School of Design

ULITA – an Archive of International Textiles

John and Roberts Beaumont

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John Beaumont (top row, fifth from left); Roberts Beaumont (top row, sixth from left) c.1885

John Beaumont (1820-1889) was born at Greenbalk Lane, Lepton near Huddersfield on the 29th May 1820. His father was engaged in weaving operations and eventually became a manufacturer of fancy woollen cloths using hand looms in patterns he himself designed.  The work was at the time mainly based in the home, so Beaumont was brought up familiar with weaving machines. He seems to have become interested in the industry from the age of ten.

He took a special delight in designing textiles as well as creating them himself. He was largely self educated. Aged 18 he sought a position as a designer, and through the local paper found a situation with John Kay and Sons of Clayton West, where he resided for three or four years. He then moved to Shepley and to Messers Armitage. At about 27 he moved to Mr Shaw’s fancy woollen concern in Honley and there married the daughter of Mr John Roberts a local dyer. Mr Shaw created a branch in Leeds and Beaumont was appointed manager and designer there in 1848. He later returned to Honley and set up with a partner, a Mr Tolson. Mr Shaw heard of this and offered to place part of his mill at Beaumont’s disposal and offered capital to help him begin, but Beaumont did not wish to give up on his agreement once engaged. They operated as a fancy textile manufacture until the later of their two mills burnt down, destroying several thousand pounds worth of stock and machinery, while uninsured.

He was upset by this and sought a position with Messrs James Tolson and Sons, Dalton, leading the company to win the gold medal for fancy woollens at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He then moved to Mr Scott’s tweed factory in Dumfries, Scotland, where he superintended design and manufacture as well as purchasing raw material and selling finished goods. He returned to England and was responsible for the introduction of the Fancy woollen trade to Huddersfield and became a director of the Messrs Wm Learoyd and Sons Mills.

In about 1874, Mr Farnan of the Court of the Cloth Workers Guild was in Leeds on private business and became involved in the discussions on the foundation of the Yorkshire College of Science. He suggested setting up a textile department and this was raised by Mr O Nussey, senior partner of the business he was visiting at the time. His firm put £1000 into the textiles industry department subscription list and was responsible for one of most important steps in ensuring that the college would be a success. Appointing a head of the new department was difficult and it was not until June 1875 that John Beaumont was appointed.

He faced hostility from the textile industries themselves as head of department as, in their view, technical education was another way of disseminating what they saw as trade secrets. It was largely the work of Beaumont that was responsible for turning the tide of opinion. He started with only one full sized loom and several miniatures in inappropriate locations but by 1878 new looms had been purchased and their rooms had to be extended. Soon, it was decided that new premises were necessary and the Clothworkers Company offered a grant that led to the creation of the textile buildings. These were the first permanent premises of the College, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and which still exist today.

When he retired from the College, his popularity was clear and his presentation on the 20th June 1889 noted his “kind and gentle manners, your practical grasp of the very intricate subject you have had to deal with, your painstaking discharge of your duties and the almost fatherly care you have always taken to encourage and stimulate”.

His resignation was due to his precarious health, which had not been good for some time, and he died only a few weeks after his resignation, after an illness that began in July and ended in August 1889.

His son, Roberts Beaumont (1862-1922) was appointed Instructor in the Department of Textiles in 1875, and later became Professor and Head of Department from 1889 until his retirement in 1913. He wrote many books on textile manufacturing, many of which are available in Leeds University Library. He was awarded the silver medal of the Society of Arts and a special medal awarded by the City and Guilds of London Institute for his services as an examiner in woollen and worsted weaving. ULITA holds Beaumont’s collection of glass plate slides.

Source: Leeds University Archive. ‘The Late Professor John Beaumont’ in Journal of the Yorkshire College Textile Society 1891.

Also see related page on Professor Barker Third Chair of Department of Textiles Industries.

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