Jacob Behrens was born in Bad Pyrmont near Hannover in 1806. He was apprenticed to his father’s company of manufacturing woollen goods.
He travelled between England and Germany regularly to negotiate with suppliers and eventually decided to relocate to England. He arrived in Bradford in 1838 taking up lodging in the Sun Inn, at the bottom of Ivegate. However, he was asked to leave because he did not drink.
He represented his father’s business, manufacturing and packing woollen textiles before establishing his own firm and became a merchant manufacturer in Thornton Road where he was joined by his brother Louis. He opened another branch in Tibb Lane, Manchester. The company expanded to become the largest textile manufacturers in Britain and exporter.
He married Dorathea Hohenemser in May 1844 in Mannheim, Germany. They had seven children and lived at Springfield House, North Parade, Bradford.
Behrens was interested in the welfare of the Bradford people and in 1869, opened a school wholly at his own expense having been shocked at the state of the grammar school. His views on education were sought by the likes of William Forster who as a politician was largely responsible for the Education Act 1870.
Behrens continued to take an interest in education, reorganising the grammar school and in 1882, setting up the Technical College. He was also instrumental in setting up the Eye & Ear Hospital and the City’s Chamber of Commerce.
He was a great promoter of Bradford throughout the world and improved the postal service so Bradford’s goods to be sent abroad.
He was instrumental in drafting the Commercial Treaty of 1860 which helped trade and his knowledge about international trade led to his being knighted by Queen Victoria at Windsor in 1882.
In later years he concentrated on his charitable works.
He died on 22 April 1889 in Torquay.