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Who do you think you are, Ralph Rylance?

How much do we know about the man largely credited with the establishment of football in our town? Actually, quite a lot….

Ralph’s parents James Leather (Born 1821) and Margaret Rylance (Born 1813 in Wigan) were married in 1837.

They had three Children.

  • Elizabeth Leather was born in 1838.
  • James Leather was born Q1 1840.
  • Ralph Leather was born in Q3 1842.

On the 1841 Census (taken on 6th June 1841) James Leather(1821) was listed as the head of the household whilst his wife Margaret however was unusually not listed. The address was Bradford House, Middleton, Great Lever, Bolton.

Living with him were his children Elizabeth(1838) and James(1840), Ellen Rylance, sister of wife Margaret and Mary Rylance, presumably mother in law (born 1781).

Their third child, Ralph Leather was born Q3 1842 in Prestolee, which is a small village in Bolton, Lancashire.

Father James however had died before Ralph was born, in the first quarter of the same year.


On the 1851 Census (taken 30th March 1851), Margaret Leather was now listed as the head of the household following her husband’s death.

Son James is listed (as an Errand Boy aged 11), as is Margaret’s sister Ellen Rylance and Lodger Isabella Miller.

There is however no reference to either Ralph or sister Elizabeth.


In 1855 Margaret remarried, this time to James Whalley, a Cotton Spinner (Born 1813 in Habergham Eaves). She became Margaret Whalley.

James already had two children of his own; James Whalley (born 1841 in Oswaldtwistle) and Elizabeth Whalley (born 1844 in Oswaldtwistle). They are both listed on the 1861 Census(taken 7th April 1861) as Power Loom Cotton Weavers.

Ralph (Leather) makes his first appearance on the census records aged 18 as part of the same household. His occupation is listed as Attorneys Clerk. Brother James and sister Elizabeth are not listed amongst the household.

Their address was 52 Harwood Street, Blackburn.


Ralph Leather married Margaret Parkinson in Q4 1863 and they had their first child Mary Ellen in Blackburn in Q2 1864. Her birth was still registered with the surname Leather.

Jane, their second child, was born in Blackburn in Q2 1866. Four years later (Q3 1870) their third child, Charles, was born and was registered as Charles Leather Rylance.

Indeed by the time of the 1871 census the whole family had had extended their name to include his mothers Maiden name, Ralph himself becoming Ralph Leather Rylance. Why Ralph did this we do not know.

Following the death of her second husband his mother Margaret (Whalley), now aged 56 was living with them in Cambridge Street, Blackburn.

On January 1st 1881 Ralph Leather Rylance, now a Solicitors Clerk, registered a provisional specification with the office of the commissioners of patents.

His invention received Provisional Protection only but was for “Improvements in the formation of floors or surfaces to be used for the purposes of games of football, bowling, lawn-tennis, racquet, croquet, or similar games, and for creases used in the game of cricket”. What he had attempted to patent was the first artificial multi-sport playing surface.

He went on to  have a number of other children.

  • Walter Leather Rylance was born Q3 1872.
  • Fanny Leather Rylance was born Q3 1874.
  • Margaret Leather Rylance was born Q4 1876.
  • Ralph Leather Rylance was born Q4 1878.

The 1881 census (taken on 3rd April 1881) showed their address as Carlton Villas, West Park Road, Bolton. Margaret Whalley (Mother) was still listed at the home, along with Sister In Law Mary J Potts (Widow).

Daughter Mary Ellen and son Charles were not listed and later that year (Q3 1881) James Arthur Leather Rylance was born.

It was around this time, November 1881 that Southport Football Club played their first game. James Arthur Leather Rylance’s birth was not registered in Southport suggesting that they hadn’t yet made the move. This can be backed up by the fact that Rylance played for Blackburn Law against Southport in one of the earliest games.

We know already that the successful establishment of a football club in Southport was at least in some part down to Ralph and his move from Blackburn to Southport is confirmed in later census records. After only a few games Rylance indeed appeared for Southport, as captain, suggesting the move can not have been long after the birth of his latest son.

Whilst contrary to what has been reported over the years the switch in codes can not have been under Ralph’s guidance (there is a big difference between the change being driven by him, and it having already happened and him helping to establish it). It is more likely that the trigger may have come from Thomas Blundell Burnett, a former Welsh International goalkeeper who lived in Southport (99 Railway Street).

Rylance’s move to Southport had certainly happened prior to 1884 as in Q3 1884 his latest son Randolph Leather Rylance was born in Birkdale. Ralph’s mother, Margaret Whalley, unfortunately died at around the same time.

In Q4 1886 Ida Leather Rylance (child number 9!) was born.

The 1891 Census (taken 5th April 1891) lists the family at 126 Eastbourne Road, Birkdale.
Ralph’s profession on the 1891 census is listed as Oakum Manufacturer.

His Daughter Jane is listed as “Governess” which is a girl employed to teach children in a private household. Her sister Margaret is also listed as a Pupil Teacher.

Walter is a Book Keeper Cashier with the remaining children still of school age.

An article in the London Gazette on January 8, 1897 concerning his business interests reads as follows:

“Notice is hereby given that the partnership hereto-for subsisting between us the undersigned Ralph Leather Rylance and Francis John Goldsmith Medd carrying on business as Oakum Manufacturers at the Mersey Oakum Works, numbers 13 to 23, Naylor Street in the City of Liverpool under the style or firm of Rylance Medd and Co. has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the first day of December 1896. All Debts due to and owing by the said late firm will be received and paid by the said Ralph Leather Rylance – Dated this day of 15th December 1896”.

It appears Ralph had decided to go it alone!

The family still lived at the same address in Birkdale in 1901 and the census of that year (taken 31 March 1901) shows that daughters Mary and Jane had changed profession and become Confectioners. Margaret was still teaching, listed as a “Board School Teacher”. Her sister Fanny also shared her profession. James Arthur had joined his father Ralph as an Oakum Manufacturer

The 1911 Census (taken 2nd April 1911) suggests that Ralph made quite a success of himself. They had moved to 14 Westbourne Road in Birkdale and had a General Servant called Florence Robinson living with them. Ralph’s occupation had changed to Oakum Manufacturer and Merchant, presumably now running his own company with son Walter listed as a Salesman.

Ralph Leather Rylance died on 30th January 1915 aged 73.
He left his estate, worth £9073 17s 5d to his wife Margaret

Margaret Leather Rylance died on 13th May 1917 aged 75.
She left her estate, worth £10,063 1s 7d, to sons Walter (Laundry Manager), James Arthur (Oakum Manufacturer) and Randolph (Commercial Clerk)