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British Industrial History

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John Holker

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Holker, John (1719–1786), Jacobite soldier and industrialist

From the Wikipedia entry, which draws on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry[1]:
John Holker was one of the world's first industrial espionage agents. born in Stretford, Manchester, to blacksmith John Holker and his wife Alice. He married a local woman, Elizabeth Hilton, in 1740, and while still in his twenties, he set up a calendering business in Manchester, in partnership with Peter Moss. In 1746, both men purchased commissions in the Jacobite regiment that was raised in Manchester. Holker and Moss were captured at Carlisle during the army's retreat, and were incarcerated in Newgate Prison. They succeeded in escaping together, and Holker made his way, via Holland, to France, where he joined a Jacobite regiment in the French army, seeing service in Flanders. Holker came to the attention of Daniel-Charles Trudaine, head of the French bureau of commerce, who believed that Holker would be able to increase the competence of the French cotton industry, based in Rouen, raising it to the standards of the English, and he provided funds and resources to allow Holker to set up two factories: one for spinning and weaving, and the other for the finishing of cloth, particularly by calendering. Holker returned to England, and with help from his mother, managed to recruit a sufficient number of skilled workers for his new factories. He also managed to acquire some of the necessary textile machinery and have it shipped to France. Holker subsequently submitted a proposal to the French government suggesting that a scheme should be set up to encourage the "seduction" of workers and machinery from England, and that agents should be employed for that purpose. The French government approved Holker's idea, and appointed him inspector-general of foreign manufactures in 1756, with a brief to identify those industries that might benefit from "an infusion of English technology and workers". Holker and his wife became French citizens in 1766.

Holker advised Gabriel Jars on useful contacts in Britain when Jars was embarking on an industrial espionage mission from France in 1764. Holker would later spirit a spinning jenny from England to France.[2]

Possibly worked in Rouen with Daniel Hall[3]

Holker was joined by his cousin Jack Morris in 1752. In 1753, at a factory at Faubourg Saint-Sever in Rouen, called "Manufacture royale de velours et de draps de coton", Holker started making calendering machinery, and was joined by Jack Morris from 1763. [4][5]. This source provides much information on Holker's work in the Rouen area, together with the names of many other expatriate workers from Britain and Ireland.

Holker also started a pottery, and established the first sulphuric acid factory in France. Among the people enticed from Britain were James Milne and his son Thomas Milne and son-in-law Thomas Foxlow, who from 1779 were active in introducing British machines and techniques into northern France.[6]

An excellent account of Holker's life and work was written by J. R. Harris[7]. Aspects that come across clearly include the relatively primitive nature of many aspects of French industry in the mid-18th century, and the extent to which Holker, though his web of contacts in Britain, was able to effect improvements in a broad range of techniques. We also learn that Holker was highly regarded in France, and earned the esteem of Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin during their visits to France, Franklin staying with the Holkers in Rouen en route to Le Havre.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. J. R. Harris, "Holker, John (1719–1786)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. 'The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective' by Robert C. Allen, Cambridge, 2009
  3. [1] 'Quelques remarques sur le rôle des Anglais dans la Révolution industrielle en France, particulièrement en Normandie, de 1750 à 1850' J. Vidalenc, Annales de Normandie, 1958, Volume 8 No. 2 pp. 273-290
  4. [2] 'Des Aventuriers' by Jean-Pierre Hervieux, 2013
  5. [3]Google translation of the Jean-Pierre Hervieux article
  6. [4] 'French Inventions of the Eighteenth Century' by Shelby T. McCloy, University of Kentucky Press, 1952
  7. 'John Holker: a Lancashire Jacobite in French Industry' by J. R. HARRIS, Transactions of the Newcomen Society Vol. 64 , Iss. 1,1992