Will Sley (William Swire)

1860 July 16 – born William Swire, to Elizabeth Swire. Elizabeth Swire was widowed in 1855 and was aged 43 in 1860, so it is possible William was actually the child of one of Elizabeth’s children, perhaps Eliza who was only 12 and went to live with her uncle and aunt shortly after.

1860 September – baptized at St James church, Oldham, father’s name not given, mother is Elizabeth, recorded as “bastard.”

1861 April – census – living with mother and sister Elizabeth and 4 lodgers in Oldham.

1871 April – census- living with mother and half siblings Edwin and Elizabeth in Oldham

1881 April – living with mother and half siblings Joseph, Eliza, Elizabeth a grandchild and a lodger at 57 Brunswick Street, Cheetham, Manchester. Aged 20, occupation given as traveller M/J.

1883 Married Edith Ellen Hardman at St John the Evangelist, Cheetham

1886 William and Edith’s first child Constance is born in Manchester. William’s occupation is “traveller”

1889 September – Will Sley advertises for equestrians, gymnasts, acrobats, wire walkers, jugglers, big novelties and sensational specialties of all kinds. Must be A1.

1889 October – Will Sley advertisement in The Era as proprietor of the Northern Variety Agency, 35 Frances Street, Ardwick, Manchester.

1889 December – Will Sley advertisement in The Era “novelty merchant and premier Manchester agent, contracts for Tarro and Yeddo, Wire Walkers, Brothers Allright, oriental jugglers” 35 Francis Street, Ardwick

1890 February – William and Edith’s second child Harold is born in Manchester. William’s occupation is “commission agent.”

1890 October – Will Sley starts advertising Tarrosan, King of the Slanting Rope. Oxford Street, Manchester.

1891 January – February – Will Sley representing the “Original Tycoon Japanese Troupe (5 in number, real Japanese)”

1891 April – census – William and Edith are living at 35 Walmer Street, Rusholme in Manchester with Constance and Harold and a servant. William is a theatrical commission agent.

1891 December – advertising himself as “Sir” William Sley with over 100 big novelties

1895 July – Tarrosan/Arthur King Tarro falls off the slackwire and is permanently paralysed. Will Sley writes to The Era to advertise a subscription fund for him and Lily. 13 Peter Street, Manchester

1895 November – The Era update on the subscription fund for Tarro. Sley has already paid Lily £47 and hopes to collect £100.

1895 November – December – Sley is representing Kyoto, a Japanese contortionist

1896 February – December – Will Sley is representing the Condos

1898 April – December – Sley representing the Condos, Japanese foot equilibrists, also Ala Coma, juggler

1899 January – February – has own company performing pantomime

1901 April – census – living at 8 Sefton Road, Chorlton cum Hardy, with wife Edith, Constance and Harold and a servant. Agent variety and arts

1903 November – 1905 – proprietor of Hippodrome, St Helens

1904 -April – Lessee of The Grand, Manchester

1920 – Theatre properietor

1941 – February 9th – dies at St Annes on Sea, Lancashire aged 80. Obituary in the Kinematograph Weekly says William Swire, known as Will Sley, was a pioneer of the twice nightly music hall and one of Britain’s first film exhibitors. After beginning as a variety and circus agent in Manchester he became the director of 27 music halls and 17 kinemas including in Paris and Belgium.

“He was a much travelled man, and early in his kinema career adopted the maxim that it was necessary to see in the flesh the film stars he booked for his halls. “Individuality counts for everything in the kinema,” he said, and ensured that his managers and staff treated patrons not as customers so much as friends dropping in for an evening’s entertainment. He made many improvements to both to his kinemas and to his bookings by personally approaching patrons and asking for their frank and candid opinions and advice.”

He left over £60,000 (over £3m in present day value).