James Hutton & Sons, Millwrights, Radcliffe
Here is my small family-oriented story regarding Radcliffe at War. I myself was born at Bury in 1935. My great grandfather was James Hutton, and sources place his birth variously at Quarlton in 1834 or perhaps “Edgworth, Turton” in 1833 is more likely, since his baptism is recorded at Holcombe in November 1833. He moved to Radcliffe as a child, being resident at Tabitha Fold at the time of the 1841 census. He evidently founded the firm of James Hutton and Sons, for his father, Thomas, was described as a weaver at the time of his marriage in 1828, and in the censi from 1841 onwards, as a labourer and/or watchman. The sons referred to were my grandfather, Albert Edward, and his brother Arthur. As a boy, I knew them both, but what follows is primarily what I remember of pertinent parts of my mother’s recollections.
This page has been written by Ron Bullock.
All text and photos are his copyright.
I’m not sure how I got the idea that her grandfather, James, was a blacksmith, but I long surmised that smithing must have been his father’s trade; however, as just stated, that was not so. How James got into the metal business I don’t know, but by 1861, he classed himself as a millwright. Tantalisingly, I have very recently discovered that in 1855, there was a sale of lands at Blakeley Moor in Blackburn. Lot 3 included four dwellings and a smithy, owned by various people, including a James Hutton. There was a “large open yard”. The adjoining Lot 2 (on the corner of Blakeley Moor and Nab Lane) contained not only houses, but a carriage manufactory adjoining the smithy. This presents new targets for research, with perhaps an explanation for my great grandfather James’ entry into the world of the millwright.
On James’ death in 1899, the boys took over, Albert taking care of the engineering side of the business and Arthur the sales. I only know that they did a lot of wrought iron work – church railings and railings for the growing seaside resorts, certainly including Blackpool. After the outbreak of war in 1914, the government assigned them to make gun barrels – my mother always said tank barrels. I don’t know just when this was, but the first use of tanks in the war was in September of 1916. It seems the government dictated the terms of manufacture – numbers required, schedule for delivery and price.
Supposedly, Albert told them something along the lines of “nay lad, I can make three times as many in a third of the time at a third of the price.” “Tha’ll do as tha’s told” said the inspector! Of course, Grandpa didn’t do as told, and I suppose made a lot of money.
Despite the initial economic boom following the war, it was difficult to absorb the returning troops and the government appealed to employers to keep their people at work. For three years, the Huttons kept 52 (hard for me to believe) men at work, without a single order. They took this as an opportunity to renovate “The Works”, as they called the business. In 1922, they were judged to have made “excess profits”, which they now had to reimburse to the government.
Barely into my teens, I overheard Grandpa express bitterness over this. He said if he had not had a sympathetic bank manager, he would have been driven out of business. It took until 1938 for him to restore the accounts. A similar pattern of government direction seems to have emerged with the onset of WWII. When he saw the coming end of the war, Albert, who had only two daughters, decided to retire. He sold the business to Arthur, who had three sons. It seems the sons were not interested in that business, and Arthur sold it out of the family. I know nothing of its further destiny.
I have not been in Radcliffe since 2010. What I remembered as an open yard, with The Works beside and partly under the railway viaduct on Milltown Street then presented a shuttered façade to the street. The Irwell looked almost inviting, but I remember it being choked with foam in the 40’s when I occasionally would be taken to The Works and hang over the riverside wall. I don’t think there were trees lining the riverbank at that time.
I suppose the place was originally driven by water power, but no longer so in my time. I remember it only vaguely, with bouncing belts driving a variety of machines, some of which, frighteningly, threw off showers of threatening sparks. The main part of the floor was under the railway arch itself, but it seems to me that there was a lot of glass in the front, or the front roof. Old stables still stood against the back wall, above the river, but the four “well known Cart Horses” and related equipment were sold at auction on April 23rd, 1914. Also in the sale was their recently re-tubed “Leyland STEAM MOTOR WAGON” so this was the time when they adopted the internal combustion engine. Grandpa was always in the lead when it came to technical innovation.
On my visit in 2004, all that was to be seen was a blue fence and a grey building. Eerily, on the grey door, some graffiti artist had inscribed the name “Hutton”.
So what memories of this small wartime munitions manufacturer might remain to local people, I wonder? And how many other small businesses were enlisted in the war munitions effort?
ABOVE:The site of James Hutton & Sons
on Milltown Street, Radcliffe in 2004
ABOVE: A much cleaner looking Irwell nowadays
Our thanks to Ron for his memories and photos. If you have a similar story please do get in touch.