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British Industrial History

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Jacques-Joseph Huytens-Kerremans

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of Ghent, Belgium

In 1821 Jacques-Joseph Huytens-Kerremans established an engineering workshop with the assistance of a British engineer named Thomas Bell. In 1837 the company was became Le Phoenix, which was to supply the Flemish textile industry for many years with looms, spinning mills and steam engines. [1]

1841 'The Phoenix establishment at Ghent was amongst the objects of Mr. Tennent's [J. Emerson Tennent, MP] examination. He thus describes it:
"The establishment of the Phoenix, is one of those which have sprung up, thus stimulated and thus encouraged. It was originally erected by an individual proprietor, M. Huytens Kerremans, in 1821, and attained much of its reputation under the management of an Englishman, named Bell, so much so, that at the period of the revolution in 1830, it employed upwards of 220 workmen daily. In 1836, on the death of the proprietor, it passed into the hands of a joint-stock company, by whom it has been enlarged to more than thrice its previous extent, at an expense of upwards of 1,000,000 of francs. It is at present conducted by Mr. Windsor, a gentleman from Leeds, and is certainly the most admirably arranged establishment of the kind I have ever seen—those of England not excepted. "
It at present employs 700 hands, of whom 200 are apprentices, and of the remainder, between 50 and 60 English. The range of its productions includes every species of machine used for spinning flax, cotton, silk, or wool, as well as for other manufactures in which machinery is required, for which there is a brisk demand at present, not only in Belgium, but for Spain, Austria, France and Holland. In point of finish and beauty, the spinning machinery is certainly, as I have said, inferior to the English, it is also stated to be defective in other respects, but those proprietors of mills who are using it made no complaints to me upon the subject, and seemed perfectly satisfied with its execution. Some of the heavier articles in process of construction, especially a spiral roving-frame which some English workmen were completing, seemed, in every respect, both of finish and action, to be quite equal to those made at Manchester and Leeds.
"The establishment contains a preparatory workshop on a comprehensive scale, fitted up with small tools and machinery, and superintended by two competent directors, solely for the instruction of apprentices, and its success we were told had been most gratifying. The Englishmen employed at the Phoenix receive higher wages than the Flemings, but the majority of them are only retained till their original engagements shall have been completed, when their services will be dispensed with, and their places supplied by native workmen, at wages not exceeding 20 francs per week, and fully competent to undertake their duties.
"One important feature in this immense manufactory, is, that it is gradually succeeding in making its own tools, instead of importing them as heretofore from England. The majority of those in use had been already constructed upon the spot upon English models, and at the moment we called, a planing machine 20 feet long, was in process of erection, together with drills, sliding lathes, dividing and filing apparatus, and, in short, every description of tool in use in Great Britain. In this respect the directors assured me of their confidence of being, for the future, perfectly independent of any supply from abroad — but I should add, that afterwards at the rival establishment at Seraing, where all the tools are imported from England, I was told that those made at the Phoenix were not only much more expensive, but of inferior quality." '[2]

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Sources of Information

  1. [] GENT OP WEG NAAR DE EERSTE INDUSTRIËLE REVOLUTIE by Renê De Herdt
  2. Morning Herald (London), 1 April 1841