"What I am I owe to Blackburn" was a favourite saying of Edwin Hamer's, and admirably sums up his intimate connection with the town, in which he had resided since 1859. Born at the village of War Office, near Heywood, on July 18th, 1838, he received his early education at a local dame school and when still very young worked as a tear boy at Bolholt Print Works. Coming to Blackburn at the age of twenty-one, he was first employed by William Stones, joiner and builder, who was one of the contractors for the erection of the town hall. He commenced in business on his own account in 1863, taking premises in Clayton-street, from which he removed to Back-lane. His partnership with William Salisbury as auctioneer and valuer began in 1871 and nine years later he entered the town council as representative of St. Mary's Ward. In later years he became chairman of Henry Livesey Ltd., Greenbank Works, and head of Edwin Hamer Ltd., Moorgate Mill, Livesey.
Known affectionately as the Grand Old Man of Liberalism in Blackburn, he splintered many a lance against his Tory opponents and though often worsted in the fray, never lowered his colours. A Gladstonian Liberal of the old school, he set himself the task of breaking the Conservative monopoly of representation in parliament, which dated back to 1886. Ultimately, in 1906, he achieved his object. I have vivid recollections of this notable election, when the Tory element sported colours of orange and blue against the pink and green of their adversaries. Hamer and Snowden were the progressive candidates and, though the veteran Liberal leader suffered defeat, his colleague, later to achieve fame as the "Iron Chancellor" of the Labour Party, was returned, together with Sir W. H. Hornby.
When Sir Edwin attained his jubilee as a member of the Blackburn Liberal Party, he was presented with an illuminated address, together with his portrait in oils, Lady Norman performing the unveiling ceremony at the town hall in the presence of some 1,200 supporters. He became a J.P. in 1892 and in 1899 attained the mayoral office at the request of a deputation representing all parties.
"Among the schemes favourable to municipal progress that have been forwarded by him during his mayoralty (writes his biographer) were the demolition of insanitary property between Blakey Moor and Duke-street, and the erection of new Court-houses, Police and Fire Brigade stations. In connection with the benevolent movement excited in Lancashire towns by the Indian famine, he opened a relief fund in Blackburn, which elicited wide support from employers and employed, the gratifying result of his personal endeavours, which entailed a large amount of work and time. The Transvaal war, which has recently imposed another demand upon public generosity by taking away many residents from Blackburn, and leaving wives and dependents without support, necessitated the opening of a fund which, at the time of writing, has been almost gathered. £10,000 was asked for and is nearly subscribed. To this object he contributed £150, instead of giving the customary dinner to the Corporation and townsmen."
In 1860 he married Rachael the daughter of Joseph and Alice Berry, of Tottington, by whom he had six children, five boys and a girl.
A pillar of nonconformity, being a staunch Wesleyan, Sir Edwin died at Braeside, Revidge-road, in November, 1915, aged 77 years. His knighthood had only been conferred upon him in the previous year.
By George C. Miller
The eldest son of George Pickup Hartley, provision merchant, John Henry Hartley was educated at Blackburn Grammar School. After being connected with his father's business for some time he and his brother acquired Alma Mill, Audley, under the name of Hartley Bros. Other mills at Preston and Darwen were taken over later.
In 1902 Mr. Hartley entered the town council as a Conservative for Park Ward, and he held the seat until he retired in 1914. At the time of his election Alderman William Thompson, the leader of his party, was having difficulty in finding a chairman for the gas undertaking, the management of which was giving concern. He at once accepted that position and held it throughout the whole of his council career, including the period of the gas strike in 1914.
After he had been on the council twelve months, he was elected mayor, declaring that it was every man's duty to devote some of his time to public service.
A generous supporter of the Church of England, Mr. Hartley died at his home, Beardwood Bank, Preston New-road, in August, 1942.
As I write, the question of town-planning is again very to the fore, and in this connection it is interesting to recall that a select committee of Blackburn town council proposed to sell the town hall. This was in furtherance of a scheme advocated by that forthright old Blackburnian Luke Slater Walmsley, writing under the pen-name of "Civicus." proposed, on the area bounded by King William-street, Northgate and Town Hall-street, to erect a new town hall, public hall and municipal offices, and in 1899 he went so far as to produce number of imposing architectural drawings showing the prop edifice, surmounted by a massive gothic tower, presenting a pinnacled facade towards Northgate.
It is now a matter of history how negotiations for the dispel of the present civic headquarters to the government as a General Post Office were begun. The two parties failed to reach a went, however, and subsequently the Darwen-street site was chosen by the postal authorities. Thus, to use the words of a contemporary chronicler:
" a building which makes no pretensions to architectural beauty erected, without the convenience of the public or the wishes of the corporation being considered at all."
This somewhat high-handed government action had a startling sequal. When the new G.P.O. was ready for opening, intimation was given that Mr. Sidney Buxton, the Postman General, was willing, if asked, to perform the opening ceremony. But he had reckoned without Blackburn's leading citizen. His worship the mayor, Alderman F. T. Thomas, firmly declined to offer any such invitation or to take part in the proceedings, which consequently were of a very perfunctory nature.
Born at Oxford, Mr. Thomas joined his father in the business of a cabinet-maker, which the latter established in the market place, when he came to Blackburn in 1861. Eventually his son suceeded him and carried on the business for over 20 years. He entered public life at a time when most men would prefer to shake off the burden of office, being sixty years of age when he took his seat as mayor in 1905. Energetic and businesslike, during his six years tenure of the mayoral chair he established several records. Besides being the only citizen ever to hold the office so long, a precedent was created by electing him as mayor before he had ever been on council, and then making him an alderman. He also had distinction of being nominated in his absence, owing to illness and he actually took the oath in his own home.
The Blakey Moor controversy was then at its acutest, and there were strong differences of opinion within the council, which only a firm and impartial chairman could control. When the late General Booth visited the town in July, 1907, the question of giving him a civic welcome was mooted. Apprehending that this would cause critical comment, Mr. Thomas steadfastly refused to yield to pressure and insisted that the visit would have to be purely a private ceremony. The affair created quite a sensation, and the mayor received many letters of congratulations on the stand he made.
As Blackburn's leading citizen, he attended the coronation when King George was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1911.
Mr. Thomas died in October, 1913, aged 68.
by George C. Miller
Although it was the old Blackburn Olympic Football Team, formed in January, 1878, some three years after the Blackburn Rovers came into existence, that first brought the Football Association Challenge Cup to the provinces, on no fewer than six occasions has the name of the latter been engraved upon it as a token of victory. The club was formed as the result of a meeting of two old boys of Blackburn Grammar School, John Lewis and Arthur Constantine in 1874, and their first ground was at Oozehead, near St. Silas' School. In 1877 they moved to Alexandra Meadows and ultimately, in 1891, to Ewood Park.
"The Olympic Team (writes their historian) was composed mainly of working men who had banded together as a kind of opposition to the Rovers, who were regarded as the gentleman's club. They defeated Old Etonians in the 1883 Final by 2-1, and in the next three successive seasons the Rovers repeated their performance, defeating Queen's Park twice and West Bromwich Albion. In the 1890 Final under the captaincy of Johnnie Forbes, the Rovers ran riot and defeated Sheffield Wednesday by 6-1 and in the following year the cup came to Blackburn again when the Rovers defeated Notts County by 3-1 at the Oval. The town had then to wait 37 years before it saw the F.A. Cup carried through its streets again and on this occasion in 1928, led by a Blackburn-born captain, Harry Healless, the Rovers won the first Wembley Final by defeating Huddersfield Town 3-1.
In 1891 Lawrence Cotton was appointed to the committee of the Blackburn Rovers and during his thirty years of active association this keen sportsman became successively director, chairman and president, in which several capacities he did much to further the interests of the team.
The son of John Cotton, he was educated at Blackburn Grammar School, entering the cotton trade in 1875. He commenced in business on his own account as a partner of the firm of L. and C. Cotton Ltd., Armenia Mill, and by 1899 the undertaking had also taken over Lower Hollin Bank Mill. He had a thorough knowledge of the trade and was for many years a large employer of labour in the town. In 1917 he accepted the invitation to become the borough's chief magistrate and for the ceremonial mayoral visit to the Parish Church in November the procession was the longest on record, a striking tribute to his popularity.
Generous to a degree, the objects of his bounty included Blackburn and East Lancashire Royal Infirmary, of which he was a life governor; Workshops of the Blind; Crippled Children's Home; Deaf and Dumb Society: Bent-street Ragged School; Wilpshire Orphanage; All Saints' Ragged School and Blackburn Convalescent Home at St. Annes. As one who spent a month in the latter recuperating from a serious illness, I can speak with feeling as to the admirable organisation and administration to which so many owe the recovery of health and well-being in that bracing resort.
Mr. Cotton supported the adoption by Blackburn of the ruined villages of Peronne and Maricourt after the first world war and wounded and disabled servicemen found him a generous friend. One outstanding incident in his term of office as mayor was when he auctioned a bale of cotton in the town hall for a sum of no less than Â£1,544. He was a churchman and had a long association with Christ Church, being at the age of nine a member of the junior Band of Hope, as well as a chorister.
By George C. Miller
The son of a soldier, Major John Higginson will long be remembered in Blackburn for his association with local music, for he was one of the founders of the Meistersingers and took part in several of their operas. In addition, he joined the St. Cecilia Society in 1882, was a member of the Parish Church choir and in June, 1893, was appointed local representative of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music.
He was born in County Waterford, Ireland, in 1850, and choosing law for a profession, served his articles in Barrow-in-Furness, being admitted a solicitor in 1880. Two years later he came to Blackburn as managing clerk for Messrs. T. and R. C. Radcliffe, of which firm he became a partner in 1890. A lieutenant in the 3rd Lancashire Artillery Volunteers (later to become the 1st East Lancashire Brigade, R.F.A., T.F.), by the time of his resignation in 1907 he had reached the rank of honorary major.
Major Higginson entered the town council as representative of St. Silas' Ward in 1898, serving in that capacity until 1913, when he was elevated to the aldermanic bench. In 1910 he was made chairman of the Finance Committee, and in 1914 as mayor he presided over the last council meeting to be held in the old council chamber in the Town Hall. One of the highlights of his period in office was a children's fancy dress ball.
He died on July 14th, 1924.
By George C. Miller
Samuel Crossley was a self-made man, who was admitted as a solicitor in 1884 and chose to practice in his native town. Whilst still a young lawyer he achieved considerable fame in connection with the dreadful gas explosion at the Crown Hotel in 1891, when he was called upon to defend the two brothers Robinson whose alleged culpable negligence was said to be the cause of the catastrophe. His magnificent pleading and the way in which he had prepared his case won the admiration of all, and had he desired, he could have been included among the leading advocates of that day. If, however, his renunciation deprived the bar of a brilliant member, it gained for the borough bench of magistrates a judical mind.
On the town council his first appointment was as a member of the Free Library Committee, of which he was made chairman in 1894. He was elected alderman in 1907, and held two periods in office as mayor, from 1911 to 1913.
"All he has done during his mayoralty (writes a contemporary), is stamped with thoroughness. Like Kingsley he takes extraordinary pains to be accurate in detail, and thus in the public ceremonials, for which he is responsible, leaves nothing to chance. The success of Lord Morley's visit was due in large measure to this characteristic. The proceedings m the Town Hall (where Lord Money was presented with the freedom of the borough), worked with the precision of the stage, and his worship's references to his lordship were in book-like phrase, giving the just estimate of the visitor in the world of letters and to statesmanship without the fulsome word. The same perfection of arrangement was seen also at the opening of the Sessions house."
Alderman Crossley was a Conservative and did yeoman service for his party but, although trenchant in speech, he was always scrupulously fair to his opponents. His leader, Alderman William Thompson, had many admirable qualities but he was no speaker. Nevertheless, there were times when a set speech was an absolute necessity in defence of the policy of the dominant party, and on such occasions Mr. Crossley was indeed a friend in need. It is the business of a lawyer to talk, and he could speak both well and to some purpose whenever the need arose.
Among other offices he held that of governor of the Grammar School and of the Asylums Board, as well as a member of the local committee of the Navy League formed in February, 1908.
A bachelor, Mr. Crossley died on October 31st, 1915.
By George C. Miller
Born in Dundee, James Taylor Thomas Ramsey began work before he was ten years of age and many years of toil in the weaving shed, the mechanic's shop and the newspaper office lay between him and his goal, that of becoming a family doctor. Finally, however, he won a scholarship at Dundee High School and subsequently entered the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh.
When he came to Blackburn in 1881, it was as assistant to Dr. Grime, whose surgery was in Water-street, and who was well-known as the local "Factory doctor," a duty he had inherited from the eccentric Dr. Skaife. At that time all prospective full-timers at the mill had first to be passed as medically fit by "th'owd Doctor," hence his name became a household word.
Here is a contemporary description of Dr. Ramsey as he appeared towards the end of last century. There were few townspeople who did not recognise the short, sturdy, frock-coated and top-hatted figure with the slow, stiff gait. He was a keen observer of men and affairs, often quick with incisive comment. That he was a strict disciplinarian many a defendant in the police court knew and his passion for accuracy and method was exemplified in the same sphere by the certain censure of witnesses who carelessly and wrongly read the oath. A prolific reader, he was never at a loss for an apt quotation. In some respects he was like the late Dr. H, A. Grime, known to a former generation as "Th'owd Doctor."
Dr. Ramsey was first elected as Conservative representative of St. Mark's Ward in 1896, he became alderman in 1908, was mayor in 1922-24 and retired from the Town Council in 1930. Both the Blackburn Scottish Society and the Dickens Fellowship knew him as their first president.
He died in May, 1937, aged 82.
By George C. Miller
One of the foremost among the men whose industry and enterprise made Blackburn what it is to-day was William Forrest.
He is mentioned in Baines' History of Lancashire, published in 1824, as a calico manufacturer with a house and warehouse at 36, Queen-street, a site now covered by the Sessions House. He was a native of Mellor, and began in business in Blackburn as a "putter-out" in the days of handloom weaving. He married Hannah, daughter of James Pemberton, yeoman, who farmed Pemberton Clough, a holding now occupied by Corporation Park and the Grammar School.
William Forrest was one of the first to recognise that the new parish of St. John was an excellent residential suburb. He built a house in Richmond-terrace (the line of which is marked on Gillies' map as West-street), next door to the present Chamber of Commerce. It is the third from the Northgate end and his initial "F" may still be seen on the head of the downspout. According to Whittle, Richmond-terrace was completed in 1838, and consisted of " twenty respectable dwellings of brick." Here he died in 1841 and was buried in the parish churchyard.
Sir J. W. Forrest was his grandson, the eldest-born of his son John. He was educated at the old Grammar School in Freckleton-street, under Thomas Ainsworth. At that time there were not the facilities for technical education now available, but the Blackburn School of Art and Technical Training (the forerunner of the Technical School) was conducted in rooms belonging to Luke S. Walmsley at Sudell Cross. Sir William was one of the first pupils, his teachers being George Whewell and C. P. Brooks. The latter wrote an excellent textbook on the subject of weaving, of which I possess a treasured copy.
In 1883 Sir William entered his father's business at Albert Mill, where for many years he proved himself a shrewd and farsighted administrator.
"In 1916 (says Shaw) he was chosen leader of the Conservative Party in the borough, both in and out of the council chamber, and he held both offices till 192, when pressure of business caused him to retire from the major post, but not till he had conducted the town through three strenuous parliamentary elections. Next to finance and the interests of the party, he has exerted himself in the cause of education, having been chairman of the Education Committee from 1919 to the present day (1931). In 1916 he became chairman of the War Pensions Committee, on its formation and it was for his war work, as a financier and organiser, that he was awarded the O.B.E. in 1920. This distinction was followed by a greater one when he was knighted in 1925. . . He had married in 1898, Alice Dugdale, daughter of William Carr and granddaughter of John Carr, who built Garden-street Mill. She gets her second name from her maternal grandfather, John Dugdale, the iron-founder."
Among other positions he was governor of the Grammar School, Girls' High School and Convent of Notre Dame, and a trustee under the Peel and Leyland foundations. His portrait, painted by a Blackburn artist, Thomas Cantrell Dugdale, A.R.A., was unveiled at the Grammar School and presented to him by his fellow-governors on April 17th, 1941. It was afterwards hung in "big school."
He died on May 6th, 1951, aged 84, and his tombstone is among those which were removed from the Cathedral Close when it was converted into a Garden of Rest and are now carefully preserved in the transepts.
By George C. Miller
An ex-mayor of his native town, an industrial and political leader, church worker, musical enthusiast and sportsman, these are some of the attributes of John A. Ormerod, only son of Benjamin Ormerod, who was born at Blackburn in 1863. A Liberal of the old school, he succeeded the late Sir Edwin Hamer as president of the Blackburn Liberal Association in 1816, holding the office for a quarter of a century. His father was a radical and took him to a husting on the Wrangling in 1876, where he received his political baptism of fire, for the proceedings ended in a riot and cavalry from Preston had to quell the disorder.
As a boy of nine he went to work for the firm of John Dugdale and Sons, but three years later left the mill to go to school, his father realising that he had a son of no mean capacity, and entitled to the best education the family budget could afford. For five years he attended Dr. Isherwood's school of science, thereafter returning to factory life, his father being manager of Dugdale's Cherry Tree Mills. When the latter retired in 1892 he was succeeded by his son, who later became managing director of all the firm's interests.
He entered the town council in 1921 for St. Silas' Ward and was mayor of the borough from 1927 to 1929. In his first year of office he had the satisfaction of seeing Blackburn Rovers win the F.A. Cup at Wembley, sitting with the present Queen Mother, then Duchess of York, in the Royal box. A Presbyterian, he was associated first with Mount-street and later with St. George's Churches, having the distinction in 1926 of attending the historic conference at Oxford to discuss the question of the federation of the Free Churches. The formation of the Blackburn Amateur Operatic Society, later merged with the Meister Singers, was one of his earlier exploits.
"One feature of his early life (says J. G. Shaw), may be recalled, for all musical men in Blackburn who are old enough will remember how he organised an amateur performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's - Patience' at the age of 21, himself taking one of the leading parts."
He was also a member of the Vocal Union and was never tired of urging that Blackburn should have a Little Theatre of its own, for the benefit of amateurs.
Mr. Ormerod died at his home, North Bank, Wellingtonstreet St. John's, in April, 1947, aged 83.
By George C. Miller
Native of Galway, F. J. Greeves was educated in Dublin, qualifying as a doctor in 1892. Coming to Blackburn three years later, he succeeded to the practice of Dr. Bastable in Larkhill and soon acquired a reputation for brilliant diagnosis.
Politically minded, although attached to no particular party, in 1900 he was returned as Independent councillor for Trinity Ward and continued on the town council until his death, being appointed alderman in 1922 and mayor in 1938. As chairman of the Health Committee he rendered outstanding service based on his own practical experience and he took over the chairmanship of the Public Libraries Committee in July, 1927, on the death of R. J. Howard. In 1935 his portrait, the gift, of a local artist, Hubert Wilkinson, then resident in Luton, was unveiled in the Art Gallery.
Throughout his whole career he never lost his love for sport and was keenly interested in both football and cricket. He was also an honorary member of the Rechabite Order and an ardent supporter of the Camera Club. His religious associations were with St. Peter's Church, and it was largely owing to his agitation that Belper-street Baths were erected.
He died in February, 1945, on his 75th birthday.
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The life of George Hindle, co-founder with his brother Ephraim of the great firm of E and G. Hindle, is moulded in much the same pattern as that of the senior partner. Born in 1858, he had, like his brother, a life-long connection with Furthergate Congregational Church, where for 54 years he was actively engaged in some official capacity, being either deacon, superintendent of the Sunday School, secretary or teacher. He laid the foundation?stone for the new institute in 1927.
"For fifty years (says J. G. Shaw) he was a partner with his brother in the cotton trade, starting in the capacity of mill manager at the age of 20, while his brother attended to the business side of the partnership. As a practical workman and mill manager he took a large personal responsibility in introducing new looms and new textiles to meet the evergrowing requirements of the trade in the course of half a century. . . About trade revival he was somewhat pessimistic, and in 1928 warned the public not to accept at their face value the statements that were being made about improvement. An address he gave to the mill managers of Blackburn in March of that year created a profound impression, but it was not till after his death that the departure of England from the gold standard justified his pessimistic outlook and revolutionised the financial basis of the trade of the world."
He died in 1929, leaving a widow, three sons and four daughters.
By George C. Miller