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British Industrial History

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Read Holliday

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Read Holliday (1809-1889) of Read Holliday and Sons, pioneer of the Huddersfield chemical and dyestuffs industry

1809 Born in Bradford, the son of a wool spinner.

1830 He started his own business at the age of twenty-one, buying waste liquors from the local gas works. He distilled ammonia in Huddersfield and sold it to textile mills for wool scouring. An early sign of his ingenuity was blending unwanted coal tar with cinders to use as fuel for the ammonia stills.

1839 The growth of the business, and complaints about the fumes, caused Holliday to move the works to the canalside in Turnbridge. Lacking formal training in chemistry, he read technical publications and applied what he learned to expand the product range. He produced ammonia salts, washing powder, soda ash, Epsom salts and dye products including Prussian blue.

1845 He started distilling coal tar, becoming the biggest distiller in the north of England by 1860. He patented an improved naphtha lamp - the Holliday Peerless Lamp became widely used. Sales of naphtha for lamps and creosote and pitch for coal-brick (briquette) makers were highly successful. He had plants at six other northern sites as well as one in Bromley-By-Bow in London and a warehouse at Holburn Hill in London.

The Holliday family was also expanding: Read and his wife Emma had five sons and three daughters. When Eliza died at the age of nine, Holliday became concerned about the environmental conditions of the Turnbridge area and built a new home in the countryside of Edgerton in 1853-54. The palatial family residence, with 34 rooms, was known as Lunn Clough Hall.

Holliday was fined several times by Huddersfield authorities as neighbours complained about fumes and smoke from the coal tar distillery. The most offensive operations were moved further from residences, nearer to the River Colne on the boundary of Dalton, but still within the Turnbridge site. The stills were redesigned and fume controls implemented. These steps allowed Holliday to stay in business. But the dangers of handling flammable products continued, as was evidenced by a fire in 1859 which severely damaged the plant.

From the 1850s he produced a range of dyes for the textile industry

1856 Perkin's development of the first synthetic dye from coal tar chemicals must have inspired Holliday to become involved in the new industry of aniline dyes and he began to manufacture the purple-red dye magenta in 1860.

By 1861, he was offering violet, red, and blue dyes for sale. Patents were granted in 1863 for blue colours obtained by heating aniline, rosaniline and benzoic acid together; in 1865 for violet and blue colours obtained by treating a salt of aniline with nitro benzole; and in 1866 for purifying green and blue colours obtained from rosaniline by the iodides of alcohol radicals. In one of the first legal cases involving infringement of a dye patent, Read Holliday was vindicated, in 1865, of a charge that he violated the patent of a competitor to produce magenta by the arsenic acid process. However the cost of litigation was very high for the fledgling dye manufacturer.

1864 The Holliday family became the first producers of aniline and aniline dyes in the USA, when sons Charles and Thomas Holliday set up a factory in Brooklyn.

1867 Read Holliday continued his own experiments and received his fifth patent, for a process to remove grease and tar from wool with the solvent naphtha.

1868 He retired at a time when his firm was England’s leading chemical manufacturer and the first international manufacturer of synthetic dyes. He turned the business over to his very capable sons Thomas, Charles and Edgar. The firm was now called Read Holliday and Sons.

1881 Read moved from Edgerton to Harrogate. His son Thomas and his wife lived in Lunn Clough Hall. Read became interested in home construction and built most of Queen’s Road in Harrogate. His firm employed 145 men and 6 boys.

1889 Read Holliday died at the age of eighty.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • [1] Colorants History