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British Industrial History

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George Keighley

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G. Keighley water tank on roof of Queen Street Mill Museum

George Keighley (1831-1901), of Bankhouse Iron Works, Burnley was a maker of weaving machinery for the cotton industry.

Born 16 April 1831.

Extract from an appreciation of his life and work [1]:-

'This school [in Hammerton Street, Burnley] the boy left when he was about eleven years of age, and began to take part in the industrial life of the town by beginning work at Finsley Mill about 1841. This mill was at that time in the occupation of Messrs. John and George Holgate, and Mr. Keighley'e father worked here as mechanic. After a time John Holgate died, and the business was conducted by George on his own account. This George Holgate took a considerable interest in the boy George Keighley, and offered to pay for drawing lessons if he would undertake the study of this subject. This the boy readily promised to do, and for five years he received lessons at the hands of Mr. Palmer, then Burnley's only drawing master, who resided near Towneley Lodge in Todmorden-road. ....

'After the failure of Holgates' mill — where he had served his time as a mechanic — Mr. Keighley determined have a little of the experience which only comes by seeing the various methods of many workshops, and, with this view he began work at Kay's, in Bury. By his employers was afterwards sent to Wren Nest, Glossop. Desiring still wider experience he went — in 1852 - to Hyde. There he worked for three months at Goodfellow's, and then sought and obtained at position at Guide Bridge the small but excellent firm of Martin and Smethurst. Some time before this Mr. Keighley had become acquainted with Mr. Martin who was a man very considerably above the average. So it came about that Mr. Keighley, in his endeavour to add to his knowledge and experience, sought out Mr. Martin, and, with him and his partner, Mr. Smethuret, he spent an invaluable nine months. For these partners were both men of indomitable will and iron resolution. The word "cannot" was not to found in their vocabulary, and the will and resolution of these men were only equalled by their energy and industry. One of the partners was churchwarden at a neighbouring church, but this fact was not allowed to interfere with business, and accordingly the foundry of Messrs. Martin and Smethurst knew nothing of the 4th Commandment, and consequently their works were just as busy on Sunday as any other day. The speciality of this firm was the making of piston springs and air pumps, and in the making and manipulation of these — as well as by nine months contact with these Spartan employers — Mr. Keighley gained very considerable knowledge in this department of engineering as well as having saved the sum of £100 during this brief period. On the 28th October, 1853, he returned to Burnley. The Burnley to which Mr. Keighley returned in 1853 was a very different place the Burnley to-day with its 97,000 of a population. Then it only contained some 25,000 people, and the glory and the dignity of a borough Council had not been dreamt of except by the most ambitious of Burnley's sons, but even wildest imaginings never rose to a Member of Parliament and a Bishop of Burnley. But Burnley was Mr. Keighley's native place, and in his native place he determined to begin business on his own account. Premises were secured in Stanley-street, off Manchester-road, and here — with his hard won £100 and his newly-gained experience, and supported by native resolution and resource which could overcome almost any difficulty — he began work as a jobbing engineer in 1854. He had not been long there when he became notable for an invention of a most useful and valuable character. This invention consisted of arrangement whereby Mr. Keighley was able to substitute in the engines of that time a metallic piston in place of the spun yarn which then did duty, and was both troublesome and ineffective. Another invention of his was that of a boring machine with which was enabled to perform wonders. At that time — 50 years ago — the cranks of engines were made of cast iron. When these became worn they had to be replaced by new ones. To do this it was necessary to stop the mill for a week or more, and expend a sum of about £100 replacing the worn crank. Mr. Keighley's invention consisted of a machine, weighing less than 56lbs., which enabled him to bore the worn crank eye, and make it perfectly good again for its purpose. In place the mill stopping a week, Mr. Keighley could finish work after Saturday noon, and have all right for work again on Monday morning; and in place of costing £100 formerly, he brought the cost down to a £5 note. Another invention of Mr. Keighley's was a planing machine for re-fitting portions of engines which were peculiarly liable to wear. To remedy this wearing away it was formerly necessary to stop the mill a couple of weeks and take out the cylinder, a piece of work probably costing in all £150. Mr. Keighley solved the difficulty of dealing with this class of repairs without removing portions the engine or stopping for longer period than from Saturday to Monday, and also brought the cost down to one-eighth of what it had formerly been. Mr. Keighley also invented other machines, some of which are working at the Rectory-road works. In 1856 he arranged to remove his works from Stanley-street to Trafalgar-street, and as was somewhat broken down in health as the result of his arduous exertions, he took as partner Mr. James Wood, who had been many years at the old shop. This partnership continued till 1860, when it was dissolved, and sometime afterwards Mr. Wood began to build the Stoneyholme Foundry, which Mr. Keighley afterwards purchased. After the dissolution of partnership Mr. Keighley's health began to get worse, and for a little time he had to rest. After his partner had been paid out and all accounts settled there remained only the sum of one hundred pounds as the result of many years unremitting toil and daring enterprise. With this sum Mr. Keighley determined win back health by change of scene and rest. In 1851 he went Tavistock and Devizes, spending many weeks in rambling about, and having begun to feel well and strong again he returned to Burnley with £60 left of the £100. With this sum he began life again, with what result his worldwide reputation loom-maker will show. It was not till 1864 that Mr. Keighley turned his attention to loom-making. His father before him had made an attempt, but without success, and Mr. George Keighley's chance could not called a rosy one, for buyers of looms in those days expected to buy Burnley looms at from 30 to 40 shillings per loom less than the better known makers. Since then things have altered for the better, and Burnley has become largest loom-making town in the world, with Mr. Keighley the largest single maker, and Burnley looms are considered as valuable as any now made. In the Bankhouse Foundry - covering with the shed some four and a half acres - the normal weekly quantity of bar iron used is over ten tons, and of pig iron over 100 tons and a trade is carried on with every part of the world where looms are to found. In addition to the scientific side of his business, Mr Keighiey knew the practical equally well, and could manage the work of joiner, pattern-maker, or blacksmith equally with that of mechanic. He was exceedingly well versed in French scientific terminology, as he had to be, having a large trade with that country. The story of how Burnley looms were introduced into France is worth telling as exemplifying Mr. Keighley's keen insight into character, and the quickness with which he could come to decisions. The story is briefly this: .....'

1901 Obituary [2]

GEORGE KEIGHLEY died in October 1901 at his residence, Woodfield, Burnley, at the age of seventy years. Beginning life as an apprenticed mechanic, he started in business for himself when quite a young man, and from small beginnings built up the large and well-known loom-making and engineering business bearing his name, and known since as the Bankhouse Ironworks.

He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1888.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Burnley Express - Wednesday 30 October 1901
  2. 1901 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries