BiograPhyle ® John Wormald
John Wormald (Sir)
Born 1859 - Edinburgh - Married 1889 Eleanor Mabel (Mab) Simms - Died 1933
(Picture link to Family pages)

John Wormald was born in Edinburgh, Scotland to a Yorkshire father and a Scottish Highlander mother in 1859. He was the eldest of a large family of children. He attended the Royal High School in Edinburgh and Edinburgh University but his time at university was cut short by the death of his parents (an event currently being researched) and, being the eldest son, he took their place - which he did successfully.

In his early days, he worked among the poor of the East End of London and there earned the life-long friendship of two Bishops of Stepney (Winnington-Ingram and Lang). He began a career as a surveyor for the Mutual Fire Insurance Corporation of Bolton. This was the first insurance company officially to acknowledge that automatic fire sprinklers were the answer to fire losses in cotton mills. He became one of the leading British insurance authorities on automatic sprinklers and, in 1885, wrote the first set of 'rules' for the deployment of sprinklers - rules that are still largely in use today.

He was persuaded to leave the Insurance Industry and to join forces with John Taylor, of the Fire Engineering company, Dowson, Taylor and Co. of Manchester as a Director. Later, when that firm amalgamated with the Engineering firm, Mather & Platt, to form the public company, Mather & Platt Ltd. in 1898, he was instrumental in helping to establish and strengthen that company's Fire Engineering Department. Based in London, he was one of its key Managing Directors. The company, Mather & Platt Ltd., was to become the 'father' of a global fire protection industry.

During his career John Wormald established strong links with Frederick Grinnell, patriarch of the American Grinnell Corporation from which stemmed the Grinnell sprinkler head, used worldwide to protect buildings and stock in almost all industries. The association continued through the son, Russell Grinnell, after Frederick Grinnell's death in 1905.

The volume (pictured) is a copy of a General Fire Extinguisher Co.(Grinnell) publication which appeared in 1914. In essence, it is a sales document and concludes with the words, "On this basis we solicit your business."

A fraction smaller than standard A4 (UK), it contains some fifty pages of text and illustrations setting out the stories of horror and loss of life associated with the ravages of fire in America in unprotected environments and then measures these disasters against the effectiveness of Grinnell systems in the control of fire, protection of stock and plant and the saving of human life.

The volume is bound in soft brushed chamois leather, embossed in gold lettering. It was given to John Wormald in recognition of his association with the Grinnell company - and family - initially through Dowson, Taylor & Co. then Mather & Platt and subsequently through two of his brothers who set up Wormald Brothers in Australia.

Along with a partner, Stanley Russell, Joseph Dawson Wormald established the business, Russell and Wormald in Australia, which continued operating in this name until 1900. Joined in Australia by another brother, (Henry) Harry Percy Wormald, it became a limited company in 1911 and a public listed company in 1949. It became known as Wormald International/Wormald Industries and later went on to absorb Mather & Platt Ltd. itself, and also Ansul - to become known in the 1970s as Wormald Ansul. John Wormald last visited Australia in 1932, the year before he died.

In 1921, John Wormald became the first Chairman of the newly created French branch of Mather & Platt. It was there, amongst the company archives, that this volume was discovered in 2002 by Marcel Boschi and Madame Françoise Blanchard (archivist) during Marcel Boschi's research into the History of Mather & Platt Ltd. Gratitude is extended to them both for their generous gift.

The following text is extracted from Mather & Platt archives -

"In the days of the company, Dowson, Taylor, while John Taylor was devoting his great energy to the general development of Park Works and its products, John Wormald, working from headquarters in London, was engaged in increasing the demand for the company’s products, especially in territory overseas. As in the case of John Taylor the early business interest of John Wormald had centred around automatic sprinklers and the reduction of fire losses but he proved equally at home in the wider sphere of engineering in which he moved after joining Mather & Platt Ltd.

John Wormald was ideally suited for the task entrusted to him. He was a man of great initiative and imagination: a man of personality able to deal confidently with men interested in ‘Big Business’. He was essentially a super salesman who thought on the grand scale, which fitted in well with the manufacturing policy of John Taylor, who held that everything offered by the company must be the best and that success would be achieved by catering for the needs of buyers who appreciated the advantages to be gained by doing business with producers whose first aim was quality. Having established himself in the trading centre of the world John Wormald succeeded in spreading the fame of Mather & Platt Ltd. to all quarters of the globe and in leaving a lasting impression on the sales policy of the company.

He was held in high esteem among the London businessmen of his day and his selection to serve on a wartime committee appointed by the Government of Mr. Lloyd George to control the distribution of non-ferrous metals indicated that his business ability was recognised in high places. He was subsequently knighted in recognition of services rendered to the Government during the 1914-18-war period.

Sir John Wormald resigned his position as a Director of Mather and Platt Ltd.in 1924 but there are still many in the employ of the company who pay eloquent testimony to the value of the training and encouragement received at his hands."

During his lifetime, John Wormald was a J.P. for the County of Oxford; High Sheriff, 1916-17; High Steward of the Ancient Borough of Wallingford; Lord of the Manor of North Stoke; Member of the Finance Board of the Ministry of Munitions and Chairman of the Industries and General Services Committees of the War Cabinet, 1916-19.

The Press Bureau drescribed his work in the latter in a statement printed in "The Times" of January 8th 1919. "The Chairman, Mr. John Wormald, has given the whole of his time to the work. For its valuable services, the Committee has been warmly thanked not only by the Government but also by the traders whom they rationed. It is generally admitted that the Committee has furnished a striking example of what can be effected in administration by appointing one just man of experience and business ability, and by allowing him to select his own colleagues. Manufacturers have seen their necessary applications reduced by half and yet have cheerfully concurred."

In 1923 he set about writing his autobiography, part of which contained 'The Story of the introduction in England of the Sprinkler Fire System' which outlines in considerable detail the part he played in setting a global standard for industrial fire-safety.

John Wormald was a charismatic figure and a man of considerable charm. Though supportive of his children, he is known to have been somewhat inconstant as far as his marriage was concerned. His son, Leslie Wormald, followed in the family sporting tradition and was an Oxford Blue and Olympic Oarsman, winning Gold in the VIIIs at Stockholm in 1912.

John Wormald lived apart from his wife during the latter years of his life, she residing in London (the family also had a house at 87 Sloane Street, London SW) whilst he remained at Springs. Later, he moved to The Judges' Lodging, at St Giles in Oxford. He died at Oxford on the 20th May, 1933.

An obituary of him reads: "He had rare, natural taste and was all his life a collector. Some of His Majesty's Judges, and many others, know the loving care with which he tended and beautified the Judge's Lodgings at Oxford. There he displayed his Chinese Porcelain, a small but exquisite collection. His portrait by Laszlo, which hangs in the small dining room, is the portrait of an artist."