The James Brown Family -

53 years ago

The James Brown Family

The woollen cloth market in Leeds developed and grew between 1700 and 1780, the trade moving to purpose built Cloth Halls. James Brown was among the wealthy cloth merchants who traded both in Britain and overseas. Cloth manufacture is still a cottage industry and dyeing and finishing are carried out in small workshops attached to the merchant’s houses.


(1700's leeds)

Between 1780 and 1850 Leeds was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. Matthew Murray (1765-1826) was a pioneer engineer in Leeds, innovating a flax spinning machine and various versions of the steam engine. Benjamin Gott (1762-1840) incorporated all the processes of woollen manufacture under one roof at his factory at Bean Ing, and John Marshall (1765-1845), who between 1791 and 1792, constructed Marshall’s Mill, water drawn from the nearby Hol Beck to spin yarn; and Temple Works flax mill between 1836 and 1840 (below),  employing over 1,000 factory workers. So the population grew as the new employers demanded a larger workforce.

Six new industries thrived in Leeds: engineering, chemical, leather industries, clothing manufacture, footwear manufacture and printing all grew in Leeds.

James Brown

(1758 – 1813)

James Brown I (1758-1813) was one such merchant and manufacturer with premises in Woodhouse Lane Leeds. On 17 October 1785 he married Ann Williams and had three children, two sons, James and William Williams and one daughter Mary. Mary was born on 12 August 1790 but lived for only ten months.

In 18th Century Leeds, while poverty was rife, two-thirds of merchants in the town had an annual income of £200-£600. Today this would be worth roughly £500,000 – £1,500,000. Even in the late 1700s, £400 per year could pay for a large house and five servants. Until about 1780, many merchants still lived next to their business, in impressive houses of decorated stone and brick. Gradually, they began to move out of the city.

James Brown II


The eldest son James Brown II became Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace, joined his father as a merchant manufacturer at 15 Woodhouse Lane and Bagby Mills. Both father and son made a considerable fortune in the post-American War boom in the cloth trade. Harehills Grove Mansion, their showcase home, completed in 1817. During the 1830’s they purchased over 770 acres of land in the Potternewton area, which included land in Harehills and Gipton. In 1811, James Brown II married the daughter of Matthew Rhodes, a prominent Leeds merchant in the export trade to both America and Europe.

They had one son and three daughters. The elder daughter Charlotte Anne Brown, born 22 January 1813 and second daughter Mary Brown, was born 18 May 1815. James Brown’s third and youngest daughter was Anne Rhodes Williams Brown born 5 March 1819.

James Brown III


James Brown III was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, 1836-1840. Upon his father’s death in 1845, he inherited a considerable fortune, with which he purchased estates at Copgrove and Rossington to add to those already owned in Harehills, Gipton, Woodhouse, Bramley and Great George Street, Leeds. He was M.P. for Malton (1857-1875) and High Sheriff of Yorkshire (1852). He died on 19 April 1877.   This collection is largely concerned with the disposal of the Leeds estates after the death of James Brown by the trustees of his estate. They were generally sold off in lots to builders and developers, as the Harehills area in particular was developing rapidly at this time.  Among the beneficiaries were his daughter Mary (who married Thomas Shiffner, 2nd son of George Shiffner 1st Bart of Coombe, Sussex, in 1841) and granddaughter Anne Mary (daughter of Mary Shiffner, who married Sir Reginald Henry Graham, 8th Bart of Norton Conyers in 1876).

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