Accrington is well known around the world for the manufacture of bricks and Lancashire Archives is home to many records relating to this trade. One of these is a large collection for C. Whittaker & Company, manufacturers of brick making machinery [collection ref: DDX 1866].
The Company’s origins, however, lie in another Accrington industry; that of the textile trade. In 1854 Thomas Whittaker invented a machine for washing calico and, together with his elder brother Christopher, went into partnership with Joseph Duxbury to manufacture textile plant washing machines for the local cotton manufacturers and calico printers.
Their main works was on Dowry Street, Accrington, but as the company grew over the years it took over other businesses and later had a site in Haslingden.
Like many companies in the Victorian period, the focus of Whittaker's business changed over the years. It isn't clear how the Company changed direction from industrial washing machines to brick making machines, but it seems to have started around 1872 when they took over James Matthew's patent for brick making machinery & the steam engines to power them.
From the late 1870s onward, the Company's focus was on brick making machinery, but it retained an interest in washing machinery until the end of century.
In the 1890s the Whittaker's interests were furthered as Christopher Joseph Whittaker (son of Thomas Whittaker) took over the business of his father in law, John Howarth, a chemical manufacturer at Globe Works, Church in 1890 and branched out into sewage treatment works. In 1897 the family also took over Furneval & Co of Union Foundry, Haslingden. This continued until 1900 when the company was absorbed into the new C. Whittaker (1900) & Company. The Company's focus was not just limited to the United Kingdom, as their machines was also patented abroad in the United States.
Whittaker's produced a wide range of brick making machinery and other related engines and equipment.
In 1885, Joseph Duxbury retired, and the partnership between himself and the Whittaker brothers was dissolved
The company was a family affair though as, by this time, Thomas' eldest sons, James, Christopher Joseph & Thomas, had joined the firm and it would be Christopher Joseph who would later take over as chairman of the company from their father.
As well as being entrepreneurs and successful businessmen, various members of the family were prominent in the local area with Thomas serving as mayor of Accrington in 1890-1893 and his son Christopher Joseph on the town council.
It was not all happy families though as Thomas Whittaker junior, son of Thomas Whittaker the elder, and his two sons Lawrence & Thomas, left C. Whittaker & Co in 1918 to form their own company based at Canal Foundry in Church. This new company also made brick machinery and in the early 1920s C. Whittaker and Co began legal proceedings against them for patent infringement. Thomas Whittaker & Sons lost the case and by 1922 were declared bankrupt.
Whilst the lives of the Whittaker family are well documented, little is known about the people who were employed at their works. Their workers make small appearances in the surviving records, particularly in the wage books.
As was common in Victorian Britain, child labour was used in the works and apprentices were taken on.
Various Factory Acts were passed in the latter half of the 19th century, regulating the age of children who could be employed and the number of hours they could work. As a result, factories were required to maintain registers of young employees.
As young employees needed to prove they were above the minimum age to be employed, many birth and baptism certificates are included in the volumes.
The full catalogue for C. Whittaker & Co is now available in LANCAT (archives.lancashire.gov.uk/calmview/)