Three historic names

This week we look at two very different dynasties – both founded in the early years of the 19th century.

Saturday, 29th March 2014, 3:00 pm
Rouse's Carriage Works

The oldest started in 1809 with the purchase of one of Cleckheaton’s largest (and still surviving) industrial sites: the other started at an unmarked “grave” in Hightown only to disappear under a cinema and supermarket in Heckmondwike!

At Cleckheaton Library on Tuesday April 1 (10.30am-6pm), Spen Valley Civic Society will reveal some of its research into the history of the fourth pair of Spen Valley’s early entrepreneurs.

The subjects are the Thornton-Chadwick-Haigh-Tateham succession of Marsh Foundry in Bradford Road, Cleckheaton, and the Rouse family who progressed from making wagon wheels in Hightown to tram-cars in Heckmondwike.

Marsh Mills in Cleckheaton

If your personal recollections or family’s archive can tell us anything about Thornton Brothers, The Chadwick Machine Co or William Rouse & Son,

please either come to Cleckheaton Library on Tuesday, write to Lauren Ballinger, Spenborough Guardian, 17 Wellington Road, Dewsbury WF13 1HQ or e-mail to [email protected]

TEXTILE MACHINERY (1809 to 1998)

Starting in 1809, John Thornton was one of the first industrial-scale manufacturers of textile machinery pre-dating the better known giants of the industry like George Hattersley (Keighley, 1834) and Platt Brothers (Oldham, 1844).

Sadly, the Thornton business is best known locally for the collapse of the Marsh Mills chimney in 1892 which killed 14 employees at a tenant’s mill.

The first 80 years of the Thornton history is marred by a catalogue of family feuds and early deaths that conspired to deny the family’s deserved reward for a bold initiative.

John’s son, Isaac, died a young man in 1844 leaving his wife to run the business for 15 years – probably the most stable period in the history of the Thornton business!

It was the fourth generation of Thorntons – brothers John and Joshua – who created the trading name of Thornton Brothers Limited in 1867: by the time that the next pair of Thornton brothers, Randall and Rawdon took the helm in 1890, the writing was already on the wall.

The brothers let off a large part of their Marsh Mills site to Wesley Barraclough, the unfortunate tenant at the time of the chimney collapse and in 1897 the whole site was mortgaged to a syndicate of Cleckheaton businessman.

The prolonged unravelling of the Thornton business gave John Tetlow the time and opportunity to rehearse a strategy for acquiring the business from the liquidator as and when he was appointed.

John Tetlow, the owner of L M Tetlow & Sons, purchased a small engineering company in Rochdale called Thomas Chadwick, merged it with his own American Patent Cylinder Co to form The Chadwick Machine Co Ltd located at High Street Mills, Cleckheaton: on December 24, 1900, the new company acquired the assets and goodwill of Thornton Brothers Ltd.

The new company enjoyed over 40 years of remarkable success. At an early stage of WW2, Marsh Mills was requisitioned by His Majesty’s Government to re-house the strategically important General Motors’ plant in Southampton which had been destroyed by enemy bombing.

As has been reported all too often in these columns, Spen Valley was not spared the reality of the Britain’s inability to compete with the low labour costs of the “Pacific Rim”.

Chadwicks survived longer than many: the company merged with John Haigh & Sons of Huddersfield in 1971 before being taken over by William Tateham Limited of Rochdale in 1994.

Textile machinery continued to be made at Marsh Foundry on Bradford Road, Cleckheaton, until closure in 1998.


I sense that it may be appropriate that we look at the company detailed below at Cleckheaton Library on April 1!

Last June I wrote an article for the nostalgia page of the Spenborough Guardian about the Heckmondwike coach builder who counted Queen Victoria among his customers: it looks as though an advertiser in 1901 could sometimes exaggerate a little!

Nevertheless, William Rouse & Son with a mill in Croft Street and a show room in High Street, Heckmondwike, is an interesting 19th century business.

William Rouse started as a wheelwright in 1825 at “The Sepulchre” in Hightown Heights: on the maps of Liversedge of 1803 and 1834, The Sepulchre is the small Quaker graveyard on Hare Park Lane – there is no record of any business being located at or close to that site. Where did William Rouse commence his wheel making activity?

William’s son, Joseph, moved to Moor Top, Cleckheaton, to trade as William Rouse & Son: we don’t know the location of this wheelwright business either.

In 1864 Joseph and his son (another William) moved to substantial premises in Croft Street, Heckmondwike, describing themselves as wheelwrights but by 1880 they were building “omnibuses” and other heavy coaches. Sometime before 1895 Thomas’s son George joined the business, shortly followed by his younger brother Leonard: they also opened a show room on the High Street on the site which became the Pavilion Cinema in the 1930s.

In 1901 William Rouse & Son published their remarkable catalogue which contained line drawings of many different types of carriages supported by several photographs of Heads of State (including Queen Victoria) who, by implication, used the company’s vehicles.

In the 1920s the company specialised in adding upper decks to single-decker tramcars: it was said (possibly by a competitor) that it was easy to recognise a Rouse conversion because of the misalignment of the window pillars on the two decks. The company closed in 1948.