• Welcome to this forum Guest. We are a worldwide group with a common interest in Birmingham and its history. While here, please follow a few simple rules. We ask that you respect other members, thank those who have helped you and please keep your contributions on-topic with the thread.

    We do hope you enjoy your visit. BHF Admin Team

Infamous People Associated With Birmingham.

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
An example can be seen with Sir Hugh Gilzean-Reid (1836-1911) who has only been mentioned in passing on the Forum, and yet he was MP for Aston Manor in 1885, losing his seat the following year having split with Chamberlin over the Home Rule issue. He was one time owner of Warley Abbey.

A trusted source for biographies would be the ODNB, but even here there is a "gloss" over certain issues...

"...Gilzean-Reid saw newspapers as a means of educating and enlightening people politically and otherwise....In 1883 Gilzean-Reid moved to Worley Abbey near Birmingham, where, freed from operational concerns, he became more active politically. The estate became a meeting place for leading midlanders, including Joseph Chamberlain and Richard Tangye, founder of the Birmingham engineering firm, as well as for leading National Liberals and friends from Gilzean-Reid's past, such as Professor John Stuart Blackie from Edinburgh. Described as a non-doctrinaire radical in favour of reasoned progress, Gilzean-Reid appears to have taken his cue from Chamberlain. He was proud of his achievements in turning Conservative newspapers Liberal, and he expressed the hope to Chamberlain that his activities had given service to the advanced cause..."

"...Two other strands in Gilzean-Reid's life stand out; one is his commitment to the international penny post. In the early 1850s he had accompanied Elihu Burritt on his visit to Scotland to promote this in conjunction with Burritt's movement for international peace and arbitration. Gilzean-Reid was at the fore in supporting a motion early in 1886, during his short parliamentary career, for the establishment of such a scheme. The other strand is his attachment to Belgium, and in particular his involvement with colonial and missionary agencies active in the Congo. After his wife's death in 1895 Gilzean-Reid gave up Worley Abbey and spent long periods in Belgium, though he kept a London residence at Dollis Hill and then, from 1906, at Tenterden Hall, Hendon, in Middlesex; the death of his third son, Hugh, in the South African War appears to have increased the solace he sought in foreign travel in his later years. For his services to Belgium Gilzean-Reid was made an officer of the order of Leopold in 1897 and a knight-commander of the order of the Crown in 1899..."

It is in the last sentence that a whole can of worms can be opened. Wikipedia says this of Leopold II...“Leopold was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the colonial nations of Europe committed the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants. From the beginning, however, Leopold essentially ignored these conditions and ran the Congo using a mercenary force for his personal gain. Some of the money from this exploitation was used for public and private construction projects in Belgium during this period……His regime was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 2 to 15 million Congolese.”

Gilzean-Reid was a indefatigable apologist of the Congo State in the British Press, and was challenged by the Congo Reform Association..."The Crime of the Congo" is a 1909 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, about human rights abuses in the Congo Free State, a private state established and controlled by the King of the Belgians, Leopold II. Conan Doyle was "strongly of the opinion" that the crimes committed on the Congo were "the greatest to be ever known", and he lauded the work of the Congo Reform Association.

A more modern description can be seen in the book "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa" (1998) by Adam Hochschild that explores the exploitation of the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgium between 1885 and 1908, as well as the atrocities that were committed during that period.

It seems beyond belief that Gilzean-Reid, a leading Baptist, was oblivious to these events.
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
George Kynoch (1834-1891): Part 1, George Kynoch comes to Witton (1834-1865)

There are many mentions of George Kynoch in association with the Witton munition works, Kynoch's and the IMI, and a few about the man himself. In my opinion he should not be glorified, and should take his place amongst the infamous men associated with Birmingham. I have split the story into a few parts as I believe there are several inaccuracies that have appeared in books written about the history of Kynoch's relating to the period of George Kynoch's life. Some books of course written by people with an interest in the firm after his death, who may pass over a few skeletons.

There is a quick history of Kynoch's on the Staffordshire Home Guard site, and often quoted is a book called "Under Five Flags," but this I believe to be written by IMI for IMI.

George Kynoch was born in 1834 in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, and was the son of a tailor. It is said that he came from humble origins, but his parents had enough finance to provide a reasonable education when other young boys were down the pits. Kynoch obtained work in an Insurance office in Glasgow before moving to a bank in Worcester. He then moved to a larger bank in Birmingham.

In 1856 he went to work for Messrs Pursall and Phillips the percussion cap manufacturer at Whiittall Street in central Birmingham. It is unclear what roll he undertook, but strangely it was in that year that Pursall acquired the company from a Mr Armstrong.

In 1859 the factory at Whittall Street was destroyed and 19 of the 70 present, mostly women and girls, were killed. The was an extensive coverage in the Press of the explosion and rescue attempts. The two Messrs Phillips were present in the building and escaped unhurt, also Mr Pursall who took part in the rescue attempts. There is no mention of George Kynoch, however there is a reference to extra staff being taken on to provide the Turkish Government with 18 million caps!

The ODNB says..."by September 1861 Pursall had acquired the lease of 4 acres of land at Witton in the parish of Handsworth, 3 miles north-west of Birmingham. The area was thinly populated and was close to the River Tame and the Grand Junction Railway, so ideally suited for this rapidly developing industry. In 1862 work was conducted in two wooden sheds, the staff consisting of twelve girls supervised by Kynoch; after a short while the lease was conveyed to him. On 3 February 1863 he married Helen, the daughter of Samuel Birley, a well-to-do jeweller at Edgbaston, from whom he later separated. Aided perhaps by capital from his father-in-law as well as his own ability, Kynoch's business prospered and by 1864 Kynoch & Co. had obtained contracts for the supply of ammunition to the war department and the Turkish government."

Was Kynoch's role in the Company mainly financial? Here are a few more facts that raise more questions about the timing and events stated above.

In 1862 there was another explosion at a cap works in Graham Street, again involving mercury. There were calls for the manufacturing of these explosives be moved from populated areas, and in the discussion Messrs Pursall and Co were mentioned as being in Hampton Street. In fact George Kynoch answered a query for the Royal Commission on the question of employment of children in the percussion cap industry, he was termed a partner in Messrs Pursall Co. Did the Phillips move out when he moved in?

We see that George Kynoch was married in February 1863, and some of the capital may have led to the announcement in December 1863 that the partnership between William Pursall and George Kynoch, in the firm W Pursall and Co, 45 Hampton Street, would be dissolved. The business would be carried on by George Kynoch.

It was after the Graham Street explosion in June of 1862 that a decision was made by the Government that workshops, where there was a danger of explosion, should be moved 3 or 4 miles. In April 1865 a government report said that the four Birmingham Percussion cap manufacturers had moved to Greet and Witton. Along with cartridge manufacturers they employed 123 adults, 54 young persons, and 18 children, a total of 196. Of these 180 were females.

There are a few things from this early period that reoccur time and again in connection with George Kynoch. Firstly the employment of women and young girls. Up to 1891 there was no great call on men to fight for their country, Kynoch employed women and children because they were cheap. From the report of the Whittall Street explosion the Press reports the reaction of those nearby..."understanding at once that what had often been predicted had now really occurred."

Similar words will again be used, but I don't suppose George Kynoch paid much notice.
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
George Kynoch (1834-1891): Part 2, (1865-1877)

I cannot find George Kynoch in the 1861 census, but a progression can be seen after this date. In February 1863, on his marriage to Helen, he was put as living in Francis Road, Edgbaston. In 1871 he is down as Cinder Hill Lane with wife Helen, daughter Gertrude, a governess and 3 servants. In 1881 down he is living in Bloomfield House, Wellhead Lane, Handsworth, with wife Helen, and sometime around 1884 he resided in Hamstead Hall. (Probably rented as it was up To Let in July 1884)

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies goes on to say....

"The cartridge made of coiled brass strip and developed by Colonel Boxer, superintendent in the royal laboratory, was giving trouble and the war department wished to replace it. Kynoch, in partnership with his manager, William Whitehill, filed a patent on 1 April 1868 for improvements in cartridge construction, namely, to make the case of solid drawn brass. The Lion Works, as it became known, at Witton by now comprised large workshops and well-spaced loading sheds;

Kynoch's love of speculation led him into cash flow problems and in 1870 he sold his rights to the Witton land for £8000, only to buy them back two years later with 19 acres of freehold land adjoining for £9000. The firm's rapid expansion in such a hazardous trade was not accompanied by the close attention to safe procedures that it deserved and there were four serious accidents in two years, the last in November 1870. The manufacture of ammunition, including copper percussion caps for cartridges, continued and by the late 1870s orders for up to 150 million were being handled. In 1877 Kynoch leased a metal-rolling mill in Water Street and so could control the quality of his cartridge brass."

In December 1867 there were the "Fenian arrests" in London, two prisoners Burke and Casey were charged with treason-felony and the Press commented "Important evidence from Birmingham.."

George Kynoch gave evidence saying he was a percussion cap and ammunition maker, and general firearms dealer of 45, Little Hampton Street. He knew the prisoner Burke, but not by name. He had met Burke who led him to believe he represented a mercantile firm. In the first lot he supplied 250,000 percussion caps and 40 of Lemaitre and Gerard 10-shooter revolvers at around £385....Kynoch had said that he obtained the revolvers from different manufacturers and were examined at his office....in all he may have sold Burke 657 revolvers from 1865 to 1866, at a cost of £1,972 of which all but £18 had been paid, invariably, in cash. There were also rifles and implements....cross examination of Kynoch was deferred.

In May 1868 Burke came up for trial at the Old Bailey and was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude.

In July 1869 George Kynoch arrived back from Russia with contracts, but he runs into financial difficulties which resulted in a file for liquidation; assets are put at around £40,000 and liabilities around £60,000. He received assistance from John Abraham, who entered into partnership, but later the partnership was disolved and Kynoch was back in charge.

To say that the expansion of the firm was not accompanied by the close attention to safe procedures that it deserved seems to be something of an understatement. The four serious accidents in two years, the last in November 1870, are well-documented, but there were numerous other accidents before and after. Looking at the main accidents shows that the work force was mainly women and young girls, a few of whom did not tell their parents they worked there. There were cases of women getting paid two weeks in arrears in order to prevent them leaving.

The Birmingham Post of 10 December 1870 reports that between 12 and 1.00pm on the previous day several thunderous roars were heard one after another. Residents in the vicinity of Witton knew too well the meaning of those reverberating peals...They recollected the dismal record of bloody sacrifices to the Moloch who had fixed his seat of worship amongst them, they pressaged one more melancholy chapter to the already sickening list.."Another explosion at the Catridge Factory." (This refers to the explosion at Ludlow's and it is thought that Kynoch had interests also in that factory, but out of the kindness of his heart he allowed his staff an extension of their dinner time to go to the funeral.)

(In April 1873 George Kynoch was summoned for illegal storage of ammunition without license. And January 1883 for 8 cases of breaching Explosive Act 1875, but penalties were minimal.)

On the 12 December the Post quotes the Pall Mall Gazette...

IS IT CULPABLE HOMICIDE...Even Mr Bruce (Home Secretary) will hardly be able to resist the cogency of the argument which is supplied by the 17 deaths which are reported to have already occurred as a result of this disaster, and will at last recognise the need for Government inspection of these factories. The presence of a stove in the middle of a shed where gunpowder work is carried out indicates that the arrangements were culpably defective. Indeed, the materials for what is the fashion to call an "accident" on a large scale seem to have been provided...a more favourable combination for a disaster could not well be contrived...and we may add, for Mr Bruce's information that the want of proper arrangements for the safety of the workforce is in many of the private cartridge factories of the kingdom, if not in the majority, simply scandalous.
 
Last edited:

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
George Kynoch (1834-1891): Part 3 Final, (1877-1901)

In 1884 George Kynoch and Co became a limited company with George Kynoch remaining as the Managing Director with salary of £500 a year, he received £60,000 in cash, £10,000 in preference shares and £40,000 in ordinary shares. It is at this point that he probably moved to Hamstead Hall. Also in this year there is an entry in Kelly's Directory showing that as well as the Lion Works at Witton, Kynoch's have a depot in Whittall Street, where the 1859 explosion took place.

It is said that George Kynoch lived in great style at Hamstead Hall, and became president of Aston Villa Football Club. In 1886 he was elected Conservative MP for Aston Manor, and at an obviously staged celebration, from his carriage he had the cheek to lecture to the crowd...

...Gladstone had ignored his experienced friends, but he had consulted with men who were well known to be friends of assassins, and also, according to a report which he had seen, the accuracy of which he had no reason to question, falling in with the views of the American Fenian party. When they found this sort of thing going on it was time for every honest Englishman to speak out and remove effectually from power one who would had used his influence so perniciously against the welfare of this country. They were many questions which required dealing with before the Irish question. He should ask Parliament to consider what could be done to prevent the falling off in trade in England. That was the justice he wanted for England. Ireland could wait.

(He also proclaimed, during his canvassing, that if the Ulstermen rebel against Home Rule he would give then 10,000 riles and 2,000,000 rounds of ammunition...no doubt using the money raised from arms sales to the Fenians!)

After the first year of the Limited Company things began to go wrong and in March 1887 a Government contract for 10,000,000 cartridges from 1885, is rejected 20% being defective due to inferior workmanship. Pressure built on George Kynoch to resign, and he did so in October 1888 siting ill-health.

ODNB says "He himself, by then a very sick man, left England for South Africa in 1890. He died in comparative poverty at Johannesburg, on 28 February 1891, and was buried there the following month."

This is incorrect according to the report of his death in March 1901. In the November 1898, he went to South Africa, where he obtained special concessions from the Transvaal Government in respect of the introduction and manufacture of arms and ammunition. He also occupied himself wth various enterprises in the gold mining industry. Early last year (1890) his effects at Hamstead Hall were sold, along with founding shares in Kynoch's. His last occupation was said to be as a storekeeper selling guns and ammunition in Johannesburg.

George Kynoch had not resigned as an MP and in February 1890 at Aston Liberal meeting the Chair said those who had read the Daily Post would have seen a great deal said about George Kynoch from Aston...Mr Kynoch was enjoying himself in Joberg. It was a great thing for Mr Kynoch to have MP after his name, and he for one would never believe he would come back to Aston until someone had seen him in the Manor...Kynoch was disgusting a lot of people, and the more he disgusted the better for the Liberals...instead of protesting against him they should give him a vote of thanks... the next best thing to having a Liberal MP was having the worst possible Tory member.

The Conservatives regretted the continued absence of Kynoch and his lengthened stay in South Africa practically disenfranchised the borough...he had not written to explain...two unofficial letters had been published which had said he hoped to be back for the opening of the Parliamentry session.

March 1890 in the house it was noted he had been away 18 months, since November 1888, and for some months new he would not recover from illness. From Mrs Kynoch we learn that on the 16 May last (1890) he took his passage to return, but was detained by litigation concerning some mines in which he was interested. He again tried in September but internal cancer eventually caused his death. There was a great deal of sympathy in Aston for Mrs Kynoch.

It is really a sad story that so many should suffer in the production of articles, that in themselves, would inflict suffering on others. In respect of the poor souls that lie in Witton Cemetery the beginnings of Kynoch's cannot be glorified, but Kynoch's went on and in September 1900 Lloyd George says "it should not be called Kynoch as the Chamberlain family have £150,000 in shares
 
Last edited:

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
Two of the persons previously mentioned, Hugh Gilzean Reid (1836-1911) and George Kynoch (1834-1891), have a couple of things in common. They were both born in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, and both became MP for Aston. Reid was elected as a Liberal in 1885 with a majority of 1153, but lost his seat to Kynoch the Tory in the election of 1886 by 782 votes.

Reid would no doubt put his defeat down to the split of the Liberals over "The Irish question."

During the canvassing it was quoted, probably in Liberal circles, that Kynoch the Tory candidate, again attacked Reid, the late and future Liberal member with his customery and characteristic vulgarity.

In one of Kynoch's speeches he said that working men's candidates were the greatest frauds the country had ever known. They were generally a spouting lot of fellows who lived by the gift of the gab. I suppose this gives an idea about the man himself, who although being MP until 1891, went missing to South Africa for the last 18 months until his death, leaving Aston virtually disenfranchised
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
IMG_1197.jpg

"George Kynoch...In 1856 he went to work for Messrs Pursall and Phillips the percussion cap manufacturer at Whiittall Street in central Birmingham. It is unclear what roll he undertook, but strangely it was in that year that Pursall acquired the company from a Mr Armstrong....

....1859 the factory at Whittall Street was destroyed and 19 of the 70 present, mostly women and girls, were killed...."

There is an illustration of the destruction in the Illustrated London News above.


George Kynoch (1834-1891): Part 1, George Kynoch comes to Witton (1834-1865)

There are many mentions of George Kynoch in association with the Witton munition works, Kynoch's and the IMI, and a few about the man himself. In my opinion he should not be glorified, and should take his place amongst the infamous men associated with Birmingham. I have split the story into a few parts as I believe there are several inaccuracies that have appeared in books written about the history of Kynoch's relating to the period of George Kynoch's life. Some books of course written by people with an interest in the firm after his death, who may pass over a few skeletons.

There is a quick history of Kynoch's on the Staffordshire Home Guard site, and often quoted is a book called "Under Five Flags," but this I believe to be written by IMI for IMI.

George Kynoch was born in 1834 in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, and was the son of a tailor. It is said that he came from humble origins, but his parents had enough finance to provide a reasonable education when other young boys were down the pits. Kynoch obtained work in an Insurance office in Glasgow before moving to a bank in Worcester. He then moved to a larger bank in Birmingham.

In 1856 he went to work for Messrs Pursall and Phillips the percussion cap manufacturer at Whiittall Street in central Birmingham. It is unclear what roll he undertook, but strangely it was in that year that Pursall acquired the company from a Mr Armstrong.

In 1859 the factory at Whittall Street was destroyed and 19 of the 70 present, mostly women and girls, were killed. The was an extensive coverage in the Press of the explosion and rescue attempts. The two Messrs Phillips were present in the building and escaped unhurt, also Mr Pursall who took part in the rescue attempts. There is no mention of George Kynoch, however there is a reference to extra staff being taken on to provide the Turkish Government with 18 million caps!

The ODNB says..."by September 1861 Pursall had acquired the lease of 4 acres of land at Witton in the parish of Handsworth, 3 miles north-west of Birmingham. The area was thinly populated and was close to the River Tame and the Grand Junction Railway, so ideally suited for this rapidly developing industry. In 1862 work was conducted in two wooden sheds, the staff consisting of twelve girls supervised by Kynoch; after a short while the lease was conveyed to him. On 3 February 1863 he married Helen, the daughter of Samuel Birley, a well-to-do jeweller at Edgbaston, from whom he later separated. Aided perhaps by capital from his father-in-law as well as his own ability, Kynoch's business prospered and by 1864 Kynoch & Co. had obtained contracts for the supply of ammunition to the war department and the Turkish government."

Was Kynoch's role in the Company mainly financial? Here are a few more facts that raise more questions about the timing and events stated above.

In 1862 there was another explosion at a cap works in Graham Street, again involving mercury. There were calls for the manufacturing of these explosives be moved from populated areas, and in the discussion Messrs Pursall and Co were mentioned as being in Hampton Street. In fact George Kynoch answered a query for the Royal Commission on the question of employment of children in the percussion cap industry, he was termed a partner in Messrs Pursall Co. Did the Phillips move out when he moved in?

We see that George Kynoch was married in February 1863, and some of the capital may have led to the announcement in December 1863 that the partnership between William Pursall and George Kynoch, in the firm W Pursall and Co, 45 Hampton Street, would be dissolved. The business would be carried on by George Kynoch.

It was after the Graham Street explosion in June of 1862 that a decision was made by the Government that workshops, where there was a danger of explosion, should be moved 3 or 4 miles. In April 1865 a government report said that the four Birmingham Percussion cap manufacturers had moved to Greet and Witton. Along with cartridge manufacturers they employed 123 adults, 54 young persons, and 18 children, a total of 196. Of these 180 were females.

There are a few things from this early period that reoccur time and again in connection with George Kynoch. Firstly the employment of women and young girls. Up to 1891 there was no great call on men to fight for their country, Kynoch employed women and children because they were cheap. From the report of the Whittall Street explosion the Press reports the reaction of those nearby..."understanding at once that what had often been predicted had now really occurred."

Similar words will again be used, but I don't suppose George Kynoch paid much notice.
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
Arthur Chamberlain (1842–1913).

Arthur Chamberlain was a younger brother of Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), the politician and tariff reformer. You could read Arthur's biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and towards the end it says…

“He was himself a fair, strict, paternalist employer, putting wages up to 22s a week for male workers in 1903, after the Rowntree inquiry showed that 21s 8d was a minimum living wage for a man, wife, and three children. He was one of the first to reduce the working week from 60 to 48 hours in 1890, and he gave his clerks and the foremen fourteen days paid holiday and a pension after 10 years.

So why should Arthur Chamberlain be considered infamous? Well, it is the things that are generally not known that lead me to put him in the category. First look at his involvement with Kynoch as given from the ODNB…

"The big step in Chamberlain's expanding career was his rescue of Kynoch, a cartridge manufacturer, in Witton and Stirchley in Birmingham. Called in by the shareholders in 1888, he became chairman in 1889, remaining so for the rest of his life, and was succeeded by his son John. Chamberlain now showed his restructuring genius, making many redundant but sorting out the works, costs, stock, and purchasing, selling off operations not considered ‘core’ but also buying new rolling mills to ensure supplies. In eight years he doubled capacity in existing products and added many new lines, pushing into the munitions business in explosives and taking over several other firms. Employment rose from 2000 in 1892 to 6000 in 1904 in nine works scattered round the UK......But expansion was too rapid and 1906–12 saw reduced profits, lost contracts, and redundancies and the tide turned in 1913, at the time of Chamberlain's death. However, he had laid the foundations of the metals and explosives division of what became ICI and survives, hived off, as Imperial Metal Industries (IMI)."

The Kynoch rescue is described as showing the restructuring genius of Chamberlain, but what were his methods. In July/ August of 1891 there was a complicated dispute and strike at Kynoch. The toolmakers wanted the dismissal of a foreman named Wellings, who they maintained behaved in a tyrannical manner, and employed unskilled workmen at cheaper rates. The strike began on the issue of a notice by the employer...

"I will hereby agree to be governed by the laws laid down by the firm from time to time. To belong to no Trades Union Society. To give notice to my employers of anything coming under my notice considered by me as detrimental to their interest."

The toolmakers numbering 70 to 80 struck around the 20th of July, and by the 27th this had turned into a general strike of 3000 employees, including some who were not in Unions. They regarded the notice as an attack on Trade Unionism, and the condemnation came from many sources including the Editor of the Daily Mail who said it was a degradation of their manhood.

It was reported that the men would meet the Directors if Wellings was dismissed and the Notice, which was a gross attack on liberty, was withdrawn. All men should be reinstated with no mark against them. There were stories of adverts in national papers for workers, and workers smuggled into the Works in crates and covered wagons.

On the 28 July the Birmingham Daily Post alters its tack and reports that the real facts behind the dispute can now be told. The Directors were not cognisant of the circular which was the chief cause of the strike; that as soon as they heard of its existence they gave immediate instructions for its withdrawal. Chamberlain went to the works and spoke to girls and youths from the fitting shop who had been invited to hear him. He told them that no one had come forward with any specific complaint against Wellings. When they knew of the circular they expressed their disapproval and ordered that it be withdrawn. Shoosmith, the Manager, had told the men that it had been withdrawn but they chose to ignore. It had been exaggerated and only about a dozen men had been asked to sign. However the men claimed that Shoosmith had said it was a mistake, but did not say it was completely withdrawn.

Later Chamberlain met the deputation at the works and told them that in June the Company had replied to a letter from them; the Company had asked for specific complaints, but none had been received. The men stated that they had put the issue in the hands of the Executive of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and a deputation was ready to come forward but the Company had refused to see them.

The Directors made a reply stating that they would not dismiss Wellings without investigating specific complaints, and as the Notice had been withdrawn there was no reason that the workpeople should not return to work immediately. Anyone who wished to retain their places should return immediately. Many returned to work but the toolmakers stuck to their guns, and on the 17th of August the Company issued this sarcastic letter, a shortened version below...

"In reply to your letter of the 13th inst. respecting the toolmakers late in the employ of my Company, I am directed to remind you that the strike is over, the places of those who did not return to work with the others are now filled up and there is now no work for your clients here. Under these circumstances it would appear rather academical to answer your letter in detail, especially as you raise no new points; nevertheless, rather than have it supposed that a letter which is unanswered is also unanswerable we reply to you once more as follows: All that you say may have been properly said to us by the men themselves, when we replied to their petition and invited them to see us personally. We should have considered their complaints carefully, we think we could have shown them that they were in the wrong in some cases and in others we believe we could have given them such assurances as could have obviated any need for a strike; but they chose to strike first, and then to make an unreasonable demand for the dismissal of a foreman, and finally to refuse us their services till their services were no longer required....

.....So it comes to this: Your clients struck because their "manhood" required them to protect the superintendents from a grievance of which they were ignorant, and the superintendents left work a week later out of sympathy with your clients. This is really too ridiculous!....There is no mistake about it, you toolmakers have been made tools of!....I am sir, your obedient servant, Frank Huxham, Secretary."

Taking the case of 1903 where the biography gives the impression that Chamberlain, being a fair and paternalistic employer, raised the wages in response to the Rowntree inquiry. Well, in May of that year he did, but it seems with some reluctance. He stated that he had a small strike due to his action, when men earning more than 22s claimed they should have a proportionate rise. "The matter was quickly settled, but it only shows how many things have to be considered when any artificial change is made in the rates of wages."

Now move forward a month to June, and at the annual meeting it was stated that "the Company had had an excellent year with a net profit of £100,023...and in these bad times pays what may be considered as a handsome dividend of 10% on ordinary shares....This is the bright side of the picture; but there is a dark one. The directors have found it necessary to discharge a very large number of workpeople, and great difficuly has been found to obtain work for those who remain..."

I believe that I have only scratched the surface as far as Arthur Chamberlain is concerned; and he had many irons in many other fires. The question as to who issued the Notice was not answered, if it ever needed to be answered!
ODNB...

https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/46812?docPos=2
 
Last edited:

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
Arthur Chamberlain (1842–1913).

Arthur Chamberlain was a younger brother of Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), the politician and tariff reformer. You could read Arthur's biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and towards the end it says…

“He was himself a fair, strict, paternalist employer, putting wages up to 22s a week for male workers in 1903, after the Rowntree inquiry showed that 21s 8d was a minimum living wage for a man, wife, and three children. He was one of the first to reduce the working week from 60 to 48 hours in 1890, and he gave his clerks and the foremen fourteen days paid holiday and a pension after 10 years.

So why should Arthur Chamberlain be considered infamous? Well, it is the things that are generally not known that lead me to put him in the category. First look at his involvement with Kynoch as given from the ODNB…

"The big step in Chamberlain's expanding career was his rescue of Kynoch, a cartridge manufacturer, in Witton and Stirchley in Birmingham. Called in by the shareholders in 1888, he became chairman in 1889, remaining so for the rest of his life, and was succeeded by his son John. Chamberlain now showed his restructuring genius, making many redundant but sorting out the works, costs, stock, and purchasing, selling off operations not considered ‘core’ but also buying new rolling mills to ensure supplies. In eight years he doubled capacity in existing products and added many new lines, pushing into the munitions business in explosives and taking over several other firms. Employment rose from 2000 in 1892 to 6000 in 1904 in nine works scattered round the UK......But expansion was too rapid and 1906–12 saw reduced profits, lost contracts, and redundancies and the tide turned in 1913, at the time of Chamberlain's death. However, he had laid the foundations of the metals and explosives division of what became ICI and survives, hived off, as Imperial Metal Industries (IMI)."

The Kynoch rescue is described as showing the restructuring genius of Chamberlain, but what were his methods. In July/ August of 1891 there was a complicated dispute and strike at Kynoch. The toolmakers wanted the dismissal of a foreman named Wellings, who they maintained behaved in a tyrannical manner, and employed unskilled workmen at cheaper rates. The strike began on the issue of a notice by the employer...

"I will hereby agree to be governed by the laws laid down by the firm from time to time. To belong to no Trades Union Society. To give notice to my employers of anything coming under my notice considered by me as detrimental to their interest."

The toolmakers numbering 70 to 80 struck around the 20th of July, and by the 27th this had turned into a general strike of 3000 employees, including some who were not in Unions. They regarded the notice as an attack on Trade Unionism, and the condemnation came from many sources including the Editor of the Daily Mail who said it was a degradation of their manhood.

It was reported that the men would meet the Directors if Wellings was dismissed and the Notice, which was a gross attack on liberty, was withdrawn. All men should be reinstated with no mark against them. There were stories of adverts in national papers for workers, and workers smuggled into the Works in crates and covered wagons.

On the 28 July the Birmingham Daily Post alters its tack and reports that the real facts behind the dispute can now be told. The Directors were not cognisant of the circular which was the chief cause of the strike; that as soon as they heard of its existence they gave immediate instructions for its withdrawal. Chamberlain went to the works and spoke to girls and youths from the fitting shop who had been invited to hear him. He told them that no one had come forward with any specific complaint against Wellings. When they knew of the circular they expressed their disapproval and ordered that it be withdrawn. Shoosmith, the Manager, had told the men that it had been withdrawn but they chose to ignore. It had been exaggerated and only about a dozen men had been asked to sign. However the men claimed that Shoosmith had said it was a mistake, but did not say it was completely withdrawn.

Later Chamberlain met the deputation at the works and told them that in June the Company had replied to a letter from them; the Company had asked for specific complaints, but none had been received. The men stated that they had put the issue in the hands of the Executive of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and a deputation was ready to come forward but the Company had refused to see them.

The Directors made a reply stating that they would not dismiss Wellings without investigating specific complaints, and as the Notice had been withdrawn there was no reason that the workpeople should not return to work immediately. Anyone who wished to retain their places should return immediately. Many returned to work but the toolmakers stuck to their guns, and on the 17th of August the Company issued this sarcastic letter, a shortened version below...

"In reply to your letter of the 13th inst. respecting the toolmakers late in the employ of my Company, I am directed to remind you that the strike is over, the places of those who did not return to work with the others are now filled up and there is now no work for your clients here. Under these circumstances it would appear rather academical to answer your letter in detail, especially as you raise no new points; nevertheless, rather than have it supposed that a letter which is unanswered is also unanswerable we reply to you once more as follows: All that you say may have been properly said to us by the men themselves, when we replied to their petition and invited them to see us personally. We should have considered their complaints carefully, we think we could have shown them that they were in the wrong in some cases and in others we believe we could have given them such assurances as could have obviated any need for a strike; but they chose to strike first, and then to make an unreasonable demand for the dismissal of a foreman, and finally to refuse us their services till their services were no longer required....

.....So it comes to this: Your clients struck because their "manhood" required them to protect the superintendents from a grievance of which they were ignorant, and the superintendents left work a week later out of sympathy with your clients. This is really too ridiculous!....There is no mistake about it, you toolmakers have been made tools of!....I am sir, your obedient servant, Frank Huxham, Secretary."

Taking the case of 1903 where the biography gives the impression that Chamberlain, being a fair and paternalistic employer, raised the wages in response to the Rowntree inquiry. Well, in May of that year he did, but it seems with some reluctance. He stated that he had a small strike due to his action, when men earning more than 22s claimed they should have a proportionate rise. "The matter was quickly settled, but it only shows how many things have to be considered when any artificial change is made in the rates of wages."

Now move forward a month to June, and at the annual meeting it was stated that "the Company had had an excellent year with a net profit of £100,023...and in these bad times pays what may be considered as a handsome dividend of 10% on ordinary shares....This is the bright side of the picture; but there is a dark one. The directors have found it necessary to discharge a very large number of workpeople, and great difficuly has been found to obtain work for those who remain..."

I believe that I have only scratched the surface as far as Arthur Chamberlain is concerned; and he had many irons in many other fires. The question as to who issued the Notice was not answered, if it ever needed to be answered!
ODNB...

https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/46812?docPos=2
At the start of the Strike in July 1891 the works were visited by potential customers, another reminder of how George Kynoch and the Chamberlain family made money...

Hulubulu and Umfete, the envoys of King Gungunhana, arrived in Birmingham on Tuesday evening, and yesterday visited the works of Messrs Kynoch and Co.....Mr Shoosmith (Manager) Mr Huxham (Secretary) showed the distinguished visitors some of the principal processes in the manufacture of cartridges, including the drawing of metal for the cases; but what seemed to interest them most was the shooting of Captain Dixon at some Glass balls, some of which were fired at and broken upon the head of a trained dog...
 

wam

master brummie
Possibly a more tenuous connection in that his father (not he) was a local MP but there's John Amery (son of Leo) executed for treason in 1945 as a recruiter for the Nazis.
 

Steven Warner

New Member
Many years ago now I came in possession of a number of documents for John Abraham, these documents have since been return to a member of his family. I did scan most of the documents and posted some online in the attempt to find the family member and still have these on my data storage. One document in particular which may or may not relate to this history document is a writ taken out by an Adolphe Nitze of the ammunitions factory in Spandau Germany Copyright Theft pg1.jpg claiming that the BSA had stolen his design for a particular cartridge case......... Any how I attach the first page of the writ to see if it is of any interest and may fill in any blanks to this wonderful history you have posted.
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
IMG_2020.jpg
Very interesting piece of history! At the bottom of the letter the writer says he was familiar with the spec of George Coburn Wilson dated 3 July 1871. The thumbnail shows a couple of new patents issued to Wilson, and a reference to a General Hiram Berdan, New York.

Many years ago now I came in possession of a number of documents for John Abraham, these documents have since been return to a member of his family. I did scan most of the documents and posted some online in the attempt to find the family member and still have these on my data storage. One document in particular which may or may not relate to this history document is a writ taken out by an Adolphe Nitze of the ammunitions factory in Spandau Germany View attachment 116004 claiming that the BSA had stolen his design for a particular cartridge case......... Any how I attach the first page of the writ to see if it is of any interest and may fill in any blanks to this wonderful history you have posted.
 

farmerdave

master brummie
Not sure that I would describe Joseph Chamberlain as "Infamous". He certainly did a lot for Birmingham. See below: Dave.


Although not a Brummie by birth, he made the city his adopted home. The son of Unitarian parents, he built a profitable business manufacturing screws in the city but was not impressed by the conditions in which his workers had to live.

After 30 years of rapid industrial expansion, Birmingham was choking on its own filth. The centre was a convoluted warren of factories, slums and grime. Rival water and gas companies competed with each other mercilessly and yet had each singularly failed to provide the population with a reliable water or power supply.

Chamberlain changed all of that. In just three short years as mayor, he transformed the city from an oversized slum to one of the most advanced cities in the world.

He took the gas and water supplies into city ownership and provided its residents with the cleanest and most effective water and power supplies anywhere in the country.


He ploughed the proceeds into new housing, sewers and civic buildings, a new museum and art gallery, a grand boulevard to rival any street in Paris - today's Corporation Street - and a university. He was the man who built Birmingham
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
There may be a case to place Joseph Chamberlain in the “infamous” category for his role, while Colonial Secretary, in the failed “Jameson Raid.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jameson_Raid

Under the Wikipedia article section, Modern reactions... “judgement upon the Raiders at the time of their trial was unjust, in view of what has appeared, in later historical analysis, to have been the calculated political manoeuvres by Joseph Chamberlain and his staff to hide his own involvement and knowledge of the Raid.”

In his book Rhodes: The Race for Africa, Anthony Thomas....

"By 1895, time and the hunger for office had wrought a miraculous change. Chamberlain was now an arch-imperialist and, in his first speech to the House as colonial secretary, nailed his colours firmly to the mast: ‘I believe in the British Empire and I believe in the British race.’ In this new incarnation, Chamberlain was a man Rhodes could deal with.

Rutherfoord Harris, the trusted go-between, was sent to London. What transpired at his first meeting with Chamberlain cannot be determined beyond doubt, but Harris believed that he had understood the colonial secretary’s meaning correctly when he cabled Rhodes on 13 August: Chamberlain will do anything to assist except hand over the administration protectorate, provided he officially does not know of your plan... He will carry out promises made with reference to protectorate by previous Governments but mentioned one year as about time in which question will be settled as you wish. This was to be the first of the famous missing telegrams that were withheld from the Commission of Inquiry that followed the Jameson Raid. All the telegrams were sent in code. Two of the missing telegrams were discovered in Rhodes House years later by the biographer C.M. Woodhouse. Three others, including the one above, were quoted from memory by J.L. Garvin, Chamberlain’s biographer, friend and apologist. There are perhaps eight others (the exact number differs between researchers) that have not come to light. On Rhodes’s instructions all his papers relating to the Jameson Raid were destroyed after his death. Chamberlain would vehemently deny any prior knowledge of the conspiracy, as would Sir Hercules Robinson, the directors of the Chartered Company and a host of others. In fact, Chamberlain had no alternative. A frank admission of British Government involvement in the Rhodes-Jameson conspiracy would have had disastrous political consequences.”
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
Alan Nunn May (2 May 1911 – 12 January 2003) was a British physicist, and a confessed and convicted Soviet spy, who supplied secrets of British and United States atomic research to the Soviet Union during World War II.

Nunn May was the son of a brassfounder, born in Kings Norton, Birmingham, and educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham. As a scholarship student at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he achieved a first in physics, which led to doctoral studies under Charles Ellis and lectureship at King's College London.


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Nunn_May
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
WALTER FRANK HIGGS (1886-1961)

Walter Higgs has featured on the Forum, along with Higgs Motors of Witton. As mentioned by Morturn and myself he is still remembered, by working class people, for his remark made while speaking in Wellington New Zealand in 1947...

"The present blizzard and power crisis in Britain was possibly a blessing in disguise. Empty bellies is the one thing that will make Britons work...we want 11 people after 10 jobs, 11 firms wanting 10 orders, it is the only economic way, the only sane way. We are living in a fool's paradise."

Of course these words are not seen in the biographies. A short biography can be seen from the Journal of Electrical Engineers, where it is said, “His high sense of duty was always evident in his personal example and encouragement.”

....“Walter Frank Higgs who died on the 8th August 1961 was born at Kidderminster on the 7th April 1886. He received his technical education at Birmingham Technical Day School full-time and later part-time while apprenticed to Duckett and Brown, Birmingham. He gained further experience as assistant technical designer with H. B. Brooks, Birmingham, with the General Electric Co., Witton, with the Electrical Construction Co., Wolverhampton, and with the British Thomson-Houston Co., Rugby, before joining the Electrical Power Engineering Co., Birmingham, in 1909 for work on the design of d.c. machines.

In 1912, in partnership with his brother, he commenced the manufacture of d.c. machines. In 1924 the partnership was dissolved, and Higgs Motors moved to its present site at Witton, Birmingham, now also making a.c. motors.

He had a strong constitution, capable of sustained effort and hard work; and this was used to the full. His high sense of duty was always evident in his personal example and encouragement. He was a councillor of the City of Birmingham and later Member of Parliament for West Birmingham. He served on the Select Committee on National Expenditure. In 1948 he became president of Birmingham-Chamber of Commerce. He was a life-governor of the University of Birmingham and a guardian of the Assay Office. He was warden at Edgbaston Old Church, Birmingham. His interests included golf, riding and walking. Later in life his periods of relaxation were spent in breeding Ayrshire cattle, in foreign travel and at the helm of his yacht; but his happiest times were occupied working at Witton and piloting the firm he founded. He is survived by his widow and two sons.
 
Top