THOMAS BOYS LEWIS was born at Billinge House, Blackburn, in 1869, being the youngest child of Thomas and Ann Lewis. Educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge, he graduated first class in the Classical Tripos, entering the cotton trade in 1892 in association with his brother Henry. Before he finally retired into private life, he had guided the firm's destiny for 28 years.
In his early days he attended at the Technical College as an unpaid teacher of Latin and Greek, but his largest educational gift to the town was the Lewis Textile Museum. Opened in 1934 it represents the development of the cotton trade over the past two hundred years, and contains many objects of historical and antiquarian interest, including working replicas of Hargreaves' Spinning Jenny, Arkwright's Water Frame, Crompton's Mule, and several primitive handlooms, all in suitable settings, with period furniture and figures in period costumes.
The preservation of Samlesbury Hall is another achievement due to his generosity and public spirit. The hall and grounds were originally offered to him for the sum of £1,500 but he refused it, not thinking there was sufficient public interest in such matters to warrant its preservation as a monument of olden days. It was then purchased by a Blackburn firm of builders, who prepared to demolish it. Ultimately the Blackburn Society of Antiquaries issued an appeal for funds, and altogether, including the cost of restoration, over £5,000 was spent. The fabric was restored under the direction of Mr. Frank Morton, in accordance with old drawings obtained by Henry Whittaker, Esquire, from the British Museum and elsewhere. For exhibition purposes Mr. Lewis lent a unique collection of cabinets which illustrate the development of this particular article of furniture in various countries over a period of four centuries. For seven years he wrote annually a historical play to be produced in the Great Hall before the 'Friends of Samlesbury'. He also called in an old school-fellow, Sir Charles Holmes, formerly Director of the National Gallery, to paint a series of ten oils and thirty-three water colours with which to decorate the walls.
'This ancient manor house of Samlesbury (wrote J. G. Shaw) with its credulous stories of ghosts and a genuine priest's hole, its true stories of trials for witchcraft and the tragic history of a knightly family who suffered for their adherence to the 'old religion' at the time of the Reformation, is described by Abram as 'one of the most complete and interesting examples of early domestic architecture in the North of England'. Its oldest portion, the Great Hall, has stood for nearly 600 years and there are traces of the moat by which it was originally surrounded. The oak timbers with which the walls are framed are interesting specimens of mediaeval domestic architecture and as a piece of antiquarian interest there is nothing to compare with fit, except Hoghton Tower, in the neighbourhood of Blackburn.
'In 1830 it had degenerated into the condition of a wayside inn; in 1850 it was a boarding school for young ladies. Joseph Harrison bought it in 1862, and with the best advice available in his day, restored it as a residence for his eldest son. It stood empty for a while after the death of William Harrison, but thirty years ago it was occupied by Mr. Fred Baines, of Blackburn, when he was High Sheriff of Lancashire. Another period of neglect and dilapidation followed and in 1925 the hall and land attached to it were offered to Mr. T. B. Lewis. . .'
Poet no less than scholar, his 'Meditations of a Cotton Spinner', published in 1929, contains much memorable verse, with an intimate note that will appeal to every native of the borough. At the Centenary of the Consecration of the Parish Church in 1926 he took a prominent part in its organisation, wrote over half the episodes and designed a model of the church showing how transepts and choir could be added to form a cathedral.
Mr. Lewis was twice married. His first wife, formerly Miss Hilary Coddington, a talented artist in her own right, died in 1936; his second wife was Mrs. Mary Alice Smalley, widow of Henry Smalley. Thomas Boys Lewis died at Oak Hill, Whalley, in September, 1942, aged 73. He had one son.
In 1946 Edward Hart, the son of a local manufacturer, left the town his personal collection of 500 fine books and manuscripts and more than 6000 rare coins: a large selection of these artefacts is on permanent display in the Hart Gallery. The illuminated manuscripts date from the mid-13th century to the early 16th century. There is also a small group of finely illuminated manuscripts from Persia and Arabia. Hart's interests extended to all forms of the written word and he acquired Egyptian hieroglyphs, a single leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, rare books printed by William Caxton, early copies of Shakespeare plays, and a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer.
He was well known as a benefactor, making donations worth more than £60,000 to the town.These included gifts to churches, scholarships and endowments.He gave £35,000 to the Town Council towards the purchase of the Witton Park estate. At a meeting in which the Council recorded its thanks to Mr. Hart, it was described as the greatest gift in the history of the town. The Mayor, Alderman J. Charnley remarked that it was "an occasion for the town to rejoice in having such a worthy citizen."
Robert Edward Hart was born in Blackburn in 1878. He was the eldest son of the late Thomas Hart, JP.
He was educated at Horris Hill School, near Newbury, Rugby School and Pembroke College, Cambridge.
He took his MA degree with honours in mechanical science and was made a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
He was Chairman of the family business. This was Thomas Hart Limited, an old established firm of rope makers founded by his forebears in 1789. In 1925, he extended the premises on Lambeth Street and it became a limited company in 1928.
Although he was of a retiring nature, he did a great deal to foster trade and commerce in Blackburn. He was the Chariman of the Chamber of Commerce in 1922-23. In 1917, he succeeded his father as Treasurer of the Guardian Society for the Protection of Trade. He also served on the Library and Education Committees, as well as being officially connected with the Blackburn Auxiliary of the Church Missionary Society for 27 years until 1944.
He was a keen member of the Blackburn Society of Antiquaries. He was a Fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society, and had a fine collection of rare coins, together with a wonderful collection of early books and manuscripts.
R. E. Hart died,at his residence, Brooklands, West Park Road, in September 1946 at the age of 68. On his death, his estate was valued at more than £370,000.
After his death, his coins, books and manuscripts were given to Blackburn Museum, where the Hart Gallery commemorates this magnificent bequest.