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British Industrial History

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George Kynoch

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George Kynoch (1834-1891) of G. Kynoch and Co, ammunition manufacturer

1834 August 22nd. Born at Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, the youngest son of John Kynoch, a journeyman tailor, and his wife Margaret Ballentine.

They lived in humble circumstances and after education at the local national school, and then obtained employment first in an insurance office in Glasgow, and then as a bank clerk in Worcester. After a short while he moved to a larger bank in Birmingham as ledger clerk.

By about 1856 his financial ability and ambitious nature were already apparent and very soon he exchanged his safe employment for the dangerous manufacture of copper cap igniters and ammunition, by going to work for Pursall and Phillips of Whittall Street, Birmingham.

1863 He took over the William Pursall and Co business, which became G. Kynoch and Co.

1863 February 3rd. Married at Edgbaston to Helen, the daughter of Samuel Birley, a well-to-do jeweller at Edgbaston, from whom he later separated. Aided perhaps by capital from his father-in-law as well as his own ability, his company prospered.

1864 Birth of daughter Gertrude Helen

1871 Living at Bell Lane, Handsworth: George Kynoch (age 35 born Peterhead), Manufacturer. With his wife Helen Kynoch (age 36 born Birmingham) and their daughter Gertrude H. Kynoch (age 7 born Edgbaston). Four servants.[1]

1881 Living at Bloomfield House, Handsworth: George Kynoch (age 46 Peterhead), Ammunition Manufacturer. With his wife Helen Kynoch (age 47 born Birmingham) and their daughter Gertrude H. Kynoch (age 17 born Birmingham). Also his cousin Elizabeth Birley (age 32 born Worcester). Three servants.[2]

By 1883 he was living the life of a gentleman at Hamstead Hall in Handsworth and enjoying the shooting on the 300 acre estate, while his company had depots and agencies in many parts of the world.

1886 Elected MP for Aston, as a Tory, and the following year became president of the Aston Villa Football Club. These activities did not go happily with his commitments to the company and, with pursuit of his personal business interests, frequently resulted in his absence from Witton. He was well known in the Russian, Turkish, and Romanian royal courts, where he travelled to make sales. Differences with the London-based directors led to non-co-operation and friction resulted

1888 Kynoch himself, by then a very sick man, left England for South Africa.

1889 His daughter Gertrude Helen was married at West Bromwich to William Charles Dudley Smith

1891 February 28th. George Kynoch died in comparative poverty at Johannesburg, and was buried in the Braamfontein Cemetery.

1891 Obituary [3]

Telegrams were received in Birmingham on Saturday last announcing the death, at Johannesburg, of Mr. George Kynoch, the Conservative member for Aston. Mr. Kynoch had been absent from Birmingham since November, 1888, and for some months had fallen into a state of ill health from which those who knew the nature of his complaint were aware that he could not recover. We learn from Mrs. Kynoch that on the 16th of May last he took his passage to return to England, but was detained by litigation respecting some mines in which he was interested. He was also about to start a short time later, but was again detained, and in September last the symptoms manifested themselves of internal cancer, which eventually caused his death.

Mr. Kynoch was a Scotchman by parentage, and was born at Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, on August 22, 1834. He was educated at the parish school of his native place, and commenced his business career as a clerk in the Worcester City and County Bank.

From Worcester he removed to Birmingham, and for some years was a ledger-clerk at the Birmingham and Midland Bank. He was a man of much intelligence of a business kind, and of a naturally pushing disposition. Banking being too slow for his taste, he left his situation in New Street and joined Mr. Pursall as percussion-cap maker in Whittall Street. He succeeded to Mr. Pursall, and very largely extended the business, embarking in turn in the branches of fog-signal manufacture and of metallic cartridges. Ground was acquired for this purpose at Witton, and the manufactory there was the precursor of the large works now carried on by the company which bears Mr. Kynoch's name. It was here that the explosion occurred in November 1870, by which twenty-eight persons were injured and eight killed. This occurrence, following closely upon a similar disaster at Messrs. Ludlow's, led to a Government interference by which the conditions of ammunition-charging were greatly altered in the direction of securing comparative safety for the workers, instead of the very perilous arrangements under which they had previously laboured.

About two years after this, owing to some hitch with reference to a large Russian contract, Mr. Kynoch was in difficulty with his creditors, but received assistance in the payment of a composition from Mr. John Abraham, who entered into partnership with him. Supplemented by Mr. Abraham's capital, the business recovered, grew to very large dimensions, and at one time employed upwards of 3,000 hands.

In addition to the manufacture of ammunition the firm started their own rolling-mills, and did a large trade in metal rolling. The partnership was subsequently dissolved, and Mr. Kynoch was left as the sole proprietor of the business, which continued to develop by leaps and bounds.

On the 6th of July, 1884, the ammunition business was formed into a limited company; Mr. Kynoch, who was the vendor, receiving £260,000 in cash, £10,000 in fully-paid preference shares, and the whole of the £40,000 of ordinary shares. The capital offered to the public consisted of £160,000 in seven per cent. cumulative preference shares. For the first year after the formation of the company both classes of shareholders received ten per cent.; for 1885, the preference shares received 12 per cent., and the ordinary 13.75; for 1886, both classes received 7 per cent. In the next two years, however, there was no dividend, owing to losses in trading; but in 1889 there was a 5 per cent. dividend, and last year's report, published in another column, recommends a dividend on the preference shares of 10 per cent.

During the first two years of the company's existence Mir. Kynoch was the managing director, and occupied a very prominent position in Aston. He was reported to be worth at the time from £60,000. to £80,000. He lived in great style at Hamstead Hall, and for two shooting seasons was tenant of Lord Stamford's estate at Bradgate. He bestowed very liberal patronage upon local athletic sports, and was president of the Aston Villa Football Club in the year in which that body won the English Cup. He also laid out an admirable cricket ground near Perry Barr for a club composed, to a considerable extent, of the employees of the ammunition works.

The Aston Conservative Association elected him its president in 1885, and this constituted his introduction to the political life of the Manor. A good deal of local polarity came to him through these means, and when the dissolution of Parliament took place upon the defeat of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule project in 1886, Mr. Kynoch was brought out as a Conservative against Mr. H. G. Reid, the retiring Home Rule member, and defeated him by 782 votes, the polling being Kynoch 3,495, and Reid 2,713. Mr. Kynoch's speeches in the election were of a a very violent character, and it will be remembered that in one of them he declared that if the Ulstermen should rebel against Home Rule he would give them 10,000 rifles and 2,000,000 cartridges.

During the first year of his representation of Aston in Parliament he took occasion to urge upon the Government the desirability of giving their contracts for munitions of war to home manufacturers.

After the formation of the limited liability company Mr. Kynoch became the lessee of a large gunworks in Lichfield Road. The business he carried on here did not answer his expectations, and the works were subsequently acquired by the Aston Smallarms Company. Meantime, however, his management of the limited company had ceased to be satisfactory, and he resigned his position on the board.

Upon this he went to South Africa, where he obtained special concessions from the Transvaal Government in respect of the introduction and manufacture of arms and ammunition. In addition to agencies for these commodities he occupied himself with various enterprises in connection with the gold-mining industry. At one time he appeared to be in a fair way of retrieving his fortunes, which had become considerably embarrassed. Reverses, however, befell him, and early last year his effects at Harmstead Hall were sold; as also were a number of his founders' shares in Geo. Kynoch and Co. (Limited), upon which the directors had a lien.

His latest occupation is said to have been that of a keeping a store at Johannesburg for the sale of guns and ammunition supplied by some London merchants; but in this also fortune was against him, and recently tidings came of his lying ill with cancer of the stomach under circumstances of considerable privation.

How for upwards of two years Aston has been practically disfranchised by Mr. Kynoch's absence our readers are well aware. Upon his absence being unduly prolonged he was repeatedly written to, either say when he would return to fulfil his Parliamentary duties, or to resign his seat; but he appeared to treat all these communications with contempt, and some months ago the question was raised in the House of Commons as to whether it was not possible to declare his seat void, the result being a declaration that nothing could be done.

Mr. Kynoch married, in 1863, a daughter of Mr. Samuel Birley, jeweller, of Birmingham, with whom a good deal of sympathy has been felt during the trying circumstances of recent years. He had one daughter, who was recently married. A brother of Mr. Kynoch is manager of the Wellington branch of Lloyds Bank.

Both political parties at Aston have decided to commence the contest at once, and a telegram has been received from Mr. W. Phipson Beale, Q.C., the Gladstonian candidate, stating that he will arrive in Aston early to-day, and hold a consultation with the leaders of his party. The Gladstonians have arranged to set to work at once, and the canvass will be immediately commenced by a large number of voluntary workers. Mr. Phipson Beale was selected as the candidate about four years ago, and Captain Grice Hutchinson, of Upton-on-Severn, was adopted in the early part of last year as at a joint meeting of the Conservative and Liberal Unionist parties. A hastily-summoned meeting of the Unionist leaders was held at the Aston Conservative Club on Saturday evening, and it was then decided that Captain Grice Hutchinson should issue his address to the electors it immediately after Mr. Kynoch's funeral has taken place, which, it is expected, will be about Tuesday.

Much sympathy is expressed in Aston for Mrs. Kynoch and her daughter in their bereavement, and a meeting of the Conservative Association will shortly be held for the purpose of passing a vote of condolence with them. The political situation in Aston is one of great interest, inasmuch as the Liberal Unionists hold the balance of power, and many of those who voted for Mr. Reid in 1885 will accord their support to Captain Hutchinson, who lately has made himself familiar to all sections of the electors in the constituency, and only a few months ago took up his residence at Handsworth. Mr. Beale, on the other hand, is not so well known to the voters, as his professional duties keep him, a great deal in London.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1871 Census
  2. 1881 Census
  3. Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 02 March 1891