Desk followed Sheffield Telegraph's Edwardian pioneer Emily Spencer on her journey around the world

The desk that once stood in the Sheffield Telegraph offices and now belongs to a family in Toronto, Canada
The desk that once stood in the Sheffield Telegraph offices and now belongs to a family in Toronto, Canada

More than 3, 000 miles from Sheffield, a little piece of history and its journey across the world over 100 years has proved fascinating.

A Canadian man has been in touch about a desk owned by his family that was presented to an Edwardian woman who worked for the Sheffield Telegraph.

The plaque on the desk presented to Emily Spencer by her Sheffield Telegraph colleagues

The plaque on the desk presented to Emily Spencer by her Sheffield Telegraph colleagues

Rob Wilkins, who lives north of Toronto, got in touch about the desk, which has a plaque on it showing that it was a leaving gift to Emily Spencer from staff at the Sheffield Telegraph, “on her resignation after 21 years in token of sincerest regard” and dated March 1898.

Rob wrote: “We’ve had it in our family since the early 70s. Prior to that, it was used in the offices of Toronto Brick. I’ve no idea how or why it ended up here.”

Rob is selling the desk, reckoned to be worth £100-200 by the Sheffield Telegraph antiques columnist Michael Dowse.

Research by Rob’s cousin Donna Gagnon of WeGoBack family research (website: and his sisterJudith Erkkila show the following.

Emily Spencer was born January 14, 1858 at Gringley on the Hill, Nottinghamshire to parents Charles Henry Spencer (1821-1869) and Mary Pasley (1823-1902).

She appears in her home town on the 1861 and 1871 England census with her parents and siblings.

By the time of the 1881 England census, she’d relocated to Ecclesall Bierlow, and appeared on that year’s census with her widowed mother and brother William.

They were living at Montgomery House, Sharrow Lane. It’s on this census where Emily’s occupation is noted as ‘news office assistant, Daily Telegraph’.

Emily, her mother Mary and niece Amy (daughter to Emily’s brother Charles) are listed in the 1891 England census in Ecclesall Bierlow.

Emily’s occupation at that time was noted as ‘newspaper clerk’.

Following Emily’s resignation from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, it appears that she started up her own employment agency for domestic servants.

A number of advertisements appear in the Daily Telegraph from 1898 to 1901 for Miss Spencer’s Free Registry.

By 1901, perhaps due to a decline in her mother’s health, Emily had left Ecclesall Bierlow and was listed with her mother on the 1901 England census back in her birthplace.

Also listed in their household was Charles A Whiteley, a 54-year-old visitor whose occupation was noted as ‘gentlemens’ private secretary’. Research shows that Charles A Whiteley was the nephew of Sir William Christopher Leng ,the Telegraph’s editor and part owner.

Whiteley was Leng’s private secretary. His mother was Anne Leng, Sir Leng’s older sister.

Emily’s mother Mary Spencer died in 1902 and in 1905, Emily married Charles Adam Whiteley.

Sadly, Charles died on September 1, 1907, aged 60.

A Sheffield Telegraph report of his death said: “About three years ago Mr Whiteley left Sheffield, and settled at Cleethorpes. He never enjoyed very robust health but the bracing air of Cleethorpes seemed to agree with him, and on recent visits to Sheffield he said how well he was. A fortnight ago, however, he was taken seriously ill, and although he rallied, and appeared likely to recover, he had a relapse and passed away on Sunday evening.”

Emily was granted probate of his £1837 5s. 11d. estate the following month.

After the death of her husband, ship’s passenger lists show that Emily travelled to Canada a few times to visit her brother Charles, who had moved to Canada with his family in 1903. At some point after 1909, Emily made the decision to relocate to Canada.

She appeared on the 1921 Canada census living at 19 Morley Avene, Toronto in the household of her niece, Amy Eliza Spencer Pearce and family. Emily Spencer Whiteley died in Toronto on July 31, 1936 at 70 Ivy Avenue.

-If you’re interested in buying the desk from Rob, email him at