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24th March 1890. Ingenuity and Enterprise.

Britain over the centuries has seen many self-taught entrepreneurs  having the drive and ingenuity to found companies at the cutting-edge of technology.
One notable example in the 19th century was Read Holliday (1809-90) who at 20 starting buying waste liquors from the local gas works, distilling ammonia and selling it to local textile mills for wool scouring.
By Today in 1890 the dye-stuffs company of Read Holliday of Upperhead Row, Huddersfield was registered as a private limited company after 60 years of enterprise.
Not surprisingly the fumes from his chemical processes brought complaints from the local environment and he moved to Turnbridge near the canal nine years later.
What Read Holliday lacked from formal chemistry training he made up by reading technical publications and was soon producing ammonia salts, washing powder, soda ash, Epsom Salts and dyes including Prussian Blue.
One of Holliday’s patents was for his development of the local gas company’s unwanted tar by distilling Naphtha for an improved lamp, the Holliday Peerless lamp; then came Creosote for use as a wood preservative. 
After  Perkins in 1856 developed the first artificial dye-stuffs there came a flood of new  colours developed from Coal Tar and in 1860 Read Holland entered this new coloured market with the production of Magenta and successfully fought off a patent infringement by competitors Simpson Maude Nicholson. Aniline oil was produced by an American offshoot.
In 1880 Robert Holliday patented a process known as Azoic (nitrogen based) which became the foundation of the 20thc dying and printing industry.
However despite being a leader in the field Read Holliday came under mounting pressure from German competition and faced bankruptcy in 1899. The Company was saved by the Boer War when it was offered a contract to make Picric Acid for explosives, the factory being sited on the far side of the River Colne away from the main Turnbridge works. A year later there was a huge explosion.

Holliday Shade Card.








By 1915 in another war 100 tons of Picric Acid were being produced per week in the same year that British Dyers was formed from a government takeover of the company.(1)

In 1919 British Dyers was brought together with their main rivals Levinsteins as part of  British Dyers Corporation; in 1926 it became part of the giant Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI).

Bismarck Brown for Cardboard and Acrylic Dyes came later in the century and fluorescent and smoke dyes were developed by Read Holliday only to be undercut by cheaper Indian products.

Read Holliday had sons involved in the business, and a grandson Lionel Brook Holliday on receiving £10,000 from the 1919 takeover  established himself as a dye manufacturer at Deighton to become established as the world’s largest privately owned dyer by the 1970.s.

By 1982 it was trading as Holliday Dyes and Chemicals Ltd. In 1998 it was owned by Yule Cato Chemicals Ltd.

From personal testimony of old employees it is apparent how many taken on from school were encouraged in the laboratories to do their own experimenting, potentially dangerous as it was. Much of the early work was trial and error and ‘rule of thumb’.

Then again Health and Safety hadn’t become an industry and frequent accidents with acids was mainly dealt with by a quick sluicing with water. However it was a time when ingenuity and enterprise ruled as opposed to stultifying bureaucracy.

(1) One of the most deadly explosives came from picric acid made from treating indigo with nitric acid, the result experiments by Woulfe going back to the 1770s.. Ironically it is also an antiseptic for burns. Picric is carbozotic consisting of carbon, and azote the old name for nitrogen so called because it does not support life.




23rd March 1701. Calke ‘Abbey’.

From Breadsall in the north to Smisby in the south from Burton on Trent in the west, to Hemington in the east the wealth and influence of the Harpur’s of Calke in Leicestershire was proclaimed.

Today in 1701 the church bells rang in villages between Derby and Ashby-de-la-Zouch to celebrate the coming of age of the young Harpur 4th baronet of Calke in Derbyshire who rebuilt the house around its Elizabethan core.

Calke stands on the site of a Augustinian Priory which only lasted a few years as the canons moved to nearby Repton.

Remnants of Elizabethan core of building.

The Priory being closed and largely demolished at the monastic dissolution in 1538, an Elizabethan house was built and after passing through many hands it was acquired in 1622 for £5350 by Henry Harpur whose family the Harpur-Crewes were to live there until 1985.

Front of Calke today.

The building seems to have been misnamed as an abbey in 1808.

Print 1823 of Calke painted in guache by Rev. Henry Palmer.

The Augustinian Rule was less strict than the black-habited Benedictine, however Calke had fallen to the rival Benedictine Abbey of St. Werburgh at Chester, which held among other lands the Manor of Walton on Trent in Staffordshire.

St. Werbergh’s Abbey had been granted the tithes of the existing church at the Conquest at Chester, by Hugh Lupus in 1093 but were reclaimed later.

Calke thrived on the favours of Richard, 3rd Earl of Chester who in 1101 had inherited vast estates from his father earl Hugh d’Avranches (who had been granted the Palatine of Chester in 1070) with lands including Calke, Repton, Ticknall and Newton Solney all in Derbyshire and importantly had the backing of King Henry I.

Sometime between 1115 and 1120 the Earl decided to found an Augustinian Priory at Calke dedicated to St. Giles which was confirmed by Henry II. Despite this however friction increased and the canons were deprived of their priory church only to be resolved at a church council in the 1130.s.

The three archbishops of the Anglo-Norman kingdom Canterbury, York and Rouen attended and in their presence the abbot of Chester abandoned his claims.

However after the death of the 4th Earl of Chester in 1153 some or all of the Derbyshire estate that he had inherited formed part of the dower of his widow Matilda.(1)

Early in the reign of Henry II, the Countess made plans for the movement of the Augustine Canons to Repton, the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery. Calke was to remain a ‘cell’.

In 1270 Calke was mentioned as a chapel of St Wystan, Repton in the confirmation Charter of that Church to Repton Priory.

One legacy survived into modern times, for though not exempted from the authority of the diocesan bishop the Prior and Convent of Repton were allowed to assume complete responsibility for the maintenance of services in the parish church at Calke. It became known as a ‘peculiar jurisdiction’ ‘peculiar’ in the sense of something private.

Although this title was not claimed by the Harpurs, the Bishop of Lichfield had no jurisdiction at Calke, until ‘Peculiars’ (not Royal), were abolished in 1836 and 1850.

The Harpur Crewe Family had its fair share of eccentrics with the last baronet being reclusive leaving the house much as it was when the National Trust took over in 1985.

(1) Maud of Gloucester, Countess of Chester daughter of an illegitimate son of Henry I.


At Dale Abbey in Derbyshire about 1150 a priory was founded by the Augustinian canons regular (founded by Pope Innocent c1244) to work with the poor and black-habited canons from Calke, but these were replaced by Premonstratensian Canons around 1200.

The Premonstratensians were Regular Canons of Carmelite Friars having thirty-five Houses including Easby, Yorkshire; Bayham, Kent and its head House at Welbeck. They were a reformed branch of the austere Austins. They came to England c 1140 and settled at Newhouse Lincolnshire with no congregation or possessions the Priory being only a long room.




22nd March 1826. Money, Money!

Today in 1826 an Act put an end to notes of less than £5 which required the redemption of these smaller notes within three years. (1)

The main reason for compelling parliament to act was the increase in the forging of smaller denominations of notes which incidentally had seen a rise in the number of people hanged for this capital offence.

Scotland was exempt as £1 notes were popular there, as the novelist Sir Walter Scott said in letters to the Edinburgh Weekly Journal, ‘that it was ridiculous to abolish small notes.

However fellow Scot Adam Smith in his ‘Wealth of Nations’ had argued against ‘the issuance of small notes’, back in 1776, as he thought, ‘it enabled and encouraged many into banking. The frequent bankruptcy to which beggarly bankers must be liable may occasion inconveniency and calamity to many poor people’.

Of more importance was, as some economists argued, that conservation of precious metal reserves when not needed as a circulating medium as money, would boost our gold reserves.

Gold Bullion at Bank of England, historically a bulwark of the Gold Standard.

In the same year as the Act to reduce small note denominations, on the 26th May, the Bank of England saw the end of its monopoly of Joint-Stock Banking which had a history going back to 1707 which had also prohibited partnerships of more than 6 members.

Founding Charter of Bank of England 1694.

Small scale partnerships had dominated English banking in the countryside while the Bank of England had enjoyed a prominent position within 65 miles of London as a Joint Stock Bank, organised as it was as a modern Corporation where the stockholder owners had limited liability, unlike partnerships.

Scotland had pioneered Joints Stock Banking as opposed to England where the Bank of England enjoyed exclusive privileges.

The Banking Act of 1833 made notes of the Bank of England legal tender and the Charter of 1844 concentrated note issue in that body. In 1834 the London and Westminster was the first to be founded under the auspices of the 1833 Charter Act which allowed Joint-Stock Bank Banks to be established in the Capital.

(1) By 5th April 1839.

Ref: encyclopedia of


21st March 1904. Happy Motoring!

The first Minister of Transport was the Tory Eric Geddes appointed in May 1919 reflecting that motoring was becoming a political issue.

The driving licence came in 1903 and Captain the Hon Charles Rolls, a name  famous later for combining with Royce, was licensed to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle Today in  1904. 

Charles Rolls with other notables in 1900.

The licence then was £1 a year for each Horse-Power (HP), thus a ‘Model T’ Ford of 20 HP which was produced for 15 years, had to pay £20, compared with a few pounds for smaller cars.

The Ministry of Transport in October 1920 said it was prepared to bring in an annual tax of £1 per HP on all cars. It was repealed in 1948 for a flat rate.(1)

From the start the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, founded in 1897 (later RAC) was concerned with licensing drivers until the government took over in 1935.

Prime  Minister  Lloyd George had envisaged a road system to be self-financing and in 1910 the proceeds of the road excise duties which had existed since 1889 were to be dedicated to fund building under a Road Board.

The 1920 Roads Act created a Road Fund and the Finance Act introduced a duty on mechanised propelled vehicles, imposed in 1921 and all vehicles had to display a Road Fund Licence Disk  from 1923-1938 and from 1939 a Mechanically Propelled Vehicle Licence.

Churchill opposed the Road Fund, as Chancellor, considering that there should be fairer competition vis a vis road and rail transport and later ‘re-directed’ the ‘Road Fund’ and petrol tax set up by Lloyd-George in 1909 to pay for improving the Nation’s roads, which in 1923 were classified as A and B roads.

Rapid growth in car ownership from 23,000 registered in 1903 to rise to 100,000 in six years was inevitably to lead to increasingly new government intervention particularly as fatal car accidents rose from 373 in 1909 to 1,328 in 1914, by which time there were 132,015 licensed cars on the road, three times as many as 1909.(2)

By 1926 1.7 million licences were issued compared with a horse-drawn total of 127,000 and road deaths were now 3000 a year.

When the First edition of the Highway Code arrived on April 14 1931 adverts included The AA along with Autocar Magazine and Castrol Oil, at a time when 7,000 were killed with 2.3 million cars on the road.

The Code we know today was introduced 16th February under the 1934 Road Traffic Act brought in under National-Liberal MP, Hoare-Belisha, Minister of Transport from 29th June 1934. This included a blanket speed of 30 mph in built-up areas, pedestrian crossings and driving tests.

In 2009 deaths had fallen below 3,000 per annum the lowest since records began in 1926 and despite with 27 million cars on the roads, fatalities are about half what they were in the early 1930.s

The car used by C.S. Rolls 1905/6 according to Captain L.W. Cox in a letter to Punch Magazine, January 27th 1965, was a 2-cylinder 10hp car and Cox drove the car when Rolls made a balloon ascent at Ranelagh. He said a strange feature of the Rolls-Royce car was that the clutch and brake pedals were reversed.

A keen aviator Charles Rolls was killed in 1910 when his plane crashed, at the age of 32.

(1) By 1997 it was a flat fee of £145. In the new millennium a variable rate took account of engine size and pollutants. The Road Fund (colloquial today) Vehicle Excise Duty, was originally hypothecated (used exclusively for building and maintenance of roads), but ceased for the primary purpose from 1920 to 1936.

(2)  The 1909 Assurance Companies Act regularised motor insurance which was to be the catalyst of the 1930 Road Traffic Act.


William Plowden 1971. The Motor Car and Politics. 1896-1970) Bodley Head..

20th March 1718. The Bubble Bursts.

‘I can calculate the movement of the stars but not the madness of men’. Isaac Newton after losing a fortune in the South Sea Company collapse in 1720.

World trade in the 18th century was opening after up after the British had defeated the French at sea and new commercial ventures were opening up which included the speculative British International Trading Company, The South Sea Company, founded to trade with South and Central America, in which many influential people lost money.

Founded in 1711 by Lord Treasurer Robert Harley, and John Blunt an ex Director of The Sword Blade Company, Harley was looking to make money after being prevented in establishing a bank as the Bank of England was the only chartered joint stock bank allowed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer John Aislabie who took office Today in 1718 was heavily involved in the South Sea Company and was imprisoned for fraud and the Postmaster-General and Southern Secretary resigned. One Deputy-Governor of the South Sea Company was Sir Ambrose Crowley the iron founder when Robert Harley was Governor.

The Company was granted a monopoly to trade after The Treaty of Utrecht which settled The War of Spanish Succession, by assuming the English war debt. When investors realised the potential profits to be made by trading with the gold and silver rich South American colonies they bid high and dangerously.(1)

However it soon found that the trading rights supplying the colonies with slaves and one trader a year was nowhere near their expectations: the bubble burst.

One who lost a fortune was Philip Wharton 1st Duke of Wharton, a Jacobite and one of the few since the 15thc to have been raised to a dukedom whilst still a minor, and one not related to the monarch in this case George I.

Wharton a profligate and rake, lost £120,000 when a middling income would be £200 pa. Alexander Pope, ever caustic, wrote an epistle to Sir Richard Temple describing him thus: ‘The scorn and wonder of our days/To rash for thought, for action too refined’.

A 19thc painting of the ‘South-Sea Bubble’ by Edward Matthew Ward is in the Tate.

The South Sea Bubble, a Scene in ‘Change Alley in 1720 1847, exhibited 1847 Edward Matthew Ward 1816-1879 Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

(1) The company was set up to fund the government debt by assuming £10m of short-term debt in exchange for shares which gave a guaranteed annuity. Then in 1717 the government converted high interest illiquid debt to low interest short-term debt, so it appeared to be a win-win situation.


19th March 1821. Arabian Nights.

Mention of Richard Burton today would bring to mind the actor better known for his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, but a more significant and accomplished Richard Burton was born Today in 1821.

Explorer, linguist, writer, particularly on exotic Indian and Arabian sexual mores, and living a travelling life of raffish adventure, which included receiving a Somali spear through his cheek, Richard Burton is known for his visit in disguise, (discovery meant death), to the Muslim city of Mecca; his unexpurgated 1001 Arabian Nights, and his journey with John Hanning Speke on the first European visit to the Great Lakes of Africa in a search for the source of the Nile.

Beginning as a captain in the army of the East Indies Company he served in India and briefly in the Crimean War and later engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa and with Speke were the first Europeans to see Lake Tanganyika.

Later came their books, squabbling and vanities spelt out in their notes, diaries and manuscripts after Speke and Burton tramping inland from the Indian Ocean on expeditions in 1855 and 1857-8, in the latter period discovered Lake Tanganyika.

However leaving Burton stricken with malaria and too ill to travel, Speke went off on his own and found the Lake later name Victoria, which he was convinced was the source of the Nile, but no outfall was discovered.

Keen to get proof Speke accompanied by Grant went in 1860 to Africa and the outflow source was discovered on 28th July 1862. A plaque commemorates this at the site with the falls named by Speke as the Ripon Falls.

Burton was unconvinced and a row developed between the two. Back in Britain on the day when the two were to debate the issue Speke was found shot, possibly afraid to confront Burton.

Burton is remarkable in that despite his output of books, which offended many in prudish Victorian society, including his unexpurgated 16 volume ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ which the Pall Mall Gazette found ‘appalling and revolting obscenity’, whilst The Echo found it ‘morally filthy’, no charges came under the then Obscenity Act. Could it have been that much was published anonymously?

Thirty years after his ‘Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Mecca’ followed by translation of the graphic ‘Kama Sutra’ (1883) and ‘The Perfumed Garden’ (1886), Burton found himself with another hit and in fact was  later awarded a knighthood.

Now we fondly remember Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and Aladdin in pantomime blissfully unaware of the original ‘risque’ unexpurgated source. Good old Burton!



18th March 1903. Taff Vale Judgement.

In 1901 a strike led to the Welsh Taff Vale Railway Company suing a Union and in the process was eventually awarded damages of £23,000.  The cause was the sacking of a signalman John Ewington  of Aberdare who had led an agitation for more pay, resulting in the Union supporting a fortnight’s strike. The Liberals, in opposition at the time, made no effort to challenge the ruling.(1)

Matters were exacerbated by Ammon Beasley the Company’s General Manager bringing in the National Free Labour Association supplying ‘blackleg’ labour after they had defeated the Amalgamated Society of Engineers when they had campaigned for an eight-hour day.

The strikers took to sabotage by greasing rails and uncoupling carriages after which the Company decided to engage with the Union by collective bargaining and the workers returned, but then the bosses decided to sue.

Previously it had been thought that Trade Unions could not be sued being Uncorporated Entities under the laws of Tort (civil wrong).

At the initial hearing Judge G. Farwell held in favour of the Company only to be overturned by the Court of Appeal, but then the original judgement was restored by the House of Lords, then the final Court of Appeal under Lord Halsbury in July 1901. 

The Lords ruled if a Union is capable of holding property and can inflict harm on others it is liable in Tort and funds can be sequestered to pay damages incurred by officials and members.

It resulted Today in 1903 in a cheque for £23.000 being drawn on the National Provincial Bank of England and paid by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to the Taff Vale Railway Company. It was signed by P. Hewitt and J. Pilcher as Trustees and Richard Bell as General Secretary.

The Society formed in 1871, was the first formal Railway Union, though in 1865 a Railway Working Men’s Provident Benefit Society, an early attempt at Unionism was started by Great Western guards, but crushed by dismissal of its leading members.

After the Taff Vale judgement railway companies in law were strengthened, but this resulted in increased support for the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party which began to appear in by-elections. By 1906, 29 members won seats in the renamed the Labour Party.

The dispute  also prompted the new reforming Liberal Government to bring in the 1906 Trades Disputes Act which reversed the Taff Vale Judgement and  gave Unions immunity from similar actions and so protected funds from actions for civil damages.

(1) The total damages was £42k including court fees.