by Andrew Moore


Various Ellis names regularly appear when reading about Leicester’s history. John Ellis and Edward Shipley Ellis, both of railway fame, Joseph Ellis of Ellis & Everard Ltd, and the seven Ellis sisters of Belgrave Hall are just a few, and it was a curiosity at the possible relationship between these names that was the start of this book. Not only was it soon established that they were from the same large Quaker family, but also that they had led far more meritorious and interesting lives than was at first known. What became apparent was the business enterprise and tremendous public service to Leicester shown by many members of the family, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century, and for these attributes alone the Ellises should be more widely known. This volume is an attempt to do just that.

Other local families have been involved in as many diverse industries as the Ellises, and excelled in service to the community (typical of many Victorian entrepreneurs conscious of their position in society) – the Gimsons, Everards, Pagets and Goddards are examples – and some local family concerns have been more nationally known such as Currys, Halfords and many shoe retailers. However, the Ellises are set apart because so many generations, spanning more than a century and a half, have been involved with a variety of such things as railway management, education, charities, finance, local and national government – as well as their own commercial concerns.

Like most of their self-made, business contemporaries during the expansion of industrial Leicester, the Ellises were Liberal Non-Conformists who helped shape the fortunes of the town following the reforms of local government in the 1830s. Their own particular religion helped their standing in society, the Quakers being renowned for their influence in the business and social world beyond their numbers. All this achieved through living by their principles of fairness and truth, peace, equality, simplicity and a need for social welfare to which it seems they adhered, promoted through their unique system of weekly and monthly ‘meetings’. The book has taken the form of short biographical accounts of the lives of the family members most associated with Leicester – some naturally more detailed than others because of the lives they led – and as part of their achievements, accounts of their business enterprises are included.

A myth surrounds one enterprise, however, that must be clarified. This is that the family had started coalmines near to Nailstone and Bagworth in north-west Leicestershire and built cottages for the workers which grew to become a village called Ellistown. This was, in fact, the work of a landowner from London called Colonel Joseph Joel Ellis who was completely unrelated. Coincidently, the Leicester Ellises did open collieries, but they were at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire. Clarification is also needed regarding a Leicester family that ran worsted spinning and hosiery businesses under the names of G.Ellis and F.Ellis, and had factories in Chancery Street, Newarke Street and Evington Valley Road. They also were unrelated, although, coincidently, some of the Leicester Quaker Ellises were at one time involved in the same trades. Presenting such a large family can be complicated and so for clarity the book has been divided into four sections to detail the four central characters – the brothers JOHN, JOSEPH, JAMES and ROBERT – and their main descendants. For ease of reference, these family members are shown on simplified family trees at the beginning of the book and at the start of sections 1 and 2. (A much more detailed chart is in appendix I.)

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Ellis of Leicester: A Quaker family's vocation © 2003 Andrew Moore, Laurel House Publishing.