TRIBUTES have been paid to a well-known Wigan lecturer and businesswoman who defied the odds to forge a career in fashion.
Edna Ellison, who has died at the age of 80 following a brain haemorrhage, became a fashion designer before becoming a teacher at Wigan and Leigh College, eventually rising to the head of the school of art and design.
Her creative talents then found a new outlet when she founded her wedding dress business Creation, which is still going strong on Market Street after more than four decades.
Her family remembered how Edna, who was brought up in Higher Ince but lived in Whitley for many years, was driven to extraordinary lengths to achieve her ambitions by teachers and Wiganers who said her dreams were unrealistic.
Her son Ian, 55, said: “She was an amazing woman, she was so driven and determined and she would turn herself inside out to help people who were prepared to work.
“When she was at the college it wasn’t just teaching, she toured all the factories and manufacturing businesses around Wigan and the North West making sure her students got work experience placements. She also got an awful lot of them jobs.
“Her work was almost everything and she was so busy and active but as a boy growing up if I had any problems she would sort them out.
“She was quite a character and something of a force to be reckoned with, nobody wanted to tangle with her.
“She grew up during the Second World War and afterwards when everything was drab and grey and there was rationing, but at the end of the ‘40s and into the ‘50s new fashions, designs and colours appeared and that just captured my mum’s imagination.
“As a girl she wanted to be involved in fashion but she was told by teachers that was just nonsensical for someone from Higher Ince, you had to be from London or Paris to be a fashion designer. My mum took that really badly and it just really drove her to prove them wrong.”
Born in 1935, Edna left school at 15 and started working in a sewing factory, starting a night school course in pattern cutting at Warrington College two years later.
She later studied at Salford College on night-school courses, travelling into the city by train and bus several evenings a week, and after long years of out-of-hours study her persistence paid off and she became a fashion designer.
She rose to several head designer roles but eventually decided to change career and, after gaining a teaching certificate, started leading night classes in dressmaking at Aspull High School and Wigan and Leigh College, where she became a full-time lecturer aged 40.
She eventually became the college’s head of art and design, even teaching pattern technology in India during an exchange programme.
Her second career began in 1972 when one of her nieces asked her to design a romantic medieval-style wedding dress, with the resulting outfit gaining so much interest several other people began asking her for dresses for their big day.
Creation opened in 1974 and is run today by Ian and his wife Linda, having since branched out into evening wear, prom dresses and a wholesale operation which supplies more than 140 stores across the UK and Europe.
Despite her commitment to her job which often saw her work six days a week and put in 10 or 12-hour working days, Edna also found time to indulge her love of travel.
She and her late husband Roy left few corners of the world unvisited, with memorable trips including flying to Toronto on Concorde. She continued to travel with her partner David after Roy’s death in 2005, eventually going on 49 cruises.
Ian said she also enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her granddaughters Victoria and Charlotte.
He said: “She absolutely idolised her granddaughters and thought the world of them.
“She always spent time taking them places during the summer holidays and she taught them to paint, because she enjoyed anything creative or artistic.”
She suffered a brain haemorrhage in November and was treated at the acute stroke unit at Wigan Infirmary before she died on December 15.
Her funeral will be held in early January. She leaves her partner David, son Ian, daughter-in-law Linda and granddaughters Victoria and Charlotte.