nicknamed "Awkward John", was born in Great Harwood
in 1791 and was one of the country's great textile chemists,
the inventor of a process which was named after him - 'mercerisation'.
Mercer also produced some of the earliest known coloured photographs.
He had actually worked as a bobbin winder from age 9 after both
of his parents died in his early childhood.
Mercerisation is a process, which Mercer developed between 1844
and 1850, whereby cotton fabric is given a silk lustre finish
by treating it with caustic soda. By Mercer's process, when
cotton cloth is immersed in caustic soda, then washed, the fibre
becomes more silk-like and produces a far superior dyed finish.
This followed his invention of 1844 for a formula for red ink
for which he received £10,000.
Despite the evident efficacy of his process, mercerisation was
not implemented in his lifetime, probably due to several unfortunate
aspects of the procedure - it was expensive and it tended to
shrink the cotton cloth. It was only later when another inventor,
Horace Lowe, improved the technique sufficiently by keeping
the material under tension whilst being mercerised, and applied
a more thorough washing process to remove the caustic soda,
that it became a viable textile process.
John Mercer's last surviving child, Maria died in 1913 and left
£5000 to the town of Great Harwood. which was used to
build Mercer Hall (now Mercer Hall Leisure Centre). Mercer House
and Park in Clayton-le-Moors were left for use as a public museum
and park under the terms of a charitable trust established in
1916 under the will of Maria Mercer.
are indebted to Mr Bob Calvert for correcting some earlier error
and in providing information regarding Mercer Hall.
Leslie Patrick Abercrombie
Born 6 June 1879 in Ashton-on-Mersey, Leslie Patrick Abercrombie
was an important and celebrated town planner of the first half
of the 20th century. Educated at Uppingham School, Rutland,
Patrick trained as an architect before becoming the Professor
of Civic Design at the Liverpool University School of Architecture
in 1915, and later Professor of Town Planning at University
College London. He went on to gain numerous awards for replanning
of cities throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland, including
Plymouth, Hull, Bath, Edinburgh, Dublin and Bournemouth.
He was closely involved in the founding of the Council for the
Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) and in December 1926 he
was its Honorary Secretary. But he is probably best remembered
for his post-World War II replanning of London. He created the
County of London Plan in 1943 and the Greater London Plan in
1944, both of which bear his name - the "Abercrombie Plans".
In 1945 he worked with Sir Edwin Lutyens in replanning Hull,
even though the plan was eventually rejected by the town council.
His various far-reaching plans fostered the creation of numerous
so-called "New Towns" including Harlow and Crawley
and the largest 'out-county' estate, Harold Hill in north-east
London. Abercrombie was knighted in 1945 for his work on post-war
Following this he was commissioned by the British Government
to redesign Hong Kong and in 1956 he was commissioned by Emperor
Haile Selassie to draw up plans for the capital of Ethiopia,
In 1948 he became the first president of the newly formed group
the International Union of Architects, or the UIA (Union Internationale
des Architectes). The group now annually awards the Sir Patrick
Abercrombie Prize, for excellence in town planning. He died
on 23 March 1957 in Aston Tirrold, Didcot, Berkshire (now in
Born in Leigh, Lancashire in 1718, Thomas Highs, (the name was
probably Heyes, misspelled by the registrar), is one of the
lesser known inventors of the Industrial Revolution. A member
of the Swedenborg religious sect, by trade Highs was a reed
maker, who, in many ways he can be regarded as the true genius
of the Industrial Revolution. A
brilliant inventor but a poor businessmen he never had the resources
to patent his inventions, despite having developed the forerunner
of both the Spinning Jenny and the Water Frame. He gave his
preliminary design for the Spinning Jenny to James
Hargreaves, who subsequently developed it and took the credit
for its invention.
High's Water Frame was later built by John
Kay and Richard Arkwright.
Highs was by all accounts a humble man, unambitious and without
the drive to acquire patronage for his inventions, a fact that
prevented him from either reaping his just rewards or from establishing
the fame and respect which he deserved. On the back of Highs'
work, Sir Richard Arkwright lived to acquire a fortune while
Highs lived out the remainder of his life in relative obscurity
and poverty. Highs
later claimed that Kay and Arkwright had both stolen his own
James Bullough was born in 1800 in Accrington, Lancashire, a
West Houghton weaver whose inventions were to help him amass
a considerable personal fortune. Unlike many other weavers he
saw the benefits of mechanised methods of production and embraced
new technological developments while other weavers were rejecting
began to improve his own loom by inventing various components,
including the so-called 'self-acting temple', as well as a simple
effective warning device which rang a bell whenever a warp thread
broke on his loom.
lived for a time in Blackburn and collaborated with William
Kenworthy at Brookhouse Mills - here they developed an improved
power loom, the celebrated "Lancashire Loom", based
on Bullough's designs. However, he was forced to move out of
Blackburn by angry handloom weavers, who feared that his new
inventions would put them out of work (in the event, their assumption
was prophetical). Bullough
later started a partnership with John Howard at Atlas Work in
Accrington. Here he invented the "slasher", which
brought the company great success and to him personal wealth.
In 1841 Kenworthy and Bullough invented the weft-stop motion,
which halted the lathe of the loom if a shuttle became trapped
in the warp, making it easier for a weaver to supervise more
than one loom.
and Bullough's patented improvements to the power loom were
to make the Lancashire Loom the mainstay of weaving for more
than a century. Howard and Bulloughs factory dominated
the Accrington skyline. It became one of the countrys
largest manufacturers with much of its export trade being distributed
by waterway on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. By
now a very wealthy man, Bullough bought the Isle of Rhum off
the Scottish coast near Mallaig in 1886 for the sum of £35,000.
In 1897 his son George Bullough commissioned the building of
Kinloch Castle on the island. In
1957 Lady Monica Bullough sold the island to the nation for
£23,000. It is now a National Nature Reserve.
Professor Eric Laithwaite was born in Atherton in 1921 and was
educated at Manchester University, where he completed his PhD
and DSc. Laithwaite was the designer of the world's first magnetically
levitating train - the 'MagLev'. Having built a mile of track,
the MagLev train was thoroughly tested, but the project was
eventually abandoned, the prototype having reached speeds in
excess of 100mph, yet in 1973 the government cancelled the project,
blaming the high development costs for little return.
Laithwaite's linear motor created a magnetic field capable of
propelling objects with friction-free movement, and it was to
be the basis of his life work. Laithwaite was a former professor
of Heavy Engineering at Imperial College, London, who had worked
on the development of automatic pilot systems during the Second
World War at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.
In 1990 he accepted a visiting professorship at Sussex University.
Shortly before he died, on 27 November 1997, at the age of 76,
he was working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) in America on a space launch system powered by one of
his linear motors. Of his many publications his "The
Engineer in Wonderland" is probably the best remembered.
Robert Hope-Jones was a prolific inventor who is probably best
remembered as the developer of the Wurlitzer organ. He was born
on 9th February 1859 in the village of Hooton Grange, on the
Wirral Peninsular of Cheshire. As a young man, and already a
keen church organist, he was appointed chief electrician with
the Lancashire & Cheshire Telephone Company, which allowed
his inventive genius to come to light; his work on a low voltage
electrical circuits gave him the idea to apply the principle
to the church organ. This developmental work resulted in a string
of Patents, that in 1894 for the Diaphone, followed in 1897
by a patent for a foghorn for use in lighthouses, which is still
in use to the present day. By 1893 he had founded the Hope-Jones
Electric Organ Company Limited. In the 1890s he perfected the
electric action for pipe organs and was working with Henry
Royce, (of Rolls Royce fame), who made all the electric
action coils for the Hope-Jones pipe organs until 1896. The
Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust has samples of Royce's work
for Hope-Jones. Hope-Jones also worked with Eustace Ingram during
1901 to 1902, trading as Ingram, Hope-Jones & Company.
In 1903, on hearing of his revolutionary methods of organ building,
several American companies grew interested in his work, and
Hope-Jones and his wife moved to live and work in the USA. Eventually,
Hope-Jones sold his patents to the Wurlitzer Company in North
Tonawanda. Their 'Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra', as it
was first called, was an instrument designed to sound as much
like an orchestra as possible, but to be played by a single
person; a sort of early pre-electronics synthesiser. Wurlitzer
records show that eventually, having lost control of his invention,
Hope-Jones was in dispute with the Wurlitzer management, due
to his constant interference on the shop floor and failure to
carry out company orders, (though this is disputed by contemporary
family members - see the footnote below). The company account
tells of his being banned from the factory. The whole scenario
is repeated in more detail in the latest records from the factory
produced by the American Theatre Organ Trust in their latest
book. The ban forced Hope-Jones to leave North Tonawanda, and
to move to New York, where he took his own life on the 13th
of September 1914 by inhaling Coal Gas.
Although many other firms in the USA and England began to build
these theatre organs, none of then caught the public's imagination
so much as the 'Mighty Wurlitzer'. Thus the Wurlitzer Theatre
Organ came into being. The Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust,
have created a Hope-Jones Museum and a Heritage Centre at Peel
Green in Eccles. Their website is at: www.voxlancastria.org.uk/heritage
We are indebted to Done Hyde, Chairman of The Lancastrian Theatre
Organ Trust for providing and verifying much of the detail used
in all fairness, we thought it only proper to point out that
a family descendant, also named Robert Hope-Jones, disputes
some of the above facts and wrote the following to us:
(Robert Hope-Jones) did not stop production at the
Wurlitzer plant - production was mainly held up by problems
relating to trial and error with early installations, a shortage
of Hope-Jones' key employees, under-funding and the Wurlitzer
family becoming increasingly impatient with RHJ and demanding
of his thinly spread time."
such an acrimonious dispute as evidently occurred, both the
Wurlitzer company records and the Hope-Jones family account,
quite naturally, take different views of the events which took
place and their causes. We may therefore never definitively
know for certain what actually happened to force the split at
the Wurlitzer factory. It is for others better qualified than
we to judge which account best reflects the truth.