Sir John Brunner, 1st Baronet

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Sir John Brunner

John Brunner.jpg
John Brunner in 1885
John Tomlinson Brunner

8 February 1842 (1842-02-08)
Died1 July 1919 (1919-08) (aged 77)
Chertsey, Surrey, England
EducationSt. George's House, Everton
Occupation Chemical industrialist, politician
Title Baronet
Spouse(s)Salome Davies
Jane Wyman
Children John Fowler Leece, 2nd Baronet, Grace, Harold Roscoe,
Mabel Alicia, Hilda, Maud Mary, Ethel Jane
Parent(s)John Brunner
Margaret Catherine Curphey

Sir John Tomlinson Brunner, 1st Baronet, DL (8 February 1842 – 1 July 1919) was a British chemical industrialist and Liberal Party politician. At Hutchinson's alkali works in Widnes he rose to the position of general manager. There he met Ludwig Mond, with whom he later formed a partnership to create the chemical company Brunner Mond & Co., initially making alkali by the Solvay process. As a Member of Parliament he represented Northwich, Cheshire, in 1885–1886 and then from 1887–1910. He was a paternalistic employer and as a politician supported Irish Home Rule, trade unions, free trade, welfare reforms and, leading up to the First World War, a more sympathetic stance towards Germany. Brunner was a prominent Freemason, and a generous benefactor to the towns in his constituency and to the University of Liverpool. He is the great grandfather of the Duchess of Kent.

Liberal Party (UK) political party of the United Kingdom, 1859–1988

The Liberal Party was one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom with the opposing Conservative Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The party arose from an alliance of Whigs and free trade Peelites and Radicals favourable to the ideals of the American and French Revolutions in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone. Despite being divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to government in 1905 and then won a landslide victory in the following year's general election.

John Hutchinson (industrialist) British chemist and businessman

John Hutchinson was a chemist and industrialist who established the first chemical factory in Widnes, Lancashire, England. He moved from working in a chemical factory in St Helens and built his own chemical factory in 1847 in the Woodend area of Widnes near to Widnes Dock by the junction of the Sankey Canal and the River Mersey. In this factory he manufactured alkali by the Leblanc process.

In chemistry, an alkali is a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal chemical element. An alkali also can be defined as a base that dissolves in water. A solution of a soluble base has a pH greater than 7.0. The adjective alkaline is commonly, and alkalescent less often, used in English as a synonym for basic, especially for bases soluble in water. This broad use of the term is likely to have come about because alkalis were the first bases known to obey the Arrhenius definition of a base, and they are still among the most common bases.


Early life and career

John Tomlinson Brunner was born in Everton, Liverpool, the fourth child and second son of John Brunner (b. 20 June 1800), a Swiss Unitarian and schoolmaster, and Margaret Catherine Curphey (d. 8 September 1847), who originated from the Isle of Man, daughter of Thomas Curphey and wife Margaret Leece. His father established a school in Netherfield Road, Everton, known as St George's House, to teach children along the lines advocated by Pestalozzi. [1] Brunner's mother died in 1847, when he was aged five; his father married Nancy Inman in 1851. She had a shrewd business sense and Brunner gave credit to her for teaching him skills in practical matters. [2] Brunner was educated at his father's school and then, at the age of 15, he decided to follow a career in commerce. [3] He spent four years in a shipping house in Liverpool, but found it neither exciting nor lucrative, and so decided on a change of career. [4] In 1861, Brunner took a clerical post at Hutchinson's alkali works in Widnes, where his older brother Henry was already working as technical manager. [5] There, he rose to the position of general manager. Shortly after starting work at Hutchinson's, Brunner met the German-born chemist Ludwig Mond. [3]

Everton, Liverpool district in Liverpool, in Merseyside, England

Everton is a district in Liverpool, in Merseyside, England, and a Liverpool City Council ward. Historically in Lancashire, at the 2001 Census the population was recorded as 7,398, increasing to 14,782 at the 2011 Census.

Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity which in many other branches of Christianity defines God as three persons in one being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.

Isle of Man British Crown dependency

The Isle of Man, sometimes referred to simply as Mann, is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann and is represented by a lieutenant governor. Defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

Brunner Mond and Company

In 1873 Brunner formed a partnership with Mond and together they founded Brunner Mond & Company. [3] Their initial capital was less than £20,000 (£1.7 million in 2019), [6] most of which was borrowed. [7] In April 1872 Mond had been to Belgium to meet Ernest Solvay to negotiate terms to manufacture alkali by the process Solvay had developed. The Solvay process produced soda ash more cheaply than the established Leblanc process, from raw materials which were more easily obtainable, and produced fewer waste products. [8] Mond made a gentlemen's agreement with Solvay to apportion the global markets, with Mond's company having exclusive rights to the United States and to the British Isles. [9]

Ernest Solvay Belgian chemist, industrialist, philanthropist

Ernest Gaston Joseph Solvay was a Belgian chemist, industrialist and philanthropist.

The Solvay process or ammonia-soda process is the major industrial process for the production of sodium carbonate (soda ash, Na2CO3). The ammonia-soda process was developed into its modern form by Ernest Solvay during the 1860s. The ingredients for this are readily available and inexpensive: salt brine (from inland sources or from the sea) and limestone (from quarries). The worldwide production of soda ash in 2005 has been estimated at 42 million metric tons, which is more than six kilograms (13 lb) per year for each person on Earth. Solvay-based chemical plants now produce roughly three-quarters of this supply, with the remainder being mined from natural deposits. This method superseded the Leblanc process.

Sodium carbonate chemical compound

Sodium carbonate, Na2CO3, (also known as washing soda, soda ash and soda crystals) is the inorganic compound with the formula Na2CO3 and its various hydrates. All forms are white, water-soluble salts. All forms have a strongly alkaline taste and give moderately alkaline solutions in water. Historically it was extracted from the ashes of plants growing in sodium-rich soils. Because the ashes of these sodium-rich plants were noticeably different from ashes of wood (once used to produce potash), sodium carbonate became known as "soda ash". It is produced in large quantities from sodium chloride and limestone by the Solvay process.

Brunner and Mond decided to build their factory at Winnington, near Northwich, Cheshire on land owned by Lord Stanley of Alderley. This was sited on the River Weaver which allowed for the transport of the raw materials and finished products to and from the works. Lord Stanley insisted on selling the house, Winnington Hall, as well as the surrounding land, as part of the deal. The purchase was completed in 1873, and for a time both Mond and Brunner lived separately in the wings of the hall. [10] The early years were extremely difficult, initially in getting the plant to work efficiently and then in selling the soda ash. It was not until 1878 that success was achieved when they outsold their competitors and were producing their products more cheaply. [11] In 1881, the partnership was converted into a limited company with capital assets listed at £600,000 (£5.9 million in 2019) [6] and the founders became managing directors for life. [12] In 1891, Brunner became the chairman and retained that position until April 1918, 14 months before his death. However, by then his duties were being increasingly performed by his son, Roscoe. [13]

Winnington village in United Kingdom

Winnington is a small, mainly residential area of the town of Northwich in Cheshire, England.

Northwich town in Cheshire

Northwich is a town and civil parish in the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It lies in the heart of the Cheshire Plain, at the confluence of the rivers Weaver and Dane. The town is about 18 miles (29 km) east of Chester and 15 miles (24 km) south of Warrington. 19 miles south of Manchester and 12 miles south of Manchester Airport. Northwich has been named as one of the best places to live in the United Kingdom according to The Sunday Times in 2014. Northwich is an area of High Growth, with the Winsford and Northwich Locality having a population of over 108,000 in 2018, this has grown from 100,000 in 2011. With an estimated population of 125,000 by 2030. Northwich itself with the Proposed 6,000 new homes being built will have a population of over 85,000 by 2030.

Cheshire County of England

Cheshire is a county in North West England, bordering Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south and Flintshire, Wales and Wrexham county borough to the west. Cheshire's county town is the City of Chester (118,200); the largest town is Warrington (209,700). Other major towns include Crewe (71,722), Ellesmere Port (55,715), Macclesfield (52,044), Northwich (75,000), Runcorn (61,789), Widnes (61,464) and Winsford (32,610)

After its slow start, Brunner Mond & Company became the wealthiest British chemical company of the late 19th century. On its merger with three other British chemical companies to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926, it had a market capitalization of over £18 million (£1.03 billion in 2019). [6] Brunner's sobriquet, "Chemical Croesus", was given to him by The Times . [3] He was a paternalistic employer and went to great lengths to improve the situation of his employees. Measures introduced by Brunner and Mond were shorter working hours, sickness and injury insurance, and holidays with pay. [3] [14]

Imperial Chemical Industries company

Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was a British chemical company and was, for much of its history, the largest manufacturer in Britain. It was formed by the merger of leading British chemical companies in 1926. Its headquarters were at Millbank in London, and it was a constituent of the FT 30 and later the FTSE 100 indices.

Market capitalization total value of a public companys outstanding shares

Market capitalization is the market value of a publicly traded company's outstanding shares. Market capitalization is equal to the share price multiplied by the number of shares outstanding. As outstanding stock is bought and sold in public markets, capitalization could be used as an indicator of public opinion of a company's net worth and is a determining factor in some forms of stock valuation.

A sobriquet or soubriquet is a nickname, sometimes assumed, but often given by another. Distinct from a pseudonym, it usually is a familiar name used in place of a real name without the need of explanation, often becoming more familiar than the original name.


Statue of John Brunner in Winnington, Cheshire Northwich - John Brunner Statue.jpg
Statue of John Brunner in Winnington, Cheshire

During the years he was working at Hutchinson's in Widnes, Brunner was developing his political interests. He joined the Widnes chapter of the National Education League and became its secretary in 1872. [15] This gave him the opportunity to come into contact with Liberals from Liverpool and other parts of the country. [16] Soon after moving to Northwich Brunner became more practically involved with education locally, in particular with the British School in the town. He later served on its board of governors and also on the local sanitary authority. [17] As a result of the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 the parliamentary constituency of Northwich was created and Brunner offered himself as a candidate for the Liberal Party. [18] In his speech for the position he expressed support for the disestablishment of the Church of England, for reform of property laws, for Irish Home Rule and for compensation for those whose properties had been damaged by the pumping of brine from the salt mines in the area. [19] During the campaign he was heckled because he had a foreign-sounding name. He responded "My father was a Swiss, my mother was a Manx woman, I was born in Liverpool, my nurse was Welsh: is that Cheshire enough for you?" [20] At the general election on 1 December 1885 Brunner beat William Henry Verdin, his Conservative rival, with a majority of 1,028. [21]

The National Education League was a political movement in England and Wales which promoted elementary education for all children, free from religious control.

British and Foreign School Society

The British and Foreign School Society (BFSS) offers charitable aid to educational projects in the UK and around the world by funding schools, other charities and educational bodies. In the 19th century it supported free British Schools and teacher training; it continued in the latter role until the 1970s.

Redistribution of Seats Act 1885

The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was a piece of electoral reform legislation that redistributed the seats in the House of Commons, introducing the concept of equally populated constituencies, a concept in the broader global context termed equal apportionment, in an attempt to equalise representation across the UK. It was associated with, but not part of, the Representation of the People Act 1884.

The Liberal Party won more seats than any other party in the election, but insufficient to form a majority government, leaving the Irish Parliamentary Party holding the balance of power. It proved impossible to form a stable government, and so another general election was called in June 1886. [22] In the meantime, the Liberal Party had split, and the Liberal Unionist Party had been formed. Brunner's opponent at the 1886 election was William Henry Verdin's brother, Robert, standing as a Liberal Unionist. [23] The election was held on 13 July 1886, and Brunner was defeated by 458 votes. [24] In November 1886, Brunner embarked on a world tour, accompanied by his wife and his son Stephen. His return to Northwich on 2 July 1887 was greeted with great celebration, as he was extremely popular in the town, regarded as a kind and sympathetic employer and a generous benefactor. [25] Within three weeks of Brunner's return, Robert Verdin died [26] and a by-election was called. Brunner's opponent was Lord Henry Grosvenor, who was standing as a Liberal Unionist. [27] This time, at the election on 13 August, Brunner won with a majority of 1,129. [28]

After the 1889 Armagh rail disaster, Brunner opposed moves to regulate safety on railways, saying during a debate on 2 August that safety should be left in the hands of "those who understand these matters best", i.e. the railway companies. But the government moved rapidly to have railway operations and safety supervised by the Board of Trade.

At the 1892 general election, Brunner's opponent was not a Liberal Unionist, but a Conservative, George Whiteley, who was a cotton manufacturer from Blackburn. Brunner was returned with an increased majority of 1,255. [29] In the 1895 election he beat Thomas Ward, another Conservative, by 1,638 votes. [30] The 1900 general election was held during the Boer War, to which Brunner was opposed. He retained his seat, but with a reduced majority of 699. [31] In the 1906 general election, Brunner's opponent was the Conservative Colonel B.N. North who had fought in the Boer War. Brunner increased his majority to 1,792. [32] He continued to be the Member of Parliament for Northwich until the general election in January 1910, when he decided not to stand again, partly because of his own health and also because of concern for his wife's health. [33] Subsequently, he moved to Surrey, but continued to play a part in politics when he was elected to the Chertsey division of Surrey County Council. [34]

As a Liberal MP he supported Irish Home Rule, trade unions, free trade and welfare reforms. [3] Leading up to the First World War he argued that Britain should adopt a more sympathetic approach towards Germany, including naval disarmament. [35] When war did break out, Brunner was resolute in the opinion that it should be fought and won. In addition to the production of alkali, his factories were making other chemicals for use as explosives. He also built a new factory to purify trinitrotoluene. [36]


Brunner was a generous benefactor whose gifts included the provision of schools, guildhalls and social clubs. In Northwich he provided a free library [3] and re-endowed Sir John Deane's Grammar School. [37] In Runcorn he purchased a disused chapel and presented it to the town to be used by the trades unions and the Friendly Societies, [38] and in nearby Weston village he bought a disused school and gave it to the local community to serve as its village hall. [39] He also endowed the chairs of economics, physical chemistry and Egyptology (the Brunner Professorships) at the University of Liverpool. [40]

Abroad he gave gifts to the Landesmuseum in Zürich and provided a hospital, also in Switzerland. [3] In 1885 he became a Freemason and in 1900 founded the John Brunner Lodge at Over Winsford. The following year he was honoured with the brevet rank of Past Grand Deacon of England. [40]

In 1899 Brunner (who had by then been created a baronet) became chairman of the Runcorn and Widnes Transporter Bridge Company. He subscribed £25,000 (£2.8 million in 2019) [6] towards its construction plus a loan of £12,000 (£1.3 million in 2019) [6] together with a personal guarantee on a bank loan of £31,000 (£3.4 million in 2019). [6] When the building of the bridge was complete in 1905 it was due to be opened by Edward VII, but the king was unable to attend, and so Brunner performed the ceremony himself. [41] By 1911 it had become apparent that the bridge would always operate at a loss, and Brunner assigned his interest in it to Widnes Corporation. The Times stated that this action amounted to a "virtual gift of £68,000" (£6.8 million in 2019). [6] [38]

Personal life

Brunner believed that his success owed much to the "courage and independence of thought" that he derived from his Unitarian faith and recalled the influence of visits to Renshaw Street Unitarian Chapel with his father as a child. [42] On 14 June 1864 Brunner married Salome Davies, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant with whom he had six children. Salome died on 29 January 1874 and the following year he married Jane Wyman, the daughter of a Kettering physician and the governess to his children. [3] From this marriage three more children, all daughters, were born. In 1891 the Brunners moved from Winnington Hall to Wavertree, a suburb of Liverpool. [43]

Amongst other offices held, he was Vice-President of the British Science Guild, Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Lancashire (from 1904) and Pro-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool. [40] [44] In 1909 the University of Liverpool awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. [45] In 1895 he was made the Baronet of Druids Cross in the County of Lancashire and in 1906 he became a member of the privy council, but he declined offers of a peerage. He died in 1919 at his home in Chertsey, Surrey. His estate amounted to over £906,000 (£41 million in 2019). [6] In addition, he had given generously to his five married daughters, and had transferred investments to his sons. [46]

The baronetcy passed to his eldest son, John Fowler Leece Brunner. [47] His descendants include, through his elder son's daughter (Joyce Brunner Worsley), Katharine, Duchess of Kent (born 1933), married since 1961 to a grandson of Britain's King George V, and Shelagh Brunner (1902-1983), daughter of his younger son (Harold Roscoe Brunner), who morganatically married Prince Ferdinand of Liechtenstein (1901-1981) in 1925, a member of that principality's still reigning dynasty. [48]

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Northwich is a civil parish and a town in Cheshire West and Chester, England. It contains 36 buildings that are recorded in the National Heritage List for England as designated listed buildings. Two of these are listed at Grade I, the highest grade, and the rest at the lowest grade, Grade II; none are listed at the middle grade, Grade II*. The River Dane joins the River Weaver and the Weaver Navigation within the parish. Also passing through the parish are the A533 road, the Trent and Mersey Canal, and a railway built by the Cheshire Lines Committee. Many of the listed buildings are associated with these features.

Statue of Ludwig Mond

The Statue of Ludwig Mond stands outside the entrance to Mond House in Brunner Mond Works, Winnington, Cheshire, England. Ludwig Mond was born in Germany but spent most of his working life in England. He moved to England in 1862 and joined the business of John Hutchinson in Widnes. Wishing to develop a better process for the production of alkali than the Leblanc process, he joined in partnership with John Brunner, who also worked for Hutchinson, to improve the ammonia-soda process, building a factory for this purpose at Winnington. In time the factory became the largest producer of soda in the world. Mond went on to work with other chemical processes, especially those involving nickel. He also became an art collector, bequeathing much of his collection to the nation. His statue was designed by Édouard Lantéri, and was unveiled by Brunner in 1913. It was moved in 1995 to stand next to the statue of Brunner in front of the offices of Brunner Mond in Winnington. The statue is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

Statue of Sir John Brunner

The Statue of Sir John Brunner stands outside the entrance to Mond House in Brunner Mond Works, Winnington, Cheshire, England. Sir John Brunner was an English industrialist, politician and local benefactor. He joined the alkali manufacturing company of John Hutchinson in Widnes in 1861, eventually becoming the office manager. While working there one of its chemists, Ludwig Mond decided to leave and build a factory to produce alkali by the ammonia-soda process, and Brunner joined him as a partner. The factory was built at Winnington, and in time it became the largest producer of soda in the world. Brunner then took an interest in politics, and was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Northwich, holding the seat for over 30 years. The business had made him a rich man, and he was a generous benefactor in the local area. His statue was designed by Goscombe John, and was unveiled in 1922. It was moved in 1995 to stand next to the statue of Mond in front of the offices of Brunner Mond in Winnington. The statue is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

Francis Arthur Freeth was a British industrial chemist. He spent much of his career at Brunner Mond and its successor Imperial Chemical Industries, as chief chemist, research manager and in a recruiting capacity, with particular knowledge of phase rule chemistry, and developed many processes related to the manufacture of explosives. He made a critical contribution to the British World War I effort by devising new ways to manufacture ammonium nitrate, which was recognised with an honour, and a smaller contribution in World War II for the Special Operations Executive. Freeth created links between Brunner Mond and Dutch chemistry, particularly at the University of Leiden where he met Kammerlingh Onnes and was awarded a doctorate.

Robert Verdin was a salt manufacturer, philanthropist and the Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) for Northwich from 1 July 1886 to 25 July 1887.

The 1887 Northwich by-election was held on 13 August 1887 after the incumbent Liberal Unionist MP, Robert Verdin died.

Three chairs at the University of Liverpool were endowed by local industrialist Sir John Brunner, 1st Baronet: the Brunner Professorship of Economic Science, the Brunner Professorship of Egyptology, and the Brunner Professorship of Physical Chemistry.



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Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Northwich
Succeeded by
Robert Verdin
Preceded by
Robert Verdin
Member of Parliament for Northwich
Succeeded by
John Fowler Leece Brunner
Party political offices
Preceded by
William Angus
President of the National Liberal Federation
Succeeded by
George Lunn
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
of Druids Cross, Lancashire
1895 – 1919
Succeeded by
John Fowler Leece Brunner