The Back Rhodes of Our Genealogy

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A family that has for many generations been connected with the woollen manufacture in Spen Valley, in one or another of its various forms, is the Rhodes family. How far back that connection can be traced we cannot certainly say, but in Birstall Churchyard there are many of their tombstones, dating back into the seventeenth century, at which period they were located at Hightown, or Long Liversedge, as it was then called, though probably they had moved there from Heckmondwike. One of them, Samuel Rhodes, born somewhere between 1710 and 1720, was for many years master, and his wife, Martha (who died in 1787), was matron of Roberttown Poorhouse. This Samuel Rhodes had four sons, of whom John, the eldest, was born 1748, and Benjamin, the youngest, in 1755. Benjamin served his apprenticeship to a chemist in London, and lived there for some years, but afterwards returned to Hightown, where he spent the remainder of his very long life, dying in 1848, aged 93. In the latter portion of last century he carried on business as a small blanket maker, and had his wool carded and his spinning jenny at Strawberrybank mill, then worked by Peter Lawford. His eldest son, George Rhodes, born in 1790, was apprenticed to Reuben Hemingway, cardmaker, of Low Farm, Liversedge. This Reuben Hemingway was father to Thomas Hemingway, of Hightown, who built Harepark Mills.

George Rhodes, when his apprenticeship expired, began business as a cardmaker at a small mill or workshop, which stood on the site of the present Milton Mill, and was married in 1813 to Susanna, daughter of James Halliday, and sister of the late William Halliday, of Ings Grove. A few years after he went into partnership with William Halliday, the style of the firm being Halliday and Rhodes; but he still continued the card business. In 1821 they built the first Ings Mill—the portion which after it was enlarged by a brick addition, became known as "the stone end." Their business was yarn spinning, and commission spinning for blanket yarns. They also bought the corn mill at the Bottoms, and converted it into a woollen mill. In 1832 they built the brick addition to Ings Mill just alluded to, and used it chiefly for worsted spinning. About 1840 William Halliday retired from business, and William Rhodes, the second son of George Rhodes (born 1815) was taken into the firm, the style being changed to George Rhodes and Son. About 1855 the new firm added to their business of yarn spinning, carpet manufacturing, which was continued until some years after the death of George Rhodes in 1868, Mr. George Rhodes was a model of punctuality, and for many years before his death his familiar figure on his pony, and wearing his never failing grey overcoat, was seen so regularly at a certain time, as he journeyed towards the Low Mills every forenoon, that housewives along the route took his coming as a signal that it was time to set the potatoes on to boil for dinner.

George Rhodes had several sons, of whom Mr. William Rhodes, of Liversedge Hall is now the only one living. His third son Benjamin was born in 1817 and died in 1890. Like his father, Benjamin Rhodes was apprenticed to the cardmaking business, and in 1838 commenced in that line at Ings Mill in partnership with Mr. Elam, as Elam and Rhodes. This partnership was, however, soon dissolved, and Mr. Rhodes commenced blanket making at a warehouse lately pulled down in Jeremy Lane. In 1848 he bought the warehouse and other property near the Wesleyan Chapel, which had been occupied by Mr. W. P. Cooke, and removing to that place he built Ashfield House, now the residence of Mr. Joseph Stead. In 1854 Mr. Rhodes built Moorfield Mill and house, and there he lived until within a few years of his death.

Mr. Benjamin Rhodes married, in 1838, Catherine Lawford Fox, daughter of William and Joanna Fox, and granddaughter of Abraham Lawford, of the Harepark, Hightown. His eldest son, Walter, born in 1839, began business in 1859 as a rag and shoddy merchant at Moorfield Mills, and afterwards, on buying those mills, as a woollen manufacturer. Albert, his second son, born in 1841, commenced business as a woolstapler at a warehouse in Northgate in 1862 in partnership with his father, as Albert Rhodes 4 Co., and in 1864 went to the warehouse in Cheapside, now the Herald Office. In that year this partnership was dissolved, and Josiah, the third son of Benjamin Rhodes was taken into the firm. Soon after the brothers built the Beck Lane warehouse and removed there. On the firm of George Rhodes and Son ceasing to exist in 1873, they took up the business as yarn spinners and built the Spen Vale Mills in 1879, where they now carry on a large business.

Title: Spen Valley, past and present
Author: Frank Peel
Publisher: Senior and Co., 1893, pages 331-333

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