Well, as far as I can see W.F. Higgs was more famous than infamous. Yes, it appears he made a 'cage rattling' comment but he wasn't the first to do that and neither the last.
View attachment 128400View attachment 128401This partícular comment certainly rattled the cage of my mother, my aunt who is still alive at the age of 90, and other working class Brummies. They had lived within spitting distance of Higgs Motors. Their father, my grandfather, had been gassed in the Great War and struggled for employment thereafter. His belly had been empty.
There are of course other remarks that he was noted for!
Pedrocut going back to the 60's yet again for me . While working at the Post & Mail doing my apprenticeship , we had an occasion to be working just above the first floor editorial . This was where the historic copies of the Evening Mail in journalGeorge 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.