John Stewart Remington (1872-1960)

John Stewart Remington

Written by Tim Cockerill

Occupation: Chemist

Family background and early life

John Stewart Remington M.R.A.C., F.C.S., F.L.S., M.R.A.S.E. was born on the 15 January 1872 at 34 Queen Street, Ulverston. He was the only son of George Remington (1829-1898) of Ulverston, solicitor who married Mary Ann Stewart (1832-1920) at Liverpool in 1869. She was the youngest surviving daughter of John Stewart JP of Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, an architect and civil engineer, who was mayor of Liverpool in 1855-56.

The Remington family claimed Norman descent and in his book entitled A Peep into the Past (1932) John Stewart Remington devoted the first seventeen pages to claiming many illustrious Remington ancestors. However, he produced no clear line of descent before the Tudor period when he says the family settled at Melling in the Lune Valley, near Carnforth. The earliest entry in the Melling parish register is for Matthew Remington who was buried there in 1551. In the 18th Century the Remingtons built The Crow Trees at Melling, a substantial property with an estate of about 900 acres. This house remained the main seat of the family until it was sold in the early 20th Century.

Henry Remington (1796-1866),the grandfather of John Stewart Remington, was the eldest son of Reginald Remington (1770-1854) JP of The Crow Trees, Melling who married in 1796 Catherine the youngest daughter of Thomas Machell of Aynsome, Cartmel, both of which properties Henry was to eventually inherit. He chose the law as his profession, was admitted a Solicitor in 1820 and set up practice in Ulverston soon afterwards. According to his grandson,' the entry into the society of Ulverston of this tall handsome young man evidently had caused a considerable flutter among the young ladies of the district'. Six years later he married Mary, the only child of George and Mary Ashburner of Holm Bank, Great Urswick. The Ashburners were prosperous yeoman farmers, in contrast to the Remingtons who were a family of established landed gentry, but Mary was a noted beauty and her mother, daughter of Thomas Cragg of Lowscales, Millom, was the sister of Eleanor, the wife of William Lewthwaite (1766-1845) JP, of Broadgate, Thwaites, near Millom, who belonged to another family of landed gentry. Henry Remington made a small fortune as an Ulverston lawyer, leaving a personal estate of just under £35,000, about £1.7m in modern money, apart from his landed property.

It was Henry Remington's second son George, who married Mary Anne Stewart and they were the parents of John Stewart Remington. George also became a Solicitor in Ulverston, was admitted in 1854 and joined his father in practice in soon afterwards. He was still shown in the Law List of 1892 but had retired from practice by 1905.

Young John recounts how, at Christmas 1879, when he was aged seven, his mother took him to Robert Casson’s toyshop in King Street, Ulverston where he bought a box of Stalham’s Chemical Magic for five shillings, with which he started to carry out experiments. This experience soon had him hooked on chemistry, a subject which fed his enquiring mind and sowed the seeds of his future career.


John was an only son and was brought up in Ulverston until, at the age of ten, he was sent to a prep school called Quebec House at St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex, where to his great disappointment, no chemistry or any science was taught. However, in the school holidays his father bought him a chemical cabinet and a book called Atfield’s Chemistry, Medical and Pharmaceutical, as a result of which he carried out countless tests and experiments. Even at the age of twelve all his spare moments were devoted to chemistry.  He was then sent as a boarder to Malvern College, Worcestershire in 1886 when he was aged fourteen. He remained there until midsummer 1889, having won the first prize for chemistry for the upper school, by which time his parents had moved to Aynsome, Cartmel.

Fortunately, Remington inserted fourteen pages of handwritten biography, entitled ‘Concerning myself ’ at the end of his copy of his book A Peep into the Past (1935), which was given to the author of this article by his daughter and only child Mrs Marjorie Le Maistre of Harpenden many years ago. From this we can follow the rest of his education and subsequent career as an analytical chemist of considerable distinction.

His parents wished him to go to Cambridge and become an Anglican priest, following in the footsteps of many of his relations, but he found this idea repugnant to him as an agnostic. Fortunately his father gave him £300 p.a. instead and let him choose what he wanted to do next. Having visited other universities and technical colleges he finally decided to enrol at The Mason College of Science in Birmingham in October 1890. In June 1893 he gained the associateship with first class honours in chemistry. He then attended the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester where he obtained the honours diploma and was a prizeman in agricultural chemistry after two years. As a graduate of the College he remained there until June 1897 conducting further chemical studies along with Professor Edward Kinch (1848-1920). He then returned to Leamington Spa, to where his parents had retired.

After a few months, in October 1897, he returned to Mason College, Birmingham to carry out research work on vegetable oils under Professor Percy Frankland (1858-1946) and here he also commenced his life work on colours but left in June 1898. He was then offered a post at University College, London but by now he was married to his Remington cousin and both his parents and in-laws put pressure on him not to accept it saying 'it was too far away'. This was apparently was a post with great possibilities but he let it pass, a decision which later on he often regretted.

His Career

Between 1898 and 1901 the young couple lived in Lancaster and he was working , probably on his own, at an analytical laboratory in Corporation Street, Lancaster and at Aynsome House, Cartmel promoting himself as 'John Stewart Remington, M.R.A.C.,F.C.S., F.L.S., M.R.A.S.E.'  His large laboratory at Aynsome was designed for him by Austin and Paley of Lancaster in 1901, where he produced the smallest paper machine in the world and, in 1902, started the first model colour and paint department in England, from which other model plants in technical colleges were developed . At that time there were few facilities in Great Britain for training personnel for the colour, paint and varnish trades and dissemination of related technical knowledge so he decided to undertake this service for the north of England and Scotland. He invented the Remington dough jar used in the Remington testing process, enabling millers to keep their flour uniform and also as a guide to conditioning, which was used by ninety mills in Great Britain and others in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. Conscious of this achievement, he stated that these jars had been acknowledged to be the finest dough jars in the world.

In 1901 John started his own analytical and technical laboratories at Aynsome, Cartmel, where he remained until 1922, ‘when the laboratories passed into other hands’, on the sale of the Aynsome estate by his Remington cousins. He provides a detailed account of the work undertaken by his Aynsome Laboratories between 1900 and 1909 with a view to advancing the science of agriculture in the Furness and Cartmel districts in conjunction with his brother-in-law Thomas Machell Remington (1874-1938). They also worked Aynsome Farm and spent a good deal of their own money on erecting modern sanitary byres or cowsheds and a model dairy. Other projects included the improvement of mangles for sugar beet with the object of increasing the quantity of sugar extracted and testing many beet plots in Great Britain and Ireland. They also experimented upon the effect various potash salts had upon the yields of potato crops and the impact of manure upon different grasses and harvests of hay. Further research involved feeding different foods to dairy cows with a view to determining which were more beneficial to milk yields. In conjunction with Lancashire County Council, classes were given to the daughters of local farmers at the model dairy, followed by lantern slide lectures at the Cartmel Insitute. In addition the Remingtons carried out ‘a fairly complete’ survey of the soils of the Cartmel valley from East Plain, Cark to Newton and Newby Bridge, showing the amount of potash, nitrogen and phosphates to a depth of eighteen inches, coupled with advice to farmers with regard to manuring.

Another project was a survey of some 700 wells within the Ulverston Rural District Council, including in some cases their biological examination, as well as analysing the waters of Esthwaite Lake. Remington’s overall aim was to advance modern agricultural knowledge, though he often felt that his newspaper articles, bulletins, classes and lectures were little appreciated. However, time has shown that the results obtained have been confirmed by others to the lasting benefit of British Agriculture. His key achievements were in the sugar beet industry and with regard to later clean milk and butter regulations. He took a major part in the formation of The Cartmel Agricultural Society and was official botanist to The Royal Lancashire Agricultural Society. He also mentions the important work that the Aynsome Laboratories undertook in seed testing, beginning in 1902. In the following year, 697 samples were tested for merchants and farmers and he visited York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Leicester and Worcester, delivering lectures on the subject. In the last year of testing, between 1905 and 1906, 2,623 samples were surveyed. Five years later the National Seed Testing Laboratory was set up in Huntingdon Road, Cambridge and worked on similar lines. In addition, his research laboratories trained 200 students over a period of fifteen years.

In 1922 his Remington relatives sold the Aynsome estate and his laboratories passed into other hands but he remained in the area for a further four years, although what he was doing between 1922 and 1926 is unclear.

The Move to the South

In 1926 the family left Cumbria for Harpenden, Hertfordshire where Remington became the chief chemist to the Frickers Metal and Chemical Company Limited, a subsidiary of the Imperial Smelting Corporation, from 1928 until 1952, when he finally retired at the age of eighty after a career that spanned sixty years. Some of his most important work for Frickers Metal centred on the study of oxides (compounds of oxygen and another element) and new alkyd resins, used in protective coatings.

Remington published ten technical books, thirteen research papers and was granted six patents between 1899 and 1911. His book titles included Science and the Maufacturer (1905), The Education of Tomorrow (1907), Science and the Miller (1914), Seed Testing (1928), The Paint Laboratory Note Book (1st edition 1935, 4th edition 1950), Metallurgical Analysis and Assaying ( 1940), Pigments (1st edition 1944, 2nd edition 1949) and The Manure Note Book (1st edition 1943, 4th edition 1949), Drying Oils,Thinners and Varnishes ( 1946) and The Manure and Fertiliser Notebook (1953). The patents included improvements in the production of starch, dough testing apparatus relating to baking powders, and the means of production of self- raising flour. The papers he contributed between 1900 and 1926 included paper making clays, the conditioning of wheat, some notes on oil varnishes, the constitution of ultramarine and the composition and analysis of sheep dips.

His marriage and family life  

In 1898 John Stewart Remington married his first cousin Margaret Emily (1877-1959), daughter of his uncle the Revd Thomas Machell (1836-1900) of Aynsome, formerly rector of Claughton, Lancs between 1873 and 1885 who had married in 1867 Alice Maud, youngest daughter of Alfred Binyon (1800-1856; qv) of Merlewood, Grange-over-Sands. His wife was thus the first cousin of Laurence Binyon (1869-1943; ODNB), C.H., the scholar and poet. They had an only child Marjorie Noel Remington (1905-1986), who married in 1961, as his second wife, Alfred Villeneuve Le Maistre of Harpenden, Hertfordshire, but they had no children.

As shown above, Remington and his wife were closely related and Aynsome, Cartmel was a common link between them; it was here they spent most of their early years. However, in 1926 because of his new job, they moved to Harpenden, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Looking back in 1949 Remington concluded by saying that he had enjoyed an interesting life following his chosen profession as an analytical chemist, adding, somewhat enigmatically, that ‘of one thing I am sure, if we were starting married life again we would not have gone to Cartmel’ (Remington ms biography). Did this mean that he still regretted not taking up the London University offer, against which his family had advised him, as London was ‘too far away’ or did he perhaps feel that his efforts to improve Cumbrian agriculture had fallen largely on deaf ears.  Did he believe that the move elsewhere should have taken place much earlier?

His Death and Obituary

Margaret Remington died in 1959 and John Stewart Remington died on 16 November 1960 at his home Garthmead, Kinsbourne Green, Harpenden. He left a small estate of £1,216.

The Chemical and Industry magazine dated 10 December 1960 carried an obituary of Remington by W. Francis. Here he was acknowledged to be a distinguished analytical chemist whose pioneering efforts had made a significant contribution both to industry and to the modernization of agricultural practices. Remington had also been a poultry farmer and was an expert on old monumental brasses. Furthermore, after visiting every church in the county, he wrote an unpublished history of the church bells of Westmorland and was a keen bell ringer. His obituary concludes by saying that ‘his every thought and action was honourable and kind’ (Francis).


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  • Francis, W., obituary in Chemistry and Industry dated 10th December 1960, 1522/3
  • Ives, Eric et al, The First Civic University: Birmingham 1880-1980, an Introductory History, 2000, 12
  • The Law Lists, 1892 and 1905.
  • Malvern College Register, 1865-1924, Charles Murray, London, 1925, 176
  • Pine, L.G, (Editor), Burke’s Landed Gentry, 17th Edition, Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1952, 2142
  • Remington, John Stewart, A Peep into the Past, Titus Wilson and Son, Kendal, 1935
  • Remington’s short ms biography, entitled ‘Concerning myself’, bound into his own copy of his book A Peep into the Past (1935), now in the author’s possession.
  • Return of Owners of Land, 1873, Lancashire
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