Routledge / Spark

Catherine Routledge married Matthew Spark in Aspatria on January 21st 1903. He was born in Coxhoe, County Durham in 1876, but his family all moved to Harriston while he was very young. The 1881 census shows him as one of five children; father John was a coke burner.

After their marriage, Catherine and Matthew lived with her widowed mother Elizabeth at 12 Harriston, Aspatria. They had two children, Marjorie born in 1903 and James Routledge Spark born in 1908. They are all there together in the 1911 census as well as Catherine’s younger brother William, who works in the mine with Matthew (both are coal hewers*).

Matthew enrolled in the 5th Battalion Kings Own Border Regiment. It is recorded that he was first recruited into the volunteer force in 1898; full-time occupation is a collier, employed by Mr Harris (the owner of the Aspatria Brayton Domain Colliery). Matthew’s army records list his distinguishing features as a tattoo on his left forearm, of a “female figure and two flags”.

His decorations list includes a medal for active service in the Transvaal in South Africa during 1901 (known as the Second Boer War). From XXX onwards he attended annual training camps including some in Wales and Yorkshire.
He was promoted in 1906 to the rank of sergeant. In 1910 he was awarded the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal, which was awarded to enlisted men of the Territorial Force for 12 years service. He was awarded the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and finally the Distinguished Service Medal was awarded in January 1916.

[information 6/1/2010]: Joan used to visit a pub in Aspatria as a child, to see “Uncle Jim” which was Jim Spark, in fact her father James Forster’s cousin. Joan also remembers Uncle Matt (Matthew Spark), who won the medal, and there was a big plaque commemorating his medal. Her father used to tell the story of how Matt got the medal, in the trenches he had saved the lives of dozens of men after he noticed a bird falling unconscious nearby, and recognising the signs of poisonous gas. He quickly instructed everyone to lower their heads as close to the ground or water as possible, and so avoiding the worst of the gas. He of course had learnt this during his experience in the mines, seeing birds used for this purpose.

He was sent to France in October 1914, not to return until March 1916.
His discharge in 1916 names him as “acting CQMS M Spark”. (CQMS in the British Army is the Company Quartermaster Sergeant, a non-commissioned officer in a company who is in charge of supplies).

His army pension records show that he was discharged and pensioned due to chronic rheumatism at the age of 40, in 1916. He continued to be part of the reserves.
It states that he was in the French trenches during the winters of 1914 and 1915, and was “constantly wet. Rheumatism in shoulders, thighs and feet. At times his ankle joints swell. Result of active service, exposure. Permanent. 75% debilitating.”
The army medical records are quite detailed and he continued to be assessed on a regular basis for several years. His condition seems to improve over time, amongst other comments it mentions that “Teeth defective and deficient – a pre-war condition. No swelling or creaking in any of joints” and “symptoms entirely subjective” and by 1920 it says that “the board considers that alcohol is a factor” and he was now only 5% debilitated, and all joints were normal.

Matthew Spark died on 27th January 1953 at the age of 76, and is buried in St Kentigern’s cemetery in Aspatria quite near the main door. Catherine died the following year on 29th July 1954.

Matthew and Catherine’s son James Routledge Spark was the witness and best man at the wedding of Sarah Elizabeth Routledge’s son James Forster to Irene Elizabeth Blain in 1932 (Jim Spark was the cousin of James Forster).
Jim Spark is listed in the 1954 directory living at 28 St Mungo’s Park, and died in May 1990 aged 82.

Marjorie Spark married Thomas Holden in early 1938, and died in 1976.
The listing compiled for the 1954 Cumberland Directory shows Matthew Spark’s address as 89 King Street Aspatria, also at this address is a Thomas Holden – so it can be presumed that Matthew lived with his daughter and son-in-law prior to his death.