William Grimble Groves (1847-1927)

Written by Jean Warburton

Occupations: Brewer and Philanthropist

Life and family

William Grimble Groves was born on 3rd July 1847 in Liverpool, the eldest of ten children. His father was William Peer Grimble Groves (1817-1885), a vinegar maker and spirit merchant, son of William Grimble (later Groves) (1796-1847), a distiller and Elizabeth Peer (1795-1836). On 26th June 1845 in Liverpool, William Peer Grimble Groves married Elizabeth Ryan (1827-1908) the daughter of Thomas Ryan, a warehouse keeper. In 1852, the family emigrated to Australia and William Grimble Groves’ sister, Elizabeth, was born in Melbourne. The family returned to Liverpool in 1854 and had moved to Salford by 1861. William Grimble Groves was educated at Owen’s College, Manchester where he studied chemistry.

On 4th January 1875 at Chorlton Church in Manchester, William Grimble Groves married Eliza Ann Leigh (1852-1918) the daughter of John Mills Leigh (1817-1888) a master ironmonger and his wife, Elizabeth. They had two children, a daughter Edith (1878-1945) and a son, Henry Leigh (1880-1968; DCB). William Grimble Groves died on 24th June 1927 and was buried at Jesus Church, Troutbeck.


William Peer Grimble Groves established a partnership with Sir Felix Booth Bt FRS (1780-1850; ODNB) to make vinegar using spirits left after Booth’s gin manufacture in London. He also had a vinegar works in Salford where William Grimble Groves assisted his father as a clerk from 1863 onwards. When William Grimble Groves left college, he fitted out a laboratory at the works with his friend, Arthur William Whitnall (1847-1890), as they had decided to become manufacturing chemists. However, in 1868, William Grimble Groves entered into a partnership with his father and Arthur William Whitnall to purchase the Regent Road Brewery in Salford from Messrs Bathe and Newbold. This became the Groves and Whitnall Brewery. The partners determined that the way to success was to produce the finest ales and beers. To this end Arthur William Whitnall tested the ales of the 80 competing breweries in the area and poached the brewer from the one that he considered the best. This was highly successful as the Grove and Whitnall Brewery went from having no tied houses in 1868 to having 591 tied houses and 748 dwelling houses in 1898 with the whole enterprise being valued at more than £1 million. Charles Leigh (1855-1929), William Grimble Groves’ brother in law, ran a mineral water and bottling plant subsidiary to the brewery. William Grimble Groves became seriously ill in 1899 and had to give up management of the brewery which became a public limited company in the same year. 

Although William Grimble Groves retired from the brewery, he retained an interest in business as a director of Lakeland Nurseries, Thomas Mawson’s (1861 -1933; ODNB) company. He was very successful in business and left £514,746 when he died in 1927.


In 1897, William Grimble Groves purchased Holehird, a large house in the Gothic style, in Patterdale Road in Troutbeck and commuted from there to the brewery. The house had been built originally in 1854 for J R Lingard to the design of the architect Joseph Stretch Crowther (1820-1893) who extended the house for the second owner, John MacMillan Dunlop (1818-1878) a Manchester industrialist. William Grimble Groves added a library to the house using the architect Dan Gibson (1866-1907).

John MacMillan Dunlop had laid out formal gardens at Holehird and had a walled garden built with a range of greenhouses on the north wall. William Grimble Groves had a great interest in gardening. The garden at his house, The Larches, in Alderley Edge, Cheshire was famous and he had amassed there one of the largest collections of orchids in the country. Edward Robertshaw, William Grimble Groves’ gardener at the Larches who had trained at Trentham and Chatsworth, moved with him to Holehird. William Grimble Groves continued the development of the gardens by making a substantial rock garden and dammed a stream to create a picturesque tarn below the house. He commissioned Thomas Mawson (1861-1933; ODNB) to provide a new conservatory in the walled garden. The resultant glasshouses had a number of rooms, each individually controlled for temperature, for orchids, grapes, peaches, cucumbers and mushrooms. The gardens are now in the care of the Lakeland Horticultural Society and open to the public.

William Grimble Groves’ interest in gardening went beyond simply creating a picturesque garden at Holehird. He systematically recorded the daily rainfall figures at Holehird from 1903 to 1927. In 1914-1915, he was among those who sponsored Reginald Farrer (1880-1920; ODNB) and William Purdom (1880-1921) on a plant hunting expedition in Northwestern China.

Public service

William Grimble Groves was active in public service for much of his life. He was a councillor in Salford from 1883 to 1895 and a Justice of the Peace there from 1892 to 1910. When he moved to Holehird in 1897 he became a Justice of the Peace in Westmorland and frequently presided over the Windermere bench, remaining a JP until his death. He represented Windermere on the County Council from 1905 to 1919. An appreciation by an old friend in the Westmorland Gazette for 2nd June 1927 said that his sound common sense and probity were a great asset in the work of the County Council. He was also chairman of the Troutbeck Parish Committee.

When William Grimble Groves came to Holehird, he became a member of nearly all worthy local institutions and even if he did not take an active part, identified himself as a president, vice-president, patron or subscriber. He was a vice-president of the English Lake District Association and on the governing bodies of Windermere School and Starnthwaite Boys Home. He was also President of the Lake District Horticultural Society from 1919 to 1923 and chairman of the Queen Adelaide Hill Committee. The local scouts were another of his interests and he was a member of the Scout Association. His interests were wide and he was a member of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club and the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeology Society.


The appreciation of William Grimble Groves at his death by the Chairman of Windermere Council commenced by saying that ‘they were all aware of his benevolence and charity in the district and elsewhere but that he was sure that no one would know the innumerable kind actions of the late Mrs Groves and himself’. The Rector of Windermere Parish Church stated that William Grimble Groves was ‘one of the most philanthropic men I have ever known’. Among his known acts of philanthropy was the founding with his brother, James Grimble Groves MP (1854-1914), of the Salford Lads Club in 1903 and the provision of purpose built premises. William Grimble Groves endowed the Edith Cavell Home of Rest for Nurses in Windermere at Crossways in 1920 and also supported the Meathop Sanatorium. He supported the sick and suffering both by gifts to individuals and to hospitals, although the gifts were often made anonymously.

In 1926, William Grimble Groves offered £5,000 to Windermere Council towards the purchase and development of Ellerthwaite House and gardens as a site for a central library and meeting rooms. The house and gardens were conveyed to the Council in 1926. The alterations and lay-out of the grounds, to which he contributed much thought and planning during his final illness, were completed shortly before his death. The house contained a TocH room which was visited by the Prince of Wales seven days after William Grimble Groves died and his son, Henry, showed the Prince around Ellerthwaite.

William Grimble Groves was also interested in Diocesan affairs and he augmented poor benefices. In 1905, he commissioned Dan Gibson once again to design Holehird Cottage as a home for retired ministers and, in 1902, he contributed to the cost of extending the churchyard at Troutbeck.


The Chairman of Windermere Council at the time of William Grimble Groves’ death said that he ‘could not better describe him than as an English gentleman who at all times commanded the highest respect’. That respect was shown by the attendance at his funeral which was probably the biggest concourse of mourners that Troutbeck had ever known. The many positions in public service held and the acts of philanthropy carried out by William Grimble Groves show that he well appreciated what was expected of a man of his position in both the town and the county. However, an old friend giving an appreciation at the time of his death stressed that he shunned, rather than sought public life and that his chief aim in life was a constant endeavour to be doing good which he did in a most unobtrusive way. 

William Grimble Groves was a man who was constantly sought by those with troubles and difficulties. He was a wise and sympathetic listener and was careful to think how he could best assist. He was noted for his fairness and love of justice when dealing with all matters brought to his attention. His nature can be seen from the fact that two of his live-in servants came with him from Alderley Edge to Holehird and were still part of his household when he died. William Grimble Groves was noted as a man of exceeding great courtesy having the same courtesy for the poorest man walking on the road as the greatest lady in the land. As a Justice of the Peace, he believed in tempering justice with mercy and was loath to impose a severe penalty where a fatherly appeal would answer the purpose.

William Grimble Groves’ faith was important to him. He took a deep interest in all the affairs of Windermere Parish Church and beyond to Troutbeck and the Diocese of Carlisle. He was regarded as a good and religious man who never sought the limelight and chose to live a life of unselfish simplicity.

Primary sources

  • England and Wales Census 1851-1911
  • Manchester Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1915
  • Liverpool Church of England Marriages and Banns 1754-1935
  • Manchester Church of England Marriages and Banns 1754-1930
  • England Select Marriages 1538-1973
  • Civil Registration Death Index 1916-2007
  • National Probate Calendar Index of Wills and Administrations 
  • Westmorland Gazette 2nd July 1927; 27th May 2011

Secondary sources

  • Ian Jones, The House of Hird, (2002)
  • Ian Jones, The Royal Windermere Yacht Club Celebrates 150 Years 1860-2010, (2010)
  • M Hyde and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England Cumbria, (2010)
  • M Hyde and E Whittaker, Arts and Crafts Houses in the Lake District, (2014)
  • T Longville, Gardens of the Lake District, (2007)
  • UK and Ireland Find a Grave Index
  • https://www.britishbottleforum.co.uk/webpage/?p=216
  • https://holehirdgardens.org.uk/holehird-gardens/history-of-gardens
  • https://salfordladsclub.org.uk/about/history