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British Industrial History

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John Rabone (1820-1892)

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John Rabone (1820-1892) of John Rabone and Sons

1820 August 18th. Born in Birmingham the son of John Rabone and his wife Mary Braggs

1841 Living at 61 St. Paul's Square, Birmingham: John Rabone (age c40). With Mary Rabone (age c50); Elizabeth Rabone (age c75); John Rabone (age c20); William Rabone (age c15), App Printer; Elizabeth Rabone (age c15); and Samuel Rabone (age c13).[1]

1850 Married in Birmingham to Sarah Hayes

1851 Living at 77 Vyse Street, Birmingham: John Rabone (age 30 born Birmingham), Rule Maker, 12 men, 3 Women, 9 Apprentices, 3 boys. With his wife Sarah Rabone (age 21 born Birmingham). One servant.[2]

1851 Birth of son Harry Joseph Rabone (1851-1926)

1856 Birth of son Arthur John Rabone (1856-1932)

1858 Birth of son Walter Hayes Rabone (1858-1918)

1861 Birth of son Frank Rabone (1861- )

1881 Living at 69 Hamstead Road, Handsworth: John Rabone (age 60 born Birmingham), Rule Maker. With his wife Ann Rabone (age 30 born Weston Point, Cheshire) and their three children; Arthur J. Rabone (age 25 born Birmingham), Rule Maker; Walter H. Rabone (age 22 born Birmingham), Goldsmith and Jeweller; and Frank Rabone (age 20 born Aston), Goldsmith and Jeweller. One visitor. Two servants.[3]

1892 September 26th. Died, of Penderell House, Hamstead Road, Handsworth, and of Hockley Abbey Works, Whitmore Street, Birmingham, rule maker. Probate to his widow Barbara Ann and to Harry Joseph Rabone, rule maker.


1892 Obituary.[4]

Mr. John Rabone who has just died at Handsworth, in his seventy-third year, was one of the few expert shorthand writers in the Midlands when Mr. Villiers made his earliest speeches as member for Wolverhampton, and when Sir Robert Peel governed the country from Tamworth. So successful was he in shorthand writing that he had more than one offer of a seat in the gallery of the House of Commons. But he declined to accept an appointment on any one newspaper, and from first to last was a free-lance in the world of letters. At the outset he studied stenography merely in order to follow the debates of the revived Political Union under the chairmanship of Philip Henry Muntz. The system he learnt - Taylor's - was cumbersome and difficult in contrast with the systems of to-day. Phonography was not yet invented; contractions and "grammalogues" had to be devised by each man for himself; and it was more to his ability as an inventor of arbitrary signs and his skill as a writer than to any virtue in Taylor's stenography that Mr. Rabone owed his mastery in reporting. To skill as a stenographer he added such enterprise as enabled him once or twice to give the now defunct Morning Herald the earliest verbatim report of some of the most important of the Tamworth speeches, which he used to transcribe while journeying to London by special train.

In 1845 Mr. Rabone conceived the idea of applying steam to the business of his father - the manufacture of rules - and so he abandoned his work as a stenographer, and applied himself with such zeal to the rule trade that what used to be a very small business developed very rapidly, and ranks to-day as one of the biggest concerns of its kind. When he took the matter in hand measuring- rules were made by hand by a very slow and tedious process. Mr. Rabone devised ingenious machines which perform, automatically, the most delicate operations, applied steam-power to every branch, and revolutionized the trade.

For a quarter of a century Mr. Rabone has been best known in Birmingham by the intense interest lie took in all matters affecting the history of old Birmingham. His genial face was to be met at nearly every gathering of antiquarians in the district, and he contributed most valuable "notes" and articles on the growth of the city, its-ancient customs, and the traditions of the neighbourhood, over the signature "Ion". As a lad he had noted every circumstance of interest, and had known many of the personages of the time; and his memory stood him in such good stead that there was scarcely a street or person of the Birmingham of half a century ago concerning whom lie could not tell a tale or relate an incident. He was able to write a unique biography of Alexander Somerville, the "Whistler at the Plough," who was sentenced to 1,000, and actually received 300, lashes, and was drummed out of his regiment, ostensibly for refusing to mount an unmanageable horse, though the real cause was said to be his action in joining the Political Union. He told the tale of the atrocities committed in the old Birmingham Gaol, from the inquest on the boy Andrews to the imprisonment of the governor of the gaol; gathered the history of the Lamb House and yard in Bull-street, and the romance of the Herefordshire baronet who relinquished his title and lands to marry the good lady who lived there. He claimed to have discovered the Shakespeare brooch, and wrote a pamphlet on the subject; and spent years of leisure in the most conscientious search after facts which he believed to be of interest in tracing the history of his native town, sparing neither patience, labour, nor expense in a work that is none the less of abiding value if it be unostentatious and little noticed. He was a welcome figure at all gatherings of pressmen, and was one of the first to be elected an honorary member of the Institute of Journalists.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1841 Census
  2. 1851 Census
  3. 1881 Census
  4. Pall Mall Gazette - Monday 03 October 1892