Farthingale Publications

A Lancastrian hobby website of curiosities and nonsense


John Lancaster

The Right Honourable John Lancaster - Industrialist and MP for Wigan 1868 - 1874

picWigan's rich industrial heritage associated with the exploitation of the extensive coal deposits of the South Lancashire coal field, sports a long list of noteworthy working class heroes, engineers, businessmen and landowners worthy of any roll of honour. Names of individuals and companies now just a distant memory for the older generation and virtually unknown to everyone else lie hidden in dusty old archives. Haigh Foundry, Brock Mill Forge, Wigan Coal and Iron Company, Walker Brothers, Worsley Mesnes Iron Works, Blue Printers, Central Wagon, Kirkless Hall Coal and Iron Company, Winstanley Colliery, Pemberton Colliery, Rylands Brothers, the Earls of Crawford and Balcarres, the Bankes family, William Peace, Alfred Hewlett, Pearson and Knowles, Robert Dalglish, the Gerard family of Ashton in Makerfield, John Wood and Company to name but a few. John Lancaster was one such noteworthy person, an engineer, businessman, fellow of the Geological Society and Member of Parliament. A key figure in the Kirkless Hall Coal and Iron Company and responsible for building the blast furnaces and coke ovens on the Kirkless site he later became chairman of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company when the Kirkless Hall Company was amalgamated with the Earl of Crawford's coal and engineering interests. Mr Lancaster also had a very interesting connection with the American Civil War, becoming involved in its last great sea battle between the confederate ship Alabama and the union ship Kearsarge off Cherbourg in France. 

1815Born Radcliffe near Bury Lancashire 19th September.
1841Manager of Patricroft Colliery.
1847Mineral agent for Lord Mostyn at Mostyn Colliery.
1849-56Manager Earl Granville's Ironworks and Collieries Shelton Staffs.
1855-58Manager Shire Oak Colliery near Worksop Nottingham.
1855-68Leases Hindley Hall from the Leigh family.
1859Buys yacht Deerhound and joins Royal Mersey Yacht Club.
1860 Built five blast furnaces at Kirkless Hall Ironworks which were only the second set in Lancashire.
1861Buys Bilton Grange at Dunchurch near Rugby, Warwickshire.
1863Fellow of the Geological Society, Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
1864Joins Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes, Isle of Wight.
1864Rescued the crew of the confederate ship Alabama when she was sunk by the union war steamer Kearsarge off Cherbourg 19th June.
1864Contested Wigan as prospective MP July.
1865Kirkless Hall Ironworks merged with Lord Crawford's interests to form Wigan Coal and Iron Company, with Alfred Hewlett as Managing Director.
1865Lancashire Union Railway started with John Lancaster as president and Alfred Hewlett as vice president.
1870Chairman Wigan Coal and Iron Company.
1868-74MP for Wigan (leaves Hindley Hall 1868).
1868Yacht Deerhound sold by auction at the Pier Hotel, Ryde, Isle of Wight by E Marvin and Sons.
1870-84Chairman West Cumberland Iron and Steel Works.
1872Extends Ashfield House Standish (pictured above).
1881Sells his shares in Wigan Coal and Iron Company.
1884Died age 69 at 58 Fitzjohns Avenue, Hampstead 21st April.

picJohn Lancaster leased Hindley Hall from the Leigh family (estate of Robert Holt Leigh) in 1855 and lived there for thirteen years with his wife and four children, John Junior, Robert, G.G. (Son George Granville) and Catherine before moving to Ashfield House Standish which he extended in 1872. They are believed to have entertained William Gladstone and other important politicians at the Standish address from time to time. Mr Lancaster owned the steam yacht Deerhound (pictured above) which he sailed competitively and used for holidays and other leisure activities. Skippered by Captain Evan Parry Jones it was built in 1858 for the Duke of Leeds at the Cammel Laird shipyard Birkenhead, co-incidentally the same yard which built the Alabama completed in 1862 under the name of Enrica. Acquired in 1859 from the previous owner, the now famous yacht was sold at auction in 1868 to Sir George Stucley and subsequent records show it to have been used to transport Sir Stafford Northcote, a government minister, to the Mediterranean for the opening of the Suez Canal in October1869.

The Alabama
The Alabama was built at Cammell Lairds shipyard in Birkenhead, commissioned by the government of the Confederate States of America, but as far as the yard was concerned she was being built for a private individual James Dunwoody Bulloch, who in reality was one of the Confederate States' purchasing agents based in Liverpool. The Alabama was launched in May 1862 and began sea trials under the command of Matthew J Butcher, a highly regarded Cunard officer. Bulloch and a party of dignitaries were also on board, only he and Butcher knew that there was no intention of returning to Liverpool and arrangements had been made to put the visitors ashore. The ship was already on her way to the Azores to be handed over to Raphael Semmes who was to command her, the small crew was increased by a further forty mostly from England and Wales. The strange goings-on in Liverpool and the risks being taken by the UK government at the time were brought about by the strictly neutral stance in respect of the American civil war, against a background of union blockades of southern ports the source of the UK's cotton imports. Although Cammell Laird were renowned for their iron ships, because of the limited availability of repair facilities in some parts of the world the Alabama was built in finest oak, her bottom sheathed in copper. She was rigged as a three masted sailing barque but powered by coal burning boilers and twin horizontal steam engines, she was capable of 13 knots. Her funnel could be telescoped and her propeller lifted clear of the water to reduce drag while under sail.

The fight between the Alabama and the Kearsarge off Cherbourg, June 19, 1864
Having sunk many Union merchant vessels, the rebel raider Alabama had just put into Cherbourg for repairs when the USS Kearsarge discovered her. For days the newspapers told of the impending duel between the Alabama and the Kearsarge, and on Sunday morning 19th June 1864 the Alabama slipped out of port to meet the Kearsarge in battle. Many people were in Cherbourg that weekend for the inauguration of a new casino, among them English tycoon John Lancaster and his family who had come over in their luxury yacht "The Deerhound", 15000 people were lining the coast. Although his gunners had little experience against armed vessels, Confederate captain Raphael Semmes buoyed up by more than sixty naval victories, approached the Kearsarge challenging captain John A Winslow and opening fire at a range of about a mile. After the opening salvos, it quickly became apparent that the Kearsarge was the superior ship, it sank the notorious Alabama in little more than an hour. A major event in Europe, the encounter inspired a picture published in Hamburg by Gustav W Seitz (born 1826). The third ship seen in the print is the English yacht Deerhound, which rescued many of the Alabama's crew. When the Alabama sank all but one of the officers survived, Dr Llewellyn the assistant ships surgeon drowned as did Bartelli the captains steward, he could not swim but told no one. Nine men were killed in action, 21 wounded and 12 drowned, there was just one casualty on the Kearsarge, William Gowen from New York who died in Cherbourg's naval hospital. The Deerhound landed the survivors in Southampton that night, Semmes was lionised in England.

Later life
In the late 1860's or early 70's John Lancaster, then described as a Lancashire coal mine owner and Liberal Member of Parliament for Wigan, bought Bilton Grange a magnificent historic Victorian mansion in the picturesque village of Dunchurch, south of Rugby, Warwickshire, designed by the famous architect Augustus Welby Pugin and built in the 1840's. He made a number of changes including replacing some of the original crests with his own, creating the main drive in use today, building the small lodge known as Island Cottage and the North Lodge, both of which have his initials on them. When John Lancaster died the court ordered his estates to be sold. His sons (John junior and George Granville) managed to put his financial affairs in order by just selling Bilton Grange and 175 acres. They kept the part of the estate called Dunchurch Lodge and in 1907 John Lancaster built the large mansion there which is now the GEC Management College. Granville bought Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire where his daughter still lives. Bilton Grange is now an independent day and boarding prep school for boys and girls aged 4 to 13.

Hindley Park - www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people
Wigan Coal and Iron by Donald Anderson & A A France, Published 1994 by Smiths of Wigan, ISBN 0 9510680 7 5
Proceedings of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers 1884 (402-3).
The Smithsonian Institution website.
University of Alabama W.S. Hoole collection.
Bilton Grange School website

Palfreyman - September 2016