpenden”, and although the fascia has been altered, the apertures for light-fittings survive. There are similar corbels, first floor windows and brick detail on the eaves at 3 and 7 Station Road, but we can only speculate whether William Sparrow was responsible for building these shop premises. Illustrations showing details of the patent and of other possible shops which might have been built by William Sparrow are at the end of this page.
An active businessman and would-be politician
In 1895 William Sparrow had sold land ‘near Station Road’ to Harpenden School Board for £750 for the building of the Victoria Road Schools, designed by Arthur Anscombe. A search of the newspaper archives has revealed that William Sparrow was the contractor for the new Harpenden police station in Vaughan Road from 1897 to its opening on 30 September 1898 – for which he received £1850 ‘on account’. In 1895 he had sold land ‘near Station Road’ to Harpenden School Board for £750 for the building of the Victoria Road Schools, designed by Arthur Anscombe. In March of that year he had stood as a candidate for the newly constituted Harpenden Urban District Council, proposed by William Hitchcock and Henry Steers – the main ‘developer’ of the St Nicholas Estate. At the ‘hustings’ for the HUDC elections for the ‘parishioners’ of the old Parish Council, William Sparrow “gave an amusing description of the types of men whom he thought were wanted on the new Council”. He was evidently a known character in the town, despite being a relative newcomer (Herts Advertiser, 2 April 1898).
However, just as he would appear to have been at the height of his business achievements, William Sparrow had, by the time of the census of 1901, moved from Irene to Sparrowswick, on Bernard’s Heath – then in the parish of Sandridge. He was still listed as a builder and employer, with his eldest son Henry working as a carpenter. Yet within a year William Sparrow died at Gombards in St Albans and was buried in Harpenden on 27 June 1902. A small notice was placed in the Herts Advertiser on 12 July 1902 by his solicitor, requiring anyone who had claims against him to make contact within the week. On 12 August his son Henry announced the Sale by Auction of the whole of his father’s building plant and materials.