The Crossley family

James Crossley (1827-1881)

James Crossley was born in 1827 in London, the son of Thomas Crossley, a warehouseman. He seems to have been an archetypal Victorian entrepreneur : in 1841, he was still in London[1], but some time in the 1840s he moved North, presumably because the silk that his father stored in his warehouse came from Derby, and James saw an opportunity there. He married in 1850[2] to Mary Ann Forman, the daughter of Richard Forman, a farmer from near Burton, which might argue that he had been visiting the area before he moved there.

In 1851[3] he was in Derby working as a clerk in a silk factory, presumably the Silk Mill, with his wife and son James, born that year. No doubt he was learning the silk manufacturing trade. Mary Ann may have brought him a dowry: they could certainly afford to employ a servant. Very soon afterwards, he must have moved to Ripley, for in September 1852 he was chairing a public meeting of the Wesleyan circuit in Ripley[4]. He seems to have taken over the cotton factory of Thomas Topham, which had been on Derby Road since at least 1835[5], and started manufacturing both cotton and silk. In December that year, he was fined by the factory Inspector for allowing women and young people to work during the night[6], so he had clearly set up his factory immediately on his arrival in the town. Meanwhile, in November, his father was declared bankrupt [7], perhaps because he had provided the money to set his son up in business, though this is speculation.

James quickly got involved in the life of the town. In May 1853 he was elected to the Belper Board of Guardians, the body that administered the poor relief for the area including Ripley.[8] In 1854, he was reported taking part in a meeting called to discuss the building of a market hall in the town[9], (something that wouldn’t happen for another 25 years.) In his private life, he suffered the first of a number of tragedies when his infant son died on 19th February 1854.[10]

He was always concerned about issues of public health: as early as 1855 he was subscribing two guineas to support the new Derbyshire General Infirmary[11]. As well as the Board of Guardians, he was appointed to the Vestry Committee, which since medieval times had appointed constables and highways superintendents for the town; by 1856 he was chairing the committee.[12]The same year he was on a committee tasked with arranging the building of a new burial ground in the town, the churchyard being full and the non-conformists having little space for burials.[13]

Text Box:  In the Post Office Directory of 1855 he appears in the list of gentry, and as a manufacturer. In addition, by 1857, White’s Directory has him as a “manufacturer of the patent candle wicks, which require no snuffing” with addresses both on High Street, Ripley and 43 Noble Street, London, presumably run by his father, who in the 1861 census is described as a “silk and cotton agent and warehouseman” living in Aldermanbury in the City of London, close to Noble Street.

Workers leaving Crossley’s Mill around 1900. They obviously find the presence of the camera embarrassing.

It appears that he must have expanded the works considerably, for by 1856 he was not only making gas for his own use, but supplying parts of the town with gas, for street lighting for example.[14] This predated the construction of the gas works. He had also constructed a new warehouse, which the Derbyshire Advertiser suggested was one of the few buildings in the town which had “some beauty of design.”

1856 also saw him attending a meeting of the Oddfellows at the Thorn Tree[15]: he was very enthusiastic about the Friendly Society, though whether this was because of its good works or because it offered an opportunity for him to meet other powerful men in the town, it is hard to say. He quickly became a member. In 1858, he is also recorded as a member of a masonic lodge[16], the Tyrian in Derby: again, more networking.

In 1861, he was living in Derby Road, Ripley.[17] The census adds that he employed 140 hands (most of them, given the nature of the work, women and children.) By this time he had 5 children living at home, and employed a governess and 3 servants. James, the eldest son, was at school at the Wesleyan Collegiate Institution in Taunton, Devon. Sometime in the 1860s, the family moved back to Derby, though James senior spent his time between the two places.

His politics are hard to ascertain : in 1857 he spoke in favour of Mr Colville[18], a Conservative, but he is later referred to as a Liberal.[19] Either way, he became important in many different spheres: firstly the Wesleyans, but also the masons and the Board of Guardians, and as foreman of the jury in the Crown Court in 1858.[20]

Given that much later (in 1923), fire gutted most of the premises, it is interesting to note that Crossleys had its own fire engine and fire crew, and that it was sometimes sent to local fires, like the rick fire at Denby Old Hall in 1865.[21]

When the Local Board was established in 1867 to take over from the Board of Guardians many of the functions of local government, James Crossley was one of the first members.[22] He often chaired the Board, and remained on it until just before his death. The Board began to work for the construction of a sewage and water system in the town, which still drew its water from wells and used the night soil system. (It was high time: people were dying of cholera and fevers). In 1874, the Board agreed a contract for the construction of a water works[23] and in 1876 agreed a loan for the construction of a reservoir to hold 270,000 gallons of drinking water.[24]

The Water Tower, built 1875

In 1870 Crossley was instrumental in establishing a Ripley lodge of the masons, the Okeover Lodge, and became the first worshipful master.[25] He was also an inaugural member of the new School Board, set up in 1876 to monitor the provision of education and set up new schools where necessary.[26]

In January 1877, an extensive advert appeared in the Derby Mercury, for the sale of houses and land in High Street, Oxford Street and Wellington Road, including over 20 plots in a new street to be called Crossley Street, including in the conditions that the buyer should demolish existing buildings on the land; the vendor would be bound to construct the street. James Crossley was clearly trying to raise money, and lots of it. It is significant that the land agents involved in the sale were Corbett and Wood from Sheffield, and it appears that Crossley mortgaged the Mills to a Sheffield loan agency, quite possibly the same.

The first indication of problems began in April 1877 when Crossley resigned his seat on the Local Board, “owing to a rather strong doubt having been expressed in reference to his qualification”.[27] It is not clear what this refers to, but it seems that it was to do with a stipulation that members must live within 8 miles of Ripley, whilst Crossley was by this time living in Derby. Things were about to get worse: in September James Crossley was declared bankrupt,[28] his solicitor, John Moody of Derby, arranging a first meeting of creditors. In October Derby County Court appointed James Wood Sully as the administrator.[29]

Meanwhile, the following article appeared in the Derby Mercury on 26th September.[30]

It appears that the mills were closed by order of the bankruptcy court, but reopened a week later.

Not long afterwards, however, Crossley leased the building which had been built as a public hall (on Wellington Street) to convert into a factory[31] and put the mills and the building land (which was to be Crossley Street) up for sale, though there didn’t seem to be any offers.[32]

It is difficult to be certain, since they were referred to by the same name, but it would seem likely that in April 1879, James Junior was elected to the Local Board[33]; certainly in June 1881, when he resigned from the Board, he cited as his reasons the illness of his father as well as pressure of business.[34]

In this letter, he states that his father is living in Ripley, having moved back from Derby where he lived for most of previous two decades. It would seem that he was ill, and probably soon after went to Bournemouth; living on the South Coast was often seen as a way of recuperating. His death certificate states that he died of Bright’s disease, a kidney disease complicated by diabetes, which the certificate states he had had for 3 years.

He died on 5th November 1881 in Bournemouth, aged 53.[35] He was buried in Ripley’s new cemetery on November 9th, the funeral taking place under the provisions of the Burials Act 1880 which allowed burials in municipal cemeteries of different faiths. The funeral, a “model of simplicity”,  was conducted by Wesleyan ministers, and attended by 21 masons, all of whom left a sprig of Acacia on the grave.[36]

In his will, he left £2397 to his widow[37]. This is a relatively small amount, equivalent to £289000 today, and perhaps reflects his financial problems. His son inherited the business, which seems not to have been sold, and continued it until his death in 1903, when it was merged with that of a rival, Joseph Morgan and Sons of Manchester, to continue business under the name of Morgan Crossley and Co. It seems also to have been known as the Ripley Manufacturing Company, and continued in existence in one form or another until the 1980s.


[1] 1841 census for Sandford Place, Hackney, West, Hackney, London & Middlesex.

[2] Marriage on 26th March 1850 in Barrow-upon-Trent

[3] 1851 census shows the family living at Kingstone Terrace, St Alkmund, Derby.

[4] Derbyshire Advertiser 3 September 1852

[5] Frank Mansey “A Guide to Ripley’s Heritage” South p23

[6] Derbyshire Advertiser 3 December 1852

[7] The London Gazette 26 November 1852

[8] Derby Mercury 4 May 1853

[9] Derby Mercury 11 January 1854

[10] Derbyshire Advertiser 24 February 1854

[11] Derby Mercury 21 February 1855

[12] Derbyshire Advertiser 28 March 1856

[13] Derby Mercury 21 May 1856

[14] Derbyshire Advertiser 6 June 1856

[15] Derby Mercury 17 September 1856

[16] Derby Mercury 3 November 1858

[17] 1861 census

[18] Derby Courier 28 March 1857

[19] Derby Mercury 25 November 1868

[20] Derby Mercury 27 October 1858

[21] Derbyshire Advertiser 28 December 1865

[22] Derbyshire Advertiser 2 April 1869

[23] Derby Mercury 1 July 1874

[24] Derby Mercury 19 January 1876

[25] Derby Mercury 17 August 1870

[26] Derby Courier 18 March 1876

[27] Derby Mercury 25 April 1877

[28] The London Gazette 18 September 1877

[29] The London gazette 26 October 1877.

[30] Derby Mercury 26 September 1877

[31] Derby Mercury 12 December 1877

[32] Derbyshire Times 29 December 1877

[33] Derbyshire Times 12 April 1879

[34] Derby Mercury 1 June 1881

[35] London Evening Standard 11 November 1881

[36] Derby Mercury 16 November 1881

[37] From : https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/

James Crossley Junior

Born in 1850 in Derby, soon after his father had moved there from London, James Junior was the eldest child, and always destined to take over the business. The 1851 census has the family living in Kingstone Terrace, St Alkmund’s,[1] which is probably where he was born. He was educated at the Wesleyan Colliegiate Institution in Taunton in Somerset, probably starting at nine years old, for which his father paid over 30 guineas per annum.[2] He later attended Wesley College in Sheffield.[3]

By 1871, he was back in Derbyshire, living with the family in Uttoxeter New Road in Derby, and listed as “assistant to cotton manufacturer”.[4] He married in 1874 to Elizabeth Jane Thorman of Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham. (Her father Thomas was a mining engineer with the Butterley Company who originally came from the North-East.)  By 1881, they had two daughters, Evelyn born in 1876 and Lillian in 1877. They were then living at Field House in Malthouse Yard[5], more or less opposite his father’s factory. Later they apparently moved to The Willows. By this time, he would be in charge of the business, and after his father’s death he seems to have managed to save it from bankruptcy.

His son Bertram James was born in 1882. Much later, in 1890, a son called Douglas died in infancy. In October 1883 he bought Carr House in Greenwich from Thomas Topham and William Eking[6]. As seems to have been the family custom, the children were sent to boarding school, the daughters to Islington, London and Bertram to the new Green Hall Preparatory School for Boys in Belper.[7] (See below.)

In 1879, James appears to have been elected to the Local Board[8]; he resigned from the Board in 1881, citing as reasons the illness of his father and pressure of business. His letter of resignation made several suggestions, including the establishment of a County Court in Ripley, the purchase of the gas works and the election of William Jessop in his place[9].  He was later re-elected, but voted out again in 1897, after which he did not stand for re-election. He was also involved with the masons, being Worshipful Master in 1881,[10] in the local Volunteers, or militia, rising to the rank of Major, and was a supporter and Life Governor of the Derby Royal Infirmary[11].He was vice-president of the town athletic and cricket clubs and on the board of management of St John’s School. There was little in the town in which he wasn’t involved.

When his father died in November 1881, he appears to have managed to save the business; in 1882 he is letting buildings in Oxford Street complete with steam engine pumping water from a well. He was less involved with the Wesleyan Church than his father, and turned instead to the Anglican All Saints Church, where he was a churchwarden. He was also involved with the Liberal party, attending a meeting forming a Liberal Association in Ripley.[12] He was on the Board of Guardians by 1885.[13] In that year, too, he was instrumental in encouraging the masons to start a twice weekly soup kitchen in his premises in Oxford Street, and raising money to do so.[14] He seems to have regularly provided an annual Christmas Day dinner for those who were on parish relief, using his factory as dining hall, and sending food to those unable to attend.[15] The dinner, of roast beef and plum pudding, served with “good nut brown ale ad libitum”, was attended (and quite possibly served) by James, his wife and children, and their friends, and oranges and tobacco were distributed.[16]

There is a revealing letter in the newspaper in 1889, when James as churchwarden, had the press excluded from their meeting, declaring that he didn’t care tuppence for the Press. The letter says that he “was not born an orator” and “was evidently born a century too late.”[17] He seems to have been a rather shy man, highly valuing his privacy, and mistrustful of the Press.

On 31st January 1903, his daughter Lillian was married to the vicar’s youngest son, Frank E Bradstock, “lately returned from South Africa”. Only a couple of weeks later, James fell ill with an obstruction of the bowel[18]. Dr Ashdown was called and called in other doctors from Derby. They operated, but could not save him. He died on the 17th February 1903, aged only 52. He had been made a J.P. only six months before. The procession following his coffin was a quarter of a mile long, and “business establishments were closed, and blinds drawn throughout the town, the streets of which were lined with people anxious to pay a last tribute of respect to” his memory.[19]

He left £22, 035 to his widow, over 2.5 million pounds in today’s money: he clearly had been more successful as a businessman than his father.

On his death the firm, which had been wholly owned by him, merged with a competitor to become Morgan Crossley and Co. They later diversified, producing brake linings as seen in the 1928 advert below.


[1] 1851 census

[2] Wesleyan Advertiser 4 July 1860

[3] Obituary in Ripley and Heanor News 20 February 1903.

[4] 1871 census

[5] 1881 census

[6] Deeds of house.

[7] 1891 census

[8] Derbyshire Times 12 April 1879

[9] Derby Mercury 1 June 1881

[10] Derby Mercury 8 June 1881

[11] Obituary Ripley and Heanor News 20 February 1903

[12] Long Eaton Advertiser 7 April 1883

[13] Derby Courier 13 June 1885

[14] Derbyshire Times 16 December 1885

[15] Derbyshire Times 1 January 1887

[16] Derby Mercury 4 January 1888

[17] Derbyshire Times 26 January 1889

[18] Death certificate

[19] Derby Daily Telegraph 21 February 1903

Bertram James Forman Crossley

Bertram was the eldest son of James Crossley Junior, born in Ripley in 1882. He was sent to school at Green Hall, Belper (like his father), and is found on the 1901 census living at home in Carr House, a solicitor’s clerk[1].

He married in 1904 to Isabella Coulson, the daughter of Francis Coulson, a mining engineer from Durham who was working for the Butterley Company. They had one son, James Francis Crossley, but Isabella died shortly afterwards, in 1906 in Durham. He remarried, to Lillie M Dann (or Dunn) in 1916 at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London.

Bertram was Captain of the local Territorial Reserve, and joined up immediately on the outbreak of war, but resigned his commission 3 months later on the grounds of ill health[2]. He never saw active service and was later awarded the Silver War Badge.

By then he was living at Derwent House, Milford, where he died in 1918, aged 36. His death certificate gives the cause of death as epilepsy, so he had presumably been epileptic for most of his life. He is listed as a retired cotton manufacturer, so, although he had a place on the board of Morgan Crossley, he presumably did not take any active role in the company.


[1] 1901 census

[2] Derbyshire Advertiser 18th January 1918