HORROCKS, John (1768-1804), of Penwortham Lodge, nr. Preston, Lancs.
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Family and Education
b. 27 Mar. 1768, 2nd s. of John Horrocks of Bradshaw, nr. Bolton by Jane, da. of John Booth of Edgworth, nr. Bolton; bro. of Samuel Horrocks*. m. 23 Apr. 1790, Mary, da. of Richard Lomax of Ainsworth, nr. Bury, 2s.
Capt. R. Preston vols. 1798-1801.
Horrocks began work in a stone quarry run by his father, who is said in some accounts to have been a Quaker, at Edgworth. He perceived the potential of the developing cotton industry and tried his hand at spinning yarn on a few frames in a corner of the quarry yard. Among his customers was John Watson, owner of the only cotton mill in Preston, and in January 1791 Horrocks—inspired, so the story goes, by a quarrel with Watson—moved there and began spinning in small premises in Turk’s Head Court. He persuaded Richard Newsham, later a partner in the Old Preston Bank, and Thomas Greaves to help him finance the erection of a factory, which became the basis of the Yard mill. He brought his elder brother Samuel over from Bolton to assist him and soon took him into partnership. His kinsmen Isaac and George Horrocks ultimately took over the Turk’s Head Court enterprise, from which developed the firm of Horrocks and Jackson. Horrocks’s spinning and manufacturing business prospered and expanded with amazing rapidity and by 1802 he had opened five more mills. In the area known as New Preston he erected about 100 workmen’s cottages, close to the weaving shops where his tenants rented looms. In 1801 he took Thomas Miller and John Whitehead into the firm, henceforth known as Horrockses, Miller & Co., and in the same year he built a residence at Penwortham on the south bank of the Ribble. By 1798 he had an establishment in London at 3 Bow Churchyard, styled John Horrocks & Co., muslin manufacturers. It later moved to 5 Bucklersbury and, some years after his death, to 9 Bread Street. Horrocks was also instrumental in founding the Preston firm of Riley, Paley and Leighton, which made textile machinery.1
His success not only enriched him personally, but began the transformation of Preston into an industrial centre with a rapidly growing population. He soon established himself in the corporation and in 1796 stood for Preston with their backing and that of Lord Liverpool, as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, in an attempt to overthrow the dominant interest of the Whig Earl of Derby. He was only narrowly defeated, the manufacturing interest continued to expand under his aegis and in 1802 he became the first beneficiary of an electoral pact, whereby Derby and his erstwhile enemies agreed to return one Member each. Horrocks presumably supported government during his brief period in the House. On 14 Mar. 1803 he secured the production of information on the export of cotton wool and cotton twist, to prepare the way for propositions designed to benefit the cotton trade and the national revenue. He moved successfully for more accounts, 20 Apr. 1803, but never presented his scheme to the House.
Farington, who met him at Cheltenham in September 1803, noted his ‘plain and simple manner’ and went on:
By over application to business he has brought on indigestion, and he visits Cheltenham for relief. He seems to be very temperate. Decision, that characteristic feature of a strong mind, he possesses. By the stoppage of intercourse with Hamburg, at the commencement of the present war, a very large quantity of goods belonging to him remained unsold ... At once he made up his mind, and instead of adopting half measures which might have affected his credit, he sold at a loss, it is said, of £4,000, a great quantity of goods, and by that means became provided with remittances sufficient to answer the demands upon him, and also to offer to discount bills drawn upon him. Thus, though his fortune was reduced, his credit was confirmed, by showing that he had an ample sufficiency for all purposes.2,
Horrocks died suddenly in London, not quite 36 years old, 1 Mar. 1804. His two sons inherited a handsome fortune and the business was successfully carried on by his brother and Miller.