A History of Mather & Platt Ltd.
CHAPTER 3 - From Partnership to CompanyLink to full frames site if you have arrived on this single page.

The early nineteenth century, though separated from us by only a relatively short span, is something difficult for the present generation to comprehend. There was so much that was new which we take for granted, the machines themselves, the factories where they ran, and the industrial towns where men worked and lived. For the thinking man, these new social and economic phenomena raised strange problems which admitted of no easy answers but for the first generation of business men they merely provided the essential conditions of advance in an age of change. The pioneers of early industrialisation left few written records of their triumphs and defeats; they were men more interested in work rather than posterity. In working themselves to the bone as well as forcing others to work; in working without respite; in order to achieve success to expand their enterprises. At times they were men who seemed to be driven ahead by the logic of progress itself.

They were not often men who lacked humanity or social sense, they were men whose views of economics were often expressed in religious language, even though at times they seemed to have no time to worry about the general environment they were creating. Material progress meant individual forging ahead. “Manchester streets may be irregular,” wrote an outside witness surveying the scene in mid-century. “Its trading inscriptions pretentious; its smoke may be dense, and its mud ultra muddy, but none of these things can prevent the image of a great city rising before us, a very symbol of civilisation foremost in the march of improvement and a grand incarnation of progress”. (1) That was what Disraeli discerned in Manchester more than ten years before the above words were written, but it was a clearer vision than that caught by the first industrial pioneers, who did not care to express their personal strivings in such sophisticated language. They saw their opportunities and they took them.

It was said that the Mathers came to Manchester from Montrose, Scotland, at an unknown date and for unknown reasons; so far as we know, they certainly left no written records of their journeys or their objectives.  Also since they left no records of the daily business of their first enterprise, we know far more of the opportunities open to them in Manchester than of the way they tackled them. The early nineteenth century is a dark age for that reason too, we know more of the world of necessities and opportunities than we do of the people who lived in it and shaped it.

Manchester, primarily a cotton manufacturing centre, was a city to attract the enterprising pioneer. In 1800 there were 38 steam mills in Manchester and Salford and by 1820, no less than 66 cotton mills in the two towns. (2) Steam power was also employed in the bleaching, dying and printing branches of the cotton trade, and there were many finishing factories of this type in the Manchester neighbourhood. Lancashire was supplanting London as the chief centre of the calico printing trade and forging ahead of Scotland in bleaching and dying. (3) As a result, there was a flow of Scotsmen across the border, men like the Cheeryble Brothers, so well described by Charles Dickens in “Nicholas Nickleby”.

(1)            Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, new series, Vol. IX (1858), p.251.

(2)         A. Redford, Manchester Merchants and Foreign Trade, 1794-1858 (1934, p.238.

(3)         G. Turnbull, A History of the Calico Printing Industry of Great Britain (1951), p109.

Merchants had to link up to the fortunes of Lancashire with the development of cotton producing areas overseas, and machine manufacturers had to provide and repair the large wheels, the cylinders, boilers and pipes and the rollers for printing, without which the cotton factories would have come to a standstill. The demand for textile machinery often of a very simple character, brought into existence a large number of one man or family concerns making machines by hand; roller makers, iron turners and millwrights. Some of these men and firms survived; others disappeared, hit hard, no doubt, by commercial misfortunes and trade fluctuations, which suspended demand for their products, or by the competition of more powerful rivals.

It is among the small men who survived that we first trace Colin Mather, cabinetmaker, of Gun Street, Salford, in 1817. (1) He is probably the same man who appears as Colin Mather, a machine maker, and just over ten years later at Waterloo Place. (2) The transition from cabinet making to machine making would be quite a natural one for an immigrant from a non-industrial area. By 1834, he had moved to Brown Street, Salford, (3) that has often been regarded as the birthplace of the present firm. The site was convenient, not far from the River Irwell, and by 1836, Colin had become associated with his brother William in an enterprise as that of “Engineers, machine makers and millwrights”, 23 Brown Street. (4) Compared with some rival ventures, Colin and William Mather’s establishment appears to have been small and unimportant.

In the decade after the Napoleonic Wars, two of the most renowned engineering partnerships in Manchester, were Peel, Williams and Peel, of the Soho Foundry, Ancoats and Galloway, Bowman and Galloway of Great Bridgewater Street, (5) but by modern standards, these two firms were also small in size. Indeed, for some years Galloway and Bowman merely called themselves millwrights, although they employed pattern makers, iron and brass founders, smith's, firemen, hammermen and turners. Another firm, T.C. Herves, extensively employed in erecting mills and filling them with machinery, found work for 140 to 150 men. (6)

(1)         Pigot and Dean’s Directory (1817). There is an earlier reference in the same directory to Peter Mather, roller manufacturer of Gun Street, Salford; the first entry is 1804. In Dean’s Manchester and Salford Directory (1809) he appears at 12 Rushalm Lane: In Pigot’s Manchester and Salford Directory (1813) There are two Peter Mathers, one a roller maker at 3 Rushalm Lane, the other a whitesmith at 33 Gun Street. The name Mather was quite a common one in Lancashire and it was a branch of the Lancashire Mathers, which emigrated to America in the seventeenth century. The first reference, in a Manchester Directory, to a Colin Mather appeared in the 1817 edition.

(2)                Wardle and Kings Directory, (1828), his home was in Waterloo Place, his workshop in Foundry Street, according to the directory of the following years.

(3)                Pigot’s Directory (1834)

(4)         ibid., (1836)

(5)         J.T. Slugg, Reminiscences of Manchester Fifty Years Ago, (1881) p.102. The Peels were relatives of Sir Robert, the great calico printer.

(6)         Select Committee on Artisans and Machinery (1824), p.340, 27.

There was one other active concern in Salford, which was to provide the eventual site for the Mather and Platt partnership at the Salford Iron Works. Indeed, the building was known as the Salford Iron Works when William Green drew his map of Salford in 1794. It was then owned by Bateman and Sherratt, (1) Bateman lost interest in the firm, and the Sherratts, a Westmorland Family became the dominant influence. (2) In 1795, Aikin wrote that, “a considerable iron foundry is established in Salford, in which are cast most of the articles wanted in Manchester and its neighbourhood. Mr Sharrard is a very ingenious and able engineer, who has improved upon and brought the steam engine to great perfection. Most of those that are used and set up in and about Manchester are of their make and fitting up. They are in general of a small size, very compact, stand in a small space, work smooth and easy and are scarcely heard in the building when erected. They are now in use in cotton mills and for every purpose of the water wheel, where a stream is not available and for winding up coals from a great depth in the coal pits, which is performed with a quickness and ease not conceived”. (3) This was an interesting forecast of the sort of claim that was to be made eventually for engineering operations carried out by Mather & Platt and as a reference, it also showed how established was the Sherratt firm before the Mathers had begun their operations at all.

In 1834, when William and Colin Mather had begun their operations, a wage book dated 1829, established that William and Colin Mather were in business as millwrights and engineers at the date that J & T Sherratt were described as brass founders, engine makers and iron founders. (4) The description indicates that they were concerned primarily with general engineering rather than with the production of machinery for the textile trade, a task which was still left to small men, although from a later entry, it is clear that the Sherratts continued to do some textile machinery work. In the eighteenth century, many cotton mills grew up in the same neighbourhood as iron works, and the textile industry and the engineering trades flourished side by side. (5) As late as 1836, Sherratts still called themselves “iron founders, steam engine manufacturers, millwrights and hydraulic press manufacturers”. (5)

In 1837, Thomas Sherrat died, and two years later, his trustees leased the Salford Iron Works to John Platt. (6) Little is known about John Platt, for he is not described in the Directories until 1836, when he was described as a “machine maker”, living in Roman Road Terrace, Higher Broughton. (7) His workshop before he moved to the Iron Works was in Greengate.

(1)            Evidently, Manchester men, like men elsewhere, had no idea of uniform spelling. Sherratt is sometimes rendered Sharratt and even in Aikin, as Sharrard.

(2)         F.S. Stancliffe, John Shaw’s, 1738-1938 (1938) p.87

(3)         J. Aikin, A Description of the Country to Forty Miles Round Manchester, (1795) p.176.

(4)            Pigot’s Directory (1834).

(5)         L.C.A. Knowles, The industrial and Commercial Revolutions in Great Britain during the Nineteenth Century (1922), p.29.

(6)            Pigot’s Directory (1836)

(7)         Ibid (1838)

Platt had entered into partnership with George Yates, the two of them continuing Sherratt’s line of business. From their small workshop in Brown Street, the Mather’s could contemplate the roomy premises occupied by Platt and Yates at the Salford Iron Works across Chapel Street. For reasons which remain obscure, the Mathers and the Platts became connected when in 1845, John Platt leased the Salford Iron Works, or at any rate part of them, to William and Colin Mather. (1) The premises were to grow substantially in size in later years, but here was the beginning of a larger ‘Mather’ enterprise than had been envisaged before.

Stepping into the shoes of the Sherratts, they advertised themselves in the Directory as “Engineers, Machine-makers, Millwrights and Iron-founders”, Garden Lane, Salford. (2) At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, they referred to their premises not as “Garden Lane” but as “Salford Iron Works” and went to London to display “A calico printing machine for printing eight colours at one operation with drying apparatus, a sewing machine and patent pistons”. (3) The sewing machine for the batching of the pieces was a new invention of 1847. (4) The patent pistons were made at Brown Street. (5)        

One year after the Exhibition, Colin Mather entered into partnership with William Platt, the son of John Platt, who had died in 1847. It was this partnership which laid the foundations of the later business. The younger Platt, who had carried on iron founding work in the Salford iron Works, (6) provided land, buildings and money for the new partnership, while Colin, apparently, contributed technical skills and ideas. This sort of division of labour in industrial partnerships was by no means new, indeed it had already been established as a well-tried recipe for business success.

Colin Mather, “Cast Iron Colin”, as he came to be called, was an engineer of ingenuity and brilliance. As the active head of the business, with Grundy as his manager, he not only built up an efficient organisation to produce textile finishing machinery, he also concerned himself with a wide range of ingenious ideas, including the design of piston rings, particularly for use in ships engines. There was also well boring, the production of magnesium in quantity in cast iron pots instead of in expensive platinum and porcelain vessels which had been used previously; and the method of preventing coastal erosion with a system of cast iron plates. He had something of Wilkinson’s zest for turning iron into a universal material and it was easy to see from the list of his pre-occupations how he came to earn his nickname.

(1)         Lease of 1845; J. Platt to W. Mather and C. Mather.

(2)         Slater’s Directory, 1845.

(3)         Official Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, p.38.

(4)         G. Turnbull, Calico Printing, p.37.

(5)            Manchester Mercantile Annual Directory (1854-55). Mather and Platt appear as iron founders, Salford Iron Works, Garden Lane and Deal Street, and Drying and Sizing Machine Makers, Deal Street and Brown Street. There was also a reference to them under Brown Street – Mather and Platt, Patent Piston Works.

(6)         Pigot and Slater’s Directory (1843).

Such clever ideas have sometimes led engineers to their ruin, for as Campbell had written in the middle of the eighteenth century, “an engineer ought to have a solid not a flighty head, otherwise his business will tempt him to make useless and expensive projects”. (1) These did not prevent Colin from building up the solid side of the partnership’s activities for in 1852 the firm was employing about 125 men, (2) ten years later the number had increased to 300 and in 1875, about the same number were employed. (3)

The entry of William Wilkinson Platt into the partnership coincided with the withdrawal of Colin’s brother William, who had been associated with him since the 1830’s. William had been more interested in public life and politics than in engineering and at the time of his death in 1858, he had few business interests. However, as a result of domestic circumstances, it was William's son, also called William, later Sir William Mather, rather than Colin’s sons who was destined to play the biggest part in the subsequent development of the business in the nineteenth century.

Colin Mather had three sons, the eldest, William Penn, whom after spending a few years in the family business decided to emigrate to America. The second, John Harry was sent to Alsace to study tinctorial chemistry, in which the firm, as makers of dyeing machinery, had an active interest. The youngest, another Colin, spent over 40 years in the family business and in due course became a director of the Limited Company. Colin played a prominent part in the technical developments of the time and left his mark in many branches of engineering, especially that associated with the textile finishing trade.

When Colin Senior met with an accident at work and was compelled to take a less active part in the affairs of the firm, it was to William, the second son of old William that he turned. (4) and not to his own children, who were still too young to accept important positions in the business. Young William was capable, far seeing and energetic and in 1850, at the age of twelve, he had begun three strenuous years of apprenticeship in the family business. He had broadened his industrial education by spending some time in Germany and had returned at the age of eighteen to work in the family business. It is on record that his hours of work extended from 6.00 am to 6.00 p.m. and most of his evenings were spent at night school in the Mechanics Institute, which both the Mathers and the Platts had sponsored three years before.

This was learning the hard way, but it paid good dividends, for, as a result, William Mather always understood the value and dignity of manual work and the importance of establishing happy relations with his employees. As he said on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, in the course of a celebration at Belle Vue, he had “always loved working men from his youth”. Because he knew so much of them in his early life, he had “a profound respect for the honest, diligent, earnest, working man”. (5)

(1)         R. Campbell, The London Tradesman (1747), p.248.

(2)         The Manchester Guardian, 14 January 1852. In that year the firm was involved in the lockout between the newly set up Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Engineering Employers. The dispute continued through February and March.

(3)         L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, p.14.

(4)         The first son, also called Colin, died in 1857.

(5)         Quoted by Sir John Wormald in "The Sprinkler Bulletin" July 1908.

In 1858, the year when his father died, William was made assistant manager at the Salford Iron Works. Five years later he was taken into partnership with Colin Mather and William Wilkinson Platt and the occasion was marked by a celebration at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens. All employees were given half a day’s holiday and invited to attend a social gathering, the first of many similar functions given by the firm. The programme included a characteristically Victorian meal and a feast of speech making and dancing. (1)

Young William Mather represented a new generation, wider in its interests and more cultivated in its tastes, than the generation of pioneers who first saw the possibilities of advancement in the world of machines and factories. It was fitting that for a time he should be the sole figure on the stage of the story of the firm. Colin Mather retired soon after 1863 and William Wilkinson Platt in 1872. William Mather was thus left in sole control between 1872 and 1878 when he took into partnership young John Platt, the son of W.W. Platt. The men of the new partnership were different from those in 1852, representative of a changed age, about which we know more and of which we can find out more if we try. Indeed, we have numerous photographs, diaries, records and outside observers’ comments to help us. Of John Platt, who had served his apprenticeship at Hulses’ machine tool makers in Salford and who died in 1927 at the age of 79, we have fewer records. So far as can be traced from available documents, he spent much of his time travelling in search of business and frequently visited Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia. A study of old order books indicates that as a result of his efforts in these countries, he left a definite imprint in the commercial history of the concern.

Between the beginning of the 1870’s and the end of the nineteenth century, the firm was expanding rapidly, both in the size of its plant and the scope of its operations. In 1873, adjacent property in Deal Street, known as Drinkwater’s Mill and the whole of Foundry Street were taken over. This increased accommodation provided new offices, a lodgeman’s house, stores, pattern and joiners shops and a light fitting shop and the number of employees increase to about 600. From 1888 onwards, land was being acquired from the Salford Corporation. In 1894 agreement was reached concerning the closing of a portion of Union Street in order that the area covered by the street and two rows of cottages, could be absorbed into the Salford Iron Works, thus providing space for a fine erecting shop and new offices. The new erecting shop soon became know as “Klondyke” as it was being erected about the time when gold was discovered at Klondyke in Alaska. The men working in the building through the winter felt that the term was a bright and apt one. “Klondyke” was more up to date than the rest of the buildings, but it marked the effective limit to the expansion of the Salford Iron Works site. In order to expand further the firm had to look outside, just as William and Colin Mather had looked across the way from Brown Street nearly fifty years earlier.

As the firm expanded in size the partners had another problem to face, should it remain a partnership or be turned into a limited company? The Limited Liability Act of 1862 had codified previous legislation, but the limited liability Company had not yet become dominant or even a representative type of business organisation. However, between 1889 and 1891, there was an unprecedented increase in the number of changeovers from family businesses to limited liability companies, particularly in the north of England, and the question arose as to whether the partnership of Mather & Platt should follow the fashion. William Mather’s son-in-law, John Petro, who had been making a close study of the Companies Acts, discussed the idea with his father-in-law, who was at that time much opposed to the changeover.

(1)         L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, p.14.

This opposition was based on interesting, but at that time fairly commonly held grounds among family industrialists, he said that he could not part with what was “his creation” and that “the works would always remain the private property of the partners”. He thought that enterprise would not be fostered nor advancement made under the control of a board of directors; and that the personal element would depart from the Works. (1)

This opposition was gradually overcome; indeed the roots of it had in fact been cut away before William Mather expressed himself so strongly. In 1888, Dowson and Taylor, a firm which had been installing automatic sprinklers, the selling rights of which Mather had acquired from Frederick Grinnell in 1883, was turned into a private limited company with William Mather as Chairman and his partner John Platt as one of the directors. The Dowson and Taylor firm, which had moved from Bolton to Blackfriars, Salford, had for some years been interested in fire-fighting devices and by this time was acting as sub-licensee of the Grinnell patent. The success of this venture was calculated to make William Mather less sceptical in considering a general changeover in the status of the Mather & Platt partnership.

In 1892, he agreed to form Mather & Platt into a private limited company with a capital of 40,000. The first directors were, William Mather, John Platt, Dr. Edward Hopkinson, who had managed the Electrical Department since its foundation, and Hardman Earle, who was also connected with the Electrical Department. The funds of the company were increased by the private issue of mortgage debentures to members of the family. So certain were the directors that there would be no change in the constitution of the private company, that these debentures were issued as “irredeemable” and a “first charge on the works”.

At this stage we must turn our attention to another partnership which affects our history, it is the Dowson-Taylor partnership which brief reference has already been made and which later amalgamated with Mather & Platt. The central figure in this part of the story is John Taylor, who was destined to become, for nearly 35 years, Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Mather & Platt Limited and the organising genius and driving force at Park Works. He comes on the scene as an ambitious young man of twenty; ready to work hard to ensure the success of the great enterprise to which he devoted his working life. On leaving school, he had joined the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company at Bolton and in the evenings, had studied shorthand and other commercial subjects in order to fit himself for office work.

John soon discovered that life in the office of the Railway Company had little to offer to one of an adventurous outlook, so he obtained a position in the works of the Bolton Chemical Fire Extinguisher Company. Here he had his first real encounter with that stirring element “fire” and here he found adventure in plenty for he soon discovered that he was working in a sinking ship. Sales were not enough to keep the place going, the firm was losing money and it could not pay its way. No doubt the lessons he learned from its failure helped to develop that acute commercial sense which was such an asset to him in later life. Many young men would have lost heart when they saw the firm they worked for sinking and would have sought a safe job elsewhere. Not so John Taylor and a young colleague named Ralph Dowson who enjoyed his confidence and with whom he was prepared to embark on a business career. These two enterprising and energetic young men, confident in their own ability and possessing a great capacity for hard work, decide to strike out on their own at an age when most of today’s engineers are still serving their apprenticeship.

(1)         A statement of John Petro, quoted by L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, p.21.

In 1883 when the Bolton Chemical Fire Extinguisher Company finally closed down, Dowson and Taylor started their own firm, in Bolton, under the title “Dowson and Taylor, Fire Engineers”. Thus began a partnership which was to play a great in the future of Mather & Platt Limited. The title “Fire Engineers” which Dowson and Taylor adopted was indicative of a new attitude towards that enemy of civilisation “Fire”. It told of the resolve of engineering science to place its resources at the service of a crusade which has since saved the world untold damage and many millions of pounds.

John Taylor brought to this early venture the great qualities of the self-made Lancashire man, hard headed business sense, a determination to get the best out of himself and those about him and great energy. The first aim of the new firm was the perfecting and marketing of a Chemical Fire Extinguisher called the “Simplex”, it held five or six gallons of liquid, weighed about eighty pounds and was carried on the back as a soldier carried his pack. In 1884 it was awarded a medal at an International Exhibition in London and was soon installed in royal palaces, railway stations and public buildings. Following this early success, the next stop was to produce a more portable machine and it was not long before the well-known “2 gallon Simplex” extinguisher made its appearance. Today the modern “Simplex” Chemical Extinguisher is still recognised as an efficient hand appliance with which to fight small fires.

If one were asked to name some of the secrets of John Taylor’s success, the reply might well be “his swiftness to learn from others; his ability to pounce upon a new idea and his eager eye for anything which might further his life’s work”.

Thus, in 1881 when Bolton received a visit from an American fire-fighting enthusiast named Parmelee, John Taylor had been quick to see the possibilities of the automatic sprinkler. Parmelee was out to market an automatic fire extinguisher. Automatic! Here was a word to fire John Taylor’s mind. Some fire engineers ridiculed the idea, but Bolton was ready to learn. The Corporation allowed Parmelee to build a shed in the Wholesale Market ground for the purpose of giving practical demonstrations. According to eyewitness accounts, as published at the time, the demonstrations made a great impression on all present, but some months later Mr. Parmelee decided upon a more thorough test, under conditions approximating to a Cotton Spinning Mill. He adopted the bold policy of hiring the Spa Mill in Bolton, an old cotton-spinning factory of non-fireproof construction, five storeys in height, with wooden boarded floors, which were saturated with the oil of fifty years work. The building was fired on 22 March 1882 and the Bolton Evening News, of the same date, published the following report of the event.

“It will be remembered that, in June last, a trial was made of a specially erected wooden building on the Wholesale Market, and it was then considered that the contracted space condensed the heat, therefore the Sprinklers came into operation sooner than would have been the case under less circumscribed conditions. The present experiment was therefore arranged, and on the fourth floor two pairs of spinning mules were erected, thirty-two sprinklers were fixed in this room and a similar number in the top storey. A quantity of shavings and combustible material was scattered around one pair of mules and a light applied. Within a very short time, the flames obtained complete mastery and dense volumes of smoke filled the room; in fact, it was all but possible to breathe within two minutes after the light was applied. At the expiration of a minute and a half, the first sprinkler came into operation and two others shortly followed. Within three and a half minutes, the fire was extinguished and the spectators, who had made a hasty and somewhat undignified exit, were able to return. It will, therefore, be seen that the experiment was entirely satisfactory and furnishes the best recommendation for the general adoption of the system”.

The demonstration made a profound impression on the large and influential company present, but another result and one of more importance to our story- is that John Taylor, who was one of the eager spectators at the initial demonstration, had already been charged with enthusiasm and had decided that he would one day perfect a sprinkler of his own. Thus it came about that before long, Lancashire cotton mills were installing the “Simplex” Automatic Sprinkler, designed and manufactured by the firm of Dowson and Taylor.

It was about two years after Parmelee had given his first sprinkler demonstration, in Bolton, that William Mather made the visit to America, to which reference is made elsewhere and brought back from the United States, the world selling rights, apart from North America, for an automatic Sprinkler called “Grinnell”. No sooner had John Taylor studied the mechanism of the “Grinnell” head and seen it tested under fire conditions, that he knew this to be the best sprinkler head yet invented. (1) With typical forthright resolution, he cut out sentiment, jettisoned his own sprinkler head and henceforth installed “Grinnell” heads, which he bought from Mather & Platt.

Events moved quickly during the next few years and in order to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding business, Dowson and Taylor was made into a limited company, Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd., with Ralph Dowson and John Taylor as Managing Directors and William Mather as Chairman. At this stage another important figure appears on the scene, John Wormald, one of the leading British Insurance authorities on Automatic Sprinklers and a surveyor of the Mutual Insurance Company, who elected to forsake the realms of insurance in order to join the ranks of industry as one of the Directors of a growing enterprise.

John Taylor had been quick to realise the potential value of the Automatic Sprinkler System in the cotton mills of Lancashire, but although he obtained approval for his own automatic device, the reluctance of mill owners to spend money on equipment to extinguish fires was a big obstacle to progress. Only some financial encouragement from Insurance Companies could bring about the necessary change in their attitude. What John Taylor had in mind, a bonus or rebate on fire insurance premiums, did not appear to be in the interests of local insurance officials. Their income depended on turnover and turnover meant increasing rather then bringing about a decrease in the premium paid for fire insurance. Greater fire losses in a given industry meant higher premiums to be paid by the insured within that industry. If higher losses in an industry meant an increase in premiums and greater commission for the ‘agent’ what did it matter?

The new outlook necessary to counter this attitude and to ensure the general acceptance of the principle of rebate on insurance premiums as an inducement to install automatic sprinklers found one keen advocate in the person of John Wormald. John, as a young insurance official interested in cutting fire losses, had witnessed Parmelee’s sprinkler demonstration in Bolton and had since taken a prominent part in exploring the possibilities of sprinkler protection.

(1)         John Taylor left the service of a British Railway Company as a youth, and became one of the world’s greatest authorities on Automatic Sprinklers: Frederick Grinnell, formerly the Chief Mechanical Engineer and General Manager of the Jersey City Locomotive Works, retired from the Railway Company’s service in 1869 and purchased the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company and later produced the first commercially successful sprinkler which still carries his name to every quarter of the globe.

John Wormald realised that financial success for the Insurance companies depended not on total premiums received, but on the difference between premiums and claims met. It was sound business to make a big cut in the total amount paid out, to cover fire losses, in return for conceding a reduction in premiums received. He saw plainly that if he could make a big cut in the amount paid out in respect of fire losses by the simple expedient of offering attractive rebate on the premium normally paid, the net result would be a considerable gain for the Insurance Company. He communicated his enthusiasm to others in the insurance world until, in a few years, this principle was firmly established.

Thus we see that while still a young man, John Taylor had proved his capacity for big business by joining forces with men like Dowson and Wormald who would work hard with him to build up the business in which they were engaged. Typical of the man was the advertisement, which first brought into service of the firm a boy who was later to become Secretary to the Company. It was brief and very much to the point, “Wanted, Office Boy, not afraid of hard work and with his head screwed on the right way”. There was no demand for matriculation standard; and not even a promise of a bright future in an age of golden opportunities, for John Taylor always held that hard work brought its own reward. How hard the three Managing Directors worked in the early days of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd, can best be judged by the achievements of the first ten years.

Once the big Insurance Companies had accepted the principle of allowing rebates on insurance premiums in respect of buildings protected by automatic sprinklers, and the efficiency of Grinnell Installations had been established by their satisfactory performance in extinguishing numerous mill fires, the future was assured. It was merely a matter of time before the cotton mills and warehouses of Lancashire were fitted with sprinklers as a matter of course.

Some men might have been content to reap the local harvest, not so John Taylor and his colleagues on the board of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd. They lost no time in planning to cultivate a wider field and the minute books, covering their first twelve months as a limited company, contain references to the activities for negotiating business in the Metropolitan district; to the appointment of Resident Managers for Scotland and Ireland; to the establishment of branch offices in London and many provincial centres; to negotiations for agencies to cover special industries in the British Isles; to the completion of agency agreements to take the “Grinnell” system to France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and India as well as arrangements to stage demonstration fires in London for Press, Insurance Officials and leaders in Industry. Quite ambitious programmes for one year for a company still in its infancy!

In view of William Mather’s business connections with Russia, it is not surprising to find that he was instrumental in bringing the “Grinnell” system to the notice of his many friends in that country. Thus he secured concessions from the Russian Insurance Companies, with the result that automatic sprinklers were soon installed there on a big scale. During his early years as Chairman of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd., William Mather himself watched over the interests of the new company on the occasion of his annual visits to Russia, but as “Grinnell” business expanded in that country, it became a full time job. Accordingly, John Wormald himself took charge of the business and in due course arranged for a branch to be opened in Moscow under the supervision of Martin Cox, who later became a Director of Mather & Platt Limited. As a means of cementing the connection and studying the technical problems of the country, John Taylor also spent some months each winter in Russian mills for many years.

One of the most important events of this period was the completion of an agreement in 1890 under which “Grinnell” Sprinkler heads which, under the terms of the original arrangement with Frederick Grinnell, had been imported from America, were in future to be made in England by Dowson Taylor & Co.Ltd.

For some years the story of Dowson Taylor & Co, was one of uninterrupted success but in May 1896, the Company suffered its first great loss. This was the death of Ralph Dowson, who died with tragic suddenness in Bombay, whither he had gone while on a ‘tour to further his company’s business interests in India.

The untimely death of the man who had lent his name to the original Dowson-Taylor partnership, while still a young man and apparently at the heyday of his career, was a heavy blow to his colleagues in the firm and it robs our later history of the lustre of a man whose achievements would have added colour to our study of many great personalities. This is not idle speculation; conjecture it may be, but it is conjecture based on the considered opinion of John Taylor who, near the end of his business career, when he himself enjoyed an outstanding reputation among his business associates and had travelled in all parts of the civilised world in search of business and had met Kings, Princes, Government Officials and all men of Big Business in every country, described his original partner as “One of the finest business men I have ever met: a man of wonderful vision, a typical English gentleman and a man with whom it was a delight to work”. To the end of his life, whenever John Taylor spoke of Ralph Dowson he did so with deep emotion.

From this point until the Company went into voluntary liquidation in order to join Mather & Platt Ltd., the destinies of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd., were in the hands of John Taylor and John Wormald as joint Managing Directors. This was a great combination and each man made an outstanding success of work in his own sphere: John Taylor, the engineer, carried the responsibility for the works production policy and all technical and commercial administration. John Wormald, from his headquarters in London devoted his tremendous energy to formulating and. carrying out an aggressive sales policy at home and overseas.

Much of the success of Dowson, Taylor and Co. Ltd., was due to the ability of each in his own sphere and to the fact that each concentrated on his own work. There was no overlapping and in all phases of their business dealings each manifested supreme confidence in the other.

Later they carried this same principle into good effect in administering the business of Mather & Platt Ltd, of which company they were destined to become managing directors,

Some examples of the work carried out by John Taylor when as a boy in the office of the Railway Company he attended night school in order to fit himself for a position as a shorthand writer are still in existence. Work in his shorthand notebook was written with meticulous care and approached perfection in execution. The result is more like a page from a printing press than the handiwork of a student at an evening school. He displayed the same meticulous attention to detail throughout his life. He had a passion for learning and from every situation and from every new encounter he sought to draw a lesson. He had a great belief in concentration of effort avoiding, where possible, all diversions.

As evidence of his devotion to the interests of his business we have the record of his wedding. He was married on Christmas Day but next morning was back at work at the normal time. “I could not spare time for a honeymoon,” said John, “so long as there was work waiting to be done.”

John Taylor, the engineer, would accept nothing but the best, he was a ruthless critic and his yardstick was engineering perfection. Men came to know that every job which survived his criticism was right and that, furthermore, it would have his complete support and the driving power of his constructive mind.

Contemporary engineers recognised in John Taylor a man who brought a profound knowledge of engineering subjects to bear on the many problems connected with fire extinction and the wider activities of Mather & Platt Ltd after he joined that Company. His discerning eye was of the utmost value in the pioneer days of electrical machinery and centrifugal pump's. He took special pride in the development of the electrical side of the business and the value of his services to the electrical industry may be gauged from the fact that he served, for many years on the Council of the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association, and was one of its Vice-Presidents up to his death. This was one of the very few “outside” activities of John Taylor, who had neither time nor inclination to take part in public life. He felt that his work for Mather & Platt Ltd was a full-tine job and. demanded his undivided attention. He made an exception during the world war of 1914-18, which provided an opportunity for those in authority to set the seal on John Taylor’s position as an acknowledged master in his sphere.

He was appointed Chairman of the Lancashire Anti-submarine Committee, a body appointed by the British Government of the day to investigate the possibilities of all measures which the ingenuity of engineers and scientists could devise to counter the menace of the German submarine. Although the work of the Committee was hidden behind the veil of war-time secrecy we may be sure that with John Taylor as Chairman, Mr. A. P. N. (later Sir Arthur) Fleming as Vice-Chairman and the late Lord Rutherford as Chief Technical Adviser, the local engineers and scientists who served in this body from 1917 to 1919 would not lack encouragement. John Taylor was also a member of the Board of Management of the Manchester and District Armaments Output Committee, an organisation to which the Ministry of Munitions delegated the work of co-ordinating the efforts of local engineering firms engaged on the production of munitions. When the Ministry of Reconstruction set up a number of Committees to investigate problems connected with industry, John Taylor was appointed a member of the Engineering Trades (Now Industries) Committee and Chairman of the Electrical Branch Committee of that body. In recognition of his work on those bodies Mr. Taylor was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire but his work for Mather & Platt Ltd remains to be seen by all who visit the great engineering establishment he built up at Newton Heath.

As we have now introduced the principal characters who were concerned with the decision of 1898 to amalgamate Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd. with Mather & Platt to form the public limited Company of Mather & Platt Limited, it is fitting that we should at this point include an extract from the Chairman’s address at the first meeting of the directors of the new Company. A minute of the Board meeting held on 25th January 1899, reads: -

"Each firm had been successful in the past and there was every reason to expect that in the future they, as a united firm, would continue to prosper, but the Chairman reminded the Board that the union of the two firms must be looked upon very much like a marriage; They took each other “for better or worse”, “for richer or poorer” and, as in marriage, the future very much depended upon the mutual consideration, forbearance and regard of all members of the Company towards one another. Each one must look to the future with the intention of doing his best to maintain the traditions of the past….”

The capital was fixed at 775,000 - 37,500 preference shares of 10 each and 40,000 ordinary shares of 10 each. The preference shares were entitled to a cumulative dividend. of 5%, and upon a distribution of assets to have the capital paid up on them, plus a premium of 10 shillings a share, repaid in priority to the ordinary shares. 37,500 of the ordinary shares and 10,800 of the preference shares were issued as fully paid in part consideration for the sale of the business. The remaining 2,500 ordinary shares were reserved, to meet applications from certain employees of the Company. Of the preference shares 5,000 were reserved for issue as and when required for further extensions of the business, and the balance of 21,700 5% cumulative preference shares was offered for subscription.

In drawing up these plans it was overlooked until almost the last moment that the debenture issue of 1892 was “irredeemable”. Fortunately, the two debenture holders did not hold out for their ‘pound of flesh’, but loyally accepted an allotment of preference shares in exchange for their debentures.

It was a propitious time to launch the new company. Prices were rising, business activity was high, prospects were good and the curve of limited company registration was rising fast. The issue was eleven times over-applied for, and the company soon got away to a good start.

The year 1899, the first of the new limited company, was a record one for cotton, which made bigger profits than in the previous twenty years, and for engineering, which could not secure raw material supplies as fast as they were wanted. The unemployment figures of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in that year were down to 1.8%

The launching of the Company and the first move to Park Works in 1901 marked as big an epoch in the history of the firm as did the drawing up of the articles of a partnership in 1852. It is worthwhile taking a more careful stock of’ the position of the enterprise at the beginning of a new phase of its history and at the beginning of a new century. Technically it had moved far from the roller making enterprise of the first Mathers: physically it had increased greatly in size from the Salford Iron Works plant of 1845. From a financial point of view it was a safe enterprise, far safer than most of the companies floated during the cheap-money atmosphere of 1894-6.

The physical assets of the new company, before the acquisition of the Newton Heath property, consisted of three and a half acres of freehold land within half a mile of the Manchester Royal Exchange, and other leasehold properties, fixtures, machinery and stock, together worth considerably more than the preference capital. Other assets included ample working capital; the goodwill associated with one old established successful family business and the younger company of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd, as well as a set of patents sufficient to make any competitor feel envious. The annual average combined profits of the two firms in the middle nineties were sufficient to pay the dividend on the new issue of preference capital more than three times over (1). The hard work of “Cast Iron Colin” and his associates and successors was now paying good dividends, and the accumulation of capital through laborious personal savings in the middle years of the century had provided a successful basis for the appeal to the capital market.

William Mather was Chairman of the new Company and there were four managing directors John Platt, Edward Hopkinson, John Taylor and John Wormald. The other directors were Colin Mather, son of “Cast Iron Colin", John Milligan, Hardman A. Earle, J. J. Holden, W. Ernest Mather and. Alfred Willett.

The inclusion of Sir William’s son, Ernest Mather, who had just left Cambridge, showed that although the company had become a public one, the family tradition was to continue. It was to remain in the twentieth century as a distinctive element in the further growth of the firm. Of the present Board of Directors, six have direct family connections with their predecessors and. the other three are very long serving’ members of the Company.

(1) Chartered Accountants’ Statements, 30 November and 21 December 1898. See Manchester Guardian. 21 January 1899.