Chapter XIX.

The Unwin Family

The rise to wealth of this important family marks the turning point in the character of Sutton-in-Ashfield. From a breezy, beautiful and well-watered village, a charming stream running down its valley, and inhabited by good families long settled in it ; with 3,000 acres of unenclosed Forest providing sport of excellent quality, it became a busy manufacturing town of, principally, imported labour. The remarkable energy and business perspicacity of the founders of the family succeeded in establishing an enormous connection which at one time bid fair to rival the Strutts and Arkwrights, and the quality of the Sutton Ginghams and Nankeens was famous all over the country. (Note : Gingham was a cotton cloth dyed before it was woven, and was extensively used for Bed Curtains, while Nankeen was a cloth of firm texture made from a cotton of a yellow dye, and was of extreme durability. These, with Hosiery, were the staple of the Firm). The first warehouse is said to have been built at the top of Mount Street, but was soon found to be too small, the works near Eastfield Side were commenced and the Mill Dam made c. 1740.

To secure a more regular supply of water a Windmill was placed below the water wheel to pump water back into the Dam, and perhaps to assist the water wheel itself. To provide for further extensions Mills were built at Tansley near Matlock, the water there being of such excellent quality for bleaching purposes and a large traffic between the two works was carried on by waggons. The old mill house near Sutton Green known as Bacon's Mill (having been built by Bacon) was, later on, acquired, and so successful was the concern that it was a common saying that " everytime the Mill wheel went round it put a guinea in Mr. Unwin's pocket." But so far as the present condition of Sutton is concerned there was another side to this wonderful prosperity. People were attracted to the town in their search for work and houses sprang up like mushrooms to provide accommodation, and as there were no building By-Laws and very inadequate local authority, cottages were built anywhere and anyhow.

It is an object lesson today (1932) to walk down some of the old streets of the town to see the class of house that was built. And as no water supply and no sewers were provided, ill-health was fostered and many people were soon compelled to appeal for public aid, indeed in 1816 half the total population was receiving aid from the parish, and as each parish at that time had to maintain its own poor, whose numbers were augmented the moment trade became slack the Rates became enormous.

This condition of affairs did not arise when the energy of the Unwin's was at its fullest. The changes that came in the family by death and re-marriage, but above all by the Napoleonic War, and the enormous taxation at that time, brought great distress to the town. Poaching and similar misdemeanours were rife, and man as a gregarious animal flocked to the town not merely on the chance of finding work at Unwin's Mills, but for its small low-rented houses, and its vast waste of unenclosed land for sport.

Samuel Unwin, the first, established himself in the town early in the eighteenth century. Where he came from is not quite certain, although a family of that name was settled at Mansfield as early as 1603, Wm. Unwin and Eliz' Pooley being married there on 24 November. But amongst the Wills proved at the peculiar Court of the Manor of Mansfield is that of Benjamin Unwin, Yeoman, 17 December, 1690, where Ann Unwin widow, and Samuel Unwin, Yeoman (who writes an excellent hand) and Joseph Cooke, all of Budby, enter into a Bond to administer the Estate. And in the Subsidy Rolls, 23 February, 1689, Samuel Unwin of Budby paid 12/-.

Samuel Unwin of Sutton-in-Ashfield married Elizabeth Fisher (the family states that the name was Sarah) of Rowthorn, p. of Alt Hucknall, at Teversal Church 20 January, 1735. She was of an old Yeoman stock of good family and possessed of all the characteristics which go to make a good wife, and was moreover an excellent woman of business. They had five children, Elizabeth born 1736, William born 1741, Sarah —, Samuel who died in infancy, and Samuel born 1744. It is interesting to note that Elizabeth married Mr. John White of Chesterfield, her eldest daughter married Mr. William Brodhurst of Mansfield, and became the mother of the Rev. Fredk. Brodhurst, Vicar of Sutton-in-Ashfield, 1874 to 1893. Sarah married Mr. James Heygate, her eldest son becoming Lord Mayor of London. William married Elizabeth Cradock, of Walsall, member of an ancient and wealthy family, and built a house on the S.W. of the Unitarian place of worship, now (1932) obscured by shops. They had four daughters, Elizabeth, Mary Ann, Henrietta and Louisa. Elizabeth married the Rev. C. Grisdale, Henrietta married the Rev. Thomas Hurt, Rector of Linby, and son of the Incumbent of Sutton; she died and was buried at Linby. The other two were never married, and are with Elizabeth buried in the family vault at Sutton. Samuel, the younger son, became the main spring of the whole business and married 8 August, 1787, when he was therefore forty-three, Elizabeth Anne Heathcote daughter of Michael Heathcote, of Shephalbury, Herts.

It is a coincidence that in the Mansfield Registers appears the marriage on 25 April, 1763 of Samuel Unwin to Sarah Fox, but there is nothing to connect him with Samuel Unwin of Sutton. Again in the Sutton Registers appears the marriage of Samuel Unwin and Mary Poole, 2 January, 1758, and it is remarkable that there should be two Samuel Unwin's in Sutton at the same time. Samuel and Mary had several children but all died young. A Mary Unwin was buried 7 August, 1760, and having in mind the very early marriages of that date it is not impossible that Samuel Unwin at the age of 14 had married surreptitiously, but it is most improbable. It is clear, however, that there were other families of Unwin in Sutton, Richard and Mary Unwin, John and Elizabeth, Mark and Ellen Unwin, all residing there, but whether relatives or not, cannot be stated.

Samuel, by his marriage with Miss Heathcote had eight children, 1. Samuel Heathcote Unwin, 2. William, 3. Rowland, 4. Edward, the others dying in infancy. Miss Heathcote's father, Michael Heathcote made his Will 28 May, 1808, by which he directed his eldest grandson to assume the name and arms of Heathcote in addition to that of Unwin. William, the second son, married Sarah R. Small, and his only son William Heathcote Unwin, a Colonel in the Army, married Miss Anne Norman in 1873, having one daughter Eleanor, and was joint owner of the Sutton property. Rowland and Edward never married. Edward carried on the Works at Sutton, where he died in 1841, and was the last to be buried in the family vault. As a Justice of the Peace for Co. Nottinghamshire during the Chartist agitation, being particularly concerned with the maintenance of order, he became very unpopular, as the people of Sutton were almost all Chartists. Just previous to his death the business of Banking which had been extensively carried on by the Unwins was converted into the Nottingham & Notts. Banking Co. of which he was the first Chairman. This Bank was finally absorbed by the Westminster Bank.

In 1755 Samuel Unwin the first was enrolled as a Freeman of Nottingham, and was described as a Hosier. He was buried 19 June, 1774. He had previously admitted his two sons William and Samuel into partnership, the firm becoming known as Saml. Unwin & Sons, and they formed a combination of sterling integrity and wonderful industry. His death was followed exactly one month later by that of his eldest son William, at the untimely age of 33, and he, too, was buried at Sutton, 19 July, 1774, with his father in the large vault recently erected on the N. side of the Chancel. The whole management of this large concern therefore fell on the shoulders of Samuel, the younger, who was at this time aged 30, and he threw himself into the work.

Sutton Hall had not long been built, in which he lived with his mother (of whose death and burial I have found no trace) until his marriage with Miss Heathcote in 1787. The extraordinary prosperity of the firm may be illustrated by the fact that his interests in the town were such that an allotment of 144 acres was made to him by the Commissioners for the enclosure of the Forest land, 1797-1803. He died suddenly in February, 1799, and was buried on the 23rd, leaving no Will, and a widow with eight young children under the age of 11. This, together with the cares of business must have been a great burden to the young widow, and on 28 July, 1800, she married by licence, at Mansfield, Mr James Hulme, M.D., a medical man, who had settled at Sutton. She had a son by this marriage, named James Davenport Hulme. who died at Ball Hayes, Staffs, at the age of 17, and lies buried in Sutton Churchyard W. of the Tower. She died at Plymouth Grove, Manchester, 12 February, 1847, and was buried in the family vault at Sutton.

Mr. Michael Heathcote of Shephalbury, Herts., father of Mrs. Unwin, took charge of the children of Samuel Unwin, and as they grew up their interest in Sutton gradually ceased. The eldest son who took the name of Heathcote resided at Shephalbury and married Eleanor, daughter of Sir Robert Wigram, their eldest son, Unwin Unwin Heathcote, died in 1893 leaving two sons, Alfred Unwin Heathcote, Col. of the Royal Engineers, and Arthur Samuel Unwin Heathcote. These two were (1908) with Col. William Heathcote Unwin joint owners of the estate in Sutton.

Edward Unwin, the fourth son of Samuel resided at the house near the Works and carried them on till his death in 1841, when the firm ceased to exist. The Hall was let at one time to Mr. Samuel Woolley, of Birchwood Colliery, who had previously lived at the old Vicarage (now the Brick & Tile Inn, in Low Street), then to the Howitts, and after being occupied by old servants of the firm, Marriott and Young, was pulled down in 1865, a new house being built on the site in 1884, and occupied for some years by Mr. William Oates, J.P., the Agent for the Unwins. The Works were occupied in 1842, by Messrs. Bean & Johnson, then by Messrs. Windley & Barwick, later by Mr. Richard Hardwick, and during his tenancy were destroyed by fire 2 June, 1875. And so disappeared from our local affairs a family that stamped a character on the town that exists today (1932). It is pleasant to note that representatives of the family are still interested in its welfare, and in 1904 presented the site for a Unionist Working Men's Club, the foundation stone of which was laid by Alfred Unwin Heathcote, 2 July, 1904.

The following interesting note is from the Reminiscences of a Gentlewoman of the last (eighteenth) century.

Letters of Catherine Hutton, Published by Cornish Bros. 1891.

Sutton-in-Ashfield, 29 August, 1779.

My dear Brother . . . . Mr. Unwin's house is built of stone, and on the outside seems fit for a nobleman, but the best rooms are occupied as Warehouses for the cotton manufactory. A shrubbery which is the seventh part of a mile in circuit encompasses their garden, and hence the plantation is continued down to a lake and a bath, and beyond are walks cut in a wood. Mr. and Mrs. Unwin, Miss White's grandfather and grandmother are plain and worthy people, who visit all the families in the neighbourhood even the Duke of Portland's, and yet retain something of their original manner. Their carriage is studded with brass nails ; their horses are heavy and bob-tailed, and their coachman's hair in a state of nature. Miss Unwin is genteel, agreeable, and about 30 years of age. Mr. Samuel Unwin, the hope of the family, is making a tour along the northern coast. I see his book and his prints, his elegant dressing room, I drink his old Hock, and I hear of his Swiss servant and phaeton and pair of horses ; so I suppose he is a fine gentleman. Miss Elizabeth White, my friend's sister, who is on a visit at Mansfield, drank tea here on Sunday. She is a tall, fine girl, rather handsome and extremely lively.

Catherine Hutton.

From a MSS. in possession of Mrs. Hudson of Leicester, which was written by a Mrs. Cartwright, cousin of Robert Dodsley, the Publisher :

" When Hosiery weaving was in its infancy a friend of Mr. Cartwright wishing to commence business in this way called upon him with a view to borrow a little money to make a beginning. Mr. C. had only £100 to spare at that time and asked if that sum would be sufficient, but as it would not he induced a neighbour to find a larger sum. The borrower was Mr. Unwin of Sutton-in-Ashfield whose wife took the principal care of attending to the business visiting the metropolis to take Orders, and settle Accounts. Her industry laid the foundations of one of the largest concerns in the kingdom and a large fortune for Mr. Unwin, with whose son and a Mr. Cartwright a trading connection was established which lasted upwards of a century." This incident took place c. 1750-5.