The Northwich Mill & Daniel Whittaker (1720-92)
The Cotton Twist Company of Holywell
caution !! this is an initial draft ... these notes are on my server for safe keeping !!
The Whittakers, beginnings in Macclesfield.
Daniel Whittaker Senior (-1763) on September 27th 1713 married Elizabeth Scragg at Prestbury, Macclesfield. They had twelve children including Martha (1713-); Daniel (1720-92) and John (1721-). Both Daniel and John became big in cotton. The family lived in Hurdsfield, just outside Macclesfield before moving to Ardwick around 1733. Nothing was known about their business interests in Macclesfield nor why they left? However much was written about the Macclesfield merchant environment around this time. John Corry told the story of the innovations of the freemen of Macclesfield which were helped by competitive Huguenot 'strangers', who established a formidable trade in silk buttons from around 1650. And a little after Daniel Whittaker left Macclesfield Charles Roe in 1744 started to build his first silk throwing mill by the side of the fast flowing Bollin, at Park Green.
Father Daniel's parents and siblings have disappeared into the mists but a Robert Whittaker (1747-) erected a cotton mill Manchester Street, Ashton in 1791. His son John Whittaker (1776-1840) was born in Oldham and married in to the Wallwork family in 1801. He was associated with the Hurst cotton mills in Ashton and became a major employer in the early 19th century. No link has been established with this branch of the family?
Daniel and Elizabeth were both buried in Macclesfield, probably returning there to retirement, after handing over the business to sons Daniel & John ...
Daniel and Elizabeth had children; Martha, Daniel and John -
Martha Whittaker (1713-) married William Thackeray (-) in 1738. William was prominent in Manchester textile trade. He was steward to Sir Oswald Moseley of Ancoats and the had a son Joseph (1740-), a cotton spinner and Boroughreeve of Manchester in 1801.
Daniel Whittaker (1720-92) was born in Hurdsfield, Macclesfield, and married Esther Boardman (1733-1813) at Manchester Parish Church in 1756. It was Daniel's initiative which was behind the aborted proposal to build a cotton mill on the riparian site by the River Weaver at Acton Bridge.
Daniel and Ester had fifteen children including -
William (1760-1816) of Manchester, merchant, formerly of Bradford, married Sarah Buck (1760-1837) who was from a Unitarian family from the West Riding, in 1786. The Manchester Mercury notice of the marriage suggested a Daniel not William Whittaker was involved! William inherited his dad's business in 1792, which went bust in 1793 ... William sired the only surviving Whittakers from this branch of the family. William died aged 56 a broken man.
John William (1791-1854) married Mary Haughton Feilden in 1825, they had nine children. The Rev John William Whittaker was vicar at Blackburn from 1822 until his death in 1854. It was John William who assembled the Whittaker letters and secured a remarkable legacy ... John William was a brilliant student at Cambridge and went on to a successful career in the Anglican Church which was summarised by Dr Derek Beattie in 2008.
Daniel Junior (1764-91) The Bath Chronicle reported the
Daniel in Lisbon. Interestingly at the time he was betrothed to Sarah White
the the daughter of the noted Manchester surgeon Charles White. The
Whittakers and the Whites were neighbours in Manchester and Peter Holland
(see below) served his apprenticeship with Charles White. The closeness of
the network of Manchester businessmen was remarkable ...
Daniel was a partner in the family business until his early death in 1791.
John (1763-94) was also a partner and overseer at Holywell.
Sarah (-) married Benjamin Satterwaite (-) from a Lancaster Quaker family
Mary (1769-1840) was baptised on 25 January 1769 at St Mary's Manchester. Mary became governess with the Holland family and later the second wife of Peter Holland (1766-1855), a Knutsford Surgeon, and they were married on 21 January 1809 at Walcot in Somerset. Peter was a considerable man, a second cousin of Charles Darwin (who was also Josiah Wedgwood's grandson), a pioneer of occupational medicine, and advisor to Samuel Greg at The Quarry Bank Mill and to the Leycesters of Tabley. Stella Davies tells of Dr Holland's attention to those in need in mid-Cheshire and also confirms that his enterprising son was the Henry Holland who wrote at length about Cheshire agriculture in 1808.
Peter & Mary were blessed with a famous niece; Elizabeth Gaskell (see below)
Daniel Whittaker (1720-92). Richard Reynold knew of several descents from the Holland family of Mobberley and Knutsford, so knew of Daniel as the father of Mary (1 Jan 1769-5 Aug 1840) who married Dr Peter Holland as his second wife. Peter Holland's son Henry, by his first wife Mary Willets, was the one who wrote about agriculture in Cheshire and became a Baronet: a great deal of information about him and his remarkable life is available online and elsewhere.
The Whit(t)aker family name was common in the north of England. We know of Mary Whitaker (ca 1707-1769) who married John Roberts at Leeds parish church on 10 May 1731? They lived in Norwich and changed their surname to Robberds. Their great-grandson was the Rev John Gooch Robberds (1789-1854) who was William Gaskell's senior Unitarian co-Minister at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester, was married to Mary Turner whose mother was a Holland (and knew many of that family) and was my 3xgreat-grandfather.
Martha (-) married Francis Sharpe, a noted music master in Knutsford.
Frances (-) married Thomas Broadhurst (-) a Unitarian minister. The pair moved to Bath and opened a girl's school, Belvedere, and they wrote considerable about girl's education.
Thomas (1767-67) died in his birth year.
Thomas (-1803) died in Agra ...
At St John's in Knutsford there was a monument inscribed -
'Esther Whittaker, widow of the late Daniel Whittaker of Manchester, died January 26th 1813 aged 80. Mary wife of Peter Holland, Surgeon, died August 5th 1840 aged 71 and Catharine, daughter of Daniel and Ester Whittaker, died August 30th 1844 aged 85 years.'
Hunter's 'Familiae Minorum Gentium', Harleian Society, Volume 37, MS 133, page 301 reports that Mary Whitaker's father was incorrectly recorded to be Jememiah Whitaker and this name has been perpetuated in Burke's Peerage and elsewhere? ...
Daniel died in 1792 and left a will - Daniel Whittaker, Lancaster, Lancashire, February 1793 - Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills Index 1750-1800 - Society of Genealogists. The death of Daniel Whittaker was followed in 1793 by bankruptcy and the sale of his seventh part holding in the Holywell Cotton Twist (Manchester Mercury, 1794).
Esther and the girls escaped to Knutsford and in 1794 set up a school for young ladies.
John Whittaker (1721-) married Mary Gilbody in 1748. John had a son Cousin Daniel (1754-1810), a Cotton Broker in Liverpool. John and cousin Daniel were business partners with Daniel Whittaker & Sons. The Manchester Mercury reported the death of cousin Daniel in Liverpool.
In 1750 the Whittaker family were strictly comfortable merchant class. They were not preoccupied with plight of the working poor nor the dramatic events of the French Revolution. But the constant disruption of trade due to war and peace was bewildering ... how were they to get on with the job? The rush of modern living confronted change and painful communication with annoyance, how were the new mill masters to make any money? Nevertheless politeness and polished manners were social staples on which business and propitious marriage depended (unmarried or widowed daughters were a serious problem for the successful extended family unit). The Whittakers like most folk, tried their best ... but how did they get to Macclesfield?
Perhaps they started in Yorkshire, like the Milners of Pudsey & Nun Appleton?
Leyland Whittaker summarised some of his research in notes on the family in 2013.
From Macclesfield to Ardwick in the 1730s.
There were sound commercial reasons for the move of the family from Derby to Stockport in 1732 to start silk throwing. And around this time silk throwing was also underway in Macclesfield spurred by the switch from silk to metal buttons which decimated the traditional Macclesfield manufacturers.
By 1744 Charles Roe, a new comer Macclesfield via Wem, Castleton & Stockport, was leading the new throwsters in Macclesfield ... but by then the Whittakers had left ... were they displaced silk button merchants or manufacturers, leaving a sinking ship for pastures new in Ardwick?
A fascinating insight into the complex interactions involved in the burgeoning trade of East Cheshire around this time can be gleaned from 'A Georgian Gent & Co - the Life & Times of Charles Roe' by Dorothy Bentley Smith, 2005. The Touchets were friends of the Whitakers -
'The connection between certain Manchester merchants and Macclesfield was well established by the 18th century. One particular Manchester merchant Samuel Tochet, in partnership with Joseph Hague , built up what today would represent a multi million pound business in the cotton trade. Touchet was on the committee of the Africa Company, and because of the enormous export business was able to provide currency exchanges for other merchants trading abroad and for the public in general. Relying on the enormity of the business, Touchet foolishly did not diversity, and by 1761 found himself well and truly bankrupted despite a last minute dash to London by his brother, who succeeded in raising a subscription of £100,000 in two days'.
As a merchant from Macclesfield Daniel would have been trading in not only buttons but also cottage thrown silk, Irish linens from Chester and cottons and hair ... a very general and diversified trade ... (but that was before the cotton rush and the exciting temptation to put all his eggs in one basket ... a failure to learn from the Touchets error of 1761?)
Certainly the move from Macclesfield was prior to the expiry of the Arkwright patents and the new opportunities in cotton. But Manchester was already the trading centre of the region ... most likely the Whittakers were ambitious cloth merchants and Manchester was Mecca?
The Whittaker business premises & the winter home of Daniel & Daniel Junior was at King and/or Brown Street, off Market Street with a warehouse in nearby Marsden Street. William also leased an out of town farm at Mosside, free from grime and the stench of failed sanitation. They also retained their large home in the fashionable village of Ardwick Green. At this time supposedly the home of the various spinster aunts and sisters.
James Wheeler suggested that 'the products of the loom' formed an important ingredient in Manchester trade from early times as the fabrics were 'well adapted to the climate' and dying and fulling on the banks of the Irk were known from the 14th century. Furthermore 'voluntary immigrant traders from the low countries settled in Manchester' and 'the town became distinguished for its trade in linens and woolens'. 'The bitter fruits of religious & political rancour in France & the Low Countries, conduced to a wonderful degree to our aggrandisement by compelling the most industrious people to settle here'. Manchester just grew and grew ... 'in 1720 the town was described as the largest, most rich, populous and busy village in England having about 24,000 families and enjoying a great home & foreign trade'. However in time 'the dearth of yarn became and insurmountable impediment to the growth of trade' and 'eventually operated so perniciously as to excite the anxious attention of ingenious men, and give birth to those wonderful inventions which are the boast of modern times' ...
The expiry of the disputed Arkwright patents was critical to the expansion of the Manchester cotton industry ... and familiar names were involved Douglas, Whittaker, Greg, Drinkwater, Cockshott ... while Macclesfield led the way in silk undoubtedly Manchester became the centre for the new cotton trade ...
It was the successful cloth merchants who were well aware that the beautiful printed cottons imported from India were easily washable and emphatically 'the' fashion for elegant clothes as silk and linen lost their prime position ... and ingenious folk were discovering the techniques of mass production of quality cotton prints which matched the Indian imports and ingenious folk also sought alternative supplies of raw cotton from the extensive plantations in the deep south of the new independent USA ... all rushing to slake the insatiable demand ... inevitably many of the successful merchants became manufacturers ...
Originally describing themselves as 'merchants, dealers & chapmen' the Whittakers and their friends would undertake anything that was profitable ... in addition to organising the local 'putting out' system, Liverpool was close and they imported & exported and they then ventured into dying, bleaching, calico printing, chemical supply or drysalting ... and the supply of credit ... expanding business required expanding credit ... there was nowhere near enough coin ... bills of exchange, drafts and acceptances were used as money ... even debt ... all that was needed was trust ... a promise to repay from a trusted dealer ...
It seemed Whittaker's tentative initiative at Acton Bridge in 1781 was very early on in the development of Manchester's cotton spinning dominance. Prior to the 1780s Stockport, Macclesfield and Congleton were the leading mill towns in the North West and there the first factories were throwing silk not cotton.
William Cockshott (1753-) from Bolton & later Macclesfield & Warrington, was a mate and partner with Peter Drinkwater, his son John Cockshott & Thomas Bromfield in Cockshott & Co. In 1774 William, a Chapman of Bolton, married Elizabeth Morris a young girl from Warrington.
Cockshott & Co built a cotton mill on the Weaver in the centre of Northwich in 1780. Calvert in his history of the salt industry mentions the added fervent excitement in Northwich when on March 20th 1780 'the Cotton Works began to be built' ... recorded in the dairy of a Parish Clerk at Witton Church!
1780 was very early in the days of cotton spinning in the mills and the Northwich Mill was one of the influential pioneers - 1771 Arkwright at Cromford - 1777 John Smalley at Holywell - 1780 William Cockshott at Northwich - 1781 Daniel Whittaker proposal at Acton Bridge - 1785 Daniel Whittaker & partners at Holywell - 1786 David Dale at New Lanark - 1789 Drinkwater at Manchester - 1799 Robert Owen at New Lanark (following his propitious marriage to Caroline Dale) ...
Edward Baines described the developments around this time. Francois Crouzet confirmed the pioneering nature of the Northwich investment. Wealthy merchants invested profits to exploit the mechanization invention of Richard Arkwright ...
No doubt Whittaker would have been well aware that on the 6th of April 1780 Messrs Cockshott & Co of Macclesfield asked the Weaver Navigation committee for permission to use waste water from the Northwich weir for their 'manufactory in the cotton branch'.
Furthermore around the same time Peter Drinkwater from Manchester was also following Arkwright's success and moving into cotton spinning. He found a suitable opportunity and in 1782 he purchased the Cockshott Mill, 'a situation on the River Weaver which, for water and hands, cannot be exceeded by any in the Kingdom'!
William Cockshott set up a new cotton spinning and power loom mill in Warrington which was devastated by fire in 1827. Although reported to have been fully insured with Phoenix, Atlas & Guardian, the business never recovered and eventually, like so many in the trade, went bankrupt in Warrington in 1829. The Manchester Courier advertised the sale of his Wharf Mill at Warrington.
Alan Crosby in his 'History of Warrington' 2002, described the Cockshott investment project at Wharf Mill -
'Power-weaving was gradually introduced from 1810 and
in 1825 there were eight steam-powered mills in Warrington, six spinning
cotton and two weaving cloths including velveteen, calicoes and muslins,
Warrington had close connections with the Bolton cotton industry - local
cloth was sent to Bolton for bleaching and finishing and several of the
leading entrepreneurs, such as John Cockshott and Tomas Naylor were Bolton
In the summer of 1826 there was a widespread fear of civil unrest in the cotton districts and the Wharf Mill on Mersey Street, one of the Cockshott factories, was guarded with a cannon at the entrance and paving stones stacked on the roof to use as missiles against possible rioters. A year later the mill was fired by arsonists and shortly afterwards a flood swamped the buildings'.
An ongoing tragedy of the industrial revolution was the hatred that was directed by job hunting workers towards the entrepreneurs in the factories. William Cockshott, the inspiration behind the pioneering Northwich Mill, ended up on the wrong side of a them & us hatred which was generated by a misunderstanding of the revolution in mass production ...
Peter Drinkwater (1750–1801) born in Whalley, Lancashire a cotton manufacturer & merchant. He was an established fustian manufacturer in Bolton and Manchester and involved in the domestic putting out system before he started factory production in the 1780s. In 1782 he invested in the cotton mill on the River Weaver at Northwich and in 1789 he constructed the Piccadilly Mill in Manchester. The Piccadilly Mill was the first in Manchester to be directly driven by a steam engine.
In 1783 Peter Drinkwater set about upgrading his newly purchased mill and first priority, of course, was a reliable head of water to provide the driving power. He advertised in The Manchester Mercury for stone masons to build a weir across the River Dane immediately before it joined the Weaver in the centre of Northwich. The water was diverted into a grand canal which ran from the weir at Baron's Croft Saltworks past The Crown Inn to the Cotton Works on the Weaver at Baron's Quay. The detail of this enterprising investment can be seen from the map of 1828 when the site was sold by the De Tabley estate.
In 1789 Mr Samuel Goodwin was Master of the Cotton Works at Northwich according to a report in the Chester Chronicle.
In 1790 the Northwich Cotton Works were recruiting clock makers, turners & joiners in the Chester Chronicle.
In 1803 Thomas Wakefield advertised in The Chester Chronicle the sale of Baron's Croft Saltworks and a valuable brine pit and extensive buildings and machinery in Cotton Works Yard. No mention was made of the Cotton Works.
Tony Bonson provided some detail from a later sale of Baron's Croft in 1810. The 1810 sale was advertised in The Chester Chronicle and included details of the excellent quality stone race to a water wheel of large power at a leasehold piece of ground called the Cotton Works. Significantly the wheel power was now in 1810 used for raising brine.
An advert in The Chester Courant selling an adjacent piece of land on the Weaver in 1810 confirmed 'there is no iron foundry or cotton works in the neighbourhood'.
The Baron's Croft Saltworks and Cotton Works were up for sale again in 1814 in The Chester Courant in possession of Messrs Wakefield & Hadfield.
It appeared the Cockshott mill at Northwich was owned by Peter Drinkwater from 1782 was still operating in 1797 when proposed improvements to Witton Brook were being planned which had consequences for the water head at the Northwich weir. By 1803 the water power system was being used Thomas Wakefield for raising brine ...
On Saturday 23rd of February 1799 The Staffordshire Advertiser reported that 'the extensive cotton mills at Northwich belonging to Peter Drinkwater Esq were entirely consumed by fire' ...
The 1846 tithe maps of Northwich show the area to the north of Town Bridge, Baron's Quay, the original site of the cotton mill. The lower plots were in the possession of the Marshall family and to the north were the extensive interests of James Gibson at Baron's Quay.
Clearly the Northwich Mill was one of the influential pioneers of cotton spinning in the mills - 1771 Arkwright at Cromford - 1777 John Smalley at Holywell - 1780 William Cockshott at Northwich - 1781 Daniel Whittaker's proposal at Acton Bridge - 1785 Daniel Whittaker at Holywell - David Dale at New Lanark - 1789 Peter Drinkwater at Manchester - 1799 Robert Owen at New Lanark ...
Robert Owen (1771-1858) was a brilliantly successful factory manager at Manchester and he also supervised the Northwich Mill but one who could never accept some of the inhuman consequences of the factory system as machines took over the productive output of labour. What would he have made of computers and the demise of manufacturing?! Today few folk realise the enormous effects of mechanised cotton spinning. Thirteen days of labour used to be required to produce a pound of cotton thread. Thousands and thousands of girls (spinsters!) sat in the corner of their parlours, humming their way through hours and hours at the spinning wheels of the 'putting out' system. Daniel Whittaker, Peter Drinkwater, Richard Arkwright, James Watt and their colleagues destroyed that system, at a stroke, with their new fangled mechanical devices ... a devastating rearrangement of the economic life of the nation ... the factory system was the industrial revolution ... and it worried Robert Owen ... clearly Adam Smith's 'moral sentiments' and David Ricardo's 'comparative advantage' were difficult and rather counterintuitive ideas ...
Nevertheless Roberts Owen was influential in cotton and socialism. He left Drinwater and in 1799 joined David Dale and following his propitious marriage to Dale's daughter Caroline Dale founded the New Lanark cotton industry and 'utopian socialism'. Utopian socialists espoused their visions of imaginary ideal societies. Later critics & Marxists suggested this was naive and not relevant to actual material conditions. In 1815 Robert Owen made his plea for the idyllic past ...
The good story was told by W H Chaloner.
The significance of the Northwich Mill appeared to have escaped historians. The fame of the larger than life folk involved; Cockshott, Drinkwater & Owen and the early date of the investment, 1780, makes the omission incomprehensible ... ?
Following the aborted initiative at Acton Bridge, the best lead on Daniel Whittaker comes from his involvement in The Cotton Twist Company of Holywell. Just over three years after his appraisal of the Acton Bridge site, he invested in much bigger things in the Greenfield Valley in Flintshire ...
There is little doubt that Daniel abandoned his plans for investment at Acton Bridge because he had found a better bet in Holywell ... 16 ft of water, high flying partners and a magnificent new cotton mill ... with diversification into corn milling ... and a 'Black Jack' works ... it appears that Daniel Whittaker was involved in the smelting of zinc in Holywell long before John Budd's enterprise at Acton Bridge ... Acton Bridge was a promising site but no match for the torrents of St Winefride!
The Lower Cotton Mill in the Greenfield Valley must have been the pinnacle of achievement & promise for the Whittakers.
The Manchester Cotton Scene.
In 1782 Daniel Whittaker was identified as a Manchester merchant and a member of The Committee of Trade in Manchester. In the same year the Manchester Mercury reported that the Manchester traders were enthusiastically pursuing factory automated development of cotton spinning and were alarmed at the prospect of an extension of the Arkwright patent. Daniel Whittaker was in the thick of new technology ...
But most interesting were the endeavours of the Manchester Trade Committeee in 1782 ... Daniel Whittaker and the Committee were seeking to encourage the economic benefits of cooperation, education & information exchanges to generate improved efficiencies, technological advances and better value for consumers ... and at the same time they also wanted protection ...
Daniel Whittaker & Co were well known in the Manchester cotton trade.
In 1782 Daniel and The Manchester Trade Committee listed six problem areas which were an immediate focus of attention -
promotion of cotton imports from America
protection of private property from vandalism
prosecution of receivers of stolen goods
opposition to an extension to Arkwright's patent
protection of apprenticeships trade skills from imposters
opposition to the pernicious effect of patents
But the new industry confronted a host of intractable problems ...
In 1792 Daniel was active in the passionate defence of his business from the ravages of the new fangled 'Levellers'. The Norfolk Chronicle reported the presentation of a petition of support to His Majesty and the formation of an association bent on the 'preservation of constitution, liberty and property against the various efforts of Levellers and Republicans'. Business life was hard and competitive without the seditious intervention of envy and greed ...
James Ackers ( 1752 - 1824 ) was Chairman of this august gathering in the Bulls Head. James was often described as the father of the silk trade in Manchester. James and Holland Ackers (1744-1801) of Bank House, Manchester, were the sons of George Ackers, a Manchester silk, linen & fustian manufacturer from Bolton, who had made a fortune from land speculation in Manchester and opened a warehouse near St Mary's Churchyard, Manchester.
Both sons entered the family business at an early age and saw it grow to prominence in the town. The first entry in Colquhoun's Lancashire list is James Ackers, Beever & Co whose water frames in Salford spun much of the thread for the handkerchiefs they sold in such quantities from their warehouse.
In 1792 James was Borough Reeve to the City of Manchester.
The brothers purchased the Great Moreton estate in 1793 for £57,107.
When he died in 1801, Holland Ackers left a young son, George Ackers (1788-1836). In 1809, when his nephew came of age, James built Lark Hill Mansion and and Great Moreton passed to Holland’s descendants. Holland's grandson, George Holland Ackers (1812-72) inherited the house in 1836 and built the present large castellated Gothic mansion designed by Edward Blore in 1841-46.
In 1792 'Levellers and Republicans' was a general term of abuse for rebels who had no respect for legal stability and property rights. The fear of revolution was a key feature of English political life in the 1790s when the government and propertied classes began to fear an nationwide conspiracy aimed at the overthrow of the established order. The Bastille was stormed in 1789 ... and by 1793 there were several thousand of these loyalist organisations in England. The Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property against Levellers & Republicans was a nationwide organisation, with up to 2000 branches.
The inaugural meeting at The Bull's Head of 'The Manchester Association for Preserving Constitutional Order against Levellers and Republicans' was supported by a lots of local manufacturers & traders; other signatories included big names in commerce; Boardman, Douglas, Simpson, Peel, Thackeray, Bateman ...
It was clear there was a network of entrepreneurs, family and friends, around the Manchester cotton scene, all of them confronting risk, uncertainty and adversity ... in 1793 the Whittakers who stumbled ... life was a hard task master ... but nobody said it was easy!
In late 1793 shortly after Daniel Whittaker (1720-92) died and his eldest William (1760-1816) had inherited the business there were ominous developments.
All the books described the great achievement of the industrial revolution as the application of innovative technology which enabled the mass production of goods in factories ... however William Whittaker knew the bigger success of the industrial revolution was the organisation and supply of investment capital. Those with the money had no ideas and those with the ideas had no money ... and the powers that be always had neither ... the real problem of mass production in factories was obvious to William Whittaker ... staring him in the face ... funds for risk!
Bad debts meant terror, stressed out of mind as tongues wagged, nobody fully understood what was happening, trust painstakingly built up over years just evaporated ... 'just like that' ... Daniel knew all about the problem of risk and the inevitability of fierce competition and he looked around and saw the remarkable frequency of bankruptcy ... but Charles Darwin did not start to think about the necessity of bankruptcy until 1859 ... his idea that it was 'natural selection' that weeded out the inefficient otherwise the efficient couldn't flourish ... some random change sparked betterment through grand designs but through destruction ... it was an impossible idea ... but in 1793 William blamed himself, tormented with guilt, he had a family to support and obligations to friends ... he remembered the stories of the South Sea Bubble of 1720 and the excruciating pain of debt and blame ... as blame turned to hatred.
Yes he had insurance but everybody was bust ... counterparty risk ... and risk had dramatically increased with the revolution in France and war. On 1 February 1793, the French National Convention had declared war on the English ... blockades and trade disruptions were everywhere as ships were not returning with their precious life enabling cargoes and often the ships were not even starting out ... these were the days of the 'first coalition' and 'total war' ... later Bonaparte's declared intention became specific, 'to destroy the English trade and the nation of shopkeepers' ... and at the start things went well for the French, but although the Americans refused to join the folly on either side, the final French comeuppance was not until 1815 ... the Whittakers couldn't wait ...
William had to raise money now now ... the creditors were circling ... after 7 years of the exhilarating high life and routs in Manchester, Sarah Whittaker reluctantly returned to her inheritance in Townhill, Bradford with the kids (her trustees had prudently protected her estate from any failure of William's business) ... William was left to fight on his own ...
The Manchester Mercury reported the devastation from Christmas 1793 ... first the Brown Street house was let ... then Daniel's house in King Street went ... all real and person estate went into a trust for the creditors ... in January 1794 horses were sold then the house at Higher Lane, Pilkington, with its 'warping mills, yarn boxes & cotton, good lights, two good hot beds & glasses and a choice collection of greenhouse plants', household contents and livestock ... all auctioned off ... the next day 'all the elegant household furniture, plate, linen, China, glassware, brewing vessels, two horses and two cows and a quantity of good hay, and all the extensive hot houses, garden glasses etc together with the farming stock at the house at Mosside in the township of Hulme' ... and significantly on Feb 7th 'begin to be sold by auction all the stock in trade of the said Mr Whittaker at his warehouse in Marsden Street' ... in April 1794 Daniel's one seventh share in the Holywell Twist Company had to go ... and finally, 'William Whittaker, merchant, dealer & chapman, to surrender himself to the Commissioners in Bankruptcy on the 13th of March to make a full discovery & disclosure of his estate & effects' ...
The main creditors were the formidable Messrs Peel, Yates, Tipping & Halliwell ... with the debtors prison a possibility in 1795 William fled to America ...
Tragically in 1796 the house at Ardwick Green was sold.
In 1997 the creditors we still after that final dividend ...
William had married well and had powerful family friends in Liverpool ... Cousin Daniel was broking cotton there and Messrs Humble, Hurry, Holland & Pool were resident ... and Stephen Todd was in London ... following the trouble with France, a major object of British naval policy was to keep America open for trade ... William could help to keep cotton flowing into Liverpool from South Carolina as an agent for the Humbles ... gossip in the coffee houses & taverns suggested this was a grand scheme ... especially as the trade in slaves was now problematic!
But many had tried their hand before him, and the black vomit, the 'stranger's sickness & endless war were relentless ... around this time William wrote naively about the eternal businessman's dilemma -
'circumstances which were not foreseen were the cause of unexpected depreciation'
... the meddling interference of others; the well intentioned and the downright dishonest - politicos, competitors, bankers, bureaucrats, thieves, villains & vagabonds there were always plenty of other folk to blame ... meanwhile success continued to be elusive ... just as the air was thick with stories, excitedly spread, of rich pickings & magnificent coups ...
Trading synergies were rife but so was speculative madness ...
At last technology came to the rescue! Eli Whitney's cotton gin gave the Americans a real competitive advantage over India and business picked up ... but first to the market with patent protection wins and folk like the Whitneys made a fortune but others floundered ... nobody even remembers who came second! ... for very brilliant success there were endless failures ...
Bankrupts could only be discharged by a certificate signed by four fifths of creditors and signed by any owed more than four fifths of the total. This tortuous provision had no time limit and drove William Whittaker to distraction.
1804 William was forced to return to London as a witness in yet another testy court case but it came to nothing. However creditors were persistent and William dared not venture back to Bradford until 1805. And there he met some resentment aimed at the newfangled mill owners who idolised trade ... these nouveaux riche could be uncouth and the very idea of risking failure and the ignominy of bankruptcy was somewhat reckless ... the respectable professions were a better bet? Young John William (1791-) like his uncle John William Buck (1780-) were to follow more prestigious pursuits and were not to get embroiled in the bloodbath of business ...
When bad debts were around life long friends and even family fight for the scraps as creditors confront debtors; in their absence synergistic deals between trusted partners make the world go round ... how fickle were the wiles of wealth creation and economic growth ...
After Trafalgar in 1805 there was every prospect that 'Britannia ruled the waves' and trade with America was again enticing; in 1806 a desperate William Whittaker and an enterprising House of Humble tried again ... but a harebrained plan to invest in an odious distillery in Cuba was exactly that!
Dejected William retired to Townhill ... and in 1816 he died ... his creditors could still be seen hovering around just behind the grim reaper ... perhaps they thought there was still a chance? Napoleon had been finished and some naively hoped the same fate would apply to a 'temporary' & infamous 'income tax' ... land in Bradford was ripe for new industry; coal, ironstone and the mills ... by 1821 there were twenty worsted spinning mills in the world capital for the manufacture of worsted cloth and pell mell development led to rich capital gains on the sale of estates ...
Sarah Whittaker (1760-1837) died in 1837 aged 77 ...the Townhill Estate was sold from 1839 by the Rev William Whittaker helping to make Bradford 'the dirtiest town in England' ...
The Whittaker family's ongoing involvement in cotton can be gleaned from The London Gazette which recorded in 1805 the dissolution of a Daniel Whittaker partnership with Gam Milner junior (-1841); cotton spinners at Thurlston & Manchester? And again in 1812 The London Gazette recorded the payment of dividends by Gamaliel Milner of York and Daniel Whittaker of Manchester; cotton manufacturers, Palace Inn, Manchester? This connection was interesting as the Milners of Attercliffe were renowned Quaker iron masters. Richardson & Dennison suggest the ownership of Holye Mill on the Don at Thurlstone passed to the Milners in 1777, when Susannah Walton married Gamaliel Milner of Attercliffe. Thurlstone was big in cotton at this time; the population almost trebled in size during the 19th century from just over 1,000 in 1801 to nearly 3,000 in 1901. The militia returns for 1806 demonstrate the extent to which the textile trade dominated the local economy. In 1822, Baines lists 'Gamaliel Milner Esq' under Thurlstone, but no occupation is given, and it may be that the mill was leased out at this date. The site was owned by John Crossland Milner from the mid 19th century; in 1834 Pigot listed J C Milner as a woollen cloth manufacturer and merchant.
It looks like the Whittakers teamed up with some big shots from Yorkshire; was this same Milner family who owned manors in Pudsey & Nun Appleton in Leeds and land around Acton Bridge?
Whittaker factory innovations harnessed risk capital for investment in new technology for mass production of goodies for everyone.
The immense success involved persistent struggle with the management of risk, competition & urban trekkers.
But it always seemed the associated appalling congestion, squalor and alienation of the poor which was blamed on the rich? And inexorably blame led to hatred.
The Whittaker legacy provided a rich source of evidence which suggested that the industrial revolution was an evolutionary economic process which was underpinned by a strong moral urgency to earn a crumb for the family and not by any intention to exploit the urban trekkers.
The Whittakers were involved in exchange trade which generated synergies of specialisation and economies of scale ... but also hatred of the rich ... and in 1793 bankruptcy. The wealth creation process of the industrial revolution was described by Adam Smith in 1759 & 76 and class exploitation was described by Karl Marx in 1850 ... and later the evolutionary economists described how business failures helped to free up resources for alternative wealth creation processes which led to economic growth. This was Darwin's unlikely story of the giraffe's long neck resulted from the death of short necked variety!
The historical record detailed, and repeated at length, the wealth creating successes of entrepreneurs like Abraham Darby, Arkwright, Wedgwood & Watt ... but only later did the evolutionary economists stress the unrecorded role of Darwinian diversity & bankruptcy. The evidence of the few successes survived to be seen everywhere but the many failures were unseen but nevertheless served to push men like the Whittakers to renew their efforts in other directions ... in many ways the Whittaker bankruptcy, and its aftermath, was just as important to record as the story of James Watt and his steam engine.
Perhaps Mrs Gaskell in 1848 provided a wonderful insightful commentary on some of the problems the Whittakers faced?
Elizabeth Gaskell was part of the aftermath of the Whittaker bankruptcy. Elizabeth's uncle was Peter Holland (1766-1855) who married Mary Whittaker (1769-1840) in 1809, daughter of Daniel Whittaker (1720-92). Peter & Mary were important figures in Elizabeth Gaskell's formative years. Peter was the Knutsford surgeon who pioneered occupational medicine and was the custodian of the health & welfare of the workers at Samuel Greg's Quarry Mill at Style. The Hollands were nonconformists and Elizabeth married the Unitarian William Gaskell. No doubt this pious background influenced Elizabeth's views.
However, perhaps disingenuously antiquarian Edward Hall suggested a source of Elizabeth Gaskell's inspiration may have been the discovery of a batch of old letters, studiously collected by Rev John William Whittaker (1791-1854) which added insightful social detail to the Whittaker history. Four huge folios of correspondence were preserved over a period of some twenty years, over 1500 letters, some dating back to his school days but the main covering his days at St John's College, Cambridge, and then the years of triumph in his chosen career as author of polemical works, which led to his being chosen as domestic chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, followed by the grant of a sufficiently lucrative incumbency in Lancashire, as Vicar of Blackburn.
Perhaps it was possible that the Whittaker legacy underpinned the story of Mary Barton?
However, Leyland Whittaker pointed out that the Whittaker letters reflected far more on the successful, more conventional, career of John William Whittaker (1791-1854) than on the pre-bankruptcy successes of the Lower Cotton Mill at Greenfield which were best forgotten lest they resuscitated the ignominy of the 1793 bankruptcy. But, with the benefit of hindsight, the massive achievement of Daniel Whittaker at the Lower Cotton Mill had a much bigger impact on economic developments than the sermons of John William at Blackburn.
Elizabeth Gaskell wrote with power and pathos about the tragedy of the alienation of the workers in the cotton mills. In her preface to the 1848 edition she claims understanding of their plight using words of bitterness which ended in hatred & violence -
'sore and irritable against', 'anguish', 'lottery like nature', 'bitter complaints', 'neglect', 'injustice', 'unkindness', 'endure', 'revenge', 'uneducated', 'unhappy', 'agony', 'convulse', 'dumb', 'suffering', 'without sympathy', 'woes', 'overwhelm', 'unregarded', 'miserable', 'curses' and 'hands clenched and ready to smite' ...
but she believed the resentment of the rich was a tragic misunderstanding -
'seemingly happy', 'taints', 'uneducated', 'erroneously believing', 'error', 'disabuse', 'misapprehension' ...
Mrs Gaskell was clearly motivated; how had the success of mass production and rising prosperity gone so horribly wrong? -
'it is not for me to judge but the more I reflected the more I became anxious to give some utterance to the agony of those so bound together by common interest'
The description of the bitterness got all the headlines.
The description of the prosperity was enlightening.
Chapter 1 'The Mysterious Disappearance' - the idyllic rural past was swamped by the dark satanic mills? (this was a popular theme of Danny Boyle's pageant depicting the industrial revolution in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London where molten metal erupts from dark satanic mills to submerge the meadows of a nonexistent idyllic rural past) -
'and lovingly they'll be wandering through field and briery lane to Green Hey Fields where here & there an old black & white farm house with its rambling out buildings speaks of other times and other occupations, here may be seen the country business of hay making, ploughing which are such pleasant mysteries for towns people to watch. Here the artisan may come to listen awhile to the delicious sounds of rural life: the lowing cattle, the milk maid's call and the cackle of poultry in the old farm yards. The porch of this farm house is covered by a rose tree; and the little garden surrounding is crowded with a medley of old fashioned herbs and flowers planted long ago ...'
Chapter 2 'The Manchester Tea Party' - social interactions and prosperity? -
'Polly put the kettle on and then came a long whispering and the clinking of money that all related to the preparations for hospitality ... run, Mary dear, just around the corner, and get some fresh eggs at Tippings, and see if he has any fresh cut ham, and Mary, you must get a pennyworth of milk & a loaf of bread, mind you, get it fresh and new, no that's not all, get six pennyworth of rum to warm the tea, get that at The Grapes next door ... '
Chapter 9 'London Experiences' - 1839 something must be done by 'the powers that be'?
'God made us rich & poor of what do these complain?'
Chapter 18 'Murder' - class hatred turns to bloody violence?
'My brain runs this way and that will not fix on aught but vengeance'
To paraphrase Edward Hall ... 'Everybody - or almost everybody, had heard of 'Mary Barton', and the number was legion of those who read that charming work. 'Had she', said Annette B Hopkins, in the course of her study of Mrs Gaskell 'at the moment, the slightest presentiment of the fame her little book would acquire in the course of a century? It is safe to say that she had not'' ...
Adam Smith described the happenings differently; the old economic policies of Mercantilism had failed to deliver prosperity for the labouring poor and the idyllic rural past did not exist; the tale of the urban trek was of wretched folk escaping death from famine & disease for significantly better real wages in the mills ... the evidence was clear -
death rates declined and populations exploded
real wages and output per capita rocketed
comparative advantage described how everyone could participate
dramatic inequalities associated with land owners and serfs were replaced by a new middle class bulge
the old schemes of the Mercantilist Bishops, Princes, Generals nor bureaucratic majorities did not create wealth on the scale of the industrial revolution.
For sure folk were different and inevitably some ideas & some trades were more profitable than others ... but nobody knew in advance which, what, where, who, why, when or how ...
Interestingly throughout both descriptions of the industrial revolution there were pleas for understanding; Adam Smith explained how the social interactions of trade had to be underpinned by moral behaviour & cooperation; 'the powers that be' were powerless to legislate wealth ... hard work, honesty & thrift were essential ... and blame for failure was a misunderstanding ...
In 1792, just before he died, Daniel Whittaker understood how lethal debt could be. Maybe if he had built his cotton factory at Acton Bridge, debts may not have been so overwhelming ... nobody knew?
And nobody could fathom risk ... but there were cultural & institutional & economic changes in the air.
Bankruptcy, the evolution of risk & the industrial revolution.
Failure was a Darwinian necessity, that's how evolution worked. There were many reasons for failure because there were many more ways of being dead than alive and nobody ever knew in advance how the cookie would crumble.
The name of the game was risk ... and the debtors prison was not the answer ...
In ancient Greece debtors who didn't pay up lost not only their property but also their personal freedom to slavery ... albeit limited to 5 years.
The Old Testament described 'sabbatical years' where all debts were forgiven and a fresh start made possible. The Year of Jubilee was announced in advance as a Day of Atonement ... the tenth day of the seventh month, in the forty-ninth year the Jubilee was celebrated by the blowing of trumpets throughout the land of Israel.
The Koran mandates, 'And if someone is in hardship, then let there be postponement until a time of ease. But if you give from your right as charity, then it is better for you'.
The Christian doctrine of redemption gave everyone a second chance to contribute their skills again ... why waste potentially valuable contributions?
From the early days there was clearly an obligation to repay debts but also a growing compassion for those who fell on hard times; a biological empathy, a moral understanding, that both debtors & creditors lose when things get tough ... just as both debtors & creditors gain when synergies are discovered. A slow cultural and institutional change not them & us but mutual benefit (and pain) of inclusive cooperation.
1542 - The Statute of Bankrupts - defined a punitive regime. Bankrupts were crooks, defrauding their creditors, assets were to be seized and sold to pay off creditors. The aim was to prevent 'crafty debtors' leaving the country. But if bankruptcy was unintended, punishment had no deterrent effect and did not help creditors to get paid.
1705 - The Bankrupts Act - the idea of discharge and release from the burden of debt, shame & guilt. A more humane approach involved The Lord Chancellor discharging bankrupts after full disclosure of all assets and debtors agreeing to pay what they could. But the old idea that bankruptcy was a crime was retained. Creditors were to receive what was possible. Debt discharge started to become a pillar of English law; encouraging some risk.
1813 - The Insolvent Debtors Act - recognition that getting blood out of a stone was a waste of effort. Creditors started proceedings but debtors could request be released from prison after 14 days if they gave an oath that their assets did not exceed £20. But creditors could still object. But what was the point?
1825 - The Bankrupts Act - attitudes were changing and with the agreement of creditors, folk were allowed to start proceedings for their own bankruptcy. Debtors sought a second chance and negotiated with creditors on a compromise.
1849 - Bankruptcy Law Consolidation Act - voluntary bankruptcy was authorized.
Bankruptcy proceedings agreed between debtors & creditors also occurred when a trader filed a declaration of insolvency in the office of the Chancellor’s Secretary of Bankrupts. Not all bankruptcies were fraud ... the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry. The beginning of an idea that bankruptcies could be positive, wiping the slate clean and making way for more successful wealth creation ventures.
In the middle of the 19th century attitudes towards corporations were also changing. The South Sea Bubble fiasco left companies in the dog house, most folk thought they were inefficient & dangerous. But with the industrial revolution in full swing that all changed, some companies were clearly seen to be remarkably efficient & beneficial.
1844 - The Joint Stock Companies Act - companies could be created without the necessity of a royal charter and had a legal identity able to sue and be sued. They provided a straight forward way to raise capital through share purchase.
1844 - The Joint Stock Companies Winding-Up Act - was a sister Act providing a mechanism for bringing the existence of company entities to an end with debtor creditor claim resolution.
1855 - The Limited Liability Act - a further innovation., this time to limit the losses of shareholders to their investment in shares. A further balance of the interests of debtors & creditors and an encouragement for risk taking.
1856 - The Joint Stock Companies Act - consolidated company legislation and the modern law of corporate insolvency was born.
1869 - The Bankruptcy Act - enabled all people, rather than just traders to file for bankruptcy.
1883 - culmination ... bankruptcy was to be 'managed' by the Board of Trade for 'honest administration of bankrupt estates and the fair & speedy return to creditors of their property. And secondly to improve the general tone of commercial morality, to promote honest trading and to lessen the number of failures; a salvage operation to remove chaos. Judicial matters like fraud were, of course, left to the courts but administration of the bankrupt estate was to be 'managed'. Bankruptcy was no longer a fight between debtors & creditors ... customers were also involved ...
England led the industrial revolution and led the way in bankruptcy legislation ... both were economic changes associated with ever more sophisticated moral sentiments where Tort Law followed custom & practice of economic interactions. Contrast the Napoleonic Code which was clearly more creditor friendly and reinforced a negative moral bias towards debtors.
A slow evolution which recognised the importance of debt recovery for the credit trade and then the slow appreciation of the ubiquitous nature of failure and importance of risk progress. Risk takers were protected from creditors wrath and orderly processes were available in the courts for debt recovery for a hierarchy of creditors ... all creditors were treated in the same way but there were different classes of creditors to suit wishes.
There were intriguing balances to consider -
debtor / creditor - lending and credit lubricants got underway because the debt recovery laws offered a better cheaper alternative to violence for dispute resolution
going concern / liquidation - liquidation has the merit of quicker release of some funds for creditors perhaps at the expense of a revival of fortunes ... but there was also the release of resources for better alternatives.
liquidity / solvency balances -
Understanding moved from criminality to adversity to misfortune to creative destruction.
Understanding moved from zero sum activities to positive sum cooperative synergies.
Bankruptcy protected the risk takers but led to increased debt financing.
Debt financing was also encouraged as interest payments on debt received favourable tax treatment.
But risk was irreducible and not eliminated, it was transferred to creditors ... creditors then insured against the risk of default ... but nobody could insure against herd behaviour ... so creditors were then protected by taxpayers ...
The powers that be ended up protecting both sides from irreducible risk ... but moral hazard was everywhere ... paying for the cost was better than the debtors prison? ... but was it better than equity finance?
Paolo Di Martino penned a fascinating paper in 2005 - 'The Historical Evolution of Bankruptcy Law in England, the US and Italy up to 1939: Determinants of Institutional Change and Structural Differences' by Paolo Di Martino, University of Manchester, 2005 -
During the nineteenth century, complex evolutionary historical processes resulted in different bankruptcy legislations which proved to have different effects on economic efficiency. They all confronted similar problems of economic stability, protection of creditors and the encouragement of entrepreneurs & risk takers, but results were different. This diversity was a puzzle as each country could have simply imitated the most efficient legislation? However the economic environment, institutions and business organizations were different.
The path dependency of historical evolution of culture & institutions does not necessarily lead to the most efficient outcomes.
Perhaps the inability of law to deal successfully with the problems of bankruptcy can be illustrated by looking at the way in which banking crises were addressed; continuous recourse to state engineered bail out operations was an excellent indication that existing laws had failed.
Rigidities in patterns of evolution were revealing: Italian legislators never abandoned the punitive view of the debtor. The legacy of medieval legislation reinforced by the nature of the Napoleonic code, and were never able to credibly reform the idea of bankruptcy as a crime. Insolvency and banking distress were endless threats to the Italian economy and they had to be addressed somehow. The combination of a structurally rigid approach and continuous emergences produces a series of ad hoc solutions unable to deal effectively with the more general problem.
The American law, inspired by English law, never had the problem of being excessively punitive. However a number of financial and economic downturns particularly affected the US. In this case, the combination of tolerance and crises led to the emergence of a debtor friendly and continuation oriented legislation. The resulting institutions were not only suitable to deal with the issue of supporting entrepreneurship and aiding recovery from shocks, but also fostered speculation, risk behaviour ... and frauds.
Having started earlier than any other country, the English legislation produced by 1883 a complete and satisfactory law whose structure benefited from the results of previous experiments and transformations. Modern English bankruptcy legislation had its roots in creditors supportive medieval laws but began to lose its punitive nature in the eighteenth century. Economic turbulence caused by fast development of trade and economic activity in general made clear that the equation bankruptcy equals fraud had little empirical support. In response to this changing attitude, the revolutionary instrument of debt discharge was introduced. Free from the constraining influence of the Napoleonic code, the English legislators moved in the direction of making bankruptcy easier and softer for debtors; the introduction of deeds of arrangement, separate treatment for small debts, abolition of the strict insolvency law for non traders and of the imprisonment for debts are all examples of this evolution. Creditors progressively lost power vis-à-vis debtors and public bodies up to the point when, in the 1880s, management of bankruptcy laws and procedures was firmly put in the hands of the board of trade.
Daniel Whittaker would have been pleased as tyrannical creditors slowly lost their power over risk taking debtors ... and would have been tickled pink that his experience of success and failure contributed to Paulo de Martino's description of a 'complete and satisfactory law' ...
... failure in business was no longer necessarily a fraudulent crime but just one of the errors in the trial & error process of learning to be better ...
... Darwin explained the process in 1859 which was a little too late to save the Whittakers from their torment ...
'Mary Barton' by Elizabeth Gaskell, 1848.
'Cranford Again' by Edward Hall, Manchester City Library 1950.
Rev. Mr John Whitaker 'History of Manchester' 1773.
'Feeding the Victorian City: the Food Supply of Manchester, 1770-1870' by Roger Scola, 1992.
'Turtle at Mr Humble's - The fortunes of a mercantile family, England & America 1758-1837' by Pamela Rae, 1992.
'Elizabeth Gaskell: The Early Years' by John Chapple, 2009.
Thanks to Leyland Whittaker for the research but the errors are mine.
back to The Weaver Refining Company