Three generations of James Sparkman lived in Southampton in the mid-nineteenth century. The eldest was baptised in Holy Trinity, Gosport on 26 December 1781. He married Sarah Finch at Alverstoke in September 1801, with five children baptised in Gosport between 1802 and 1811. He became a tide surveyor in HM Customs, supervising teams of customs officers (or tide waiters). He retired in 1844 whilst on station in Sunderland. The marriage in Durham of his elder daughter Sarah in November 1832 suggests a long residence in the north east. On retirement, James moved to Southampton. He is listed in directories between 1845 and 1849 as a custom's agent of the Floating Bridge Tavern, 31 Chapel Road. He later moved to 5 York Place (Northam Road) after marrying Edith Beckett at Holy Trinity Church in November 1848. It was his third marriage. The 1851 census describes James as 'superannuated tide surveyor'. He died at his residence on 9 January 1854.

His eldest son, also James, was baptised at Holy Trinity, in Gosport on 15 November 1802. In 1828 James is living, with his wife Sarah, in Middle Bridge Street, Romsey as a cabinet maker and upholsterer. The first four of nine children were baptised in Romsey Abbey: Martha (1 March 1828), James Joseph (13 December 1829), Walter Nathaniel (21 March 1832) and Sarah Matilda (27 October 1833). Subsequent baptisms were in Winchester: Joshua Joseph (9 December 1835), Emma (24 November 1837), Frances Deborah (6 October 1837), Jessie Hamble Finch and Clement Glasspool (both 18 October 1844, but Jessie was born in Chilcomb about two years earlier. The first three were baptised in St Maurice's Church, the latter two in St Lawrence's. Each of the baptism entries describe the father either as a cabinet maker or upholsterer. Two Winchester addresses are known for the family: a house and land at Chilcomb acquired in November 1839 for £300 (Hampshire Archives and Local Studies 26M82W/1/14: he is still here in the June 1841 census) and a tenement in the Square leased from the Corporation (Hampshire Archives and Local Studies W/F3/362: his voting qualification in June 1841, and vacated in late 1843).

James is now described as a builder (first recorded in November 1839) and an auctioneer (1841 census). He was auctioneer for the sale of 11 newly-erected freehold houses at Winnall in March 1840. He was the builder of choice for James Robbins - printer and bookseller - in his development of the 'Western Vale', including St James's Terrace, St James's Crescent and other houses westward to the top of the lane (Hampshire Chronicle, 5 December 1908). The development was a financial disaster for both promoter and builder. Robbins was declared bankrupt in 1841 and Sparkman was, by December 1841, an insolvent debtor in the county gaol in Winchester. Prison was a salutary experience for James. In a letter to the Hampshire Independent, 25 December 1841 he spoke of the privations of poor debtors in the county gaol, their only subsistence from the county being one and a half pounds of bread per day. “They are charged with no crime except poverty – and probably arrested at the suit of some merciless creditor, prompted to prosecution by the advice of some avaricious lawyer”. Issues in dispute between Andrews and Sparkman were referred to the arbitration of three surveyors (London Gazette, 30 July 1841 and 14 February 1843). Richard Andrews purchased land in St James's Crescent in the receiver's sale of Robbins' property in March 1844. The sale included Agenoria Villa, Providence House and an entrance lodge later extravagantly remodelled as the Pagoda, Andrews's weekend residence in Winchester. It is probable that James Sparkman was their builder.

The Sparkman family had moved to Southampton by 1846: the death of James's wife is recorded here in the July quarter. The 1851 census finds James at 1 Frederick Place, near York Street, described as a joiner but appearing subsequently as a cabinet maker. We lose track of him in Southampton in September 1852. In the 1861 census he is a foreman upholsterer in Deptford Green, in the heart of the east London docklands.

James Sparkman III - the eldest son - followed his father as a carpenter and joiner, running his own carpenter's business from South Front, Kingsland, following his marriage in Holy Trinity Church (14 September 1852) to Mary Jane Lumsden, daughter of a shoemaker. The family moved in the mid-1850s to Poplar in London's dockland, where James continued - with his son - his occupation as a carpenter. James III died in 1885.

A contributor related to the Sparkman family has been in touch to give us more information about the first James's descendants. His daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1811, married Thomas Seymour on 26th May 1837 in Sunderland and lived at Walker, Newcastle on Tyne and South Hylton, Sunderland. Thomas was a shipbuilder on both the Tyne and the Wear, and built a number of ships at Walker and North Hylton between 1849-57. He was killed by being run over by a train at Tyne Dock station in 1864. Mary Ann died at South Hylton in 1884. As with Mary Ann's sister Sarah, this suggests strong ties to the north-east, and also to maritime industries.


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