Pending these matters, Walsh and his friends had not been idle. Preparations for the second fete were commenced, and energetically urged forward. Guided by experience, the work was somewhat less laborious, but the dread of failure made the committee doubly anxious. Just before, there had been great rejoicing in London to celebrate the peace with Russia, and there had been a magnificent display of fireworks in Hyde Park. It was known that a considerable quantity, unused on that occasion, still lay in store at Woolwich Arsenal. Walsh opened a correspondence with the authorities; went to London; and finally induced the Government, not only to make a free grant of the fireworks, but to send down a staff of skilled pyrotechnists to superintend the display at the fete. Additional attractions in great abundance were provided. The Festival Choral Society promised its assistance, and everything augured well, if only the weather should be fine.
Monday, September 15th, came at last. Fortunately, it was a very beautiful autumnal day. Nearly all the shops in the town were closed, and everybody talked of the fete. As the day wore on, the excitement became intense. The town literally emptied itself into Aston Park. A newspaper of the time, says, "from the corner of Dale End to the park, the road was one continued procession of cabs, carts, and omnibuses, four abreast." Trains disgorged their thousands, and from far and near the people came pouring in, until, to the utter amazement of everybody, the park was considerably fuller than on the previous occasion, and the total number of visitors was estimated to be at least 90,000.
Walsh was in his glory. With triumphant glee he mounted a chair on the terrace, and began a short speech, with the words, "We're a great people, gentlemen; we're a great people." He then went on to say that he was "going to turn auctioneer," and a huge clothes basket full of grapes—the entire contents of one of his own forcing houses—being brought to him, he proceeded in the most facetious manner to offer them, bunch by bunch, for sale, and he realised in this way a very large addition to the funds of the fete.
But space fails, and the account of this, the second fete, must only record that in every respect it was a success; that, over and above the prodigious number of tickets that had been sold, the enormous sum of L1,200 was taken at the gates for admission; and that, financially as well as numerically, it far exceeded its predecessor.
It only remains to add, that four days afterwards, Messrs. Walsh, Cornforth, Biggs, and Collins attended the Board Meeting of the General Hospital, and handed over a cheque for L1,700 on account; that at the next committee meeting it was resolved that the aggregate results of both fetes should be ascertained, and that the amount of the entire profits of both should be divided in equal moieties between the two hospitals.
So ended the great Aston Fetes, the memory of which, and their financial results, will be perpetuated by the marble slab at the Queen's Hospital, which bears the following inscription—
This Tablet records that a Committee of Manufacturers and Tradesmen of Birmingham projected and carried out, on their own responsibility, the two Fetes Champetre, which took place at Aston Hall and Park, on the 28th day of July and the 15th day of September, 1856, in aid, and towards the support and improvement, of the Queen's and General Hospitals of the town, by which they realised (after the payment of L1,663 3s. 2d. for expenses) the sum of L5,054 12s. 4d., which was equally divided between the two institutions.
JOHN WALSH WALSH, Chairman } JOHN CORNFORTH, Vice-Chairman } of the AMBROSE BIGGS, Secretary } Fetes Committee. JOSH. THOMAS COLLINS, Treasurer }
The late Prince Consort, who was President of the Queen's Hospital, caused copies of the tablet to be prepared for presentation to each of the four gentlemen named, and to Mr. Onions, at whose house the fetes originated. Each copy bears the autograph signature of the Prince. I saw one the other day, occupying a place of honour in the house of its possessor, who showed it to me with manly pride, as a memento of his share in the work of the great Aston Fetes.
G.F. MUNTZ, M.P.
The second Parliament of Queen Victoria was dissolved July 23rd, 1847. Mr. Muntz had represented Birmingham in both, having been elected on the retirement of Mr. Attwood, in January, 1840, and re-elected at the general election in July, 1841. It was customary in Birmingham, before the passing of the last Reform Bill, to hold, on the eve of elections, a meeting of non-electors, in order that the working men, then outside the franchise, should have a "voice," although they had no vote, in the choice of the Members for Birmingham. From 1844 Mr. Spooner had represented the town, but on this occasion the Liberal electors were determined, if possible, to eject him. Mr. William Scholefield opposed his re-election. There was another candidate, Mr. Sergeant Allen, but as he only polled 89 votes he may, for the present purpose, be left out of the question. The contest lay between Mr. Spooner and Mr. Scholefield. The leaders of the Liberal party naturally supposed that the candidature of Mr. Scholefield would have the support of Mr. Muntz, and that the two Liberal candidates would be able to work together, having a joint committee. To the astonishment of the whole town, Mr. Muntz resolutely declined to have anything to do with Mr. Scholefield or his friends. Upon this becoming known, there was great dismay in the Liberal camp, and Mr. Muntz became very unpopular. All kinds of proposals were made to induce him to change his mind, but he remained obstinate, and, in addition, stubbornly refused to canvass for himself, or to allow his friends to canvass in his name.
Matters stood thus when the meeting of non-electors was held in the Town Hall. It was a very hot afternoon, and the hall was crammed. The leaders of the Liberal party took, as usual, the right of the chairman, and filled the principal seats in front. Mr. Muntz was "conspicuous by his absence." The proceedings had gone on for some time, and on the name of Mr. William Scholefield being proposed as a candidate, the whole audience rose enthusiastically, and the Town Hall rung with cheers, such as the Liberals of Birmingham know so well how to bestow on a Liberal favourite or a Liberal sentiment. In the midst of this demonstration, when the meeting was in a state of fervid excitement, George F. Muntz quietly came up the orchestra stairs, and took unobserved a seat upon a back bench, near the organ. I was within two yards of him. He wore a brown holland blouse, and had with him a paper bag, and as he placed his hat on the seat beside him, he emptied the contents of the bag into it. As he did so I saw that he had provided himself with half-a-dozen oranges.
In the course of the speeches that were made, much regret was expressed at the determination of Mr. Muntz to stand aloof from the party in this election, and it was hinted that if the Conservatives should retain the seat, Mr. Muntz personally would be to blame. Muntz heard it all pretty quietly, and at length, greatly to the astonishment of most who were there, who were not even aware of his being present, his stalwart figure rose, like an apparition, at the back of the gallery. Standing on a seat so as to make himself seen, he shouted out, "Mr. Chairman!" The applause which greeted him was met with sober silence by Mr. Scholefield's friends. He went on—I remember his very words—"I was going into the Reform Club the other day, and on the steps I met Joe Parkes: you all know Joe Parkes. Well, he said to me, 'I say, Muntz, you must coalesce with Scholefield.' I said, 'I shan't do anything of the sort; it is no part of my duty to dictate to my constituents who shall be my colleague, and I shan't do it.' 'Well,' he said, 'if you don't, I shall recommend the electors to plump against you.' Well, I gave him a very short and a very plain answer: I told him they might plump and be damned!" The uproar, the laughter, the shouts that ensued cannot be adequately described. In the midst of the din, Muntz coolly stooped, took a large orange from his hat, bit a piece out of it, which he threw away, and then facing that mighty and excited crowd, proceeded to suck away in as unconcerned a manner as if no one were present but himself. When the noise had somewhat subsided, he commenced an elaborate defence of his conduct, and said he had been taunted with being too proud to ask for the votes of the electors. "That's not the reason," he said; "I knew I had done my duty as your representative, and that I deserved your votes; and I knew that I should get them without asking; but if it is any satisfaction to anybody, I take this opportunity to ask you now, collectively, to vote for me. As for your second vote, that has nothing to do with me. Choose whom you may, I shall work cheerfully with him as a colleague, and I have no fear of the result."
This little speech was altogether characteristic of the man. It showed his stubborn wilfulness, his intense egotism, his coarseness of manner, and his affectation of eccentricity. But it exhibited also the fact that he thoroughly understood that he was liked by the bulk of Birmingham people, and that he knew the majority of unthinking men would take his bluntness for manliness, and his defiance of the feelings and opinions of his political associates, for sturdy and commendable independence. He alienated many friends by his conduct on this occasion, but he won his election, coming in at the head of the poll. By dint of strenuous exertions—made necessary by his obstinacy—Mr. Scholefield came in second. The poll stood at the close—Muntz, 2,830; Scholefield, 2,824; Spooner, 2,302; Allen, 89. From this time till his death, ten years later, he and Mr. Scholefield held their seats without further opposition.
In the House of Commons he succeeded, mainly by force of lungs, in gaining attention; but he was looked upon as a political oddity, whose utterings were amusing, if nothing more. The only good I remember him to have done as a Member of Parliament was inducing the Government of the day to adopt the perforating machine in the manufacture of postage stamps.
His personal appearance was remarkable and handsome. He was tall and exceedingly muscular, and must have possessed enormous physical power. At a time when shaving was universal, he wore his beard. It is generally believed that he never shaved. This is a mistake. He shaved until he was nearly 40 years old. His youngest brother, Mr. P.H. Muntz, the present M.P., as a young man had been sent for some years to North Germany, and when he came home in 1833, he had a fine beard. Mr. G.F. Muntz thereupon resolved to allow his to grow, and when he went to Parliament this peculiarity attracted much notice. H.B., the celebrated caricaturist, was not slow to make it the subject of one of his inimitable sketches. In the collected edition there are 917 of these famous pictures, all admirably drawn, and excellent likenesses. Mr. Muntz is depicted in No. 643, under the title of "A Brummagem M.P." The historical stick, the baggy trousers, and the flowing and Homeric beard, are graphically represented. The reason given for his carrying the stick was quite amusing. It was stated that the then Marquis of Waterford had made a wager that he would shave Muntz, and that Muntz carried the stick to prevent that larkish young nobleman from carrying the intention into practice.
The family from which Mr. Muntz descended was originally Polish, but for a few generations had been domiciled in France, where they occupied a handsome chateau, and belonged to the aristocracy of the country. Here the father of Mr. Muntz was born. At the time of the Revolutionary deluge that swept over France, the Muntz family, in common with so many hundreds of their countrymen, emigrated; and after a time, a younger son, Mr. Muntz's father, who seems to have been a man of great enterprise and force of character, became a merchant at Amsterdam. This step was very displeasing to his aristocratic relatives, but he followed his own course independently. In a few months he left Amsterdam for England, and established himself in Birmingham. At the age of 41 he married an English lady, Miss Purden, she being 17 years of age, and they resided in the house in Newhall Street now occupied by Messrs. Benson and Co., merchants, as offices, where, in the month of November, 1794, Mr. George Frederic Muntz was born. It is believed that his baptismal names were given him in honour of Handel, the composer. At the time of his birth the house stood amid fields and gardens, and the old mansion known as "New Hall," was in close proximity, standing on the ground now occupied by the roadway of Newhall Street, just where the hill begins to descend towards Charlotte Street.
The mother of Mr. Muntz was a lady of great acquirements and considerable mental power. She undertook the early education of her son, and was singularly qualified for the work. At the age of 12 he was sent to a school at Small Heath, kept by a Dr. Currie, where he remained for one year, and from that time he never received any professional instruction. He had, however, a hunger for knowledge that was insatiable, and, with the assistance of his excellent mother, he pursued his studies privately. He became very well up in ancient and modern history. At a very early age he was associated with his father in business, and soon became a very apt assistant. His father's somewhat premature death in 1811 brought him, at the early age of 18, face to face with the stern realities of life, for he became, so to speak, the head of the family, and the mainstay of the two businesses with which his father had been connected—the rolling mills in Water Street and the mercantile establishment in Great Charles Street. There he continued a hard-working, plodding; life for many years; but on the fortunate discovery of the fact that a peculiar alloy of sixteen parts of copper with ten and two-thirds of spelter made a metal as efficacious for the sheathing of ships' bottoms as copper itself, at about two-thirds the cost, he left the management of the old concerns pretty much to his brother, the present Member, and devoted his own energies to the development of the business of making "Muntz's Metal." This business secured him a colossal fortune, and his name as the fortunate discoverer is still familiar in every commercial market in the world.
Mr. Muntz married early in life the daughter of a clergyman, by whom he had a large family. He resided first at a pretty rustic place overgrown with ivy, near Soho Pool, called Hockley Abbey. From thence he removed to Ley Hall, near Perry Barr; and finally he went to Umberslade Hall, near Knowle, where he resided for the remainder of his life.
After the great commercial panic of 1825, the question of the proper adjustment of the English currency became a prominent topic of discussion, and various sections of society held contradictory theories. A distinct school of thought upon this subject arose in Birmingham, and comprised amongst its members some very able men of all shades of general political opinion. It became famous, and its theories being urged with great skill and ability, forced themselves upon public attention. Mr. Muntz, as a very young man, embraced their opinions, and advocated them by tongue and pen. In 1829 he wrote a series of letters to the Duke of Wellington upon this subject, which were marked by great ability. It was not, however, until the agitation for the Reform Bill commenced that Mr. Muntz became much known as a politician. He took up this cause with great ardour, and, being gifted with considerable fluency of speech, a powerful voice, a confident manner, and a handsome presence, he soon became immensely popular. Thomas Attwood, Joshua Scholefield, and George Frederic Muntz were the founders of the Political Union. The two former, as president and vice-president respectively, were of course in the foremost rank, but their young and ardent lieutenant, Muntz, was as powerful and popular as they. His strong and manly voice, and bold outspoken words, had a strange and powerful influence with his audiences. He was a popular favourite, and when the Political Union held their first monster meeting at Beardsworth's Repository, on January 25th, 1830, Muntz was the chairman. As has been written of him, "His burly form, his rough-and-ready oratory, his thorough contempt for all conventionalities, the heartiness of his objurgations, and his earnestness, made him a favourite of the people, and an acceptable speaker at all their gatherings." When Earl Grey, who, as Premier, had endeavoured unsuccessfully to pass a Reform Bill, resigned, and "the Duke" took his place, bells throughout the country were tolled, and black flags floated from many a tower and steeple. The country was in a frenzy of anger and disappointment. A monster meeting was held on Newhall Hill, and there, in half a dozen words, Muntz sounded the knell of the new Tory Ministry. In tones such as few lungs but his could produce, he thundered in the ears of attentive and eager listeners the words, "To stop the Duke, run for gold." There were no telegraphs in those days, but these words were soon known through the country. A run commenced, such as had seldom been known before, and if it had continued would have produced disastrous effects. The Duke was furious. Warrants were prepared for the apprehension of Attwood, Scholefield, and Muntz, for sedition; but the Ministry had not courage to put them in action. The excitement became more and more intense, and the great Duke, for the first time in his life, was compelled to yield. He resigned, and the unsigned warrants were found in the pigeon-holes at the Home Office by his successors.
The Tory party—Conservatives had not then been invented—seeing how hopeless the struggle was in which they tried to defeat the nation, gave way eventually, and the Reform Bill of 1832 became law. The president and vice-president of the Political Union—Attwood and Scholefield—became the first Members for Birmingham, and political feeling was quiet for a time. It was soon seen, however, that, although the people had taken the outworks, the citadel of corruption had not yet been completely conquered. The church-rate question rose to the front, and became a burning matter of dispute. In Birmingham, on this question, public opinion ran very high. For many years the church-rate had been sixpence and ninepence in the pound per annum. This was felt to be a most intolerable burden by Churchmen themselves, and the Dissenters thought it a most unjust and unrighteous imposition. For some years there had been very angry discussions on the subject, and most unseemly altercations at the vestry meetings. On Easter Tuesday, the 28th March, 1837, a meeting was called for the election of the churchwardens of St. Martin's, and for the making of a rate. It was held in the Church. The Rev. Mr. Moseley, rector; Mr. Joseph Baker, who at that time was clerk to Mr. Arnold, the Vestry Clerk; Mr. Gutteridge, surgeon; Mr. Freer, and others, took their places in a pew on the north side of the organ. Mr. Muntz, Mr. George Edmonds, Mr. Pare, Mr. Trow, and others in great numbers, sat on the south. The Rector took the chair, and proposed Mr. Reeves as his warden for the coming year. To this, of course, there was no opposition, but on the rector saying he should now proceed to elect a people's warden, a row began. Mr. Pare contended that the rector—ex officio—had no right to act as chairman while the parishioners elected their warden. Muntz proposed another chairman; the parish books were demanded to be shown; but Mr. Baker put them under his feet and stood upon them. Muntz mounted to the top of the pew and demanded the books, and a scene of great disorder and riot ended in nothing being done. The whole scene appears to have been one of indescribable confusion. The rector was a timid, nervous man, who seemed during the whole proceedings to have almost lost his wits. When Baker refused to give up the books, a rush was made upon the rector's pew, amid cries of "Pitch him over," "Get the books," &c. The panelling of the pew was smashed to atoms. In the midst of the scene, Muntz's burly form was seen, brandishing his well-known stick. Gutteridge is described as "making incessant grimaces and gesticulations, in a manner which induced the crowd to call him 'Punch,' and to ask him why he had not brought 'Judy' with him." In fact, the whole proceeding was a disgraceful brawl.
For his complicity in this business a criminal information was laid against Muntz, and he was brought, with two or three others, to trial at Warwick, before Chief Justice Park and a special jury. The charge was "tumult, riot, and assault upon Gutteridge and Rawlins." The trial commenced on Friday, March 30, 1838, and lasted three entire days. The result was a virtual acquittal, Mr. Muntz having been found guilty of "an affray," and not guilty on the other twelve counts of the indictment. Campbell was counsel for the prosecution, and Wilde for the defence, and some sparring took place between them. Campbell in a very rude and insulting manner, chaffed Muntz about his beard, and Wilde retorted with considerable scorn. The cost of the defence was over L2,000.
In January, 1840, upon the retirement of Mr. Attwood from Parliament, Mr. Muntz became a candidate for the vacant seat, and was opposed by the notoriously bigoted Tory, Sir Charles Wetherell. The association of his name with the riots at Bristol a few years before did not add to his prospects of success in Birmingham. It was thought, however, that his relationship to Mr. Spooner would give him a chance, but the poll showed 1,454 votes for Mr. Muntz, and only 915 for Sir Charles.
From the time of his entering the House of Commons, Mr. Muntz's political and public character seems to have become deteriorated. Whether increasing riches brought increasing conservatism of thought can be hardly ascertained now; but there is no doubt that from this time the hereditary aristocratic tendencies of his mind began to gather force. The head of the paternal tree had long returned from exile to the family chateau, and resumed the position of a landed seigneur; and his son, George Louis Muntz, cousin of George Frederic, had just been elected a Member of the French Chamber of Deputies. Why should not the Muntzes become a family of equal position in England? No doubt this feeling became a ruling passion, and influenced his every thought.
Still, he was a very vain man, and had always told his friends, publicly and privately, that at least he was politically honest and consistent; and he was desirous—spite of his change of views—to retain this self-given character. Hence all sorts of eccentricities, inconsistencies, and absurdities. Hence his constant habit of speaking one way and voting another, and hence his morbid sensitiveness to anything like adverse criticism. In fact, from this time he became utterly incomprehensible, and but for the grateful recollection of the many services of his younger days, would probably have found himself deserted by his political friends.
At this time, too, the egotism, which in his later years became more manifest, began to show itself. He evidently thought himself somebody, and did not hesitate to say so on all occasions; until, at length, it was painful to listen to a speech of his. I remember, about the time of the Crimean war, when the organisation of the English army was found to be so lamentably deficient, there was a society established in Birmingham called by some such name as "The Administrative Reform Association." A large meeting was held in Bingley Hall, at which all the leading Liberals of the town were present. George Dawson made a capital speech, and Muntz had "a long innings." As we came out, poor Dawson said to me, "They won't be able to print Muntz's speech verbatim." "Why not?" said I. "Why, my dear fellow, no printing office in the world would have capital I's enough."
I have spoken of his dislike to adverse criticism. No one, now, can imagine how he would rage and fume if any newspaper dared to doubt the wisdom of any remark of his. Why, he nearly killed poor Chidlow, the bookseller; shaking him almost to pieces for merely selling a paper in which he was severely criticised. While as for The Birmingham Journal, no red rag ever fluttered in the eyes of a furious bull ever caused more rage than the sight of that paper did to Muntz. That they should dare to doubt his infallibility was a deadly crime and an unpardonable sin.
In opposition to this paper, Muntz started a paper of his own, The Birmingham Mercury, by which he lost a good deal of money, and did little good. The debts in connection with this newspaper were not paid until after his death.
He certainly was a psychical curiosity, and his ways were "past finding out." He was bold and fearless physically, but there his courage ended. He avowed himself to be a Republican, yet he was an innate aristocrat. He was always declaiming against despotism and tyranny in the abstract, yet he was domineering and arbitrary in his household, in his family, and in his business. He affected primitive simplicity, yet was one of the vainest of men. In fact, his whole nature was a living contradiction.
About the year 1852 he lost, by death, his youngest daughter, to whom he had been devotedly attached. This was a severe blow to him, and from this time the robust physical frame began to exhibit tokens of decay. His hair became gray, and streaks of silver were seen in his magnificent beard. At the election in March, 1857, it was observed that he had greatly changed. He continued to attend the House of Commons until the end of May, when he was somewhat suddenly taken severely ill. It was discovered by the medical attendants that internal tumours, of an alarming nature, had formed, and from this moment his recovery seemed hopeless. He bore his illness with great firmness, although his weakness became pitiable, and the fine frame diminished to a mere skeleton. He became at length unconscious, and on the 30th of July, 1857, he quietly passed away in the presence of his family.
The disposition of his vast wealth was marked by great eccentricity. His will, when published, caused much adverse criticism, and uncomplimentary epithets were freely used. Suffice it to say here, that his property was most unequally, if not unfairly, divided amongst his family, and that he did not leave a farthing to the Charities of the town of his birth—the town which had done so much for him, and for which he had always professed so much attachment.
About a hundred and fifty years ago, a gentleman, whose name I have not been able to ascertain, owned the premises in Icknield Street West, now known as Monument House, and in his garden, near the house, he built the tall octagonal tower, now known as the Monument, respecting the origin of which so many various legendary stories are current. It was, no doubt, erected to enable its owner, who was an astronomer, to obtain from its upper chamber a more extensive field of view for his instruments, and thus to enable him to make observations of the heavenly bodies when they were very low down in the horizon. I am informed, however, by an old inhabitant of Edgbaston, that his father told him, when a little boy, that it, was built by a gentleman named Parrott, who formerly lived in the top house in Bull Street, at the corner of Steelhouse Lane. This gentleman had removed to the house now called Monument House, and built the "Monument" in his garden to enable him—when from age he became too much enfeebled to enjoy it himself—to watch from its upper storeys the sport of coursing, which was extensively practised in the pleasant fields and meadows which then surrounded the house. Be that as it may, it is certain that the tower was, a century ago, known by the name of "Parrott's Folly."[A]
[Footnote A: In a Directory for the year 1800, Monument House is named as the residence of Mr. Parrott Noel.]
From the top storey of this lofty building there was a very extensive range of vision, but when first built there was little to be seen but green fields and open country. Of the few buildings visible, Ladywood House, still standing, occupied the foreground, and was surrounded by a pleasant park. Apparently just beyond was the fine old mansion known as New Hall, which stood where now Great Charles Street intersects Newhall Street, the present roadway being the very site which the house then occupied. St. Philip's Church was being built, and the scaffold of its unfinished tower and dome looked like a huge net of wickerwork. A little to the left, Aston Hall, in the clear atmosphere, seemed only about a mile away. Beyond, on a gentle eminence, Coleshill was distinctly visible, and in the far distance the tower of St. Mary's Church at Coventry reared to the dim and hazy sky its exquisitely tapered and most graceful spire.
I stood within this upper room, a few years ago, on a pleasant evening in the summer-time. From its windows there is still a very extensive view, but how changed! On all sides but one there is nothing to be seen, under the dingy cloud of smoke, but a weary, bewildering mass of dismal brick and mortar; and even on the north-west, where there are still a few green fields and pleasant gardens in the neighbourhood of the two reservoirs, the eye, reaching beyond there, comes upon the dark and forbidding regions to the west of Dudley. As on that glorious evening I turned my telescope to this point, I was startled by a very curious sight. I had placed the instrument in such a manner that its "field" was completely filled by the ruby-coloured disc of the setting sun. As I looked, I saw the singular apparition of a moving "whimsey" at the top of Brierley Hill, dark and black against the shining surface. It was an extraordinary illusion, for it looked exactly as if the rising and falling beam of the engine were attached to the surface of the sun itself.
On the same side, I saw, almost at the foot of the tower on which I stood, a little enclosed garden. It contained at one end a long, low, pavilion-like building, and, here and there, some pleasant alcoves and garden seats. I heard the sound of merry voices, and, I saw two or three sets of gentlemen playing the game known by the unpoetical name of "quoits." Upon inquiry I was told that this was the private ground of the Edgbaston Quoit Club, a select body, consisting mainly of well-to-do inhabitants of that pleasant suburb. By the courtesy of one of the members, I was a few days afterwards conducted over these premises. It was not a club day, so we were alone. The low pavilion, was, I found, the dining-room of the club—for on club days the members met to dine, as a preliminary to the play. It was plainly and very comfortably furnished, and every arrangement seemed to have been made that could conduce to the convenience of the members. At one end was a long row of hat-pegs, and upon these, at various angles, hung a singular assortment of garden hats and caps, of every imaginable shape and colour. They were the neglige head-coverings of the members, and though altogether dissimilar in most respects, they were alike in one—they were all of very large size.
Phrenologists tell us that the size of a man's head is indicative of his mental power, and these hats certainly bore out the theory, for their owners were mostly self-made men, and were, without exception, men of mark. I will not mention the name of any of those now living, but two of the largest hats there belonged respectively to Walter Lyndon and Joseph Gillott.
Mr. Gillott, we are told, in a newspaper published soon after his death, was "born of poor but honest parents." I should like very much to inquire here, how it is that novel writers, magazine contributors, and newspaper reporters always write "poor but honest." Is there really anything antithetic or antagonistic in poverty and honesty? To my mind the phrase always seems offensive, and it will be well if it is discontinued in the future. It is one of those little bits of clap-trap so common among reporters, who use phrases of this kind continually, without a thought as to their appropriateness.
However, Joseph Gillott was born in Sheffield about three months before the present century commenced. His parents were poor, but they managed to give him a good plain education, and they taught him self-reliance. They taught him, too, to train and cultivate the fine faculty of observation with which he was naturally endowed. In very early life, we are told, he, by forging and grinding the blades of pen-knives, contributed greatly to the income of the parental household. It is said that even at a very early age, his quick perception and his acute nervous organisation enabled him to produce much finer work than others of far greater experience in the same trade, whose obtuseness had kept them in a state of comparative drudgery all their lives.
When he became of age, and was "out of his time," the cutlery trade in Sheffield was very much depressed, and he came to Birmingham, hoping to obtain employment in a trade which, owing to a caprice of fashion, was just then in an inflated condition. This was the business of making steel buckles, and other articles of polished steel for personal adornment. In this he was very successful, and soon after his arrival in the town, he took a small house in Bread Street, a little way down on the right from Newhall Street, and here he started business for himself. He had no capital, but he had great skill. Mr. S.A. Goddard, who used to buy from him, tells me that he made very excellent goods, and "came for his money every week." He was a very excellent workman, and possessing as he did the native perception of fitness which we call "taste," he soon obtained abundance of orders, and became prosperous.
At this time the steel pen trade, which has since grown to such enormous dimensions, was only in a tentative condition. Josiah Mason, in conjunction with Perry, of The Morning Chronicle newspaper, was experimenting, and two brothers, named respectively John and William Mitchell, were actually making, by a tedious method, a fairly good article. They were assisted in their work by a sister. By some fortunate accident, Gillott and Miss Mitchell met, and after a brief courtship they entered into an engagement to marry. She spoke to her intended husband of the nature of her occupation, and Gillott at once conceived the idea that the press, the useful implement then used principally in the button trade, might, if proper tools could be made to suit, produce pens in large numbers very rapidly. With his own hands, in a garret of his house, he secretly worked until he had succeeded in making pens of a far better quality than had yet been seen. His process was one in which, unassisted, he could produce as many pens as twenty pairs of hands, working under the old system, could turn out. There was an enormous demand for his goods, and as he wanted help, and secrecy seemed needful, the young people married, and Mr. Gillott used to tell how, on the very morning of his marriage, he, before going to the church, made with his own hands a gross of pens, and sold them at 1s. each, realising thereby a sum of L7 4s.
Continuing to live in the little house in Bread Street, the young couple worked in the garret, no one else assisting. As an illustration of the primitive condition of the steel pen trade then, it may be mentioned that at this period the pens were "blued" and varnished in a common frying-pan, over a kitchen fire. Orders flowed in so rapidly, and the goods were produced in such quantities, that the young couple made money faster than they knew what to do with it. They were afraid to invest it, as they did not wish it to ooze out that the business was so profitable. It has been stated that Mr. Gillott had several banking accounts open at this time, being afraid that, if he paid all his profits into one bank, it might excite cupidity, and so engender competition. It is also said that he actually buried money in the cellar of his house, lest his marvellously rapid accumulation of wealth should become known.
At length the demand for his pens became so great that it was impossible to resist the urgent necessity for larger premises and increased labour. Mr. Gillott, accordingly, removed to Church Street, and subsequently took other premises, up the yard by Mr. Mappin's shop in Newhall Street. About the same time, he removed his family to the house at the corner of Great Charles Street, where the Institution of Mechanical Engineers had its offices until its recent removal to London. After a few years, he commenced to build the premises in Graham Street, where the business has, ever since, been carried on. At the time the building was erected, there were few "factories," properly so called, in the town, and most of the work of the place was conducted in the low, narrow ranges of latticed-windowed buildings known as "shopping." Mr. Gillott's was, I think, the first Birmingham building in the modern factory style. It was admirably planned, and expensively built. Even, now, when hundreds of factories have arisen, its solid and substantial appearance externally, and the arrangements inside, for order, and for the organisation of labour, are not surpassed by any of its rivals.
As soon as Mr. Gillott's appliances were of sufficient extent to supply very large quantities, he commenced to advertise extensively, a practice which he continued during the remainder of his life, and which his son and successor still follows up in a modified form. I perfectly remember, more than forty years ago, his advertisements in tine magazines, and on the cover of the "Penny Cyclopaedia." Like everything that Mr. Gillott did, they bore the impress of original thought. After giving his name and address, and a few other particulars as to his wares, the advertisements went on to say something like this:
"The number of pens produced in this factory in the year ending December 31st, 1836, was
250,000 grosses, or 3,000,000 dozens, or 36,000,000 pens."
The advertisements invariably had the fac-simile of Mr. Gillott's signature, as now; a signature better known, perhaps, than any other in the world, and one with which almost every human being who can write is perfectly familiar. Of course it will be understood that the quantities given above are altogether imaginary. It is impossible to remember the exact figures after so many years, but they are inserted to show the form the advertisements then took.
Faster than the improved facilities at his command enabled him to produce, came the demand for his pens. To meet this, he brought from time to time into use many mechanical appliances, the product of his fertile and ingenious brain, until at length every one of the old processes was superseded, and labour-saving machinery substituted. The price of the pens fell from a shilling each to less than that sum per gross, and the steel pen came into universal use. The enormous number of yens produced in Mr. Gillott's works can scarcely be set down in figures, but may be estimated roughly, from the statement made at the time of his death that the average weight of the weekly make of finished pens exceeded five tons. I have tried, by experiment, to arrive at an approximate estimate of the number of pens this weight represents. I have taken a "scratch" dozen of pens, of all sorts and sizes, and ascertaining their weight, have calculated therefrom, and I find that the result is something like sixty thousand grosses, or the enormous number of nearly nine millions of separate pens, sent out from this manufactory every week.
In the course of the forty or fifty years during which Mr. Gillott was in business, many other manufactories of steel pens were established, at some of which, probably, greater numbers of pens were produced than at his own, but the amount of business transacted was in no case, probably, so great. Mr. Gillott did not compete in the direction others took—lowness of price. Like his brother-in-law, Mr. William Mitchell, he preferred to continue to improve the quality. It is somewhat remarkable that, after long years of active and severe competition, these two houses—the oldest in the trade, I believe—have still the highest reputation for excellence.
It has often occurred to me that the invention of steel pens came most opportunely. Had they not been invented, Rowland Hill's penny postage scheme would probably have failed. There would not have been, in the whole world, geese enough to supply quills to make the required number of pens. Had Byron lived a little later on, his celebrated couplet would not have apostrophised the "gray goose quill," but would probably have run something like this:
"My Gillott pen! thou noblest work of skill, Slave of my thought, obedient to my will."
My purpose, however, in this sketch is not to write a history of the trade by which Mr. Gillott raised himself to fame and fortune, but rather to describe the man himself, as he moved quietly and unobtrusively among his fellow men. One of his chief characteristics, it has always struck me, was his intense love of excellence in everything with which he had to do. It was a frequent jocular remark of his that "the best of everything was good enough for him." In this—perhaps unknowingly—he followed Lord Bacon's advice, "Jest in earnest," for he, certainly, earnestly carried out in life the desire to do, and to possess, the "best" that could be attained. Of this peculiarity, some very pleasant stories can be told.
Soon after he had purchased the beautiful estate at Stanmore, near Harrow-on-the-Hill, which he loved so much, and where, in company with his old friend, Pettitt, the artist, he spent so much time in his latter years, he resolved to adorn the grounds with the rarest and most beautiful shrubs and trees obtainable. The trustees of the Jephson Gardens, at Leamington, about the same time, advertised for sale some surplus plants of rare kinds, and Mr. Gillott paid the gardens a visit. He had selected a number of costly specimens, when his eye fell on a tree of surpassing beauty. He inquired its price, and was told that it was not for sale. He was not a man to be easily baffled, and he still tried to make a bargain. He was at length told that an offer of L50 had already been made for the tree, and refused. His reply was characteristic: "Well, I've made up my mind to have that tree, and I'll give L100 for it. This offer, with the amount of those I have selected, will make my morning's purchases come to three or four hundred pounds. If I don't have this tree, I won't have any." He had it, and it still adorns the magnificent lawn at Stanmore.
Few people know that he had a fancy for collecting precious stones, simply as rarities. Poor George Lawson (whose tall, erect, and soldier-like figure was well known in the streets of Birmingham and at picture sales, and whose thoroughly good-natured, genial, hearty manner, and singular wealth of humour, made him the favourite "of all circles, and the idol of his own") told me a capital story illustrative of this. One of Mr. Lawson's daughters complained to him of tooth-ache, and he advised her to have it extracted. The young lady, who had inherited a large share of her father's rare humour, went immediately to the dentist and had the objectionable tooth removed. There had been a calf's head on the dinner-table that day, and the young lady, on her return, obtained from the cook one of the large molars from the jaw of the calf, which, having been carefully wrapped in paper, was presented to her father as her own. He saw through the trick in an instant, and affecting great astonishment at its enormous size, he put it in his waistcoat pocket, as a curiosity, forming in his own mind a little plot for the following day, when he had an engagement to dine out. The dinner party was at Walter Lyndon's house at Moseley, and here he met Gillott. Lawson, at table, was seated next to a gentleman from London, who wore on his forefinger a ring containing a very magnificent diamond; so large, indeed, as to excite Lawson's attention so much that at length he spoke, "You must really excuse me, but I cannot help admiring the splendid diamond in your ring." "Yes, it's a pretty good one," said the gentleman, handing it to Lawson for inspection. It was passed round the table until it reached Gillott, who carefully inspected it and said, "It's a very good one; but I think I have one that'll 'lick' it." Putting his hand into the breast pocket of his coat, he brought out two or three shabby-looking screwed-up bits of paper. Selecting one of these, he opened it, and produced therefrom an unmounted diamond, far surpassing in size and purity the one in the ring. Precious stones generally became at once the topic of conversation, and it was wondered whether an emerald of equal size would be of equal or, as one contended, even greater value. One gentleman present said that an emerald so large had never yet been seen. Gillott's eye twinkled with a merry humour, as, from another bit of paper, he produced an emerald larger than the diamond, and a minute afterwards trumped both these with a splendid ruby. It was now Lawson's turn. Assuming a serious look, he said that Mr. Gillott's specimens were certainly very remarkable, but he could "beat them hollow." Then, with an air of great mystery and care, he produced from his pocket the carefully-enveloped tooth, which he exhibited to his astonished friends as the identical tooth taken from his daughter's jaw the day before.
It is well known that Mr. Gillott had accumulated a very large and fine collection of violins and other stringed musical instruments. These, when sold by auction after his death, fetched, under the hammer, upwards of L4,000. About twenty years ago an old friend of mine in Leicestershire, who had met with some heavy losses, desired to sell a fine Stradivarius violin, which had been in his family more than a century, and he sent it to me that I might offer it to Mr. Gillott. I called upon him to ask permission to bring it to him for inspection. I can recall now the frank, honest, homely Yorkshire tone with which he said, "Nay, lad! I shan't buy any more fiddles; I've got a boat-load already." He wouldn't look at it, and I sent it back to its owner, who is long since dead.
World-wide as was his reputation as a manufacturer, he was almost equally renowned as one of the most munificent and discriminating patrons of Art. Possessing, naturally, a most refined taste, and having very acute perceptive powers, he instinctively recognised the true in the work of young artists; and when he saw tokens of more than common ability, he fostered the budding talent in a very generous spirit. So much was thought of his judgment, that the fact of his having bought a picture by an unknown man was quite sufficient to give the artist a position. I heard a story from a Liverpool artist the other day, very characteristic of Mr. Gillott's firm and determined, yet kind and generous, nature. It is well known that he very early recognised the genius of the gifted Mueller, and became his warm supporter. One result of his patronage was that others sought the artist, and by offers of large prices and extensive commissions, induced him to let them have some of his pictures, which Gillott was to have bought. Mueller appears to have become inflated by his great success, and he, in this or some other way, managed to annoy his early friend and patron in a very serious manner. His punishment was swift, severe, and sure. Gillott immediately packed off every Mueller picture he possessed to an auction room in London, with directions that they should be extensively advertised as his property, and sold without the slightest reserve. This step so frightened the Art-world that "Muellers" became a drug in the market, and poor Mueller found himself neglected by his quondam friends. He soon came in penitence to Gillott, who again took him by the hand, and befriended him until his untimely death in 1845, at the age of 33. At the sale of Mr. Gillott's pictures after his decease, Mueller's celebrated picture, "The Chess Players," fetched the enormous sum of L3,950.
The story of Mr. Gillott's introduction to the great landscape painter, Turner, has been variously told, but the basis of all the stories is pretty much the same. It seems that Gillott, long before Ruskin had dubbed Turner "the modern Claude," had detected the rare excellence of his works, and longed to possess some. He went to the dingy house in Queen Anne Street, and Turner himself opened the door. In reply to Gillott's questions, he said he had "nothing to sell that he could afford to buy." Gillott, by great perseverance, obtained admission, and tried at first to bargain for a single picture. Turner looked disdainfully at his visitor, and refused to quote a price. Still Gillott persevered, and at length startled the artist by asking, "What'll you take for the lot in this room?" Turner, half-jokingly, named a very large sum—many thousands—thinking to frighten him off, but Gillott opened his pocket book, and, to Turner's utter amazement, paid down the money in crisp Bank of England notes. From this moment the two men, so utterly unlike in their general character, but so strangely kindred in their love of Art, became on intimate terms of friendship, which lasted until Turner's death in 1851. Mr. Gillott's collection of Turner's works was the largest and finest in private hands in England, and, when they were sold, realised more than five times the money he had paid for them.
Mr. Gillott was not, in any sense, a public man, and he took no active part in politics. He had a great dislike to public companies, and I believe never held a share in one. He had a very few old friends with whom he loved to associate. He was very hospitable, but he had a strong aversion to formal parties, and to every kind of ostentation. His chief delight was to act as cicerone to an appreciative visitant to his magnificent gallery. He was a frequent visitor to the snug smoking-room at the "Hen and Chickens," where poor "Walter" always brought him, without waiting for an order, what Tony Weller called the "inwariable" and a choice cigar. He did not talk much, but, when he spoke, he had always "something to say." He left early, and went from there, almost nightly, to the Theatre Royal, where he occupied, invariably, a back seat of a certain box, and here, if the performances were a little dull, he would often enjoy a comfortable nap.
In private life he was cheerful, easily pleased, and unaffected. He was greatly beloved by children and young people. I wrote the other day to a lady, at whose father's house he was a frequent visitor, asking for her recollections of him; and the reply is so pleasant and graphic, that, without her permission, I shall quote it verbatim:
"When he dined with papa it was always a 'gentlemen's' party, and only mamma dined with them. We used to see the visitors at dessert only. I remember Mr. Gillott as always being very cheery in manner, with a kind smile; and few words. As children, when we went to dancing parties at his house, he would come during the evening, with a few old friends (the fathers of the children assembled), and, standing in the door of the drawing-room, pat the children on the head and have a little joke with them as they passed him. He would stay for about half-an-hour or so, and then return with his friends down-stairs to smoke. I have heard papa, who, as you know, was no mean judge, say what a remarkably quick ear Mr. Gillott had for music. When they had been together to hear a new opera, he, on his return home, would whistle correctly the greater portion of the music, having only heard it once."
Personally, Mr. Gillott was rather short, and was of broad and sturdy build. He had a remarkably firm step, and there was a rhythmic regularity in his footfall. He was fond of light attire, and generally wore a white hat. There was an air of freshness in his appearance that was very pleasant, and he had such a remarkably clean look that I have often thought that his cleanliness was something positive, something more than the mere absence of dirt. He had a curious way, as he walked, of looking dreamily upon the ground a few yards in front of him, and when anyone met him his eye would rise with a kind of jerk; then with a piercing glance he would intently, for a moment only, "take stock" of the passer by, and drop his eyes again.
For the last two or three years of his life he was haunted by a fear of impending blindness. The thought of being shut out from the sight of his pictures caused him much gloomy apprehension. Happily, his fears were not realised. He retained his sight and other faculties unimpaired until his death. On the 26th of December, 1872, he, in accordance with his annual Christmas custom, assembled all his family to dinner, at his house in Westbourne Road, and in his kindly, affectionate manner spoke hopefully of meeting them there on the same day of the following year. It was not to be. On the next day he felt somewhat unwell; in two or three days bronchitis and pleurisy supervened; and in the afternoon of Friday, the 5th of January, 1873, his long, honourable, and useful life terminated.
HENRY VAN WART, J.P.
Many years ago I was one of a small dinner party of gentlemen at a house in the Hagley Road. I was a comparative stranger, for I only knew the host and two others who were there. I was a young man, and all the other guests were men of middle age. The party had been invited for the purpose of introducing me to "a few old friends," and I was to be married the next day to a relative of the host. Sitting opposite to me at table was a gentleman of some fifty or sixty years of age, whose fine oval face and ample brow struck me as having the most benevolent and "fatherly" expression I had ever seen. The custom had not then quite died out of toasting the guests at dinner parties, and upon a hint from the host this gentleman rose, and in simple and apparently sincere phrase, proposed to the company to drink my health. I mention it now, because I remember in what a kindly, genial way he pointed out to me the course of conduct best calculated to secure happiness in the state into which I was so soon to enter. I recollect, too, how his voice faltered as he spoke of his own long and happy experience as a husband and a father, and mentioned that in one great trouble of his life it was the loving support of his wife that enabled him to bear, and eventually to overcome it. The speaker was Henry Van Wart.
I suppose the impressionable state of my own mind at the time, made me peculiarly susceptible to external influences, and fixed minute circumstances more intensely on my memory; so that I now vividly recall the thought which then occurred to me—that I had never before seen so much gentleness and calm quiet benignity in a man. The impression then rapidly formed has lasted ever since, for in all the long years from that day until his death I never had cause to abate one jot of the reverential feeling with which he then inspired me. I have had hundreds of business transactions with his house; I have seen him often in the magistrate's chair; and I have met him publicly and privately, and he had always the same bland, suave, courteous, and kindly bearing. Strength of character and gentleness of conduct and manner were so combined in him that he frequently seemed to me to be a living proof of the truth of a saying of poor George Dawson: "The tenderness of a strong man is more gentle than the gentleness of the most tender woman."
Mr. Van Wart was an American by birth, and a Dutchman by descent. His ancestors emigrated from Holland about the year 1630 to the colony of New Netherland, established in North America by the Dutch in the year 1621. The capital of this settlement was named New Amsterdam, and was built upon the island of Manhattan, the entire area of which, now completely covered with buildings, and comprising the whole site of the city of New York, had been bought from an Iroquois chief, in fee-simple, for twenty-four dollars, being at about the rate of a penny for twelve acres! In 1652, New Amsterdam, then having about a thousand inhabitants, was incorporated as a city. Twelve years after, the entire province was seized by the British, under Colonel Nichols, and was re-named by him "New York." The Dutch made some unsuccessful attempts to recover possession, and they held the city for a short time, but in 1674 the whole colony was ceded by treaty to the English, who held it until the War of Independence. When they quitted it, on November 25th, 1783, Henry Van Wart was exactly two months old.
The struggle for the independence of the American states had been going on with varying success for many years, but the tide at length turned so decidedly against the British, that an armistice was sought and agreed upon. Hostilities were suspended, and a conference met in Paris. Here a treaty, acknowledging the independence of America, was agreed to by England, and signed on the 3rd of September, 1783. On the 25th of the same month, Henry Van Wart was born at a pretty village on the banks of the Hudson, called Tarrytown, a place since celebrated as the "Sleepy Hollow" of Washington Irving's delightful book, but at that time remarkable as the scene of one of the most distressing incidents in all the wretched struggle then just over—the capture of the unfortunate Major Andre.
Mr. Van Wart, feeling little inclination for his father's business of a farmer, was apprenticed to the mercantile firm of Irving and Smith, of New York. In accordance with the usage of the times, he became an inmate of the household of Mr. William Irving, the head of the firm. Mr. Irving, like his gifted brother, Washington, was a man of extensive reading and considerable taste, culture, and refinement. Mr. Van Wart's intercourse with the Irving family, had, no doubt, a considerable influence in forming his character. He probably learned from them the courtesy and kindness of manner which distinguished him through life.
On the termination of his apprenticeship in the year 1804, Mr. Van Wart married the youngest sister of his employer, and was despatched by the firm, who had unbounded confidence in his integrity and judgment, to organise a branch of the house at Liverpool. Here his eldest son, Henry, was born in 1806, soon after which the Liverpool concern was abandoned, and Mr. Van Wart returned to America, where he remained for some considerable period.
Soon after the birth of his second son, Irving, in 1808, Mr. Van Wart returned to England with his family, and commenced business in Birmingham. He first occupied a house on the left-hand side of the West Bromwich road, at Handsworth. The house, which is occupied by Mr. T.R.T. Hodgson, is a stuccoed one, with its gable towards the road; it stands near the "New Inn." After a short time he removed to the house at the corner of Newhall Street and Great Charles Street, which was, until recently, occupied by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
He afterwards bought a stone-built house in Icknield Street West. This house stood on the right-hand side near the present Wesleyan Chapel. It is now pulled down. In connection with this purchase, a curious circumstance occurred. As already stated, Mr. Van Wart was born a few days after England had acknowledged the independence of America. Those few days made all the difference to him. Had his birth occurred a month earlier, he would have been born a British subject. As it was, he was an alien, and incapable of holding freehold property in England. To get over this difficulty, he had to apply for, and obtain, a special Act of Parliament to naturalise him. This having passed, he was enabled to complete the purchase of the house, to which he soon removed. Here his celebrated brother-in-law, Washington Irving, came on a visit, and in this house the greater part of the "Sketch-book" was written.
In 1814, the second American War was closed by treaty, and all the world was at peace. Business on both sides of the Atlantic became suddenly inflated, and there being at that time no restriction upon the issue of bank notes, mercantile transactions, to enormous amounts, were comparatively easy. Urged by American buyers, Mr. Van Wart purchased very large quantities of Birmingham and other goods, which he shipped to New York. In a very short time, however, a revulsion came. Prices fell rapidly, in some cases to the extent of 50 per cent; American houses by scores tottered and fell; the Irvings could not weather the storm, and their fall brought down Mr. Van Wart.
As soon as he was honourably released from his difficulties, he commenced another kind of business. He no longer sent his own goods for sale abroad, but bought exclusively on commission for other merchants. This business rapidly grew into one of the most extensive and important in Birmingham; was continued by him until the day of his death, and is still in active operation.
Having sold his house at Springfield to Mr. Barker, the Solicitor, he removed to a house at the top of Newhall Hill, then quite in the country: This house is still standing, but is incorporated with Mr. Wiley's manufactory, and is entirely hidden from view by the lofty buildings which have enclosed it. From here, about 1820, he removed to Calthorpe Road, then newly formed, where he occupied a house—the seventh, I think—on the left-hand from the Five Ways. From the back windows of this house he could look across fields and meadows to Moseley, there not being, with the exception of a few in the Bristol Road, a house or other building visible. Here Washington Irving was almost a constant visitor. Here "Bracebridge Hall"—the original of which was Aston Hall—was written, and in this house some of the most delightful letters published in Irving's biography were penned. After a few years, Mr. Van Wart finally removed to "The Shrubbery" in Hagley Road, where he continued to reside until his death.
After the death of his excellent wife, which occurred in 1848, he went on a long visit to America, and while there narrowly escaped death. He was proceeding from Boston to New York, up Long Island Sound, when a storm arose, and the vessel was wrecked upon the Connecticut shore. She lay some fifty yards from the land; some of the passengers got on shore something as St. Paul did upon the island of Melita. Mr. Van Wart, deeming it safer to hold to the wreck, remained until he was getting benumbed, and feared losing the use of his limbs. Letting himself down into the water, he paddled and swam amongst the broken stuff from the ship until he reached the shore. He was, however, too much exhausted to get upon the land, but some one, who had observed his struggles, dragged him, quite insensible, from the water. He was carried on men's backs some half a mile, to a farm house, where he was hospitably treated, and nursed until he recovered.
The character of a man who had so little of the "light and shade" of average humanity, and the placid current of whose life seemed so unrippled, offers none of those strong contrasts, and subtle peculiarities, which render the analysis of more stormy and unequal minds comparatively easy. His frank and open speech; the kindly grasp of his hand; his ever-ready ear for tales of trouble or difficulty; the wise counsel, which was never withheld; the general bland and suave manner; the pleasant smile, and his remarkably genial, hearty greeting, will be long remembered, and they make it difficult to say anything of him, except in panegyric.
There is one point, however, on which a word or two may be said, as I think he has been somewhat misunderstood. It has been said of him that he was "incapable of strong friendly attachments." I am of opinion that this impression may have been caused by his very genial manner and hearty bearing. These may have led some to think that he felt towards them as a friend in the highest sense, while he looked upon them merely as acquaintances. His friendliness was general and diffusive, and certainly was not concentrated upon one or two objects, as is the case sometimes with intenser natures. That he was capable of lasting friendship, however, one little circumstance will show. Mr. S.D. Williams, of the Reservoir Road, one of the most intellectual men of whom Birmingham could boast, was an invalid for a very long time before his death, and, I believe, had not been outside his own gates for nearly thirty years. During the whole of that long time, up to within a few weeks of his death, Mr. Van Wart never missed paying him a visit every Saturday evening. On these occasions they invariably played whist, a game of which Mr. Van Wart, being a particularly skilful player, was remarkably fond. His punctuality in this matter was something remarkable; at eight o'clock to the minute he arrived, and at five minutes to twelve exactly his coachman brought the carriage to take his master home.
As a merchant, he was intelligent, sagacious, straight-forward, methodical, and strictly honourable; and his cordial manner made him a universal favourite both among manufacturers and customers. He was much beloved by his clerks and assistants, many of whom grew gray in his service. He was American Vice-Consul for a time, but from his first coming to England does not seem to have taken any great interest in American politics. During the Civil War in the States, although his sympathies were altogether with the North, he took no public part in the dispute, standing in strong contrast to his countryman and fellow townsman, Mr. Goddard, who wrote voluminously, and whose writings had a very marked effect upon the public opinion of England on that great question. As an English politician, Mr. Van Wart was neither very active nor very ardent. He was a Liberal, but inclined to Whig views. He opposed Mr. Bright in his first contested election for Birmingham, but there is reason for thinking he regretted it afterwards.
When the town was incorporated, in 1838, he was chosen to be one of the Councillors for Edgbaston Ward, and on the first meeting of the Council, was elected Alderman, an office he held for twenty years. He might have been Mayor at any time, but he invariably declined that honour. He was one of the first creation of Borough Magistrates, and he conscientiously fulfilled the duties of that office until near his end, when increasing deafness rendered him incapable.
In private life he was greatly beloved. Those who had the pleasure of the acquaintance of Mrs. Van Wart say that he always treated her with remarkable deference and consideration, "as if she were a superior being." His intercourse with his gifted brother-in-law, Washington Irving, seems to have been of the most close and affectionate character. His presence at an evening party was always greeted with a hearty welcome, up to the latest period of his life; and it was pleasant to see, when he was verging upon his 90th year, how young ladies seemed as desirous to meet his kindly glance as their great-grandmothers may have been sixty years before.
Up to a year or two before his death, his robust constitution; his quiet, regular habits; his equanimity of disposition, and his temperate method of life, preserved his strength and vigour almost unimpaired. Few can forget his hale and hearty presence, as he strode along the streets of Birmingham; his peculiar walk—the strange jerky spring of the hinder foot, and the heavy planting of the front, as if he were striking the earth with a powerful blow—marking his individuality, whilst the pleasant kindly smile of greeting, and the full firm tones of his manly voice, gave evidence of vigour very rare in a man of his age. Even to the last his strength seemed unimpaired, and he succumbed to a chance attack of bronchitis, but for which his constitution seemed to possess sufficient stamina to have made him a centenarian. He died at his residence on the 15th of February, 1873, being then in his 90th year.
He was a well-informed man, and had a most retentive memory. He had a great fund of quiet humour, and could tell a good story better than most men. He was a good judge of character, and, as a magistrate, could distinguish between what was radically bad in a prisoner, and the crime which was the outcome of want and wretchedness. During his long Birmingham life of nearly seventy years, he was universally respected, and when he descended into the grave it may be said that there was no one who could say of him an unkindly word.
He was mainly instrumental in the establishment of the Birmingham Exchange, the idea of which originated with Mr. Edwin Lander. He exerted himself greatly in the establishment of the company which erected the buildings, and he was its chairman until his death. The members of this institution, to mark their sense of his worth, commissioned Mr. Munns to paint his portrait; and if any reader is desirous to see the "counterfeit presentment" of what Henry Van Wart was, he has only to enter the principal hall of the Exchange, where he will find a full-length portrait, at 87 years of age, of a man who, more than any other I have known, was entitled to—
"The grand old name of Gentleman."
CHARLES SHAW, J.P., &c.
Just before the Great Western Railway Company began the construction of their line from Oxford to Birmingham, I was passing down Great Charles Street one afternoon, when my attention was attracted by some unusual bustle. Near the spot where the hideous railway bridge now disfigures the street, there was a row of carts and vans backed up to the curbstone of the pavement on the left. From a passage by the side of a large square brick-built house some brokers' men were bringing a variety of dingy stools, desks, shelves, counters, and other odds and ends of office furniture. Near the front door of the house, stood, looking on, a well-dressed, stout-built, florid-complexioned man, of middle height, and, apparently, of middle age. As I slackened my pace to observe more intently the operations of the brokers' men, this gentleman approached me, and in courteous tones, and as if appealing to me for sympathy, said, "You can't imagine the pain these proceedings are giving me; I was born in this house more than fifty years ago; I have never been away from it long together; I've been familiar, all my life, with the 'things' they are carting away, and to see the old place stripped in this way, hurts me as much as if I were having one of my limbs cut off." As he spoke, his voice became tremulous, and tears—actual tears—rolled down his cheeks. I was amazed; I was completely thunder-struck. The man who thus spoke, and who then shed tears, was, of all men in the world, the very last I should have thought capable of a tender emotion, or of a sentimental feeling about a lot of worn-out stools and tables. He was generally considered to be the hardest man in Birmingham, and that this man should be capable of sentimentalism, even to tears, was a mystery to me then, and will be a surprise to most of those who only knew the man superficially. He was no other than Charles—or, as he was universally called, "Charley"—Shaw. The railway company, requiring the site of his business premises for the construction of their line, had bought the place, and an auction sale that day had disposed of the well-worn effects that were being carted away.
Probably no Birmingham man occupying a prominent position, was ever so unpopular as Charles Shaw. He was generally disliked and somewhat dreaded. He was unscrupulous and regardless of truth, where truthfulness and his interests were antagonistic. His manners, frequently, went far beyond the limit of decent behaviour. I hope, however, spite of his many failings, to show, in the course of this sketch, that he had many redeeming qualities; that he was a most useful citizen; and that he was not altogether so black as he was painted.
He certainly was a strange mixture of good and bad qualities. He seemed to be made up altogether of opposites. He was very bitter against any one who had offended him, yet he was not permanently vindictive. He was grasping in business, yet he was not ungenerous. He was a most implacable enemy, yes he was capable of warm and most disinterested friendship. He could descend to trickery in dealing, yet as a magistrate he had a high and most inflexible ideal of honour, honesty, and rectitude. He could be coarse in his conduct and demeanour, and yet he could occasionally be as courteous and dignified as the most polished gentleman. He was overbearing where he felt he was safe, yet where he was met by courage and firmness he yielded quietly and quickly.
My own introduction, and subsequent acquaintance, were strangely characteristic of the peculiarly antithetic nature of the man. They began in ill-temper, and resulted in commercial relations of a most friendly nature, extending over many years, without a second unkindly word. The first time I saw him occurred one day when I was making a round of calls upon the merchants of the town, to exhibit a case of samples of goods of my own manufacture, and I called upon Mr. Shaw. Going up the passage I have mentioned above, and climbing a rickety stair, I found myself in a room containing a couple of clerks. Upon my inquiring for Mr. Shaw, one of them went into another room to fetch him, and I took the opportunity to note the peculiarities of the place. It was a long room with a sloping ceiling; there were two or three very old, ink-stained, worm-eaten desks; a dingy map hung here and there, and a few shelves and wooden presses were arranged upon the walls. The place had been whitewashed once, no doubt, but the colour was now about the same as that of a macadamised road, and the whole place seemed dirty and neglected.
Presently Mr. Shaw appeared. I had heard his character pretty freely discussed, and I was prepared for a rough reception. He looked at my samples, and inquired very minutely into the prices of each. As to one article, which I quoted to him at fifteen shillings the gross, I said that in that particular item I believed my price was lower than that of any other maker. He said nothing, but left me, went back to his private office, returned with a file of papers, and selecting one, addressed me in angry tones, saying, "Now, just to show you what a blessed fool you are, you shall see an invoice of those very goods, which I have just bought at fourteen shillings." I was mistaken, that was very clear; but I said, "It appears that I am wrong as to those, but here are other goods which no one but myself is making; can we do business in these?" This put him in a violent rage, for he stormed as he said, "No! You've made a consummate fool of yourself by making such a stupid remark. I've no confidence in you; and where I've no confidence I'll never do business." By this time I was getting a little warm myself, and as I fastened up my case of patterns, I said, "I hope, Mr. Shaw, that the want of your confidence won't be the death of me. I always heard you were a queer fellow; but if you generally treat people who call upon you on business in the way you have treated me, I'm not at all surprised at the name you have in the town." He looked at me furiously; came two or three strides towards me, as if he would strike me; but, stopping suddenly, said, "I think you'd better be off." "I quite agree with you, sir," I replied; "it's no use my stopping here to be insulted." Upon this he returned to his private office; the two clerks, who, during the "shindy," had been intently searching inside their desks for something they had lost, now put down the lids, and, looking at each other, grinned and tittered openly, while I, to their intense relief, took up my hat and departed.
Two or three weeks subsequently, I had completed an article in my business which was strikingly novel, and I went out to show a sample of it to my customers. Passing Mr. Shaw's warehouse, the thought occurred to me that it would be good fun to call upon him again, and I accordingly soon found myself on the scene of the former interview. Mr. Shaw was there, and to my bold greeting, "Good morning, Mr. Shaw," made a sulky-sounding acknowledgment. I went on—"I was here the other day, and you told me you had no confidence in me; but I've plenty of confidence in myself, and so I've come again." This seemed to amuse him, and he asked, "Well, what is it?" I then showed him the sample article, and told him the price was thirty-six shillings the gross. He looked at it attentively, and said, "H'm! Costs you about eighteen." I was in a bantering humour, and I replied, "No, I don't think it costs me more than twelve; but I don't mean to sell any under thirty-six." "Well," said he, "it's a very good thing. Send me ten gross." From that moment we were excellent friends; I did business with him for many years, and our intercourse was always warm and friendly.
Mr. Shaw's father was originally a working maker of currycombs, an article, before his day, entirely made by hand. In conjunction with his brother, he invented and took out a patent for cutting out and shaping the various parts by machinery, and so producing the entire article much more cheaply than before. It was a great success; they readily sold as many as they could produce, and their profit was enormous; it has been estimated by a competent judge to have been as high as two hundred per cent. They soon became rich, and established themselves as home and foreign merchants, and when they died, left, for that period, very large fortunes. They were both men of ability, but of no education, and they retained to the last the coarse, habits of their early life. Mr. Charles Shaw, the subject of this sketch, was brought up in the factory, his daily associates being the working people of the place. Having himself no innate refinement, the want of good examples, and the prevalence of bad ones, at this period of his life, had a permanent effect upon his habits and manners, which in all his after prosperity he could never shake off. Had he been liberally educated, and in early life had associated with gentlemen, he might have risen to be one of the leading men of the nation. He had enormous energy and great powers of steady, plodding perseverance. He had great influence over others, and his disposition, and capability to lead and to command, were sufficient, had they been properly trained and directed, to have carried him to a front rank in life. His early disadvantages prevented him from becoming other than a "local" celebrity; but, even circumscribed as he was, he was a very remarkable instance of the combined effects of energy and method. He amassed a very large fortune, and left in full and active operation several very important trading concerns. Besides his various branches of foreign commerce, he was a manufacturer of currycombs, iron and brass candlesticks, frying pans, fenders, cast and cut nails, and various other goods; and, upon the whole, he may be said to have been the most active and efficient merchant and manufacturer, of his generation, in the Midland Counties.
In politics he was one of the very last of the old school of Tories, and he occasionally acted as a leader of his party in the town. His extreme opinions, and his blunt speech in relation to these matters, frequently got him into "hot water." He was not a "newspaper politician," for, singularly enough, he was rarely seen to look at a newspaper, even at the news-room (then standing on the site now occupied by the Inland Revenue Offices, on Bennetts Hill), which he regularly frequented. Upon political topics, I am not aware that he ever wrote a single line for publication in his whole life.
Mr. Shaw was very generous to people for whom he had a liking. He has assisted many scores of struggling men with heavy sums, on loan, merely out of friendship. I happen to know of one case where he, for fifteen or twenty years, continuously assisted a brother merchant, to the tune of L10,000 to L15,000, on merely nominal security, for which assistance he, for the most part, charged nothing whatever.
In the great panic of 1837, Mr. Shaw, singly, saved the country from ruin and disaster. At the time when the panic was at its height, and the tension was as great as the country could bear, it became known to a few that one of the great financial houses in Liverpool was in extremities. They had accepted on American account to enormous amounts, and no remittances were forthcoming. One Birmingham bank alone held L90,000 worth of their paper, and acceptances to enormous amounts were held in London, and in every manufacturing centre in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Application had been made to the Bank of England for assistance, to the amount of a million and a quarter, and had been refused. Ruin seemed imminent, not only to the house itself, but to the whole country. The calamities of 1825 seemed about to be repeated, and alarm was universal. Mr. Shaw took up the matter with his usual skill and wonderful energy. He went to London, and had three interviews with the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—Mr. Francis Baring—in one day. He told them that they had no choice; that they must grant the required relief; that to refuse would be equivalent to a revolution, and would involve national loss to probably fifty times the amount now required. He undertook to obtain security to a large amount in Birmingham alone. Only the other day I had in my hand a bill for L8,000, given by one Birmingham merchant, as a portion of this security. He succeeded. The relief was granted. The house recovered its position, and still holds on its prosperous way; but, except the consciousness of well-doing, Mr. Shaw had no reward. The pecuniary value of his services to his country in this extremity it is impossible to estimate; it is enough to say here that they out-weighed, and cast into the shade, his many personal faults and weaknesses. I have always thought, and still think, that the Government ought at least to have knighted him, as only a very slight acknowledgment of the invaluable and peculiar service he had rendered to the nation.
Almost everybody knows that Mr. Shaw was, for many years, chairman of the old Birmingham Banking Company. In this capacity he was no doubt the means of introducing a large amount of profitable business. Unfortunately for the company, the manager of the branch establishment at Dudley made enormous advances to an ironmaster in that locality. The amount at length became so large that the directorate became alarmed, and deputed their chairman, Mr. Shaw, to see what could best be done for the interests of the bank. Mr. Shaw took the matter in hand. There was a good deal of secrecy about his manner of treating the matter, and eventually some of his colleagues on the direction were suspicious that he was making use of his position in the bank for his own advantage. He was called upon to show his private account with the concern in question, to which he gave an unqualified refusal. His colleagues intimated to him that he must either do so or resign. The next post brought his resignation. Offering no opinion either way, but looking at the transaction as an outsider, I think it was an unfortunate business "all round." The bank lost money, and eventually collapsed, but I fully believed then, and I always shall believe, that if Charles Shaw had been at the helm, the bank never would have closed its doors. I believe he had energy enough, and influence sufficient, to have averted that great calamity; and I am firmly of opinion that the company had sufficient vitality to have overcome the drain upon its resources, and that it might at this moment have been in vigorous existence.
Many amusing stories are current as to Mr. Shaw's shrewd and keen transactions, and of cases where he himself was overreached. One of the best of these he used to tell with much humour.
When the Great Western Company cut through Birmingham, for their line to the North, a cemetery, pretty well filled, was on the route they selected. It was the Quakers' burial place, adjoining Monmouth Street, exactly where the Arcade commences. Mr. Shaw, being a director, negotiated the purchase of many Birmingham properties. This burial ground was one, and the Quaker community had for their agent a very shrewd spokesman. Shaw and he had a very tough fight, for the Quaker drove a hard bargain. At length terms were settled, and a memorandum signed. The negotiations had then lasted so long, that the contractors were waiting for this plot of land to go on with the work. Mr. Shaw therefore asked for immediate possession. "Oh, no, friend Shaw," said the Quaker, "not until the money's paid." This caused further delay, and annoyed Shaw. Preliminary matters being settled, the money was eventually handed over, and Shaw obtained the keys. The next day the Quaker appeared and said, "Now, friend Shaw, as everything is settled, I am come to arrange for the removal of the remains of our friends who are buried there." "Don't you wish you may get it?" said Shaw; "we've bought the freehold; all it contains is our property, and we shall give up nothing." This was a surprise, indeed, for the Quaker. He had nothing to say as to the position Shaw had taken up, and he had to submit to the modification of many stringent conditions in the deed of sale, before Shaw would give way.
Such, sketched in a hasty manner, is an attempt to portray the apparently contradictory character of Charles Shaw. It may be a failure; but it, at least, is an honest endeavour. Such men are rare, and the ability to translate into words their peculiar mental workings is rarer still. I, however, shall be bold to say that if few Birmingham men have had so many failings, none probably have possessed so much commercial courage and ability.
Soon after his retirement from the Board of the Birmingham Bank, he had a slight attack of paralysis, from which he never properly recovered. Others followed at intervals, with the result that his fine physique was completely broken up. In the first week of December, 1864, I spoke to him on the platform of the Great Western Railway at Snow Hill. He was being half carried to the train, on his way to the sea-side. He never returned to Birmingham, but died at Brighton, January 4th, 1865, being 73 years of age. He was buried in the Churchyard of St. George's, Great Hampton Row.
ROBERT WALTER WINFIELD, J.P.
Mr. Joshua Scholefield, who had represented Birmingham from its incorporation in 1832, having been elected five times, died somewhat unexpectedly in July, 1844. The Liberal party in the town was then in a somewhat disorganised condition, and there was considerable difference of opinion as to the choice of his successor. A large majority was disposed favourably towards his son, Mr. William Scholefield. The more advanced section of the party was of opinion that the many services of Mr. Joseph Sturge to the Liberal cause were such as to entitle him to a place in Parliament. Neither section of the party would give way. The Conservatives, who had previously contested four elections unsuccessfully, in two of which Mr. Richard Spooner had been the candidate, saw that the divided ranks of their opponents gave them a better chance of success than they had previously had, and they brought forward Mr. Spooner again. This time he was successful, the result of the poll being that Mr. Spooner received 2,095 votes; Mr. W. Scholefield, 1,735; and Mr. Sturge, 346.
I was living in London at the time, but had arranged to spend a few days in August with a friend at Edgbaston. He was a Conservative, and I a Liberal; but before I came down he had taken a ticket in my name, which entitled me to be present at the only purely Conservative dinner at which I was ever present. It was given at the Racket Court Inn, in Sheepcote Street, by the Conservative electors of Ladywood Ward, to celebrate Mr. Spooner's return.
By virtue of my introduction, and in deference to me as a stranger, I was placed near the chairman at table. He was a man of singularly bland and kindly manners, and there was a frank and manly modesty in his style that attracted my notice at once. In simple but appropriate, in unaffected yet dignified, phraseology, he went through the usual "loyal and patriotic" toasts. When it came to the toast of the day, he rose and congratulated the company upon the triumph of those principles which they all conscientiously believed to be right and true. There was no exultation over a discomfited foe. There ran all through the speech a benevolent and friendly feeling for both of the defeated candidates. Still, there was the outspoken feeling of intense gratification that the cause which he supported had been victorious. I have seldom listened to a speech where joy for a victory was so little mixed with exultation over the vanquished. In fact, although I differed altogether from the speaker in politics, I felt that the speech was that of a man devoid of all bitterness, whose kindness of spirit led him to rejoice, not over the defeat of his opponents, but at the success of his own cause. Tie speech was in excellent taste from beginning to end.
The chairman was Robert Walter Winfield, and this was the first time I had met him. His singular courtesy to myself, as a stranger, I shall never forget. His perfect self-possession, when some of the company became a little too demonstrative, kept the table in perfect order. When he retired, my friend took his seat, and slily poured me a glass from Mr. Winfield's decanter. I found then, that during that long afternoon he had taken nothing but toast and water, which had been prepared to resemble sherry, and which he had taken from a wine-glass as if it were wine.
I cannot say that I ever became very intimate with Mr. Winfield, although we knew each other pretty well; but limited as my means of acquaintanceship were, I watched his life with interest, because he struck me always as being one of the very few men I have known, who have been able to bear great success without becoming giddy with the elevation; who have gone through life modestly and without assumption; and who have won thereby the esteem of all those whose esteem has been worth caring for.
Robert Walter Winfield was descended from an ancient family, which had been settled in Leicestershire for several generations. His grandfather, Edward Winfield, came to Birmingham about the middle of the last century, and resided in a large house, on the site of the Great Western Railway Station in Snow Hill. Here Mr. Winfield's father was born. He was a man of independent means, but appears for some short time to have been engaged as a merchant. He married a lady from Loughborough, named Randon, and built for his own occupation the house in the Hagley Road, Edgbaston, now occupied by Mr. Alfred Hill, the son of the late eminent Recorder of Birmingham, Matthew Davenport Hill. The house is now called "Davenport House." It was, I believe, the first house erected on the Calthorpe estate. In this house, in April, 1799, Robert Walter Winfield, the third son, was born. His father died in his childhood. After his education was complete, his mother placed him with Mr. Benjamin Cooke, whose name as a manufacturer is still remembered in Birmingham. Mr. Winfield's mind, being a peculiarly receptive one, readily grasped all the details of the business, and he soon wished to enter life on his own account. His trustees having great faith in his prudence and industry, advanced him the necessary capital, and he commenced business before he was twenty-one years of age. Just at the bend which Cambridge Street takes to arrive at the Crescent, there is a stuccoed building, almost hidden by the lofty piles around it. In this building he started on his commercial career, and in these works he continued to carry on his business until his death, some fifty years afterwards.
Beginning in a comparatively small way, he started with a strict determination to conduct his business upon thoroughly honest and truthful principles. He had the sagacity to see that the surest way to success was to gain the confidence of his customers, and he firmly held through life to the system of rigid adherence to truth; to the plan of always making honest goods; and to the avoidance of every kind of misrepresentation as to the quality of his wares. He used to say that all through his long and successful business career he never lost a customer through misrepresentation on his part, and that he generally found that one transaction with a fresh man secured a permanent customer.
Another leading principle in his business programme was to employ the best workmen he could find, and the highest talent for superior offices he could secure. He probably paid higher wages and salaries than any manufacturer in the district. This proved to be wise economy in the long-run, for his goods became famous for excellence in design and workmanship, and were sought and prized in every market of the world.
As his business fame increased, the development of his trade became enormous. Pile after pile of extensive blocks of buildings rose, one after another, on ground adjoining the original manufactory, until at length the entire establishment covered many acres of ground. Many of these buildings were five or six storeys high. The machinery and tools were all of the very best quality that could be obtained, and use was invariably made of every suitable scientific appliance as soon as discovered. For many years Mr. Aitken, whose name in Birmingham will always be remembered in connection with Art, was at the head of the designing department of the works. His correct knowledge and wonderful skill in the application of correct principles of form and colour to articles of manufacture for daily use, raised the fame of Mr. Winfield's house as high, artistically, as it was for excellence of material and workmanship.
Mr. Winfield was one of the first, if not the very earliest, to apply the stamping process to the production of cornices, cornice-pole ends, curtain bands, and other similar goods. The singular purity of colour which, by skilful "dipping" and lacquering, he was able to produce, at a period when such matters were little attended to, secured for his goods a good deal of admiration and a ready sale. At the time of the great Exhibition of 1851, the goods he exhibited obtained for him the highest mark of approval—the Council Gold Medal. The Jury of Experts reported, in reference to his brasswork, that, "for brilliancy of polish, and flatness and equality of the 'dead' or 'frosted' portions, he stood very high; and that in addition to very perfect workmanship, there frequently appeared considerable evidence of a feeling for harmony and for a just proportion and arrangement of parts." It is also mentioned that "in the manufacture of metallic bedsteads he has earned a deservedly high reputation."
In addition to his brassfoundry trade, he gradually added the manufacture of brass, copper, and tin tubing, gas-fittings and chandeliers, iron and brass bedsteads, ship's fittings, brass fittings for shop fronts, and general architectural ornamental metal work of all kinds. He afterwards purchased the large establishment near his own works, called the Union Rolling Mill, where he carried on a very extensive wholesale trade in rolled metals of every kind, and brass and copper wire of all descriptions; and he was, for forty years, largely engaged in the coal business.
For a very long period Mr. Winfield was the sole proprietor of the extensive business he had created. He was assisted by his only son, Mr. John Fawkener Winfield, whose promising career was cut short by untimely death. This was a blow from which Mr. Winfield never entirely recovered. He soon afterwards took into partnership his relative, Mr. C. Weston, and his old confidential clerk, Mr. J. Atkins. His health began to fail about this time, and he retired from the active control of the concern, retaining, however, his position as head of the firm until his death.
His marvellous success did not arise altogether from brilliant mental qualities. I am disposed to attribute it to higher reasons. It seems to me that his high moral sense of integrity and right, and the benevolence of his character, had more to do with it. These led him constantly through life to give his customers excellence of quality in the goods he made, combined with moderation in price. In the execution of a contract he always gave better rather than inferior goods than he had agreed to supply. He would never permit any deterioration of quality either in material or workmanship. Where his competitors sought to reduce the cost of production, so as to enable them to sell their goods cheaper, his ambition led him to raise and improve quality. The fact of his goods being always honestly made, of good materials well put together, gave him the preference whenever articles of sterling excellence were required. He was one to whom the stigma implied in the term "Brummagem" would not apply, for he consistently carried out principles of integrity in business, and so earned for himself the right to be held up as a type of a high-minded, upright, conscientious English merchant.