Discover more from Secret Sleuths
The detective and the clairvoyant
A frustrating investigation into a private detective and his relationship with a woman of mystery...
One of Harry’s adverts in the Gloucestershire Echo, 1911 (via British Newspaper Archive)
I've come across a lot of cases involving private detectives and mediums in Edwardian England - where the detectives were charged with posing as paying customers in order to expose individuals committing fraud as fake clairvoyants. However, in this case, the detective had a more personal relationship with the clairvoyant - one which is steeped in mystery.
The private detective in question was Harry Makepeace Sparrow, who in 1911 advertised his services in the Gloucestershire press under the name of Harold M Sparrow. Harry - under this more 'grown-up' name - highlighted his experience in the Army Training Corps and Canadian military
The same year as these adverts, Harry is listed in the census, although he does not seem to have actually been at home at the time. The census for his residence, at 44 Royal Arcade, Weston-super-Mare, was filled in by his wife, and she listed his details under hers.
She was Madge Collea, a clairvoyant and palmist who had been working over the past 10 years. Her surviving press adverts show that she largely performed in the Somerset and Gloucestershire areas, with stints in Bristol and Weston, where she had long lived. What is of interest in the 1911 census is that she was two decades older than her husband - 45 to his 24 - and that they had been married less than a year. Madge entered her name as Madge Sparrow, but there is no record of a marriage between Harry Sparrow and Madge Collea.
An advert placed by Madge Collea in the Gloucester Citizen in 1909 (via British Newspaper Archive)
What I know of Madge is that she was the widow of Paul Collea, who she stated had died in Ashford, Kent, in 1902 (although the couple were already living in Weston-super-Mare at this time, so he was away from home when he died). The 1901 census records her as boarding in South Wales with her two children by Paul - Douglas Paul (born in Leicester in 1885) and Audrey Norah (born in Weston-super-Mare in 1900). Paul Collea is not with her in 1901.
Weston-super-Mare, where Madge Collea lived, and where her daughter was born
There is no marriage for a Paul Collea, and neither children's births were registered - certainly not under the name of Collea or its soundalike, Collier. It seems probable that Collea was a stage-name used by Paul and Madge, and thus by their children, but despite searching for the children's births under their first names, places and years of birth, I have not been able to find out what any original surname might have been. Madge gave her place of birth as St Leonards-on-Sea in 1911, and as the nearby Hastings in 1901, but again, I have not been able to find her elsewhere with these details.
Harry's origins are somewhat clearer: I believe he is the Harry Sparrow who was born in Islington on 23 May 1887, the son of John Sparrow, a wood turner turned art designer from Northfleet, and Jane, born and bred in Islington. The 1891 census shows the family living at 12 Tremlet Grove in Islington, with, at that time, four children, of whom Harry was the youngest. Also with them was John Sparrow's widowed mother, Ellen.
Harry is not on the 1901 census, nor did he sign the 1911 census, although by this time, Madge had recorded him as an enquiry agent, working for himself, and so he might well have been out and about on commissions when the census was taken. Madge recorded that she, her new husband, and her 10-year-old daughter Audrey were all living in a three-roomed apartment in the Royal Arcade (any kitchen would have counted as one of these three rooms, as would a living room).
During World War 1, Harry appears to have enlisted with the Canadian forces, which ties in with his prior experience there, as noted in his 1911 job adverts. But his relationship with Madge does not seem to have lasted. The 1939 Register records him living in Stretford, Manchester, with a wife named Agnes. Agnes, like Madge was older than Harry - although in this case, only nine years. Harry had now given up the detective game and was working as a refrigeration salesman, while Agnes was a canteen cook. But the couple also had a 24 year old son - Harold Makepeace Sparrow, a hotel waiter. He was born in April 1915, so only four years after his father was allegedly living with wife Madge.
I can't find a marriage of Harry with Agnes either (the only birth of a Harold M Sparrow I can find for the right time gives his mother's maiden name as Archer; there is no marriage of a Sparrow and an Archer online), and the 1921 census does not record an Agnes and Harry Sparrow living together.
This is all a rather longwinded way of saying that there aren’t always neat answers when you try and investigate private detectives and their lives or relationships. I still don’t know who Madge Collea really was - or her husband - and I can’t trace her or her children further. But if you know anything about her and her family, do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading Secret Sleuths! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.