Obrazy na stronie

built by them. From 1822 to 1837 the firm of Hibbert & Platt remained the same, but in the last-named year Mr. Platt's two sons, Joseph and John, were taken into partnership. The firm was now, "Hibbert, Platt, & Sons." So it continued until 1842, when the founder of the firm died, at the age of fifty, leaving his two sons, Joseph and John, and Mr. Hibbert, to carry forward the good work which he had started. Mr. Joseph Platt fell into delicate health after his father's death, but lingered on until the 16th of March 1845, when he died of consumption at Ventnor, at the early age of 30. Another of Mr. Henry Platt's sons, Mr. James Platt, attained his majority about this time, and became a partner, the firm being now composed of Mr. Hibbert, Mr. John Platt, and Mr. James Platt. On the 10th of March, 1846, Mr. Hibbert died, and the surviving partners carried the business on with everincreasing success under the old style of Messrs. Hibbert, Platt, & Sons. Mr. Hibbert's interest in the concern was committed to the charge of his executors until 1854, when, according to the terms of his will, his trustees disposed of his share to Messrs. John and James Platt. At this juncture it was considered expedient, in consequence of the great growth of the business, to enlarge the partnership, and with this view Mr. William Frederick Palmer, the cashier, and Messrs. William Richardson and Mr. Edmund Hartley, the two managers, were admitted as partners. The style of the firm was now altered to Platt Brothers & Co. Mr. James Platt took an active part in the management of the concern, and also devoted much time to public affairs. For several years he was a member of the Oldham Town Council, and was the originator and most active promoter of the scheme for the purchase by the Corporation of the property of the Oldham Gas and Water Works Company, which was completed a few years before his death, and has been one of the main causes of the prosperity of the town and district. He was elected M.P. for Oldham along with the late Mr. J. M. Cobbett at the general election in 1857; but his promising career was unfortunately cut short on the 27th of August in the same year, when he was accidentally shot on the Saddleworth Moors while out shooting with a party of friends. In 1864 Mr. Eli Spencer was taken into the firm; and on the 1st January 1868 the proprietary was reconstituted as a limited liability company, in order to give a number of the heads of departments, as well as some of the principal agents of the firm at home and abroad, a direct interest in their extensive operations. From that time to the present the affairs of the company have been managed by a directorate, which is a thoroughly representative one, each director having had practical managerial experience of one or other of the departments into which this great concern is divided. Mr. John Platt was the chairman of the company, and retained in his own hands the principal portion of its interests, down to the time of his death in 1872, and when that widelylamented event occurred, he was succeeded in the chairmanship by the gentleman who now holds that important position, Mr. S. R. Platt, his second son.

Having thus briefly outlined the managerial history of this


Fortunes Made in Business.

eminent firm, from its humble but hopeful beginning in 1821, down to the present date, embracing a period of sixty-four years of unexampled industrial activity-a period which has produced more inventions of machinery than all previous time-a period which has multiplied a hundred fold the productive power of England's looms and spindles-it will be an interesting task for us to speak more in detail of the life-work of some of the more prominent members of this famous firm.

Mr. John Platt, who for so long a term held the chief position in the firm of Platt Brothers & Co., was born on the 15th of September, 1817, being one of a family of nine children, four of whom were boys and five girls, John being the second son. John Platt was only four years of age when his father removed from Saddleworth to Oldham, and laid the foundations of the business, which has since swelled to such enormous proportions. The demands of an ever growing business, as well as the want of adequate educational facilities, prevented Mr. John Platt from receiving that scholastic training, for which his great natural abilities so admirably qualified him for taking advantage had there been the opportunity. The sound rudiments of an English education were, however, acquired by him in his boyhood at local schools, and he completed his school-life at an educational establishment at Dunham Massey. But, like all other men who have set their mark upon the world, education with him was a never-ending process, and he submitted himself to a self-culture far more important and effectual than any mere school training. His mind was early engrossed by those branches of mechanical and scientific knowledge which were necessary in the business he had to pursue, and in this direction, his attainments were of a surpassing order-solid, sure, and practical. He did not, however, confine his energies within the limits of business, but, apart from those technical and commercial matters which had the first claim upon him, his strong natural capacity, combined with rare courage and determination, caused him to explore for himself that wider field of human knowledge which was concerned with the manifold problems of existence, and social and political progress. He entered into political life almost before he had touched the period of manhood. He found himself in the midst of an agitation destined to work amazing changes and reforms in the condition of the people of England. When Lancashire was called to do battle in opposition to the Corn Laws by Gibson, Cobden, Bright and Fox, Mr. John Platt was not slow to respond, but joined their standard, and proved one of their most active lieutenants. Having once mastered the question, and thought it out for himself-having by reading and reflection brought his mind to their way of thinking-he threw himself into the struggle with all the ardour of his strong nature, and from that time to the day of his death, was to be found occupying a post of prominence in all our political and social struggles, his cause the cause of freedom and progress.

In those days, as in these, political strife was imported into social and religious questions, and matters of municipal government were made the special subject of fierce party contention. In

1847 an agitation was got up for the incorporation of Oldham, the Liberals, with whom was Mr. John Platt, ranging themselves on the side of those who desired the incorporation, and the opposite political party doing their utmost to hinder the charter from being granted. How persistently, and with what tact and ability, Mr. John Platt championed the cause of the "incorporators" is a matter of local history of which the people of Oldham are justly proud, for eventually, in 1849, the battle which had been so sturdily fought, was won, and the charter of incorporation was granted. At the ensuing election of municipal representatives, every ward in the newly-made borough was contested, Mr. John Platt being one of the candidates for the St. James's Ward. He was returned at the head of the poll. At the November elections of the same year, his brother, Mr. James Platt, was returned for the Werneth Ward. How bitterly they fought their municipal battles in those days is shewn by the following little story :-The contest was so close in the Werneth Ward that one unfortunate burgess was seized by six men belonging to each side, and so pulled and knocked about in the struggle that his coat was literally torn from his back. When the bewildered elector entered the polling booth he declared he would only vote for that side which undertook to provide him with a new garment to replace the one destroyed. It is not recorded which side accepted the condition. All that is known is that he voted.

Mr. John Platt continued to fulfil his duties in the Oldham Town Council as the representative of the St. James's Ward down to the 9th of November 1854, when he was elected Mayor. The gentleman who seconded his nomination on that occasion said that "from Mr. Platt's position in society, the large amount of property he possessed in the borough, the large number of hands he employed, and the persevering endeavours which he had made to elevate the town of Oldham, and improve the condition of the working-classes, he considered him well entitled to the highest honour that they could confer upon him." When Mr. Platt's term of office expired, in November, 1855, he was elected a second time, being the first Mayor of Oldham upon whom that mark of confidence had been bestowed. One of the leading events of his first year of office was the obtaining of parliamentary sanction to an important scheme for giving Oldham an adequate water supply. In his evidence, given before the committee of the House of Commons on that occasion, he stated that in 1837, when he first became a partner in the firm of Messrs. Hibbert, Platt & Sons, they had only 400 workmen, but at that time (1855) they had on an average 2,500 men employed. The scheme was sanctioned in its integrity. For a third time Mr. Platt was elected Mayor of Oldham in 1861.

In other public work Mr. John Platt was no less zealous. He was constantly alive to the importance of railway accommodation for Oldham. The great district scheme which was devised in 1846 had his warmest support. The Act for it was obtained, but, from various causes, principally the want of funds, the lines were never commenced. The Greenfield branch was, however, forced


Fortunes Made in Business.

on, Mr.Platt being one of the four gentlemen who compelled the London and North Western Railway Company to construct it in accordance with the terms of the Act previously obtained. Since then, the Oldham, Ashton and Guide Bridge Railway line, which again owes its existence to the energy, public spirit, and foresight of Mr. Platt, has been constructed, as well as the continuation of the Lancashire and Yorkshire line from Mumps to Rochdale and Royton. In all these plans for opening up Oldham to other parts of the world, Mr. Platt ever took a leading part. He was also for many years a director of the London and North Western Railway Company.

The cause of education always found in Mr. John Platt a zealous and intelligent worker, and a most liberal benefactor. The Oldham Lyceum, which partakes of the character of a Mechanics' Institution, but is perhaps of more comprehensive scope, owes much of its prosperity to Mr. John Platt and his brother James. In 1847 Mr. John Platt was one of the vicepresidents of the Lyceum, and took great interest in the scheme for obtaining a more commodious building in which to carry on the operations of the institution. The brothers subscribed. handsomely to the building fund, and the new Lyceum was opened on the 25th September, 1856. In 1859 he gave £500 towards clearing off the debt from the institution, and offered annual sums as prizes to be competed for by students. In 1863 he proposed to the directors of the Lyceum that if they would provide a suitable building for the purpose of a School of Art, he would pay any cost in excess of receipts for carrying on such a school, and in 1864 he presented the Lyceum with the noble School of Science and Art buildings which adjoin the original structure in Union Street, the cost of which was upwards of £2,000. The firm of Platt Brothers also presented all the models and casts for the use of students of that institution. In 1865 Mr. John Platt was elected president of the Lyceum, and in 1867 he presented to its library a number of valuable scientific works, intended for reference. Mr. Platt took a deep interest in the scheme for extending Owen's College, Manchester, the firm contributing £500 to the extension, as well as £500 towards the founding of a professional chair of engineering there. In the establishment of news and reading rooms in connection with the works; in promoting the Werneth Mechanics' Institution, towards which he contributed £500, and in a hundred other ways, Mr. Platt showed how much he had at heart the education of the people. Mr. Gladstone inaugurated the new Werneth Mechanics' Institution building in 1867. Since then the firm have benefited the undertaking in various ways. They have given an annual donation of £100, besides paying the fees of all the scholars from the works, which average between £300 and £400 a year. They likewise pay the fees for all their scholars attending the Roman Catholic schools of St. Marie and St. Patrick, Oldham. It should be mentioned also that Messrs. John and James Platt gave the land for the site of St. Thomas's Church, Werneth, and when the building was completed in 1856, and it was found that the dona

tions fell short by £1,900 of the cost of the erection, they generously made up the deficiency. Mr. John Platt afterwards kept the edifice in repair, and expended more than £1,000 additional in altering and improving the church. In all the charitable institutions in the town he evinced the most lively interest, and constantly assisted them by his benefactions, a gift of £500 to the Oldham Infirmary being one of the latest of his public donations prior to his death.

As has already been mentioned, Mr. John Platt was from early manhood an earnest politician, his sympathies being always with the more advanced section of the Liberal party. For upwards of a quarter of a century he was before the public as a politician, first coming into prominence at the time of the Oldham election of 1847, when there was a severe contest in the borough. Mr. John Fielden, of Todmorden, who had up to that time commanded the support of the Oldham Radicals, had determined to force Mr. J. M. Cobbett into the position of his colleague, and, as the latter was held to be unsound on many points, the Liberal party declined to accept Mr. Fielden's dictation in the matter and brought out Mr. Fox, and the Tories brought out Mr. Duncuft. The struggle was a fierce one, and excited the strongest party feeling. Mr. John Platt acted as chairman of the Radical Committee, and there is no doubt his intelligent advocacy and admirable tact contributed in a large degree to the success which his party achieved on that occasion. When the numbers were declared at the close of the poll the votes recorded were for Fox 725, Duncuft 694, Cobbett 624, and Fielden 612. From that time down to the year 1857 Mr. John Platt retained the position of chairman of the Oldham Liberals, and did much useful political work while acting in that capacity. He was often solicited to allow himself to be nominated a candidate for parliamentary honours, but until 1865 he declined to come forward. In that year, however, the pressure that was brought to bear upon him was too strong for him to resist, so he came out along with Mr. Hibbert, and was returned with that gentleman, the numbers being--Hibbert 1,105, Platt 1,076, Cobbett 898, Spinks 846. At the general election of 1868 the same four candidates stood a contest, with the result that Mr. Hibbert and Mr. Platt were again returned. Mr. Platt continued to represent Oldham in Parliament down to the time of his death, and always commanded the confidence and respect of his constituents; even those who were opposed to him in political thought could not but allow that in all public matters he brought to bear an enlightened perception and a strong sense of justice and right. No one had a word to say in disparagement of him, for he was so honest and sincere in his political action, and so firm and unflinching in his convictions, that his opponents could not withhold their admiration of his straightforwardness. He did not claim to be an orator; indeed, he did not do his natural power of speech justice, being at all times reluctant to address an audience; but on the few occasions when he was prompted to throw off his reserve and was prevailed

« PoprzedniaDalej »