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Notable Brummies

W

Wendy

Guest
Notable Birmingham People

JOHN SKIRROW WRIGHT 1822-1880




John Skirrow Wright is a man who in Birmingham’s current consciousness has all but disappeared and yet he was a man who was almost omnipresent in all aspects of Birmingham’s mid-Victorian life that were for the benefit of its citizens. The General Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce, The School of Art, the Children’s Hospital and the early Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund and the Blue Coat School, to name but a few, were all blessed by his active allegiance in time as well as money.

Born in 1822, he came to Birmingham in 1838 where he was employed at the button manufactory of Smith and Kemp, where his talents marked him for a swift ascendancy from traveller to partner in 1850. As with many of Birmingham’s great patrons, he was a non-conformist and whilst sharing the profits of his enterprise, he nonetheless opposed factory legislation, arguing that it interfered with the individual employer.

Whilst President of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce JSW came up with the idea of Postal Orders, to enable the poorer people to have the same facility to buy goods and services by post. The rich had bank accounts and could write cheques.

A delegation of the Birmingham Chamber went to the annual meeting of Chambers of Commerce in London and John Skirrow Wright presented the idea, complete with all the details on how it would work including all the Postal Order values proposed.

At first London bankers were against the idea, thinking it would affect their businesses, and the idea was rejected. However, eventually the bankers realised that the people who would use postal orders were not their customers and therefore no threat to their business. Consequently, at the Annual Meeting a year later John Skirrow Wright presented the idea again and this time it was accepted and the Postal Order system was started exactly as Skirrow Wright and Birmingham Chamber had proposed.


He became the first chairman of the Birmingham Liberal Association and in 1880 stood for parliament as a Liberal in Nottingham – a position in those far off days that was greatly revered. At the same time he had been helping the Liberal cause in re-elections at Birmingham. Unfortunately on the evening of his success, at a dinner held in his honour at the Council House, he expired to the shock of all.

Mr Wright was subsequently interred at Key Hill Cemetery. The funeral took place on a hot spring day - the 19th April 1880 and was conducted with the splendid pomp and ceremony that was the signature of our Victorian forebears. Thousands of Birmingham men, women and children lined the procession route, so that over 300 policemen were involved to keep the route clear. The funeral had been arranged by the Metallic Airtight Coffin Co Ltd of Great Charles Street and whilst the coffin was indeed metal lined, it was nevertheless tastefully created in oak with brass furniture. The inscription on it read “ John Skirrow Wright, died April 15th 1880, aged 58 years”. On the lid of the coffin were placed a number of wreaths made from white camellias, hyacinths, primulas, lily of the valley and maidenhair fern.

Following the open he.... were over 20 carriages in the cortege, which, as they set off were accompanied by the melancholy tolling of the bell of Handsworth Old Church. Along the route curtains and blinds of houses were closed and even shops had closed for the day out of respect. At the Recreation Ground in Burbury Street, a procession of representatives from the public bodies of Birmingham formed and walking four abreast also processed to the cemetery at Key Hill until it arrived at the gates, when it split into two so that the he.... passed through the throng.

The first part of the funeral service was conducted at The People’s Chapel, which was arrived at by 3.00 pm. After the service, the congregation left to the strains of “The Dead March” from Saul and from there onwards, the procession wended its way on foot to the last resting place of Wright. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, the assembled people sang “Rock of Ages”.

After his death, the Mayor of Birmingham, Mr Richard Chamberlain, convened a memorial committee. Most of the town politicians at the time felt that they did not wish to erect a statue, but rather more erred in favour of a portrait to hang in the new art gallery, or perhaps a bust to be placed in the Council House. Unfortunately this was contrary to the expectation of the man in the street, who felt that the only way to honour Mr Skirrow Wright was to erect a noble statue to his memory. One such person of this persuasion was a Mr Apperley who wrote to the Birmingham Daily Post, arguing that a bust in a niche of the Council House would rarely be seen except when given permission to enter the Council House. He stated that “We will have a statue if we buy it ourselves” and made it clear that the people wanted “something whereby we can show our children the form of one we love so well and instil in them the good qualities he possessed. If ever a man deserved a statue Mr Wright does and if ever the working men want a statue to anyone they want one to him”

Eventually it was concluded that a statue would fit the bill and Francis Williamson was given the commission which was wrought in marble and unveiled in front of the Council House by John Bright MP on 15th June 1883. The Birmingham Daily Mail reported that the pose of the figure was admirable with Mr Wright standing in a bold upright attitude as was his won’t when addressing an audience.

The statue stood in Council House Square with Joseph Priestly, and was joined by the statue to Queen Victoria in 1901. However the death of Edward VII saw that Messrs Priestly and Wright were despatched to Chamberlain Place, so that the Toft memorial to Edward VII could take pride of place next to his mother.

In 1914 The Builder (a national journal for the architect and all those interested in the constructive and decorative arts) had written a review on Birmingham’s public monuments and had generally disparaged the city’s attempts at honouring it’s great and good and criticised much of the execution and settings of its statues. However, despite calling the Chamberlain Fountain miserable and Chamberlain Place “squirt square” (!) it found the least unsatisfactory feature that of the John Skirrow Wright statue and despite such unfortunate adjectives as “cold”, “stiff” and “provincial” it conceded that of all Birmingham’s statues, this displayed a simple and refined design and that the figure and the base displayed a certain amount of cohesion.

The statue remained in Chamberlain Place until 1951 when it was removed to a storage depot as no suitable place for it could be found. The consequence of this dispossession was that the statue was scrapped, but not before a bronze copy of the bust was made in 1956 by William Bloye.

In a superb act of irony, the bust was unveiled in a niche in the Council House on 13th September 1957 where it remains to this day. It is half way up the stairs on the left and in quite an obscure place where only the avid seeker may find it – how appalled would be the working man of the 1880’s in casting into obscurity their great benefactor.


Stephen Hartland
The Birmingham Civic Society



29th April 2006


I have posted this with the permission of Stephen Hartland who also supplied the photo's.
 
O

O.C.

Guest
Stephen Hartland is to be congratulated for bringing to the attention the Great Men who built Birmingham, without folk like him they would fade into obscurity which should not be allowed to happen.....only in years to come will they say Birmingham had such Great People that built that Great City which led the World that we see today....
Someday we will realize what we have lost in not making folk aware of our Great Past..some of which can never be recovered and has been lost forever...
 

Alf

Gone but not forgotten. R.I.P.
Thanks MomaP for bringing that to our attention and well done Stephen Hartland.:)
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
That is a superb account by Stephen Hartland. Thank you so much for bringing our attention to someone who previously was just a name to me. When we read contributions of this sort we can't help appreciate our rich heritage.
Peter
 

Pro Civitate

To serve
John Skirrow Wright

I couldn't understand what had happened in the 8th paragraph of the article on JSW, but there is obviously a profanity censor in Moma P's text editor, as "he..." should read "he...."!!! :)
 
W

Wendy

Guest
The Tangye Brothers

The Tangye Brothers





Richard Tangye was the first brother to come to Birmingham from Cornwall in 1852. His first position was a clerk with Thomas Wordsell a small screw and screw jack manufacturer in Brasshouse passage. Within the next three years Richard was joined at Thomas Wordsell by his brothers George, James and Joseph. Richard and Joseph made a lathe at home which enabled Thomas Wordsell to move into hydraulic work which they had not been able to do previously. From this the brothers decided to go it alone, they went into manufacturing the machinery to produce ropes and cords. Unfortunately the company did not do well, and they were almost broke when they had a visit from an agent working for Isambard Kingdom Brunel who was aware the older brothers had invented a hydraulic lifting jack. At this time Brunel was having great problems trying to launch his steam ship The Great Eastern, he thought the jack would be the answer to launching his ship. The Great Eastern was at this time the largest vessel ever built and because of its great length had to be launched broadside. The first attempt was a failure. Brunel tried for three months to launch his ship but to no avail. With the help of the Tangye’s he decided to increase the jacks on each cradle to ten or twelve. The ship was launched at high tide on Sunday January 31 1858. Richard Tangye had no doubt that Brunel’s order for the extra hydraulic jacks set the foundation for the business run by the Cornish brothers. By the mid 1860’s the brothers had become very prosperous they decided they needed a larger factory. This was built on the borders of Birmingham in Smethwick near to the Soho foundry of Boulton and Watt. The aptly named Cornwall Works in Cornwall Road covered three acres and immediately employed 400 men. As a manufacturer Richard Tangye argued that “it would be disastrous for employers and employed if trade unions ceased to exist,” like his brothers he was keen to provide his workers with a dinning hall, care during sickness and accidents and adult education classes. The brothers donated large sums of money for exhibits of art on the proviso that an art gallery be provided as this is what the people of Birmingham wanted. They also donated a large sum of money towards the provision of buildings for the school of Art and Design. Joseph retired in 1873 to Bewdley, he died on May 27 1902 and is buried at Key Hill Cemetery. Joseph’s son John worked for many years at Tangye’s and died at the age of 53 in March 1918. It was said his early death was a result of the pressure of the war effort. The Tangye’s said “They launched Brunel’s ship and Brunel launched the company”. The brothers with their generosity helped to put Birmingham as a city on the world stage.
 

Pro Civitate

To serve
John Skirrow Wright

Here's a couple more pictures. One of JSW's head stone and the statue in its original location in Council House (Victoria from 1901) Square
 
W

Wendy

Guest
William Middlemore

This is the text from a book written about one of the residents of Key Hill Cemetery, by the chaplain E.H.Manning in 1905.

William Middlemore. Was the representative of the oldest Birmingham family. He was profusely generous. He gave large gifts of money and land for the building of several Baptist Churches, and also gave Burbury Street recreation ground. He was a man of superb judgement and possesed a noble sense of justice. Died January 15, 1887 Aged 84 years
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Re: The Tangye Brothers

This is a picture of one of Tangye's hydraulic rams used to launch the "Great Eastern" at Millwall in 1858, the largest ship in the world for the next 40 years. It is believed that the man on the left is Richard Tangye. The ship's vast engines were built in Birmingham too, by Watt & Co.

Chris
 
W

Wendy

Guest
Chris wonderful pictures I am sure the man is Richard Tangye. Would you mind if I use the pictures you have posted. We need this sort of thing for displays we are going to do in the future. They will go nicely with what I already have.
 

tydavnet

knowlegable brummie
Re: Notable Brummies-Oh how us Brummies get around

I'm not sure that this person was famous but I was excited and proud to hear he came from Birmingham.

I live in Canada and recently went for a little boat tour on a small pontoon boat up the Severn River in a place called Washago, about 10 mins north of Orillia, Ont. We took a ride up to Wasdell Falls, a now disused Hydro electric facility. Our guide related that the Falls were named after Dr, Joseph Wasdell, a local doctor of natural medicine who hailed from Birmingham, England. I think he lived there around 1910. I let out an involuntary Hooray when he mentioned this fact, only to have all faces turn to me and wonder about my sanity!!. I have tried to find out more info on Dr. Wasdell but cannot locate anything on the Internet.

Just thought there may be someone out there looking into this name.

Also if anyone needs help with research in Ontario, Canada please let me know and I may be able to help.

Regards, Tydavnet

Researching, Clarke, Cutler, Ward, Didcott, mainly in Aston & Digbeth, Birmingham and the Black Country, - Cutler & Ward were Canal Boat People
 

Alberta

Super Moderator
Staff member
Tydavnet, Joseph Wasdell was born in ~Gornal Staffs,he married Louisa Bradley and their son thomas was born in Upper gornal 1858.

1881 census for Muskoka Ontario

Joseph Wasdell age 54 b. England, Farmer
Louisa age 54 b. England
Thomas age 23 b. England
Sarah age 14 born Ontario
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
I was familiar with the Tangye name when I worked for Robert M. Douglas
in George Road. The Civil Engineering company often wrote letters to the
Tangye factory. It was a very successful business.

Years later I came across Derek Tangye's books. He was the grandson of Richard Tangy, founder of the Birmingham company. He and his wife
Jeannie (maiden name same as my married name...Nicol) gave up prestige jobs to move to a very small clifftop farm to grow daffodils, keep donkeys and cats. The dwelling they lived in was very basic for amenities in the beginning. Jeannie worked as a PR person at The Savoy Hotel is London and met and wrote about the famous people she met in four books. Derek was a print journalist in the war years and there have been suggestions he worked for MI5.

I have read all Dereks' books and listened to some on tape. They are called the "Minack Chronicles" as a group. Jeannie died in 1986 and Derek lived on another ten years until l996. The cottage and land has been preserved as was their wish and the donkeys are provided for.

Wikipedia has an entry and links https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Tangye
 
W

Wendy

Guest
How interesting Jennyann. I have had an interest in the Tangy's since I first saw their memorial at Key Hill.
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
I'm not sure whether I should post this here. Today, Sir Edward Downes has passed away age 85 years. He was a very famous orchestra conductor and was born in Aston in 1924. Sadly, he and his wife chose to visit the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland to end their lives together. It would appear that the couple were both terminally ill. The internet is flooded with reports of their passing. I prefer to remember him as the famous Verdian Conductor who came from Aston, Birmingham. R.I.P. Sir Edward Downes
 

Charlie

knows nowt
I saw that on the news and thought how sad it was. I knew he was born in Birmingham but wasn't sure where. Apparently,(the way I heard it) it was his wife who was terminally ill, he was almost blind and couldn't bear the thought of her 'leaving' him, so they decided to end it together. R.I.P.
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
I came across this web site recently.https://wapedia.mobi/en/Category:People_from_Birmingham,_England It has a very long list of people who were born in Birmiingham and have had fame as a result of their contributions to their field. There are quite a few names people will recognise from history and some more contemporary persons, both male and female, Some of the people you might expect to be on it, since they are famous in Birmingham, are not listed. There is some very interesting information attached to these people. I have bookmarked it so that I can go back and have several looks.
 
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