When James Grisdale died in 1918 in the Leeds industrial suburb of Hunslet he left the enormous sum of £56,399 to his sons, equivalent to at least £2.2million today. How had he made his money? How had he ended up in Leeds? And what was his connection with the campaign to abolish slavery in the United States?

James’ great grandparents were Joseph Grisdale (1729-1806) and Ann Temple (1736-1811), who lived in Matterdale, Cumberland. I have written quite a number of articles about this family, what they did and where they ended up[i]. A number of Joseph and Ann’s children moved to the cotton mills in Bolton Lancashire. One of these was Timothy Grisdale. He probably arrived in Bolton as a young man in the early 1790s. While working in the mills he married twice: first Nancy Priest in 1794. When she died in 1801, he married Mary Bradley the following year.

A Tallow Chandler

A Tallow Chandler

The first child of Timothy’s second marriage, Joseph (1803-1861), was named after his own father. Whether he first joined his father and other members of the Grisdale family in the Bolton cotton mills is unknown. At the age of twenty-four Joseph married Ellen Elliot in Prestwich, Lancashire. But the family continued to live in Bolton, where by the time of his marriage Joseph was working as a tallow chandler; that is a candle maker. Several children were born in Bolton, but sometime between 1833 and 1837 the family moved to Yorkshire where Joseph continued to ply his candle-making trade. By 1837 they were living in Leeds in Lower Head Row, Joseph’s son James was been born in 1839 in Pudsey (now part of Leeds) and by 1841 they were at Upper Corn Hill in Leeds before moving to Bramley in West Leeds in 1851.

Some of James’s siblings became painters, others went into the Leeds textile mills, but James followed in his father’s footsteps and became a candle maker.

Candle Making

Candle Making

People have been making candles for thousands of years, either from bees’ wax or from tallow, which is animal fat – usually from sheep, cows and pigs. Cotton wicks are repeatedly dipped into hot fat and the layers of the candle are built up. Centuries before the French had pioneered moulded candles, but for domestic purposes dipping remained the common method of manufacture. Of course, by the nineteenth century oil and paraffin lamps were starting to appear and candles were less and less necessary, but they were still widely used. Candles made of paraffin also came into use. What scale Joseph’s candle-making business in Leeds achieved we don’t know. It probably remained small. In the 1861 census, shortly before his death, Joseph was still a ‘tallow chandler’ in Kendell Street, as was his son William. James was also lodging nearby at 9 Little Duck Street, also working as a tallow chandler. But at some point shortly thereafter James started to expand. Before I tell of this perhaps a little flavour might be useful regarding the Hunslet part of Leeds that the family had gravitated to and where James would remain for the rest of his life.

Hunslet grew from an unremarkable area at the beginning of the industrial revolution to a major industrial area only a few years later. The growing industries in Hunslet were not the textile industries, for which Leeds was becoming best known, but generally heavier industries such as steel and iron foundries, engine works and railway works.

In 1834 Edward Parsons wrote[ii]:

Besides the woollen manufacture, Hunslet contains extensive glass works, large chemical factories, considerable potteries, and establishments for wire working.

The whole village, or rather suburb of Leeds, is irregularly, and frequently meanly built, consisting of narrow and dirty lanes, branching out from the great thoroughfare to Wakefield, and from the principal street passing by the chapel. The general aspect of the place is strangely uncouth…

The inhabitants have, however, distinguished themselves by their public spirit, and an infinitely larger portion of intelligence and knowledge is to be found among them, and is in incessant and active exercise, than can be found among an equal number of individuals taken from any agricultural district in the kingdom.

No place in the whole district has experienced such a total change in external appearance. This township now contains as many inhabitants as many of the cities and cathedral towns of the kingdom, and it is superior to them in wealth and intrinsic importance.

It was in this ‘uncouth’ place that James Grisdale was to exercise his ‘intelligence’, ‘incessantly’ and ‘actively’, to make his fortune.

James Grisdale

James Grisdale

By 1871, James was a ‘Master Tallow Chandler’ employing 4 men and 3 boys near Dewsbury Road in Hunslet. He was living with his wife Sarah Craven, whom he had married in 1862, and three surviving children. At some point James went into partnership with a William Rispin Dauber. In 1876 the London Gazette printed the following announcement:

NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, William Rispin Dauber and James Grisdale, carrying on business at Leeds, in the county of York, as Tallow Chandlers and Candle Makers, under the firm of Dauber and Grisdale, has been dissolved by mutual consent, as from the 1st day of April instant. All debts owing to or by the said partnership will be received and paid by the said James Grisdale, by whom the said business will in future be carried on on his own account.—Dated this 21st day of April, 1876. W. R. Dauber.  James Grisdale

James’ progress continued. By 1881 the family had moved to the more salubrious sounding Middleton Villa in Dewsbury Street and by 1891 they had acquired the positively grand Burton House in Burton Avenue, off Dewsbury Street – which later became a school. On both occasions James was now listed as a ‘Candle Manufacturer. James was to live in Burton House until his death in 1918. Clearly James had made some money.

Water Mill Hall Factory

Water Hall Mill Factory, Dewsbury Road, Leeds

But where was James’ candle-making factory? Where he first built up his business I don’t know for sure but it was probably at 1 Dewsbury. In 1887 James bought the Water Hall Mill factory on Dewsbury Road from J & J Armistead and Co. This company had been founded in the late eighteenth century by Leeds Quaker brothers Joseph and John Armistead. It had thrived during most of the first half of the nineteenth century:

One of the oldest established oil seed crushers in Leeds was J. & J. Armistead, who had their mill at Water Hall by 1798. Apart from seed crushing they were mustard manufacturers, mustard milling being between oil and corn milling in technical terms. By 1872 they were also brush makers. Business prospered, the mill was extended several times and these developments are illustrated in billheads of 1811and 1842. In 1824 the mill was powered by a 20 h. p. Murray engine. By 1853 Armisteads had added to their activities candle making. The candles were tallow dips, made by the repeated dipping of wicks into molten tallow, or the more costly moulded tallow candles.[iii]

What had gone wrong?

A Tribute for the Negro, 1848

A Tribute for the Negro, 1848

To cut a long story short, as the years progressed the Armistead  business had thrived and, as we can see from the family’s wills, so did the family fortune. But when  Joseph, the son of Joseph the co-founder of the family business, died in 1861, his son and beneficiary Wilson Armistead took over. Wilson Armistead was a good Quaker, and he was passionately concerned with justice, and particularly with fighting for the abolition of slavery in the United States. He lobbied, received many visits from American abolitionists, wrote pamphlets, gave speeches and became President of the influential Leeds Anti-Slavery Association. And he wrote books, aimed primarily at an American audience. His most famous book, published in 1848, was called A Tribute for the Negro, which was republished in the US in 2005 and is still used in US schools and colleges to this day. Recently the BBC even suggested that Wilson and the Leeds Anti-Slavery Association were ‘instrumental in helping to abolish slavery in the USA’. This might be an exaggeration, but it is clear that Wilson Armistead was a major force in lobbying to abolish slavery in the United States – which was finally achieved after the Civil War in December 1868, just a few months after Wilson’s own death.

Yet the time and effort Wilson put into this noble cause was, it seems, at the expense of the family’s mustard, seed, brush-making and candle manufacturing business. When Wilson died in 1868, he left the much reduced fortune of £9,000 to his son Joseph John (JJ) Armistead ‘Mustard Manufacturer’. His sons tried to revive the business. One family historian has recently written that when ‘Wilson died in 1868 …  JJ together with his brother Arthur worked day and night to rebuild the business.  However, JJ was only 20 and there was some complication with the will and everyone wanted their money back all at the same time so he decided to call it a day and sold up’.

So eventually all these efforts were to no avail. In 1880, Joseph John declared bankruptcy:

The Bankruptcy Act, 1869. In the county Court of Yorkshire, held at Leeds. In the Matter of Proceedings for Liquidation by Arrangement or Composition with Creditors, instituted of Joseph John Armistead and Arthur Wilson Armistead, carrying on business in co-partnership at Water Hall Mill, Leeds, in the county of York, as Drysalters, under the style of J. and J. Armistead, and also as Mineral Water Manufacturers, under the style of the Acerade Company. NOTICE is hereby given, that a First General Meeting of the separate creditors of the above-named Joseph John Armistead has been summoned to be held at our offices, No. 4, East-parade, Leeds, in the county of York, on the 2istday of June, 1880, at four o’clock in the afternoon precisely.— Dated this 1st day of June, I860. NORTH and SONS, 4, East-parade, Leeds, Solicitors for the said Debtors.

The various bankruptcy procedures, both individually and of the firm, trundled on for some years, but in 1887 Armisteads finally went out of business and ‘the works was taken over by James Grisdale & Son, formerly Dauber & Grisdale, oil & tallow merchants of 1 Dewsbury Road. With the introduction of paraffin wax Grisdales made ‘Yorkshire’ and ‘Sun’ brand wax candles as well as the ordinary ‘dips’.’ The mustard business was sold to the (now) famous Coleman’s Mustard.

Burton House, Hunslet

Burton House, Hunslet

James Grisdale had moved up another rung of the economic and social ladder. When his own brother Samuel, who had become a painter, died in 1904, his brother James was referred to as a ‘Gentleman’.

And that’s about all I know of James Grisdale until he died in 1918, still living in his impressive Burton House, when he left the £56,399 to his two ‘candle manufacturer’ sons William and Arthur, his ‘bank clerk’ son James Herbert and to estate agent George Edgar Hudson.

What became of all this wealth? Well James’ sons soon decided to cash in. They sold the factory and the family house and lived comfortably off the proceeds:

Burton Lodge, later known as Burton House, was built in 1791 and is a listed building. The Council bought it in 1919. After serving as an annex to Hunslet Moor Primary School it was later used to house Cockburn’s sixth form. In 1986 it was converted into flats.

On 17th February 1923 Water Hall was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post as being connected to ‘a house of entertainment’ called Pasture Spring, a kind of tea garden.

James Grisdale and family in 1912

James Grisdale and family in 1912


[i]  These are some blog stories of James’ relatives, all descendants of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple of Matterdale:

The Boys Done Good – Three Bolton Weavers Go America, From the Lancashire Cotton Mills to Oregon – The Long Trek of a Grisdale Family, Benjamin Grisdale – Collecting Taxes for the Battle of Salamanca, Soldiering in India, Digging for Gold and Lugging Coal,  Bullocking Around in Perth – Who was William Grisdale?, The Bleacher Missionary – The Early Life of Bishop John Grisdale, ‘The Music of Those Voices Lingers’ – Manitoba University to Regina Trench, Praying Masters and Trip Men – The Ojibway Canadian Indian Grisdales, Flying Grisdales – Flying Officer Robert James Grisdale RCAF, A smart, dapper little lad – The Australian Life of William Grisdale .

[ii] Edward Parsons, The civil, ecclesiastical, literary, commercial and miscellaneous history of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley and the manufacturing district of Yorkshire, Vol 1. Leeds, 1834.

[iii]  E J Connell, Industrial Development in South Leeds, 1790-1914, Leeds, 1975.

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Comments
  1. John Haiste says:

    Fascinated by this story which filled in a few gaps in my family history. James Grisdale was my great grandfather i.e. on the 1912 family photograph my father Leonard Grisdale Haiste is the boy at the left front and my grandfather, James G’s son-in law, John Haiste, is the man at the right end, 2nd row from the back. I can provide a little more information about some of the others.

    • Rosalie Lewthewaite (Hudson) says:

      i was also intrigued by this item. My great Grandmother was James Grisdale’s younger sister Elizabeth Ann Grisdale B1843. Her Daughter Lilian was married to George Edgar Hudson who was mentioned in James will. I also have Haiste family connections

  2. CHRISTINE (ACKROYD - BLENKINSOP - GRISDALE - HAISTE) GIMBER says:

    Fascinating details re my great-grandfather, James Grisdale’s life.
    I have the 1912 (Golden Wedding) family photo hanging in my dining room; I inherited it from Minnie Grisdale, one of James’s daughters & my great-aunt.
    Your account states that James left his wealth to his 3 sons: he only had 2 sons. James Herbert was his grandson, only son of William Grisdale (he also had 3 daughters).
    Arthur Grisdale had an only daughter, Dora. When Arthur died (1950s), he left c.£50000. Dora Grisdale did a degree at Leeds University in Medieval English but was never allowed to work thereafter! When she died, c.1990s, she left c.£3-4,000,000 which was divided between 13 ‘friends’ (no relatives!), each of whom received c.£300,000.
    I was surprised by your statement that ‘the sons soon sold the family firm’ because my grandfather, John Haiste, was still working for ‘James Grisdale & sons, Candlemakers’ in the late 40s, as a traveling salesman, from their factory in Otley.

    • My great Grandmother was James’ younger sister Elizabeth Anne B 1844, she married William Whitehead in 1865,He was also a Candlemaker, their daughter Lilian married my Grandfather George Edgar Hudson who also was mentioned as a beneficiary. My father did speak of ‘Granny Grisdale’ and i have a photo of her but I have only recently looked at all of this. I have more information

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