Benjamin Murgatroyd & Bowling Dyeworks 1835 to 1855

Before Ripley Ville was built. In this post; a first-hand description of changes to Bowling Dyeworks and worsted dyeing from Works’ Superintendent and practical dyer, Benjamin Murgatroyd, circa 1835 to 1855 and evidence on how Bowling Beck was used and misused.

Copyright R L Walker 2016 All rights reserved


This nearly had to be a post about not doing a post. Its seven weeks since the last one. I have been reviewing archive documents for south Bradford, covering the ten years 1852-1862 and related to the ‘Water Dispute, Messrs Ripley v. Bradford Corporation’ . It has been a long slog and I’m still not finished. I was planning to post an apology explaining the silence, then on Monday last week I had a jack-in-a-box moment. From all the archive boxes and documents over the previous weeks one just jumped out at me.

Benjamin Murgatroyd & Bowling Dyeworks 1835 to 1855

The Water Dispute

The document was in a group of papers connected to the ‘Water Dispute’ but not directly involved in the Ripleys’ dispute with Bradford Corporation. The Dispute itself was about water supply in Bradford; who should have control of it and how best the town could be served. At its heart was the gap between the needs of the town and what was available.(1)  The engineer J F Bateman (1810-1889), fresh from working on the water supply of Manchester, reported in 1852 that there was a twenty-fold gap. Where supply was around half a million gallons a day, from Bradford Waterworks, he calculated that between ten and twenty million gallons a day would be needed for all the town’s needs. In a series of letters he outlined the works and costs of getting to that level of supply.(2)

Affidavit of Benjamin Murgatroyd

The Document

The jack-in-a-box document was the draft of an affidavit, in manuscript form, with crossings out and additions in a second and possibly a third person’s hand.(3)

Unsigned and undated in this draft form, it’s opening paragraph – before crossing outs and additions – stated;

I Benjamin Murgatroyd of Bowling in the Parish of Bradford in the County of York Dyer, make tell and say

That I am thirty nine years of age and am now the Superintendent of the Defendants Dyeworks and premises and for thirty years I have been constantly employed in and about such works.

The Defendants referred to are; Edward Ripley and Henry William Ripley, the dyeworks; Bowling Dyeworks. In a second person’s handwriting, the phrase ‘a practical dyer’ has been added before ‘and now the Superintendent …’.

So this is a witness statement by someone who since the age of nine has been involved in the development of Bowling Dyeworks over a thirty year period and is now Superintendent of them. (4)  There is a lot he would be able to tell us about the Works and the practices involved in worsted dyeing. Unsurprisingly, no trade secrets were revealed. Benjamin did allude to Bowling Dyeworks innovations in dyeing or at least those ‘peculiar to the Bradford Trade’ but the focus of the document is elsewhere.

The Court Case

The court case, prompting the writing of the document, had been brought by John Wood, William Walker and Charles Walker of ‘Walkers Co’.(5) By 1833 the factory of William Walker had become the largest in Bradford. Their Mill premises on Bridge Street towards the centre of Bradford were down-stream of Bowling Dyeworks.(6)  They were alleging that the Ripleys were now taking water in such volume from Bowling Beck that there was not sufficient remaining for their manufacturing needs and that what there was, was polluted to the point of being unusable for most purposes. They believed and their case was that the Ripleys had acted illegally in taking what should be and was previously free-flowing water.

detail of map showing Wood & Walkers Mill and Bowling Dyework 1850

Detail from Dixon’s map for Ibbetson’s General & Classified Directory of Bradford 1850. Wood & Walkers Mill (W) on Bridge Street and Bowling Dyeworks (B)

So Benjamin’s draft affidavit has the aim of denying the plaintiffs, John Wood and the Walkers’ claims about Bowling Beck. Only incidentally do we get descriptions of changes to the Works themselves but these are both comprehensive and revealing. They also cover how cloth was dyed and how the proportions of dyewares and water that were used changed over this thirty year period. The document’s jack-in-a-box significance is that there is very little elsewhere that gives such first-hand insider’s information about Bowling Dyeworks before the 1850s.

Reading the document

Given the affidavit’s purpose the statements have to be treated cautiously.  The law of perjury set limits on what might be said but an opinion or personal judgement honestly held was not a lie. Additionally and since the process of law in mid-Victorian England moved slowly the documents contents need dating. The affidavit was drafted some time after Wood & the Walkers’ initial complaint or threat of court action. The initial complaint was raised in 1850. It is unclear when Benjamin was born, dates of 1815 and 1819 can be calculated from the 1851 Census data and Obituary notices. If he is 39 years old, these would make a date for the affidavit of 1854 or 1858 possible. Yet an amendment added to the affidavit includes the words ‘prior to the twenty-ninth day of October’, followed by the year. The year can be read as 1850, ‘1856’ or possibly ‘1858’.

Against these internal clues to dating, the 1852 OS ‘five foot’ Map of Bradford shows the subsiding pits, labelled ‘dye-pits’ already in place.  A document prepared on behalf of W H Hudson, Bradford’s Town Clerk, dated the plan for the Ripleys’ response to Walker Co’s complaint as commencing in February 1852 (NB3809103-NB3809201). Benjamin Murgatroyd’s affidavit includes the words ‘on the completion of the defendants subsiding dams’. The word ‘new’ has been added before ‘subsiding’ This suggests their replacement, improvement with new dams or it could refer to original works only now completed. While the exact dating has less significance for the trends that Murgatroyd described, these mismatches in chronology give difficulties in interpretation that do need resolving. A fairly strong case can be made that one or more of the versions of this affidavit was prepared before March 1853 (7)

OS map 1852 showing Reservoir and subsisding pits

Some form of pits were already shown by Bowling Dyeworks on Ordnance Survey maps in 1852, as in this detail of Sheet 11 of the ‘five foot’ maps of Bradford published that year.

Difficulties additions and deletions

By the time of the affidavit’s writing, the Ripleys had, as indicated above, made changes to effluent treatment to meet the plaintiffs’ allegations. About 20 weeks had already passed since these changes came into use and the first attempt at writing the document was made. This created a tension between what Benjamin could say, what should or needed to be said and also fitting these into a consistent narrative.  Some parts of the affidavit in the original handwriting – Murgatroyd’s words as dictated by him to a solicitor’s clerk? – can be seen as confirming Walker Co’s’ allegations. The alterations and some additions appear to have the aim of disguising or fudging this while the deletions take balder points of agreement out. Other additions, in a different hand, develop a defense against and refute a different set of complaints. The latter suggests that in the interim and as solicitors and lawyers had helped prepare the case for both sides, Wood & Walkers’ grounds for complaint had shifted and the evidence in witness affidavits for the Ripleys had to change too. This adds to the sense that some time had passed since the original complaint and in addition that the document had been some time in the writing.

Changes in Bowling Dyeworks & Processes of Dyeing c. 1830-1850

Bowling Dyeworks Premises

The part of the affidavit existing before deletions and additions provides testimony about the rebuilding and extension of the Bowling Dyeworks premises. In this Murgatroyd is at pains to explain that while there has been a rebuilding of the Dyehouse premises and of extensions for ‘cutting, storing Dyewares, a Mechanics Shop, Smithy’s shop and other buildings’, none of this resulted ‘in any refuse or impurities that can be sent into Bowling Beck.’  Premises for ‘drying and finishing’ had also been added again without impacts for the beck.

On the Dyehouse itself – and we need to remember this is worsted dyeing pre-1855 – he noted that

‘The nature of Dyeing operations is such that buildings used for that purpose are generally lightly built and in consequence of the steam and vapour seldom last for more than twenty years’.

He did admit that extensions had been made as well as rebuilding. It is during this period that references, in Trade Directories, to the Ripleys’ premises change from ‘Dyehouse’ to ‘Dyeworks’. Benjamin was, however, careful to context such admissions in a claim that the premises as a whole have ‘only increased in size in proportion as the trade of Bradford has increased.’ This is a claim that could be contested (8)

Tends in dyeing processes : use of water

On changes in the processes of dyeing and its impact on Bowling Beck he describes two contrasting trends; the one for a decrease in the quantity of dyewares used, the other for an increase in the volumes of water in use. On the latter Benjamin stated that the dyeing of goods ‘in the present day’ required ‘at least twenty times the quantity of clean water.’ However, since Wood and the Walkers brought their case he explained that the Ripleys have ceased to take water from the beck and are now, ‘at great cost to them’, exclusively using underground sources. He added ‘I believe these are totally unconnected with the Bowling Sough and the Colliery Workings.’

Used water and new Subsiding pits

A further arguement in the document is that the solids going into Bowling Beck had decreased and, while the water taken has increased and is now not from the Beck, the amount of usable water going back into the Beck was proportionately large and more useable. This is down to the use of subsiding pits to settle out residues before water was returned to the beck. The reference to subsiding pits resonates with H W Ripley’s evidence to the Rivers Commission in November 1868, when he proudly explained this same system for treating effluents for the Works.

In this affidavit Murgatroyd was identifying their purpose soon after the change in practice. This is dated ‘to September last’ and elsewhere as ‘the beginning of September’. (9) Based on a calculation of cartloads of refuse and dyewares produced each day, he states the dyewares going into the Beck had reduced to one twentieth. Five hundred cartloads of refuse remained on the Ripleys’ land – in or collected from the subsiding pits of the six hundred cartloads that would previously passed into Bowling Beck. So contributing to its earlier much sludgier state we and other readers at the time might deduce.

Dyewares : from solids to deconcoctions and liquids

Benjamin’s words, on changes in how Dyewares had been used, are;

‘That the tendency of all improvements in Dyeing for the last fifteen or sixteen years has been to diminish the quantity of Dyewares used.’  This is because now ‘decoctions or liquid dyes [were] purchased from Manufacturing Chemists’

He had described, previously how dyewoods were put directly into vessels with the fibres or cloth piece to be dyed. He added,

‘By further improvement over the past twenty years in some of the darker Colours not one fifth of the quantity of Dyewood is now used’.

Benjamin makes the point that ‘this mode or system of dyeing is peculiar to the Bradford Trade.’


The first of these statements shows a move away from the vertical integration that craft dyeing or the use of ‘natural’ dyes might suggest. Dyes or their constituent liquors were bought in from other firms. On the basis of statements made by H W Ripley himself, the Bowling Dyeworks bought in its first aniline dye in 1862. This passage shows that specialisation by different firms was occurring and had occurred in the two decades prior to this with the making of dyes or at least their constituent parts in Chemical Works away from major Dyeworks like Edward Ripley & Son. Jenkins and Ponting (1982, p 214) write that these changes also saw soda ash, fatty acid oils (oliens) and vitriol (sulphuric acid) available in purer more standardised forms. They add that for the dyers these changes were probably more ‘valuable than the more heralded synthetic dyestuffs revolution’.

Water-borne pollutants

Other statements show that what we would now call pollutants were at this point in time, within Bowling Dyeworks and elsewhere, more likely to be limited to solids and heavier particulates that might settle out of the water used in the dyeing processes. Benjamin’s exclusive reference to ‘dyewoods’ in the affidavit suggests it was these that by volume or on some other measure were experienced as most problematic for Bradford Dyeworks both in disposal after use and in visual impact on the water and river-bed of Bowling Beck. It is of interest and a more general observation about; the documents recently viewed, those related to the Water Dispute up to 1862, viewed earlier, and those from the Rivers Commission evidence of 1868 that no comment was made in them about toxic chemical contaminants from dyes. These could have included chrome, copper and arsenic and their compounds which might pass into the water courses.

Blame for present conditions lies elsewhere

In an introductory point Benjamin had said of his thirty years experience;

‘That during the whole of that period the Bowling Beck which is for months in each year continuously dry and never could be depended on for the supply of any works or Mills of any magnitude.’

The sentence has a line drawn through it, as does the one following;

‘That has been filthy and impregnated with dyewares the whole of the refuse for many years including all the ashes from the Defendants works sent down the said Beck.’ (10)

Additions to a document that was four and a half pages take up a further page and a half. It is in these that the argument was developed which refutes Wood and the Walker’s claims about a sough or drain emptying into Bowling Beck and originating with the Ripleys. In the view of whoever makes the last of these long additions, the Ripleys were also not to blame for the present state of the Beck. They can be sure of this because the writer claimed to be in the habit of walking the bank of the Beck between the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ premises and,

‘in the three months of extremely cold weather seen the water perfectly thick and slurried in a state of puddle’.

This, the person claimed, was from the street, domestic and trade refuse and drainage ‘washed’ into Bowling Beck from a now more populous ‘district’.


Benjamin Murgatroyd & Henry William Ripley

I have not, as yet, found a final draft of this document.  It would be interesting to see its final form and what alterations were made. In its first draft, before crossings out, amendments and additions, a judgement of it might be that it was tactically naive. Given the changes the Ripleys had so recently made and their apparent impact, it could be argued that Benjamin saw no reason to hide previous practice. It is difficult to see how that would avoid a judgement being made in favour of the plaintiffs.

Was his early attempt no worse than the first attempts of others putting together their affidavits for the case?

Was contextualising the changes as proportionate in scale for the industry in Bradford as a whole and seeking to recharacterise previous practice and river conditions as of long duration, rather than recent, what he thought was needed and conformed with what he felt able to say? (11)

In the preparation of the Ripleys’ defense by their solicitors, Benjamin Murgatroyd was used as an intermediary. He would appear to have maintained social contact with potential witnesses with useful local knowledge where others, such as H W Ripley himself, were more distant.

Context and subsequent events

The document is interesting in commercial, political and personal terms for what came after. It would appear to date from the period in Benjamin Murgatroyd’s career at Bowling Dyeworks where he had risen as far as he would. The role of Superintendent may have been a sideways promotion; one not welcomed by Benjamin. (12)

Within a number of years Benjamin had left Bowling Dyeworks to set up in a small way as ”Woodroyd Soapworks’ on land either side of the present Greenway Road in West Bowling. Part of his Woodroyd Estate was later given for the building of Woodroyd Board School.(13)  Wilson Sutcliffe became the manager of Bowling Dyeworks. In some sources he was already described as such. In October 1868, there was a huge falling out between Benjamin and his cousin Henry William Ripley because Murgatroyd had voted for Edward Mial, one suspects with a ‘plumper’, using only one of his two votes and giving it to Mial. Edward Mial, a Radical Non-Conformist was H W Ripley’s nearest opponent in the vigorously contested three-way Parliamentary election of that year. (14)

para separator 1 V


1979, Fraser D,  ‘Power & Authority in the Victorian City’, Comparative Studies in Social & Economic History, Basil Blackwell, Oxford

1982, Fraser D  ‘Municipal Reform and the Industrial City’, Leicester University Press, New York, St Martins Press

1892 Jenkins D T and Ponting KG, ‘The British Wool Textile Industry 1770-1914’, Pasold Studies in Textile History Series, Heinemann, London

2009 (orig 1850), ‘Ibbetson’s General & Classified Directory Bradford 1850’,  Bank House Books, New Romney


(1)      The dispute features in regional and Victorian histories of the industrial cities of the north of England and on municipalisation, e.g Fraser D, 1979 and 1882.

(2)      Letters were exchanged with Bradford’s Town Clerk between 1852 and 1853

(3)      West Yorkshire Archives on Water Dispute 16D80 (Xref YF06 Murgatroyds)

(4)      Benjamin Murgatroyd was a younger maternal cousin of Henry William Ripley. At the time of the 1851 Census he was living on Hall Lane, with his wife Ann, 5 children and a servant.

(5)      William Walker is recorded in Ibbetson’s 1850 Trade Directory of Bradford as living at ‘Bowling Hall’ (sic)

(6)      The pumping of water became necessary and more common in later water supply and drainage schemes and was used by the Ripleys from 1852, if not earlier. A dependence on gravity systems up to that point put Walker Co’s Mill at the foot of the Bowling bowl at the triple disadvantage of being down Dale, down drain and down stream.

(7)       Documents in the same archive ‘bundle’ indicate that two affidavits were sworn by Benjamin Murgatroyd. The first was sworn on June 2nd 1852 (NB3401002) and a second affidavit was sworn and engrossed by the Ripleys solicitors on March 11th 1853.  Preparation of the first affidavit by Benjamin Murgatroyd had been undertaken in February 1852 (NB3400501-04) and of the second in February and early March 1853 (NB3713202). The second affidavit was one of 36 affidavits taken through to that same final stage by that date (NB3713504). Murgatroyd’s birth certificate will be needed to help clear up why the document claims he is 39 years old.

(8)       The counter-argument would be that since the 1840s a greater proportion of the town’s dyeing trade had gone to the Ripleys because of their innovations in dyeing mixed worsteds in the piece. They had grown faster.

(9)       The year is most probably 1852 (X ref NB3402501)

(10)       H W Ripley was questioned about the disposal of ashes at the Rivers Commission Inquiry in 1868. He could then say that they were taken away in wagons on the railway.

(11)      Other documents in the archive bundle show a context and reasons for drawing up the affidavit that make the admission of pollution since the early 1830s tactically valid.

(12)    Murgatroyd’s role at Bowling Dyehouse is self-described in the 1851 Census information as ‘Dyer’s Manager’. In Ibbetson’s 1850 Directory of Bradford he is described as Dyeing Manager (Bowling Old Dyehouse). His role in the development of the Dyeworks was venomously contested in an exchange of letters between Charles Murgatroyd and H W Ripley in the Bradford Observer in late 1868.

(13)     Now the Woodroyd Centre in West Bowling

(14)     The other candidate and sitting M P was William Edward Forster (1818-1886)


Copyright R L (Bob) Walker 2016 All rights reserved

published after noon April 1st 2016

updated 2016/04/04, 2016/04/13 & 2016/04/29

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