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History

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson (1770 – 1865)

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson was the son of Joseph Dawson and Rachel Lofthouse. At the time of his birth his father Joseph Dawson was a minister at Idle, in Bradford.

Joseph was born ‘in very humble circumstances’ but his intelligence attracted the attention of a gentleman in his neighborhood who raised enough money to send him to the Daventry Academy. The Acadamy had been set up by decenters who were prevented from attending Oxford or Cambridge. Joseph Priestley was also at the Academy, at the same time as Dawson, and he may have even taught him. They certainly became acquaintances and good friends.

Joseph Priestley had been born in Birstall. He was the man who discovered oxygen (dephlogisticated air) in 1774 and through his experiments invented soda water. Priestley mixed with men who laid the foundations of the Industrial Revolution, men such as James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgewood and Erasmos Darwin (Charles Darwin’s grandfather) along with many other men of great distinction. They met frequently around the dinner table to discuss science, religion, and industry. Priestley was described as a radical polymath, his knowledge spanned many subjects, he took a great interest in science and religion, and he published many books and papers on subjects as far ranging as electricity and English grammar. In 1765 Priestley was awarded an LL.D. from the University of Edinburgh for his educational and literary accomplishments whilst teaching at Warrington. In 1766 he was elected a member of the Royal Society.

Priestley was appointed minister of Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds from 1767 to 1773 and married the daughter of Isaac Wilkinson (1695-1794) an industrialist who was said to be one of the founders of the iron industry.

By 1770 when Christopher Holdsworth Dawson was born his family were in Idle, Bradford and Joseph Priestley was in Leeds. We don’t know if Christopher’s father kept in touch with Priestley at this time, but it very likely that they did. Priestley carried out many experiments and Joseph Dawson did the same. Enquiring minds would question the world around them, and they would seek to understand the forces of nature. What made up the air around them, electricity, conductivity of materials, lightning, why plants grew as they did, and why an insect died in a certain length of time when enclosed in a glass dome. Joseph Dawson collected minerals from all over the world and amassed a collection of over 2000 specimens. These eventually ended up in the Cliffe Castle museum.

Part of Joseph Dawson’s mineral collection

In 1778 when Joseph Dawson, at the age of 29 became a minister, he found he had to supplement his meagre salary of £40 a year by taking up farming, he worked as a teacher, a doctor, and a coal-master. He was not a success at being a minister, his interests lie elsewhere. However, he made some money and was able to enter into partnership with others to establish the Low Moor company. The company had just taken over the Royds Hall estate.

The estate had been owned by the Rookes family. Coal mining had been established on the estate as early as 1673. And the latest member of the Rookes family, Edward Rookes Leedes was generating a good income from this, in the order of £1000 a year, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy his extravagant ways.

About 1780 a wooden railway was built from the Low Moor mines to the coal yard in the centre of Bradford, and from there coal could be carried via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Soon after, Leedes went bankrupt. The property was twice offered for sale by auction, in December 1786 and October 1787, but no suitable offer was made. In desperation, and in shame, Leedes took his own life in 1787. What Leedes didn’t realise was there were rich seems of ironstone and the full extent of the coal deposits on his estate were not known. Even if he had known about them, he didn’t possess the skills to take maximum advantage of the situation, but Joseph Dawson did.

In 1788 the estate was sold to a partnership of Richard Hird, a country gentleman, John Preston and John Jarratt for ₤34,000. After some sales of shares the partners were Richard Hird, Joseph Dawson, and John Hardy, a solicitor. Dawson was interested in metallurgy and chemistry and was a prime mover in the enterprise. His education and no doubt the influence of what Priestley had taught him, and seeing what Priestley had achieved, ensured that he understood the importance of continuing to research and better understand the properties of the materials and the manufacturing processes. The coal was of the finest quality at Low Moor and low in Sulphur. The partners were fortunate in that the had high quality raw materials in sufficient quantity so that they could produce the best quality iron and make this business a success.

Amongst other things they made cannon, which were used in the Crimean war. By 1863 they were employing 3,600 people at the works including 1,993 miners, 420 furnacemen, 770 forgemen and 323 engineers.

After the partnership had been established in the 1780s Joseph Dawson took up residence at Royds Hall. He conducted experiments in the house and his maid confirmed this, but she didn’t understand the nature of the experiments. The house was kept in the family and after he died in 1813 it was passed down to his eldest son Christopher, along with his shares in the company. Joseph’s Will runs to some five pages and is quite hard to decipher. His mineral collection was left to his six children, to be divided equally. Christopher was to receive the Philosophical instruments, an Air pump and a trough he used for his pneumatic experiments. Joseph got an Electrical Machine, (this was probably something capable of producing static electricity) and the contents of the library table. Martha is to receive a telescope with its mahogany box. The other daughters are to receive a microscope and drawing apparatus which were in two boxes on the shelves.

Joseph Dawson’s fortune amounted to some £150,000 which today would be worth approximately £24 million.

In 1800 Joseph had presented an essay to principal iron masters of Derby and York at Bradford. The subject was ‘The effect of air and moisture in blast furnaces’

John James in his book ‘The History of Bradford and its Parish’ written in 1866 has this to say…
“Joseph Dawson esquire one of the first proprietors of Low Moor Iron Works, the father of the present possessor, was an intimate friend of Priestley, and what is worthy of observation, part of the apparatus is yet at Royds Hall with which the great philosopher made his discoveries, respecting the qualities of air and the phenomena of electricity. So long as science is honoured, or genius admired, the name of Priestley, despite groveling intellects will be had in green remembrance.”

The 1851 census shows us that Christopher aged 78 was living at Royds Hall with sisters Rachel and Mary and daughter Eliza aged 37.

Christopher had married Eliza Dean in 1807 and they had four children, Joseph, John, Christopher and Eliza.

Rachel, who never married died on the 17th April 1859, Mary on 31st March 1865 and Christopher 4th June 1865. All three are buried in the family grave at Undercliffe Cemetery. There was a plaque at Toad Lane Chapel to commemorate the family and it was thought that Christopher was buried there but this is not the case.

To be continued in the next few days…..

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