I failed to ask the right questions at the right time, and ended up with vague and conflicting information - a classic family history mistake.
Was she born in Manchester or Bolton? There were stories that her mother had been a matron, with some Irish connections; that Alice was orphaned and her uncle went off to America with her money and never called on her to join him, as arranged.
Nor could I trace Alice in the 1891 census when she would have been 6 years old. The 1901 census did not move things forward - there was an Alice English, born Bolton aged 17, so born c.1884 living-in domestic servants at Stockport. This could well be my grandmother, but does not help with any more information on her family.