Tag Archives: Isaac Holden

78. Isaac Holden et Fils: images of the Usine Holden, Croix, France

These lovely postcards introduce another element of the story of Bradford entrepeneur Sir Isaac Holden and his family.  The cards depict the family’s wool-combing factory, the Usine Holden, in Croix, a town in Northern France, just outside Lille.

Postcard showing the Usine Holden, the wool combing factory of Isaac Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/1).

Postcard showing the Usine Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/1). (The card states “reproduction interdite”, but we believe it to be out of copyright).

Sir Isaac Holden and his partner Lister set up the first factories exploiting their new wool comb technology in France because of the market opportunities that country offered: demand for worsted and immense capacity for spinning.  In addition, Lister wanted to expand his enterprises into Europe and Holden was frustrated by past difficulties in getting established in business in the UK.  The original French enterprise, at St Denis near Paris, opened in 1849.  High demand for their wool further North led to the building of two more factories, at Croix and Reims, which began production in 1853.

Isaac lived in France during this time, with his wife Sarah.  She was not happy on what she called the “barren and solitary soil of France”, and returned to England as often as she could.  Isaac was much more receptive to “this lovely country”, keen to try new food and experiences: “I have just ordered a bunch of small fish of the Rhine and frogs’ legs” (Strasbourg, 1852).   His letters try to cheer Sarah out of her habitual religious gloom.

Postcard showing La Grande Cheminee, Usine Holden (the big chimney of Isaac Holden's wool combing factory), Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/2).

Postcard showing La Grande Cheminee, Usine Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/2).

However there were real difficulties for the Holden-Lister enterprises: the industry was very competitive and their technology was unproven.  They faced several lawsuits.  Worse, relations between the two men deteriorated badly.  Holden bought out Lister’s shares in the French firms in 1858, adding his sons Angus and Edward as partners and renaming the company Isaac Holden et Fils.  St Denis was run down, to generate capital to support the other firms which were better located in the heart of the French wool industry: it was closed in 1860.

Holden then returned to Bradford, where he had growing industrial, charitable and family interests: the vast Alston works on Thornton Road were founded in 1864.  The French businesses were now managed by his nephews Jonathan Holden (Reims) and Isaac Holden Crothers (Croix).  However, tensions between the two and between them and Isaac’s sons caused problems.  Eventually in 1880 a new agreement put an end to the rivalries.  It left Isaac Holden Crothers as manager of Croix and the “Vieux Anglais”, the original Reims factory, while Jonathan set up another factory in Reims, the “Nouvel Anglais”.

This French connection is one of the most intriguing and unexpected elements of the Holden Papers.  Who would imagine that the archive of a Bradford mill-owning family would be a rich source of information about the tumult of France in the mid 19th century?   However, the letters from Sir Isaac and other family members are full of detail about travel and everyday life and valuable testimony about the impact of political upheaval (Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’etat in 1851) and the Franco-Prussian War.

The French factories continued into the 20th century: Honeyman and Goodman report that the Usine at Reims was destroyed during the Great War, and Croix “ceased production in 1938 and its assets sold to the local Syndicat des Peigneurs”: a combine of local wool combers.

Postcard showing the Temple Anglais, rue Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/3).

Postcard showing the Temple Anglais, rue Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/3).  The firm built Protestant places of worship for their English workers.

The Holdens were not purely concerned with profit from their French firms.  They took a paternalistic, philanthropic approach, rooted in their Methodist beliefs, providing work, training, new buildings and opportunities for religious and social improvement: “our business is a great good to France”, Isaac wrote in 1851.

The Holdens’ philanthropy is still remembered in Croix and Reims.  Witness for instance this, from the short history of Croix on the municipal website: “Retracer l’histoire de Croix, c’est aussi évoquer la mémoire d’Isaac Holden”, because of the significance of the works’ contribution to the development of the town.  Croix boasts a Rue Isaac Holden Crothers and a car park: Parking Isaac Holden!

In Reims, Jonathan Holden founded the first public library (which still bears his name) in 1887.  He too is commemorated in the cityscape with the Rue Jonathan Holden.  I was delighted to discover that Isaac Holden was the founder and first president of the Bicycle Club Rémois, set up in July 1880.  I will be following this up: links between our archives and cycling in France are of particular interest this year!

Note on sources: I am again indebted to the study of the French firms by Honeyman and Goodman, where much more detail about the processes and finances of the firms can be found.

74. Just and Moderate Measures of Reform: Notes from Sir Isaac Holden, MP

On 9 June 1885 Sir Isaac Holden, then MP for Keighley, wrote this short note to his Dear Sarah to let her know that, “In consequence of the resignation of the Government, I shall come down tomorrow by the train leaving London at 12.20”.

Letter from Sir Isaac Holden to his wife Sarah 9 June 1885 (HOL 1_2_24) on House of Commons notepaper.

Letter from Sir Isaac Holden to his wife Sarah 9 June 1885 (HOL 1_2_24) on House of Commons notepaper.

He adds, angrily, “It was owing to the carelessness and absence of many Liberal members that the Government was defeated”.

The Holden Papers are full of similar notes – keeping in touch with his wife about train times and travel arrangements in the fast-moving world of late Victorian politics.  Their immediacy, like Barbara Castle’s cabinet diaries, helps us understand how it felt to be involved in political events – as they happened.

Isaac Holden had suffered a breakdown from exhaustion during the 1860s.   Passing the burden of business on to the extensive younger generation, as advised by his doctors, he found in politics an absorbing new interest.  In 1865 he was elected Liberal member for Knaresborough in a closely fought event, beating Tom Collins “a jovial Yorkshireman of the horsey type” by four votes (although it had only a couple of hundred electors, Knaresborough then returned two members: Holden and Collins were contending for the second place).  Holden seems to have been quiet, self-possessed and incisive at the hustings: when taunted with being a Wesleyan, he quietly replied that he was proud to be numbered among such a company of the best subjects of the realm.

Holden was a conscientious politician; he does not seem to have been personally ambitious for office and he rarely got involved in debating.   His maiden speech was in favour of the Reform Bill.  As one might expect given his Methodism, he believed in extending the franchise, abolishing church rates, taxing all classes fairly, and moving towards a better educated and more moral society.

This was the era in which Disraeli and Gladstone were coming to the fore.   Holden had huge respect for the latter (in 1884 he wrote a delightful letter to Mrs Gladstone suggesting her husband try a favourite solution of oils in the bath, to prolong his life).   Gladstone showed his appreciation of Holden’s loyalty by recommending in 1893 that he be made a Baronet.  A famous anecdote tells how in 1893 he and Gladstone, two “Grand Old Men”, by then both over 80, paced the division lobbies for two solid hours on a hot summer night to get the Home Rule Bill through, putting younger men to shame by their energy.

In the 1868 election, Holden stood down from Knaresborough in favour of his son-in-law Alfred Illingworth (several members of the family were active in local and national politics).  Holden himself was unable to return to Parliament for many years.  He tried twice to gain the Eastern Division of the West Riding (1868 and 1874) and came close to winning the Northern Division in 1872.  He was elected to the latter at last in 1882 and took the Keighley part when Northern Division was split into two.  He was elected again unopposed in 1886 and 1892.

Sir Isaac Holden, photograph by Manley

Sir Isaac Holden, photograph by Manley

Holden’s final speech in the House of Commons in May 1894 was a fitting one given his views on the responsibility of the wealthy to support education and those less fortunate.  He supported Sir William Harcourt’s financial reform: he argued that the poor were overburdened with tax; wealthy manufacturers and landlords, like himself, had deep obligations to the state and should pay more of their share.   The rare intervention of this venerable MP, the richest man in the House, drew much attention.  He retired from politics in 1895.

Sources: I’m grateful to the essential sourcebook for Holden history, The Holden-Illingworth letters, and to a very useful account of Sir Isaac’s early years in Parliament: K. Rix, ‘Holden, Isaac’, in History of Parliament, House of Commons, 1832-68 (forthcoming) – thank you!

PS The title of this piece comes from a speech made by Sir Isaac in 1866 and quoted by Dr Rix, calling for such reform to prevent England suffering as France had done.    More on the French angle another time!

69. “A STATELY MANSION, substantially built of STONE, in a pleasing style of ARCHITECTURE”: auction plan and description of Sir Isaac Holden’s Oakworth House.

Detail of plan of Oakworth House Estate, showing mansion and glasshouses (HOL 3/2/2)

Detail of plan of Oakworth House Estate, showing mansion and glasshouses (HOL 3/2/2)

“An elegant edifice … most elaborate and sumptuous” Keighley Past and Present (1879, p.236).

“I trust your Chateau is making progress at Oakworth” Jonathan Holden in a letter to Isaac Holden 1876 (Holden-Illingworth Letters p.513)

This week, documents which give a vivid picture of a lost wonder of Bradford: a plan and draft description of the Oakworth House Estate written for the Sale by Public Auction at the Temperance Hall Keighley on 20 July 1898.

Letter heading for Oakworth House, used by Sir Isaac Holden and others throughout the Holden Papers

Letterhead for Oakworth House, Keighley, with Holden crest

Located in the village of Oakworth, just outside Keighley, Oakworth House was a large Italianate villa, designed for Sir Isaac Holden by Bradford architect George Smith.  It replaced a smaller house built by Jonas Sugden, brother of Isaac’s wife Sarah.  On the edge of the moors, with clean and bracing air, Oakworth village was becoming popular with well-off Bradfordians seeking to live outside the pollution of the city; it was easily commutable from 1867 thanks to Oakworth Station of Railway Children fame – though, typically, Sir Isaac tended to walk to his Alston factory, on Thornton Road, about 9 or 10 miles depending on the route.

Oakworth House took ten years (1864-1874) to complete and cost £80,000.  Sir Isaac took a close personal interest in all aspects of its design, sparing no expense to include every luxury and convenience: electric and gas light, telegraph, telephone and innovative heating and ventilation systems.  It had a Central Hall, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Library, Morning Room, Study, Billiard Room, eight bedrooms, two bathrooms, servants’ quarters, offices and cellars: the auctioneer’s description gives dimensions and details of elements such as the splendid oak panelling.

Oakworth House, Keighley, photograph from The Holden-Illingworth letters, date & photographer unknown

Oakworth House, Keighley, photograph from The Holden-Illingworth letters, date & photographer unknown

Many of the features of Oakworth House reflected Sir Isaac’s beliefs about health: the value of fresh fruit, exercise and very hot daily baths.  Hence a Turkish Bath was fitted in the house, while the grounds contained a unique Winter Garden  and many other Glass Houses (Peach House, Vineries, Fig House, Tomato Houses …).  French and Italian craftsmen created magical caves, grottoes and mosaic paths in the extensive woods.

Oakworth House, Keighley

Oakworth House, Keighley, by Poulton and Sons (mislabelled Oakworth Hall, which is an 18th century building still in existence).

After Sir Isaac’s death in 1897 (in his 91st year – a lifespan possibly thanks to his healthy lifestyle!), the House was left empty.  Sadly this wonderful building burned down in 1909.  Later his family presented the grounds of Oakworth House to the local Council as a public park in his memory; Holden Park was opened by his grandson Francis Illingworth in 1925.  It is still open to the public, who can delight in what remains of Sir Isaac’s magnificent mansion: the portico, summerhouse, caves, grottoes, mosaics, paths.

Holden Park in 2009 showing the portico and some of the rockeries.  Photo from Tim Green's flickr stream under CC BY 2.0

Holden Park in 2009 showing the portico and some of the rockeries. Photo from Tim Green’s flickr stream under CC BY 2.0.

Sources: plan and description archive reference HOL 3/2/2.  This account is based on many published and unpublished sources, including the Holden Papers and The Holden-Illingworth letters.

62. “A Controverted and Debated Question”: Mr Holden, Mr Lister, and the Square Motion Combing Machine

Front cover of The Square Motion Combing Machine, letters by Holden and Lister (ref HOL 5/2)

Front cover of The Square Motion Combing Machine, reprinting letters by Holden and Lister (ref HOL 5/2)

This little pamphlet tells the story of a bitter dispute between two Grand Old Men of Victorian Bradford: Sir Isaac Holden and Samuel Cunliffe Lister (Lord Masham).  It reprints letters written by the two men during the 1870s to the Bradford Observer and other local newspapers arguing about the origin of the “square-motion” wool comb, following “some reflections by Mr Lister upon Mr Holden in a letter during the County Election of 1872”.  The pamphlet was printed at Holden’s instigation circa 1887 when the argument flared up again.

We already met Isaac Holden, courting his second wife Sarah during the late 1840s.  At this time, Holden linked up with Lister, a successful inventor and industrialist to develop a commercially viable wool comb, an innovation which had so far eluded inventors.

Detail of the 1848 Memorandum of Agreement between Holden and Lister (HOL 1/4/2)

Detail of the 1848 Memorandum of Agreement between Holden of Bradford and Lister of Manningham, in which they agree to have equal shares in the profits of the French wool combing enterprise(HOL 1/4/2)

Lister filed a patent for what became the square-motion wool comb and the two set up a partnership agreement for an enterprise in France which would use and improve the new comb, Lister supplying capital and machines, Holden dedicating his time to running the business.  The first factory at St Denis was followed by others at Croix and Rheims; the original design was perfected and patented; great profits were made, setting the foundation of Sir Isaac’s immense wealth.  However, the business relationship was never easy.  In 1858, Holden bought Lister out for £74,000.  For the rest of their lives, they would continue to argue about the origins of the square-motion comb and what had really happened between them during the 1840s and 1850s.

The letters in the pamphlet show how public, painful, personal and bitter the dispute became.  Holden argued he had developed square motion before he formed links with Lister, Lister insisted that Holden was just a book-keeper whom he had used to run the French enterprise, too ignorant of the mechanics of wool-combing to invent the machine, and that a patent was more than an idea.

The Holden Papers contain a wealth of correspondence, legal and business papers  shedding light on the complex issues involved.   They include the original partnership agreement of 1848, many of the important letters referred to by Lister and Holden in their arguments, press cuttings (including letters reprinted in the pamphlet), and notes made by Holden.

(I’ve simplified the story of the technical innovations of Holden and Lister and the various patents and legal issues involved:  Technology and Enterprise by Honeyman and Goodman offers a useful introduction and is widely available in academic libraries).

50. “Yours with Increasing Affection”: the Courtship Letters of Isaac Holden and Sarah Sugden

For the 50th Object (half-way through!), a first glimpse of a family whose letters are a treasure house of rich detail about 19th century Bradford, the wool trade, religion, politics: the Holdens.

Detail of letter from Isaac Holden to Sarah Sugden

Detail of letter from Isaac Holden to Sarah Sugden (HOL 1/1/2/2).

In 1848, Isaac Holden was just over forty years old and running a woollen mill in Pit Lane Bradford.  His first wife, Marion Love, had died the previous year, leaving four children.   He was thinking about expanding or moving the business and was to move to St Denis in France.  He was also writing to the woman who was to be his second wife: Sarah Sugden of Dockroyd, Keighley.

Five letters between Isaac and Sarah from this period survive in the large collection of Holden papers held by Special Collections.  There were clearly many others, but the survivors do give an idea of the story and of the characters of the couple.  Isaac’s writing is larger, written with a thicker pen and has a hastier quality than the more regular measured writing of Sarah.  His letters appear more passionate, but this may reflect that such a way of writing might be more appropriate for a man at that time than a woman.  Sarah definitely comes across as a strong-minded Yorkshirewoman which I think is borne out by her photograph, below.

The first, from Isaac to Sarah, is a hasty note dated in the December apologising to “Miss Sugden” for missing a visit because of an “unavoidable circumstance”.  In the second letter (detail above), dated July 1849, Isaac refers to his dear Sarah and has moved to St Denis.  During this time, he must have proposed marriage, as he is calling for the event to take place in August 1849.

Detail of letter from Sarah Sugden to Isaac Holden

Detail of letter from Sarah Sugden to Isaac Holden (HOL 1/1/2/4)

We have two letters from Sarah from that September and October (detail above), to her “dear Mr Holden”.   The decision about the marriage date relied on her own brothers and the making of the marriage settlement: it appears they did not want her to marry until the Winter.

Sir Isaac Holden

Sir Isaac Holden in later life

In the final letter of the set, in March 1850, Isaac hopes they will marry that Spring, as indeed they did.  He looked forward to “the happy period approaching, which shall permit the unrestricted and familiar enjoyment of each other’s society” and to selecting French shawls for Sarah and her sisters.

Sarah Holden

Sarah Holden in later life (1870s or 1880s from the dress style)

The marriage lasted forty years, until Sarah’s death in 1890.  At first they lived in France, where Sarah did not settle well and yearned for “a right good English servant”, but they later moved back to England, where Isaac became an incredibly successful and rich business man and moved into politics.   We will explore the family, their trade, and Isaac’s political career in later Objects about this wonderful archive.