John Borwell

Trouble at t’Works

The Butterley Company had its share of troubles during its 210 year history: strikes, riots, explosions. A more mundane, and common, problem was fraud, and in 1878 there was a particularly strange example.

It concerned one John Borewell, or Borwell. Born in Manchester in 1837, he came to Butterley as a sixteen-year-old, working in the foundry.

However, ten years later, he also took over the job of administering the Company’s savings bank, though why he should have been given the responsibility is a mystery. Employees were encouraged to save with the company, which paid interest on their savings. Borwell was supposed to write the sums into a cash book and pass the money on to the cashier, George Staley, who would countersign and enter the amounts in another ledger.

The charge was that Borwell didn’t hand over the cash on many occasions between 1864 and 1872, when he left the company. Although witnesses were only called to prove that £236 had been embezzled, the company claimed that the total amount was around £5000, equivalent to over a quarter of a million pounds today.

It didn’t stop there. The newspaper report, taken directly from the court proceedings, is confused, but it appears that Borwell transferred money to another account with the title of the Langley Clothing Club, in his name. He was also accused of forging withdrawals from the Savings Bank, and transferring money from a coal account to the Bank. It also seems that some witnesses reported that they paid money in to the Savings Account and later withdrew it, with interest, from Borwell. He seemed actually to be running his own bank!

Amazingly, it took the company 14 years to discover the fraud, and only then because the accountant was ill and a replacement examined the books.

Borwell, who by 1878 had moved to Burton and styled himself “ironmaster” at the time, was “deeply affected” and “in a prostrate condition” in the court room and had to be supported by two constables. He said nothing throughout the hearing. He was remanded in prison and at the Sessions on 2nd July 1878 was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.

What did he spend his ill-gotten gains on? Not what you might think. Together with a wealthy coal merchant from Leicester, George Checkland, he bought a failing ironworks in Burton, the Britannia Foundry. We know this because later the Butterley Company tried to recover the £5000 from the foundry in the bankruptcy court.

When released from prison, he and his wife and son emigrated to the United States. Both father and son were listed as “engineer” on the passenger list. His wife died only 6 years later; notices of her death were placed in the Derby newspapers, presumably by her family, who were farmers in Heage. Borwell remarried in 1889 to a woman 30 years his junior and lived to the age of 77 in and around Chicago, working as a fruit grower and a clerk……

…..just not in an ironworks (or a bank)!