Dickens and the connection to Ramsbottom
As part of the 25th Anniversary exhibition in 2012, members of the Heritage Society researched the relationship between Dickens and Ramsbottom, and whether the Cherryble Brothers were based on the Grant Brothers.
Here is the research
- William Grant married Grace McKenzie in February 1767.
- They were tenant farmers in Speyside, Scotland.
- Seven of their 8 children were born in Scotland, James(1768), William(1769), Elizabeth(1773), John(1775), Mary( 1777), Isabella(1780) and Daniel(1782).
- Grace and the older children looked after the farm. Mrs Grant proving to be a very resourceful and determined lady.
- William Snr. set up business as a part-time cattle dealer to help with the family finances.
- Several bad winters and poor harvests left the family facing famine, poverty and debt.
- In 1783 the whole family set off South to find employment in the cotton mills of Lancashire.
- After a 300 mile trek they stopped on the Park Estate, overlooking Ramsbottom. When William Snr. saw the valley below with the River Irwell flowing through it he said it reminded him of Speyside, except that the Irwell was not as large as the River Spey! They had no food or money left, they prayed to God and settled down for the night.
- In the morning two gentlemen, out shooting, noticed them and on hearing their story gave them two sovereigns. With money to find food and shelter they set off to find work.
Birth of a business
- James Dinwiddie, a fellow Scot and owner of Hampson Mill in Bury, gave James and William Jnr. jobs and helped the family to find a cottage at Hampson Bank. Later he also employed Elizabeth and John.
- William Snr. became an itinerant seller of small goods especially “fents”. He sold his wares at factory gates and round the public houses.
- One stormy day in November 1784 eight year old Mary set off for work at Hinds Mill on the other side of the River Irwell, but never arrived, her body was found some days later on the banks of the river. She is buried in Bank Street cemetery, Bury.
- Charles was born in 1788, their eighth and last child.
- By now the older boys were bleaching and printing cloth, in their spare time, (with the blessing of James Dinwiddie) for their fathers business.
- James left Bury, returned to Glasgow and set up his own textile business.
- Daniel began his training at Hampson Mill
- William Jnr. set up a family business in a modest shop in Bolton Street selling linen, woollens, checked and printed material. He travelled all over the North of England selling and promoting textiles. As the business prospered they moved again to bigger and more spacious premises in the centre of Bury.
In 1800 William Jnr. John and Daniel set up in business as William Grant and Brothers, Calico Printers and moved to premises in Manchester. They were later joined by Charles.
- Daniel became the firm’s commercial traveller, taking samples all over the North of England and to all the major market towns of Scotland.
- In 1806 William Jnr. and Elizabeth travelled back to Speyside to settle the debts the family had left behind in 1783. In the years that followed many gifts including money to help enterprising friends to set up in business and educate children was sent North. After the great floods of 1829 when many houses were swept away the Grants’ sent £100 to help rebuild.
- Also in 1806, back in Ramsbottom, they purchased the “Old Ground” printing works and estate from Sir Robert Peel, father of the famous Prime Minister. They had watched workmen build the factory in the valley so admired by their father in 1783. Sir Robert Peel had been drawn to the valley and its ample supply of clear spring water to set up a dozen buildings to house what was then a modern, complex fabric printing process.
- In 1812 the Grants purchased the Nuttall Spinning factory. They ordered new machinery, extended the building and provided new clothing for the employees.
- William was a model executive who had a good grasp of the whole business, who was able to motivate and manage the workers.
- John maintained the upkeep of all the buildings.
- Charles oversaw the modernisation of the whole printing process. He devised and built “The Square” to replace Peel’s rambling mill. It stood 3 storeys high and was said to be the most modern calico factory in Europe!
- Daniel had the vision and the drive to pursue the export of their goods overseas.
- Their wealth enabled them to buy properties such as Blackley Hall and Springside.
- William Snr. and Grace lived at Grant Lodge in Ramsbottom.
- Elizabeth died in 1808, William Snr. in 1817 and Grace in 1821 all laid to rest in Bank Street cemetery with Mary.
- In 1827 the brothers bought Park Estate and built Grant’s Tower to commemorate their father’s arrival in the valley.
- In 1834 St Andrews Church was completed, built at a cost of £5000, following the wishes of William Snr. and Grace.
- William Jnr. died in 1842 and Daniel died in 1855.
- Described in Nicholas Nickleby, they are first mentioned half way through the book.
- Known as Brother Charles and Brother Ned.
- Described as German Merchants.
- Arrived in London barefoot and penniless
- Place of business described as quiet, shady little square in East End.
- Ever on the alert to relieve helpless deserving poverty.
- Some hint that the brothers were uneducated when they first came to London.
- In the book they talk of their parents especially their Mother as being the very best of parents.
Similarities and Differences between the
Grants and the Cheeryble Brothers
- “Rags to Riches” stories
- Both brothers, however the Cheerybles were twins.
- Both made their fortunes away from their place of birth.
- Grants lived in Lancashire the Cheerybles in London.
- Both arrived in their new locations penniless
- Both had strong Mother’s however Mrs Grant lived to see her sons make their fortunes whilst Mrs Cheeryble did not.
- The Cheeryble brothers were ever on the alert to relieve the helpless deserving poor.
- Whilst most accounts of the Grants portray them as generous there are reports to suggest otherwise.
BASIS for CHARACTERS in DICKENS NOVELS
* Excerpt from “The Letters of Charles Dickens – Vol 1 (of 3), 1833-1856”
FURNIVAL’S INN, Wednesday Evening 1835
MY DEAREST KATE,
I have at this moment got Pickwick and his friends on the Rochester coach, and they are going on swimmingly, in company with a very different character from any I have yet described, who I flatter myself will make a decided hit. I want to get them from the ball to the inn before I go to bed; and I think that will take me until one or two o’clock at the earliest. The publishers will be here in the morning, so you will readily suppose I have no alternative but to stick at my desk.
THE CHARACTER of the GRANTS -NEGATIVE
* EXTRACT from a LETTER from WILLIAM ETTY (ARTIST) to his BROTHER WALTER
Blake Street - York, Thursday Night 5th Oct1837
“, I said £300 - for the two - as I wished to turn them into cash”
-----“he put down on the table a 100£ note and two fifties - I declined it - he threw down another 50 - I declined it and he pocketed the notes and pocket book; but I confess under all circumstances, when he had done so, and was seeing us out into the passage - and bidding us good-night, I felt sorry I had not bit,”
* Dr Peter McDouall’s Evidence to the Parliamentary Committee on the payment of wages. This considered the wages of Lancashire textile worker, - 17th June 1842
Even though the truck system had been banned by law 10 years before, this and the other abuses in payment of wages continued.
Workers couldn’t complain because they would be fired from their jobs if they did so.
They had no recourse to the law because the magistrates were often factory owners like the Grants. Even though it was against the law for magistrates to try cases of workers from their own (or their family and acquaintances factories) they often did so.
* EXTRACT from the PREFACE to NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
“With that intent I went down into Yorkshire before I began this book, in very severe winter time which is pretty faithfully described herein. As I wanted to see a schoolmaster or two, and was forewarned that those gentlemen might, in their modesty, be shy of receiving a visit from the author of the "Pickwick Papers,”
“Dickens was a frequent visitor to Manchester, taking the platform at Athenaeum meetings alongside reformers and notables such as Benjamin Disraeli.
He reputedly based the character of the crippled Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol on the son of a friend who owned an Ardwick cotton mill, while the Grant Brothers, William and Daniel, the Ramsbottom industrialists, were the prototypes for the Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby.”
THE BENEVOLENCE of the GRANTS
SUPPORTERS of the GRANTS ATTRIBUTE:
* FROM JAMES NASMYTH: ENGINEER, AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, EDITED BY SAMUEL SMILES, LL.D.
FIRST PUBLISHED 1883 – EXTRACTS FROM CHAPTER 10 (TAKING PLACE 1832)
“It was to the Messrs. Grant, the famous "Brothers Cheeryble" of Dickens. I was taken to their counting-house in Cannon Street, where I was introduced to Daniel Grant. Although business was at its full height, he gave me a cordial reception. But, to save time, he invited me to come after the Exchange was over and take "tiffin" with him at his hospitable mansion in Mosely Street.”
“He whispered to me, "Keep your heart up!" With such views, he said, I was sure to do well. And if, he added, on any Saturday night I wanted money to pay wages or other expenses, I would find a credit for £500 at 3 per cent at his office in Cannon Street, "and no security." These were his very words. What could have been more generous? I could only whisper my earnest thanks for his warm-hearted kindness.”
* THOMAS H HAYHURST – AN APPRECIATIVE ESTIMATE of the GRANT BROTHERS
DID the GRANTS MEET DICKENS in MANCHESTER?
* EXTRACT from the PREFACE of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
“Suffice it to say, that I believe the applications for loans, gifts, and offices of profit that I have been requested to forward to the originals of the BROTHERS CHEERYBLE (with whom I never interchanged any communication in my life) would have exhausted the combined patronage of all the Lord Chancellors since the accession of the House of Brunswick, and would have broken the Rest of the Bank of England.” * Harrison Ainsworth’s daughter communicates with S. M. Ellis 1911
“…a rather superogatory argument was waged recently in print as to whether Dickens ever actually met the Grants …. To settle this question once and for all, I am enabled to state on the best authority – that of Ainsworth’s daughter - that not only did Dickens meet the Grants in person, but that one of the objects of his visit to Manchester was on purpose to see them…”
p340 W. Harrison Ainsworth and his friends – 2V. 1911.
* James Grant Taylor’s letters to Ada Mary Grundy.
“In 1840, the uncles on their return from Manchester, when at tea, said to your mother, “My dear, who do you think had tiffen with us today – Mr. Dickens! And we asked him to come out with us and spend the night, but he was so sorry he could not come as he had an engagement elsewhere.” Your mother replied “I am glad he could not come, for he would be putting me in a book next time”, at this the uncles laughed!”
James Grant Taylor was the grandson of James Grant, a brother of the Cheerybles.
* WILLIAM HUME ELLIOT – THE COUNTRY and CHURCH of the CHEERYBLE BROTHERS