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Celebrity Drawings by John Moss

Politics, Law & Social Reform

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
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
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

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.

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.
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
, 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’.
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.
went on to purchase Turton
, 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
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.