"Among the odd corners of the history of Mather & Platt Ltd., is the use of the letter "D", a symbol applicable only to the Directorate of Fire Engineering Division.
"D" stands for Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd., and has been handed down since the fire engineering firm of that name merged with Mather & Platt Ltd. in 1899 to form the nucleus of the Fire Engineering Division. John Taylor, a Managing Director of Dowson, Taylor & Co., became a Joint Managing Director of Mather & Platt Ltd., and he has been followed in the business by his son and grandson who are today the Taylors of "D".
One side of the story begins in 1883, when William Mather, head of Mather & Platt, returned from a visit to America with the marketing rights on Frederick Grinnell's newly devised automatic sprinkler system for extinguishing fires. Instead of incorporating the Grinnell into his own firm's activities, he came to an understanding with two young, energetic and ambitious "fire engineers" of Bolton, Ralph Dowson and John Taylor, who were keen to handle the new sprinkler. "Grinnell" was to remain in their hands for seventeen years before John Taylor brought it back to Mather & Platt.
John Taylor, a Lancashireman, born in 1860, spent his early years in the Rossendale Valley, but moved with his family to Bolton when he was about ten years old. Leaving Holy Trinity School at 13, he joined the railway and continued his education at night school in the Mechanics' Institute. Though he rose quickly to be an Assistant Inspector, he was soon in search of better prospects and left to join the Chemical Fire Engine Co., which was making a patent fire engine on wheels. Here he gained practical workshop experience and by his forceful ability, became manager of both the manufacturing and the selling side of the business. But it was a sinking ship: the patent fire engine was unpopular.
At this stage, when he was 22, John Taylor married a girl he had known since childhood and, as he put it, "entered my greatest and most profitable partnership". But - though he was married on Christmas Day to avoid interruption to his job and was back at work next day - the end of the company was close.
Despite his new responsibilities John Taylor made a bold decision. He persuaded Ralph Dowson, temporarily in charge of the company and only a couple of years older than himself, to wind up the business so that the two of them could make a new start and a more profitable line.
A few weeks later, the partnership of Dowson and Taylor, using the same premises and the title of "Fire Engineers" launched their new product, the "Simplex" fire extinguisher (the first 2 gallon Soda Acid Fire Extinguisher ever made and still one of the best-known portable extinguishers in the world to-day). Though it was an immediate success and business flourished, the two young men were soon making an even more ambitious move. They decided to go into the sprinkler business, a system of fire protection then in its infancy.
Two years before, in Bolton, the partners had been impressed by the first demonstration in this country of the American Parmelee automatic sprinkler system and they now brought out sprinklers of their own. It was a big venture for so small a firm but it succeeded. Ralph Dowson, "an exceptional salesman", toured the country introducing the Simplex sprinkler system into industry while John Taylor covered the manufacturing side and, with his hard-headed business sense, put the firm on a solid basis. He did more. He invented and produced the Taylor Variable Pressure Alarm Valve, which put the Simplex sprinkler system ahead of any other.
About this time, William Mather returned from America with the rights to sell the Grinnell sprinkler, and the partners recognised it as a big advance on the Simplex. In order to pool their resources, the Dowson & Taylor partnership was dissolved and a new enterprise started, a limited company - Dowson, Taylor and Co. Ltd. - with William Mather as Chairman and Ralph Dowson and John Taylor as joint Managiing Directors.
John Taylor's alarm was incorporated in the Grinnell system, producing what was soon recognised as the finest fully automatic sprinkler and fire alarm system yet known. Under the energetic direction of the chairman and managing directors, business spread into many parts of the world. It was on one of these world tours that Ralph Dowson died in India in 1896. Two years later, in 1898, the decision was made to amalgamate Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd. with William Mather's firm and to launch Mather & Platt Ltd. as a public limited company.
So, the rising young firm joined the established family business, bringing an experienced team to form the Fire Engineering Division, and in this larger organisation, John Taylor of "D" was to find further scope for his tremendous energy. But though he took on even greater responsibilities, and was for many years Joint Managing Director and later Vice-Charman, "he retained a paternal interest in the progress of his own Fire Engineering Department".
Paternal, in more senses than one. In 1902 - two years after John Taylor had organised the move of his F. E. Division from Salford Iron Works to the new Park Works - a son was born and christened John NoŽl. Twenty-three years later, having obtained his engineering degree at Cambridge with vacational courses at Park Works, NoŽl Taylor took up full duties with Mather & Platt.
Within a few months he set out on a world tour, in which - during 1926/27 - he visited most of our overseas offices north of the equator and stayed for three months in the U.S.A. and Canada. On his return in 1927, when he was put in charge of home Fire Engineering Sales and appointed to the Board of Directors, it was said of him that he was "from a good stable, trained by a good trainer." Within twelve months he was married, and was spending his honeymoon in France, Switzerland and Italy. Back at Park Works he added to his more general fire engineering duties by introducing and sponsoring the development of the Thermolier Unit Heater, introducing automatic sprinklers into passenger ships, and building up the Mulsifyre, now Special Risks Department.
The first John Taylor remained throughout his life a devout man, strongly attached to his family. In 1933, when he and Mrs. Taylor celebrated their Golden Wedding, they had the family around them; the occasion of course - due to John Taylor's early hard-working life - fell on Christmas Day. Another nine years were to pass before, in 1942, John Taylor retired from the Board. By then, NoŽl Taylor was firmly in charge of F.E."
From the Mather & Platt Archives