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John Petrie (1792-1883) of John Petrie and Co
1792 Born in Belfast
c.1811 Established business in Rochdale
Married Ellen Downham
1825 Listed as iron and brass founder and engineer, Whitehall Street, Rochdale
1841 John Petrie 50, engineer, lived in Rochdale with John Petrie 20, ironmonger, James Petrie 25, engineer, Joseph Petrie 20, engineer, George Petrie 10, Ellen Petrie 50, Isabella Petrie 10, Margaret Petrie 5
1851 Living in South Street, Rochdale: John Petrie (age 59 born County Down), Founder, Steam Engineer Maker and Mill (?) and Boiler maker of the firm John Petrie and Co employing (?) hands. With his wife Ellen Petrie (age 64 born Parnal, Yks.) and two children George Petrie (age 20 born Rochdale), Engineer, and Margt Petrie (age 18 born Rochdale).
1861 retired from John Petrie and Co
1871 Living at Phoenix Cottage, South Street, Rochdale: John Petrie (age 79 born Belfast), Retired Engineer and Founder. Two servants. Note: In adjoining houses in South Street are James Petrie and George Petrie with their families.
1883 Died in Rochdale
The death of Mr. John Petrie, which took place yesterday morning, at his residence, Phoenix House, Rochdale, in his 92nd year, removes a patriarchal figure from amongst us. For some years Mr. Petrie has only been before the public by name and recollection; he had outlived his day and although retaining his faculties almost unimpaired to the end, he was long ago lost to public view. It was hoped that he might have been able to take part in the great meeting which was held in Rochdale in November, 1881, in celebration of the birthday of Mr. Bright, and the Committee of Management paid him the compliment of asking him to read and move the adoption of the address which was presented to the right hon. Gentleman in the name of his fellow townsmen but his son, Mr. James Petrie, had to take his place, and amid sympathetic cheers he explained that his father, by reason of his great age and failing powers, had had to decline the invitation of the committee, and had delegated to him the performance of what to his father would have been a labour of love. No man living, Mr. Petrie went on to say, thought more highly than his father did of Mr. Bright. They had long known each other, they had fought side by side in the battle of human progress, civil and religious. In early life they drank deeply at the same inspired fountain; their politics were the politics of the New Testament. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find two other men who in the course of an active, life, as they advanced in years had less to un-learn; Mr. Bright, in acknowledging the address, expressed regret at the absence of his revered friend," Mr. Petrie, and included his name in the list of the few men still living who were foremost in the great struggle extending over the years from 1840 to 1846.
Mr. Petrie, who was of Scotch and French descent, was born in Belfast in the year 1791. Before he was a year old his family came to Lancashire. When he was about 20 years of' age he settled in Rochdale, and beginning business for himself as an engineer, he laid the foundation of the concern now known as the Phoenix Ironworks. Whilst still a young man Mr. Petrie began to take an active and prominent part in the great political and ecclesiastical questions of the day, to which the masses of the people were only slowly awakening, But dear bread and starvation on the one hand, and spiritual tyranny on the other, were quickening their interest and preparing the way for the great leaders who soon appeared amongst them. The bitter battle of the church rates was one of the first combined public movements in which he took an active part. His household goods and those of Mr. Jacob Briqht (Mr. Bright's father), Mr. Barton, and others, having been several times seized for church rates which they refused to pay, sold by auction, bought in by the subscriptions of sympathising friends and sent back to their respective owners, it was decided to test the legality of the seizures on certain special points' affecting these particular cases. The trial resulted in defeat; but on appeal to a higher court the Nonconformists won the day; a second appeal, however, went against them, and a subscription was then organised for the purpose of taking the case to the House of Lords. Mr. Petrie, Mr. Barton, and others went to London, and were under examination for several days, with the result that they came home triumphant, bringing with them a verdict in their favour. Nevertheless, church rates were still collected (though they were not often distrained for), and the consequent dissatisfaction and heartburnings increased in volume until 1841, when the seizure of the Bible of a working man and the selling of it for church rates, together with other high-handed acts, fanned the smouldering fire into a blaze, and the great fight took place in which Mr. Bright, thus beginning his public career, took a leading part, and which resulted in the complete victory of the Non-conformists. Mr. Petrie showed great interest in the formation of the Liberation Society, and gave to it a hearty and liberal support, and it need scarcely be said that he used all his influence to secure the return of the late Mr. Miall as member for Rochdale. The Anti-corn-law League numbered Mr. Petrie amongst its earliest members. A characteristic anecdote is told of his connection with the League. He was present at a crowded meeting held in the old theatre in Toad Lane, Rochdale, along with Mr. Milner Gibson, Mr. Sharman Crawford, and Mr. Bright. Every corner of the place was filled, and outside a hungry and excited crowd had gathered. After some speeches had been delivered the more practical part followed of collecting the first subscriptions to the League fund. One after another came forward and put down large sums, or what were considered at the time and place large sums, such as £200, £100, £50, and others in the audience, sums of £20 and £10. Each announcement was received with a round of cheers. When the subscription of Messrs. Petrie and Co. was greeted in this manner, Mr. Petrie got up and said, "Gentlemen, I do not feel that any applause is due to us for our subscription, as I simply consider it the best investment we ever made." Looking through the "History of the League " we find Mr. Petrie's name mentioned in connection with several of the great events of the campaign. He and Mr. Bright were always amongst the delegates sent from Rochdale to the important meetings and conferences in Manchester and London.
Half a century ago Mr. Petrie was a prominent member of the Wesleyan Chapel near Rochdale called the "'Pottery Chapel," which Mr. Edwin Waugh described in one of his letters in the Manchester Weekly Times in the early part of last year. Mr. Waugh in his charming account of Singing Day" at "Th' Pottery" mentioned Mr. Petrie, and in a subsequent letter he published a note from Mr. John Petrie, jun., informing him that Mr. Petrie, sen., was still alive, and adding: "I have a very vivid recollection of - when a boy, now over fifty years ago - frequently going with him on Sunday mornings to the 'Pottery School,'- walking by his side with my hand in his as we went on our way. He was at that time leader of a Methodist society's class at the 'Pottery,' and it was his custom to go early so that he might assist in the Sunday school as well as attend to his class." Mr. Petrie seceded from the Wesleyan body on questions of trust deeds and lay representation, and was one of the founders of Wesleyan Association, the original title of what is now known as the United Methodist Free Church. On retiring from business twenty years ago, he devoted his time to official work. in connection with this church, to the furtherance of the aims of the Liberation Society, and the carrying out of other liberal movements of which he and his coadjutors were amongst the pioneers. Up to the time of his death he held the office of president of the Rochdale Liberal Association.
Amongst other appointments held by him before his retirement was that of it director of the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank. He occupied this position for 30 years, and only resigned the office when his advancing years began to tell upon him. He witnessed many changes in his long life, and he lived to rejoice in the great reforms of the last half century-reforms which only those who lived in the "beginning of the days" can fully appreciate. Mr. Petrie was an uncompromising advocate of his principles, but he had a genial disposition and a frank and happy manner which secured him many personal friends, some even amongst those whose acts and principles he most unswervingly opposed, and it has been said of him that he never made an enemy. We have described him as patriarchal; in Rochdale he was often spoken of thus, and truly so, as he leaves behind him over 120 living descendants. The funeral will take place on Wednesday morning, at eleven o'clock, at the Rochdale Cemetery.