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Celebrity Drawings by John Moss

Manchester Politics, Law & Social Reform

Sir Elkanah Armitage

Mayor of Manchester

Sir Elkanah Armitage

Born the third of six sons of a farmer and linen weaver from Failsworth, Elkanah Armitage rose to be a powerful figure in local politics, a wealthy textile industrialist, Mayor of Manchester and an enthusiastic philanthropist in the City of Salford. Politically he was a Liberal, and radically a noted dissenter, opposing the dominance of the Church, Tory Politics and the landed gentry. He typified the local man who made good through his own ingenuity and efforts.
He left school at the age of 8 and went to work in the cotton industry, along with two of his brothers, at George Nadin & Nephews, and soon rose to become manager on account of his diligence and growing shrewdness in business. In 1816 he married Mary Bowers - she died in 1836 having borne him eight children. Soon they had set up in business as drapers in Chapel Street, Salford. Sometime shortly after 1822 he set up a weaving manufacture business with a partner, one James Thompson, with weavers from Irlam o' th' Heights and by 1829 he was employing 29 workers and selling his cloths in Manchester at considerable profit, so that he was able to build a new factory at Pendleton to eventually employ 200 people making sailcloth, ginghams and checks. His wealth and influence grew, and in 1833 he was made a Salford Police Commissioner and served on the local Watch Committee. He was an active campaigner in the movement to have Manchester incorporated as a City and in 1838 he was elected to Manchester's first Municipal Council, and remained so for over 25 years. In 1846 he was appointed Mayor of Manchester.
He was a lifelong friend and supporter of John Bright and the Anti-Corn Law League. He shared Bright's Pacifist stance, (Bright was a Quaker) and spoke out against the War in the Crimea, in opposition to Prime Minister Palmerston, and, as it happened, the prevailing mood of ordinary Britons. This unfavourable posture was probably responsible for Armitage's failure to ever win election to Parliament.
In business, by 1848, despite economic slumps he had extended Pendleton New Mill and was employing over 600. In 1867 the Armitages took over the Nassau Mills in Patricroft. As his wealth grew he purchased Hope Hall as better befitted a local textile magnate's status, and a man who, in 1866 was appointed ass High Sheriff of the County of Lancashire. Also active in education and health matters, he remained for many years as Chairman of the Governors of the Manchester Grammar School and a Governor of Manchester Infirmary.
During the so-called "Cotton Famine" brought on by the American Civil War, Armitage served on the Central Relief Committee and was commended for helping feed the poor unemployed textile workers of the region. On his death, on 26th November 1876, he had left behind an industrial dynasty, as all of his sons went on in their own right to be powerful local employers and politicians. His personal wealth was assessed at over £200,000.

Thomas Davies

Thomas Davies

Born in Bury Street, Salford, and the son of a baker, in 1811, Thomas Davies was an important influence on the religion, politics and education of Salford people in the 19th century. He was twice elected as a City of Salford Councillor and was also made an Alderman. As a strict Wesleyan Methodist, he was a notable lay preacher at Gravel Lane Chapel and later at the Irwell Street Chapel where he became Sunday School Superintendent, shunning smarter and more prestigious posts in better-off districts such as Broughton to work amongst ordinary people. In 1876 he wrote "Memorials of Irwell Street Wesleyan Chapel" . He was involved in many local Nonconformist educational and religious movements, including the Irwell Street Juvenile Missionary Society, as well as the Manchester & Salford Ragged School - both in an attempt to bring some degree of civilisation to the many street urchins (or street 'arabs' as they were called) that abounded in lives of crime around the poorer streets of Salford. The district around Chapel Street was one of Salford's poorest and most neglected. At that time it was estimated that some 50,000 destitute children wandered the streets of Salford and Manchester, as their parents could not support them. He believed that education was the only way out of poverty and was thereby instrumental in the setting up of Working Men's Colleges locally as well as being involved in local politics as a Liberal. He was elected as Councillor for Blackfriars Ward in 1847. In an attempt to clean up the district he worked as Chairman the Water Committee (intended to improve the quality of drinking water and thereby to promote better hygiene among the poorer classes). A serious outbreak of typhus in 1865 saw Davies on the offensive, attacking council apathy and pressing for detailed survey work to be carried out into the sanitation, health and life expectancy of the Salford poor, for improvements to general sanitation, and for the employing of Medical Officers to monitor health issues.
In 1867 Salford saw the appointment of its first Medical Officer of health and the passing of various successive Improvement Acts, which saw the building of Salford's first sewage treatment plant at Mode Wheel. The post of Borough Surveyor was created to oversee the creation of drainage systems. These, and other measures, proved instrumental in preventing the regular summertime outbreaks of cholera that had long plagued the city. Though Methodism and local politics were Davies lifelong passions, he was still an active City Councillor when he died in 1885. He lived long enough to see the life expectancy of Salford citizens improve and deaths from poverty-based illnesses and infectious diseases on the decline - thanks very largely to his efforts.

Sir James Lees Knowles, Bart

Sir James Lees Knowles Bart

Born in 1857 the son of a great Lancashire mining family from Pendlebury, James Lees Knowles was eventually to preside over coalmines at Agecroft, Little Lever, Clifton Hall and Pendlebury, employing over 3,400 men in the 1880s. His father John was already a notable industrialist and influential local entrepreneur who owned a cotton spinning factory, was the first Chairman of the Swinton & Pendlebury Local Board, was Justice of the Peace, an Alderman to Lancashire County Council and a Deputy to the High Sheriff of Lancashire. As a boy, James Lees Knowles had been educated at Rugby School and later at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he emerged as an outstanding athlete and was President of the University Athletics Club. He also played rugby for Manchester and Lancashire County.
After Cambridge Lees Knowles studied Law and served at the Bar at Lincoln's Inn before returning to Lancashire with an ambition to become a politician. He was elected as Conservative Member of Parliament for the West Salford Constituency and was most active in local politics. Still an active athlete, as a member of Salford Harriers he was instrumental in the establishment of the Salford Athletic Festival in 1884. On the death of his father John in 1894, Lees Knowles not only succeeded to the chairmanship of Andrew Knowles & Sons cal mines, but inherited many large properties and estates in the region and in Pendleton. He was the archetypal Tory landed gentleman of wealth and privilege.
The late 1890s saw what was probably his finest hour as several emergent wars in Africa - the Ashanti War in 1896, and in the Sudan in 1898 - and subsequently, the Boer war in South Africa. In October 1899, Lees Knowles was appointed as Honorary Colonel, the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and seems to have thrown himself wholeheartedly into the role, supporting it with his own funds. Knowles went on to offer the services of 'his' volunteer battalion to the British forces in the Cape Colony, whom he would arm and equip at his own expense - earning him the name of the 'armchair colonel'. The Lancashire Fusiliers distinguished themselves in battle, and Knowles fought for recognition of their bravery so that the War Office conferred three honours on them and the City Council erected the Boer War Monument in Salford in 1905 to honour their action at Spion Hill - another monument was erected at their headquarters in Bury. For his contribution to the war effort he was created a baron in 1903.
He went on to purchase Turton Tower, where many of his ancestors were buried. His ownership and chairmanship of the family's Mining concerns occupied most of his time thereafter, with many troubled times including his opposition to Trades Unionism, the Eight Hour Act and the Working Men's Compensation Scheme, all of which he opposed and which made his work more difficult. These events marked a period of change and reform as a more liberal political climate emerged, and Knowles' die-hard Tory values lost public and electoral favour.
By 1906 his political career was at an end and he concentrated on running his mines and in writing. In 1915 he married Lady Nina Ogilvie-Grant. In 1923 he published a translation of "The Taking of Capri " one of several undistinguished literary works to his credit. By the time of the General Strike of 1926 the former great mining company of Andrew Knowles & Sons had ceased to exist. On his death on 7th October 1928 his personal fortune was assessed at around £227,000.


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This page last updated 4 Jan 12.