Joseph Ridgway Bridson (1831-1901)

Joseph Ridgway Bridson

Written by Kevin Grice

Family Background

Joseph Ridgway Bridson Sr. was born in Horwich near Bolton on 10th April 1831 and he was baptised there at Holy Trinity Church on 22nd May 1832. His second Christian name is sometimes given as ‘Ridgeway’ in records but his baptism certificate is clear. The Bridson family came from Ballasalla on the Isle of Man and his long line of Manx ancestors can be traced back at least as far as the early 17th century. They included several Members of the House of Keys, an Attorney-General of the island and merchants engaged in the three-cornered West Indies rum and slave trade. The family were instrumental in the establishment of the Isle of Man Railway Company in 1845 and also owned several banks. They have a Manx coat of arms and a motto ‘Tutus in Undis’ or ‘safe on the waves’. Joseph’s paternal grandfather Paul Bridson (1766-1820), another Member of the House of Keys, married Mary Ridgway (1772-1817) on 19th September 1793. She was the daughter of Thomas Ridgway (1739-1816), a cotton bleacher of Wallsuches near Horwich in Lancashire. It was the first connection of the Bridsons with that area and that trade and thereafter many of them, male and female, were given ‘Ridgway’ as a final Christian name. Paul and Mary had nine children, mostly born on the Isle of Man, although their eldest son Thomas Ridgway Bridson, Joseph’s father, was born on 10th June 1795 in Horwich.

Thomas Bridson was educated in Ormskirk to a basic level and as a young man spent some time serving in the Army in India. He became thereafter however a self-educated man of considerable ability, particularly in the field of textile engineering. He worked at first at the Wallsuches Bleachworks (established 1791) belonging to his father-in-law but then became proprietor of Lever Bank Bleachworks at Little Lever to the north of Bolton in about 1828. These works were socially advanced, having their own library and reading room with a subscription of one penny per week. In time he also purchased the Bolton Bleach and Dye Works in Chorley Street nearer to the town centre which had been established in the late 18th century. His company was first known as Thomas Ridgway Bridson & Sons and later became T R Bridson & Sons Limited. They were bleachers, dyers and printers of calico, linen and cotton using revolutionary processes, many invented by Thomas Bridson himself. In particular in 1840 he patented a way of applying an elastic finish to these fabrics and this made his fortune. The combined works in Great Bolton and Little Lever were the largest employers in the whole of Bolton by the mid-1840’s and a decade later they were the largest firm of dyers in England. The cast iron elephants that flanked the Marks & Spencer Charity Canopy between Newport Street and Victoria Square in Bolton until October 2014 originally stood on the gateposts of Bridson’s Bleachworks in Chorley Street until its demolition in 1977 and the Bridsons were wealthy enough to display the family crest on a lavish dinner service which they had made for them in Staffordshire.

Thomas Bridson was appointed Borough-reeve for Great Bolton in 1839. The following year he accompanied the Borough-reeve of Little Bolton to London to present Queen Victoria with the address of congratulation from the inhabitants of Bolton on her marriage to Prince Albert. He was a prominent Freemason, a Town Councillor for Derby Ward between 1842 and 1848, a member of the Watch Committee, a Commissioner of the Peace from 1845 and was the Conservative Mayor of Bolton in 1847-8. In 1849 he was the President of Bolton Mechanics Institute and the unsuccessful Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Bolton. He retired from running the textile company in 1854 and the following year he moved from his residence at Bridge House in Horwich to Mornington House in Southport. Thomas Bridson was made a Commissioner of the Peace for the county of Lancaster in the West Derby Hundred and a local newspaper reported that ‘While administering justice with impartiality, his leaning was towards mercy’s side.’ He was an ex officio member of the Ormskirk Board of Guardians and one of the commissioners for the improvement of Southport. His arrival in 1855 had coincided with a hectic period in the town’s history following the Improvement Act of 1846 and the process in which he was involved led in time to the Incorporation Act of 1867 He died at Mornington House on 24th January 1863, aged 67 and is buried in Horwich Church. He was also the great-great-great-grandfather of Tony Blair, Prime Minister 1997-2007, whose paternal grandmother was May Augusta Ridgway Bridson (1886-1969).

On 20th March 1819 Thomas Bridson married Sarah Matthews (1795-1866), the daughter of Henry Matthews (1763-1822) of Liverpool, who was also a cotton bleacher and dyer as well as being involved in the importation of the raw materials into his home city through the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. They had 12 children, six sons and six daughters of whom Joseph Ridgway Bridson Sr. was the fourth son. Of his brothers, one died in infancy in 1821 and three went into the military. Thomas (1823-1867) was a Major in the Lancashire Fusiliers, Arthur Poyntz (1835-1856) was an Ensign in the 1st Royal Regiment and William Paul (1838-1900) was a Captain in the 4th Kings Own Regiment of Foot. Joseph’s other brother Henry (known as Harry) (1825-1880) however joined the family business in Bolton as a master bleacher (and in time jointly owned it with Joseph), although he did marry the daughter of a Colonel in the Indian Army. Of Joseph’s sisters, one died in infancy, one died in her teens, two married Lancashire clergymen and the other two married soldiers, including a Lieutenant-General. His mother Sarah Bridson died also in Southport on 20th May 1866.

Life and Own Family

Joseph Ridgway Bridson Sr. was educated locally, being resident on the 1841 Census at a school in St George’s Terrace in Bolton-le-Moors. Although he had two elder surviving brothers and Harry had already gone into the business, it was Joseph who was to take over the responsibility of running of family concerns on the retirement of his father, although he was only 23 years of age, and it was he who took up residence at Bridge House when his parents moved to Southport. He described himself on the 1861 Census as a master bleacher and finisher of calico and had four servants. On 1st July 1857 at All Saints Church in Little Bolton, he married Margaret Woodhouse (born Christmas Eve 1836) the daughter of John Woodhouse (1805-1882) of Little Bolton. They had six children, four daughters and two sons. Their daughters were Ethel (1862-1953), Constance Mary (1864-1949), Mabel (1866-1936) and Marguerite (known as Greta) Josephine (1870-1951). All were born in Bolton except for Marguerite who was born in Windermere whilst her family were in residence there at Belle Isle.

Their eldest son Arthur Paul Bridson was born on 27th September 1859. He was educated at Harrow and Magdalen College Oxford where he gained an MA. His wife Catherine Day Harrison (1862-1944) was the heiress to Water Park at High Nibthwaite on the south-east shore of Coniston and was a relative of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Arthur was a Captain in the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry, a JP for Lancashire and Westmorland and was active in public work in and around Ulverston. He was also an antiquary, a member of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society from 1908 and wrote numerous books and articles on local history. His ‘Sidelights on Mediaeval Windermere’, with illustrations by his brother, was published in 1911. He changed his surname to Brydson by Deed Poll in 1901 after the death of his father and died at Water Park on 25th January 1922, aged only 62.

Their youngest son Joseph Ridgway Bridson Jr. was born on 13th August 1861. He enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1876 at age 15 and the following year was a midshipman on HMS Shah, one of the Royal Navy’s first ironclad ships, when it fought and captured the Peruvian ironclad Huascar which was raising ‘a piratical campaign’ in the South Atlantic. He rose steadily through the ranks, was decorated in the First World War and was Officer Commanding of RN Barracks in Portsmouth in 1918-1920. He attained the rank of full Admiral in 1924 and then retired to Petersfield in Hampshire where he died on 3rd September 1933. His wife Katherine Mary Kenny (1867-1948) came originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia but, after their marriage at St George’s Hanover Square in 1896, she settled in England with her husband and also died in Hampshire.

Joseph Bridson Sr. continued to run the family business from 1854 onwards but he had many other interests which he was able to follow, as the business clearly prospered under the management of its senior employees and his brother Harry. He was an accomplished musician, playing both cello and flute, and Bridge House was extended with an apartment being built especially to house his collection of musical instruments. He was President of the Bolton Philharmonic Society from 1873 and also of the Bolton Operatic Society. Joseph was also an enthusiastic and talented amateur photographer, winning many prizes for his scenic views at London exhibitions. He became President of the Bolton Photographic Society and was also Chairman of Bolton Cricket Club. He was Captain in charge of the 27th Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps based in Bolton from its inception in 1860 until he resigned in 1865, a role he did not replicate in Windermere as his close friend George Ridehalgh held that position with the 5th Westmorland (Windermere) RVC, but he was still often known as Captain Bridson in Windermere circles thereafter.

Lake District Life 

Joseph Bridson Sr. had also always harboured a passion for sailing and during the 1850’s he became one of the increasingly large number of Lancashire industrialists spending summer months on and around Lake Windermere, their arrival being greatly assisted by the rail link to Windermere which had opened in 1847. His engineering background from the family business meant that he also took a keen interest in the design and performance of the yachts in question. The failure of the poorly-enforced handicapping system on the lake, which had become patent in the 1859 season, made it obvious that order and fairness needed to be introduced to emphasise the skill of the helmsman. It was agreed that this could best be achieved under the umbrella of an exclusive club, where like-minded gentlemen could compete within a framework of rules. Accordingly on 16th January 1860 the Windermere Sailing Club (now the Royal Windermere Yacht Club) was founded and Joseph Bridson Sr. was a Founder Member and, along with his close friend George Aufrère (qv), is regarded as the joint father of the Club, although he was only 28 years of age. He was to be its Commodore in 1866, 1874, 1877, 1880, 1883 and 1893. He also acted as one of the Stewards for both yachting regattas and the Ferry Inn Games held during that period.

Joseph Bridson Sr. had initially sailed a yacht named ‘Maggie’ after his wife but in 1861 he commissioned a new yacht ‘Jilt’ from Dan Hatcher (1817-1880) of Southampton, the first yacht specifically designed for racing on Windermere. She was a powerful vessel with a 25 foot waterline length and a clipper bow, decked, with a cockpit and a cabin with a coach house roof. She was designed for speed and according to a chronicle of the day ‘she simply romped away from the fleet and won everything; and no time allowance could handicap her.’ Others objected but her success was a revelation to the Windermere yachting fraternity and changed the character of the Windermere racing yacht for ever. The success of ‘Jilt’ put an end to handicap racing and eventually led to the adoption in 1867 of one class, with a 20 foot length limit on the waterline.

In 1864 Joseph Bridson Sr. purchased the smaller yacht ‘Meteor’ and ‘Jilt’ was relegated to cruising duties, a role that she performed for many years. She did however take part in a private sailing match for a prize of £5 in August 1870 with ‘Leda’ owned by Henry Schneider (1817-1887) the iron magnate of Belsfield, a race she lost when her mast broke and she had to be towed back to her mooring at Belle Isle by a steam launch. It was recorded that as she passed the Ferry Pier ‘the crippled favourite of Windermere was greeted with three ringing cheers by her old admirers on races gone by.’ In 1868, in order to comply with the new rules, Joseph Bridson Sr. returned to Dan Hatcher for a new 20 foot yacht ‘Darling’ but her performance was disappointing and in 1870 she was replaced by another Hatcher-designed yacht ‘Breeze’ which performed better. She had a deep keel with an extensive sweep fore and aft and a vertical cutter bow, a fashion which persisted well into the twentieth century. He also owned the steam launch ‘Glow Worm’ in which he sailed between the shore and his various residences as well as around the lake itself when not racing.

In the early 1860’s Joseph Bridson Sr. rented Waterside Cottage (next to the Old England Hotel) in Bowness as his summer residence and then in 1866 he took a lease on The Round House on Belle Isle from the Curwens and where he owned a flock of St Kilda sheep. He had the detached billiard room on the west side of the main house built for him and effected other minor alterations. On the 1881 Census the family had seven servants living in, with a further three including a boatman in an adjacent cottage. This rental arrangement continued for almost twenty years until in 1885 Joseph Bridson Sr. decided to build his own Lake District house.

The site chosen was on the wooded western bank of the lake at Far Sawrey and the Bolton-based architect Richard Knill Freeman (1838-1904) was commissioned to design it. It was a substantial, L-shaped gable house built in a half-timbered style with tile-hanging and called Bryerswood. It had large bow-shaped ground floor windows facing south-west both to capture the sun and glimpses of the lake and an area below it on which the Bridsons wanted a garden. This was laid out by Thomas Mawson (1861-1933) in 1887, his first major commission, and its appeal to all who visited, both from the Sailing Club and beyond, laid the foundations for its designer’s success over the following years in the Lake District and then further afield. It was at Bryerswood for example that Thomas Mawson met both Capt. Jocelyn Fitzroy Bagot (1854-1913) of Levens Hall and Col. Thomas Myles Sandys (1837-1911) of Graythwaite Hall, for both of whom he later worked. On the 1891 Census the Bridson family had five servants living in the house and there was also no doubt a retinue of gardeners employed to maintain the grounds, which included lawns, herbaceous borders, pleasure gardens, ponds and a kitchen garden. Sadly the house was demolished in 1956/7 and replaced by a modern building in 1964 but some of the original garden remains, in particular the walled kitchen garden with its greenhouses, together with a boiler of indeterminate age still used to help grow tender plants.

Joseph Bridson Sr. was a JP for both Lancashire (from 1860) and Westmorland (from 1872), served on the Grand Jury at Lancaster Assizes in 1870 and 1883 and was a member of the Board of Conservators for the local river fishery areas in 1886-1888. He was nominated for High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1884 but Thomas Brooks, First Baron Crawshaw, of Rawtenstall was preferred. Joseph Bridson Sr. also performed many local social functions such as being Chairman of the Patrons of the Bazaar held for the opening of the New Ferry Hotel in September 1881. Margaret Bridson was also heavily involved in this event, being in charge of the first stall ‘on which some pleasing and costly items were offered for sale’ including painted China and peacock feather parasols. The event raised £530, a staggering sum considering that the total cost of building the new hotel was only £1,798. Joseph Bridson Sr. was also able to continue his passions for music and photography in the Lake District, becoming President of the Windermere Music Guild and continuing to show his photographs at exhibitions locally and in London. He was also a member of the Thirlmere Defence Association in 1877 and Chairman of Hawkshead Agricultural Society in 1879.

Later life

Joseph and Margaret sold Bryerswood in the spring of 1900 although he continued to own coppice woods in the area as well as Scutcheon House in Far Sawrey, which he let to his long-term employees Mr and Mrs Jackson. He added a new barn to this house in 1891, in which a tea party was held to celebrate its opening. In June 1900 Joseph and Margaret moved to a house called Holybourne in Alton in Hampshire where Joseph died only twelve months later on 19th June 1901. His Probate was granted out of the London Registry on 20th August that year with his widow, eldest son Arthur and nephew Harry as executors. He made settlements on both his sons, set up trusts for his four daughters and left to his widow £500 and use of his goods and chattels (including all his horses and carriages) for the remainder of her life. Margaret had a memorial window to her late husband installed in Sawrey Parish Church the following year. She however survived him by less than two years, returning from Hampshire to live locally at Broom Hill in Broughton-in-Furness where she died on 11th February 1903. Joseph’s personal effects alone were valued at £7,441 at his death and their sale after Margaret’s death took seven days. The catalogue details a fine collection of china, furniture and works of art as well as four carriages and the present day value of these alone would be in the region of £500,000.


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