In her quest to find out more about her great grandfather, John Cotton, Lesley Lowther has sent me a copy of his application to be a member of the ‘Institution of Mechanical Engineers‘.
The application, in Oct 1983, is based in his prior experience as Chief Draughtsman for Bowling Ironworks and then Chief Engineer at Bowling Dyeworks for the previous 7¼ years. As the copy below shows he also writes that he had been ‘private Engineer to … Sir Henry Ripley Bart’ before Sir Henry’s death (in November 1981).
John Cotton and Henry Wm Ripley
According to William Cudworth, Henry Wm Ripley had been a Director of Bowling Ironworks since 1871. It is likely that Henry would have known of their Chief Draughsman’s work. However, when John Cotton transferred to Bowling Dyeworks in July 1876, Henry was in the second year of his second term as an M P and day to day running of the Dyeworks was delegated to Wilson Sutcliffe. Whether Sutcliffe or Ripley recruited him, Ripley thought enough of John Cotton, however, to later make him his private Engineer. The 3 year period that is given in the application for this coincides with the period when H W Ripley bought land in Bedstone in south Shropshire. He was having the land re-shaped as an estate, with working farm, and the focus of which was to be Bedstone Court, a new ‘Calendar House’, or more accurately a country mansion, built in a Tudor style.
- More images of Bedstone Court 1930s to 1980s and other documents including one relating to the sale of the estate and property in 1879 are held by Shropshire Archives.
- Judith Flanders in her book on ‘The Victorian House’ (Harper Perennial, 2004, ) has interesting things to say about the problems of lighting a house in this period with discussion of the relative merits of candles, kerosine, paraffin and (coal) gas – and how far electric lighting was by then developed (pages 166-171). Later pages (p 286-90) consider options for heating water, the lavatory and bathroom.
- I should add that I do not know whether H W Ripley, who was made a Baronet in 1880, was engaged on any other significant personal projects that would have required the attention of an engineer. It is possible he may have been. It would be interesting to know.
John Cotton and Bowling Dyeworks
John Cotton’s move from Iron Works to Dyeworks should be seen in the context of the long-standing close relations between the two firms.
That John Cotton’s was making an IMECHE application in Oct 1883 is interesting, both at a technical and a personal level.
At the technical level we know that Bowling Dyeworks had been the first Bradford dyer to work with the new aniline dyes. So progressively by the mid 1870s the dyeing processes would have involved what we would now call chemical engineering. If mechanical engineering, to distinguish it from civil engineering, is thought of as dealing with moving machinery, we then have to know what processes were involved in dyeing, including cloth preparation and finishing to know what John was involved in as Chief Engineer from day to day.
The application itself is made in the second full year after Sir Henry William Ripley’s death. It appears that applications to the Institution were processed once a year. The timing gives rise to the possibility that John Cotton needed to have his prior experience formally recognised to satisfy the changed ‘Directors’ of Bowling Dyeworks, maybe so his employment was renewed, or his existing pay level secured or improved. Perhaps there was a need to get recognised professional status because of the impacts on reputations, individual and corporate ones, in the previous year arising from the Newland’s Mill Disaster.
Although the status of an engineer, certainly in the mid-Victorian period, was high maybe John Cotton’s earnings were not. That he lived at 48 Vere Street in 1881 would suggest only moderate wealth or income. Perhaps the attraction of the house was convenience for rail travel [to Bedstone?] or because of long hours at Messrs Ripleys’ various works. It would be interesting to know what tenure John Cotton held on the property and how much he was paying for it.
NB For a later post, on James H Exon, I have looked at the 1881 Census for all of Vere St and the village as a whole. As I note there, 8 of the 25 houses on Vere St were unoccupied at the time of the 1881 Census.
John Cotton and Two Sutcliffes
The IMECHE application hints at the web of local work relations that existed in Bowling into the late Victorian period. Wilson Sutcliffe and a Frederick J R Sutcliffe, who may or may not be related, figure prominently in this web.
Wilson Sutcliffe joined Bowling Dyeworks in around 1832, became a partner in 1853 and in 1868, when Henry Wm Ripley, the principal and managing partner, was elected to Parliament, Wilson Sutcliffe took over day to day running of the operations of Edward Ripley & Son. He was active in local politics, representing Bowling ward, an alderman on Bradford Borough council and in 1875 (Nov to October) was Mayor. From memory I think he served on the Borough Police Committee and was involved with the Yorkshire Volunteer Regiment.
Frederick J R Sutcliffe remains, as yet, more shadowy but, already a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, he heads the list of those seconding John Cotton’s IMECHE application.
Lesley Lowther has looked up information on the family of John Cotton’s wife Dorcas, nee Womersley and the proposer and those seconding his application. This thickens the web of local work relations explored above and extends it.
On those proposing and seconding John Cotton’s application, she found from Census information that;
Alexander Stewart was an “engineer’s manager” and lived at 2 Southbrook Terrace, Horton in 1881.
Frederick Sutcliffe, it seems, was the son of a doctor and was listed as an “engineer ironworks” in the 1881 census and lived in Ivy Terrace, North Bierley. (*)
On John’s wife and in-laws Lesley writes that;
… Dorcas was one of 7 children of Charles Womersley (overlooker at Salts Mill).
Her younger sister Lydia (1857-1892) married Angus Moulson, a builder and son of William, also a builder who I presume is the William Moulson who built the [Newlands Mill] chimney and warned Ripley about its safety. Lydia and Angus lived in 4 Giles St in 1881 and 28 Merton Road in 1891
Another sister Florence (b 1859) married Thorp Whitaker, a dyer’s chemist. The Whitakers lived at 46 Smiddles Lane in 1891.
(*) There were three Ironworks in south Bradford at this time; Bowling, Low Moor and Bierley.
My thanks go to Lesley Lowther for sharing this information. If you have more to add to the story, please leave a comment or get in touch.
In preparing this post, I had been re-reading sections of Cudworth’s ‘Histories of Bolton and Bowling’. In a neat twist to the tale, I found:-
- a ‘Fred J R Sutcliffe, Low Moor Works’ listed (p 354) as a subscriber to the 1891 edition of Wm Cudworth’s book.
- Below him a ‘Henry Sutcliffe, Bowling Dyeworks’ is listed.