A C Bamlett 1835-1912


Darlington & Stockton Times (13 January 1912 p.3)

Transcription Dr B Eccleston



One of the most remarkable personalities of North Yorkshire passed away on Tuesday, in the death of Mr A.C. Bamlett of Sowerby, Thirsk. Proprietor of the Thirsk Agricultural Implement Works, and hence the only large employer of labour in the district, a public man associated with every sub-division of the machinery of local government from the County Council to the Parish meeting, he occupied a position of unique prominence in the life of the community [of] which he had formed part for nearly half a century. But, more than anything in his position, the man's [had a] self compelled [obsession with] the interests of his townsmen. The strongly marked individuality which had won its way from comparatively small beginnings, ever exhibiting itself by excursions off the beaten track in its relations to public bodies and public questions made him the most discussed man in the North Riding. Qualities such as these [never] fail to arouse opposition, frequently detraction, even though, as in this case, personal kindness and many acts of public benefaction win more than [a] counterbalancing amount of popularity, but now when the voice of controversy is stilled feelings of respect and regret alone remain.

The sad event, although the culmination of but ten days illness, was not altogether unexpected. True, Mr Bamlett maintained his active life to the last, visiting his works, superintending the improvements he had set on foot in the Thirsk Public Rooms, and taking his part in the work of the Thirsk Rural District Council, which he attended as recently as December 4th; but for some years past his memory had been failing, and it was evident that the breaking-up process had set in. Its work was completed by an attack of bronchitis from which, as already stated, he died in the early hours of Tuesday morning at the advanced age of 76 years.

It is to be regretted that the deceased gentleman's dislike to the publication of any personal details relating to himself has led to a dearth of biographical material with respect to a career which could not fail to be of unusual interest. Youngest son of the late Mr Carlisle Bamlett of Great Smeaton, the deceased came of an old Yorkshire family, and was related to the famous surgeon, Sir Anthony Carlisle late of London and Durham. He was born at Great Smeaton on May 31st [1835], and was the last survivor of a family of six. The story of how he founded the "Vale of Mowbray Works" savours strongly of a romance not usually associated with the inception of individual undertakings. Naturally an engineer, and gifted with the inventive faculty, he occupied the early years of his manhood in devising improvements of agricultural machinery. His first machines were made for him at Newton-le-Willows, and afterwards by Mr Kearsley of Ripon. His share of a fortune left to his mother by her cousin, the late Mr Burry of Durham, provided the necessary capital, and he was fortunate in obtaining a suitable site at the town end of Thirsk Station road. Here, in March 1864, he built some small workshops employing about twenty men. Two years later his machine took first prize at the York exhibition of the Royal Agricultural Society against such competitors as Hornsby, Samuelson, Burgess & Key, W.A. Wood, Kearsley, Picksley & Sims, Brigham & Bickerton and J. & F. Young.

"Bell's Weekly Messenger" of June 17th, 1867 said: "Having paid great attention to the work both on Tuesday and Wednesday, we have no hesitation in stating that Bamlett's three-wheel machine, which was placed first at York, cut lowest and cleanest across the grip, and made the most regular work on the whole. It is true that the draught of the machine is about ten per cent heavier than some others, and the price higher, but for strength of construction, durability in work and close, even cutting, we believe it will hold its own against the world." These characteristics Mr Bamlett's machines retained throughout his career. The competition of cheaper and less reliable machines left him unmoved. Absolute high quality of both material and workmanship he insisted on to the end and as a result his implements have acquired a European reputation. Last year six of his machines were supplied to the Royal farms at Windsor. He had agencies in Paris and Bonn, a considerable proportion of the works output being sent to the Continent. It is said that in some parts of Germany his machines are so appreciated that they are known as "Bamlett's".

The same innate conservatism which kept Mr Bamlett free of the modern tendency to sacrifice quality to cheapness also prevented his undertaking the manufacture of self-binders. It is said that he considered the mechanism too complicated for the ordinary farmer. For many years, however, he devoted himself to the improvements of his machines, experimenting on two farms which he occupied until he considered them practically perfect. His initial success mentioned above, was followed by many others at the leading exhibitions of both England and the Continent. Among his numerous medals may be mentioned awards taken at international exhibitions at London, Paris (1878), Hamburg, Lille, the gold medal of the Durham County Agricultural Society in 1878, those of the Royal North Lancashire Society in no less than six years, the Bath & West of England Society, and others. With success assured from the start, his works gradually extended until at the present time they employ about 200 men. There is a general impression locally that more energetic management might have resulted in far greater growth. It is said, in fact, that orders for hundreds of machines have been refused in recent years, and that the Continental representative has been recalled with scarcely half his journey completed because no further orders were required. The fact seems to be that Mr Bamlett was more of an engineer than a business man. Having no family, for he never married, he was in his later years without the incentive to continued exertion, and remarkably free from greed of wealth for its own sake.

Mr Bamlett was a member of the Sanitary Institute, the Iron & Steel Institute, the Farmer's Club, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Civil Engineers. In this connection it may be stated that he was the only surviving member of those who took part in the tour of the Iron & Steel Institute through Canada. He was fond of travelling, and besides the tour mentioned above had visited France, Austria, Russia and other parts of the Continent, besides undertaking a tour through Palestine in 1892, with the Rev. N.B. Parker, Vicar of Bishop Middleham.

In politics he was a staunch Conservative, and in religion a member of the Established Church, though always willing to help other denominations. He was the only surviving founder subscribing to the Falcon (Thirsk) Lodge of Freemasons, of which he was the first Junior Warden, second Worshipful master in 1874, a position he again occupied in 1893. He was also a member of the Union Lodge, No. 278 and a P.P.G.J.W.

In 1904, Mr Bamlett was elected representative for Thirsk on the North Riding County Council, his opponent being Major Bell. J.P., Thirsk Hall, who was afterwards made a County Alderman. He was re-elected in 1907 and 1910, Mr Bell becoming his nominator on the last mentioned occasion. On the County Council he was a member of the Finance and Sanitary Committees. His membership of the Thirsk Board of Guardians goes back as far as 1888, and, formerly a member of the Highway Board, he represented Sowerby on the Thirsk Rural District Council since its creation by the Local Government Act of 1894. He also held the chairmanship of the Sowerby Parish Council, which for several years met at his house, was a Director of the Thirsk District Water Co. and held various other offices.

It is difficult to correctly appraise his work. He was too pronounced an individualist, too tenacious of his own opinions - it may be said too determined on his own way - to co-operate easily in a deliberative body. In this connection it is impossible to avoid reference to his hobby for the making of tar macadam, and its application to the roads. His inventive genius found play in devising improvements on the current method of tar macadam manufacture. He set up a plant of his own, and frequently offered to coat portions of the local roads. Many of these offers were accepted and carried out, but from various causes frictions arose. It cannot be denied that in some instances delay on his part caused inconvenience to the public.

On one occasion he kept Topcliffe Road closed for several weeks in order to lay a comparatively short length of tarred metal, until a local farmer, Mr Rooke of Thorpefields, knocked down the barriers, an action which led to interesting police court proceedings. Occurrences such as this led some members of Thirsk Rural District Council to adopt a hostile attitude towards his proffered gifts of road repair, and in December 1907, a resolution was adopted on the motion of Mr E. Moore laying it down that in future no such repairs be entrusted to any other person than the Council's Surveyor unless let by tender under written contract. With characteristic determination, however, Mr Bamlett disregarded the resolution. He continued to repair what portions he pleased at his own expense without consulting the controlling authority. When the tar macadam phase was supplanted in his affections by a tar sprayer it was the same thing. In June 1908, for instance, the then Surveyor complained that Mr Bamlett had tar sprayed 500 yards of the Station road without the permission of either the Council or himself. Thus was brought about a state of things described by a writer in these columns in the following words:- "a gentleman who likes to spend his time walking round with a tar sprayer watching it pour out on the public road material which represents money out of his own pocket, and for which he can get no return is a rarity; a road authority which in these days of motor-cars objects to having its roads gratuitously treated by a modern process which improves the surface, makes them more durable, and keeps down the dust is also a phenomenon that wants explanation."

However, this curious state of things existed for a considerable time, and some members got so exasperated at Mr Bamlett's cool defiance that, with reference to one of these exploits, one of them remarked that the Council had just as much right to take forty or fifty tons of broken bricks and put them on Mr Bamlett's carriage-drive. However, in November 1908, the insistent benefactor triumphed. A committee was appointed to discuss the matter with him and say they were willing to accept any benefits he might have to offer. Meanwhile his offers had found ready acceptance elsewhere. The Northallerton Council, the Bedale Council and the North Riding County Council availed themselves of the gratuitous service of Mr Bamlett's sprayer and tar with satisfaction to themselves and benefit to their roads. Such improvements as he carried out had in most cases a curious history. The asphalted footpath through Carlton Miniott, for example, was at first undertaken to prove the truth of his contention that he could lay an unkerbed asphalt path at a cost not exceeding the estimate of the Surveyor for a gravel path with kerbing. This he succeeded in doing, the cost amounting to £77 7s. 8d. as against the Surveyor's estimate of £108. Mr Bamlett kindly defrayed the entire expense and handed the Rural Council a cheque for £39 13s. 10d. received from the County Council who had agreed to pay half the cost.

It is somewhat strange that although he had no property in Carlton Miniott, that parish was, later on, to benefit by another instance of his almost eccentric kindness, when he undertook and carried out at his personal expense a small sewerage scheme of his own in order to save the parish from an elaborate scheme estimated to cost £743. Here again, there was an amusing instance of his calm contempt for opposition even on the part of constituted authority, when a colleague moved that the Council give permission he retorted that the Council's permission was unnecessary , as he was doing the work with his own money on land belonging to Mr C.K. Manfield, who was quite willing. Among other matters of the kind, it may be mentioned that he gratuitously coated with tar macadam the road in front of the Lambert Memorial Hospital. At other times he lent the Council a steam roller or a motor lorry for the conveyance of stone, and as a curious chapter as any in this strange record could be written on the fact that while conveying stone to the roads of Sutton at his own charge he was stopped by the Surveyor, as this work had inadvertently been let to a contractor.

The name of the deceased gentleman will long be associated with local efforts, which, though at the time unavailing, will probably come to fruition in due time. For years he advocated the making of a road through the Castle-yard between the Station-road and the Market-square, and was willing to bear the cost of the work, but for reasons which need not be detailed here, the requisite land was not available. Then, in December of 1907, when Thirsk became aware that it would be included in the area to be rated for the upkeep of the Northallerton Secondary School, and strove, too late, to put forward its own claims to the establishment of such a school, Mr Bamlett offered a site said to be worth £500 as well as a monetary contribution of £200 as an inducement to the County Education Authority to assent to the petition of his townsmen. His advocacy of a bridge over the World's End ford, Sowerby, is another matter that will be remembered. In this case he offered £400 - half the estimated cost - if the local authorities would contribute the other £400. The Rural District Council offered £100, but the County Council refused to make a grant, as the ford to be bridged was not on a main road.

Apart from matters affecting the various authorities, Mr Bamlett frequently performed acts of the most unusual generosity. On one occasion he sank a well on the allotment gardens and put a new grate there, although the land belonged to the Thirkleby estate, and the convenience or otherwise of the tenants was, practically speaking, no concern of his. New seats for Sowerby Parish Church was another of his benefactions.

His death removes from Thirsk one who has been a leading figure in the past half-century of her history, and whose name will assuredly be remembered for many generations to come.

Darlington & Stockton Times (13 January 1912 p.3)

Transcription Dr B Eccleston