Robert Barbour - A brief history

b. Kilbarchan 1797 - d. Bolesworth 1885

Robert was the first member of the Barbour family to live at Bolesworth Castle. He was born in Kilbarchan, Scotland, one of eleven children of Humphrey and Janet Barbour. His father was a Bleacher and Linen Threadmaker who died in 1817; his mother a committed member of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, who Robert acknowledged as being a strong influence throughout his life. Soon after graduating from Glasgow University, Robert was appointed by fellow Scotsman John Macfarlane to act on his behalf as a commission agent in the textile industry, “for the sale of Scotch goods and purchasing of Manchester goods on Commission”.

He arrived in Manchester in 1816 to find that trade there was in the doldrums and the business struggling to survive. However, Robert was a man of tremendous energy and determination, so despite these initial problems, he and Macfarlane became partners and very successful merchants. When Macfarlane retired around 1828, Robert invited his younger brother George to join him. They formed the partnership of Robert Barbour and Brother, commission agents and merchants, trading with other textile merchants and manufacturers at home and abroad - especially India where there was a great demand for English cotton fabrics.

In 1827 Robert married a young Scottish girl, Elizabeth Allan, whose uncle was a business colleague. They lived in Mosley Street where Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter a year later. Robert was no stranger to grief, Elizabeth died shortly afterwards and their daughter, also named Elizabeth, died six years later. He married again in 1836 to Janet Fleming, another Scottish woman. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy.

The Robert Barbour and Brother partnership flourished and, as it grew, more warehouses were acquired to store and process the cotton fabrics. In 1839 they settled into larger premises in Portland Street, with Robert and his family living at No. 1. In 1862 a huge new warehouse was built around the corner in Aytoun Street (now all demolished).

The cotton trade was not Robert’s only business concern. He quickly saw the need for a better form of local banking. A new bank, known as the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank, opened on 1st December 1829, issuing thirty thousand shares at £100 each. The Bank issued its own notes for a few years but stopped doing so in 1834. Initially operating from a house in Norfolk Street, in less than five years a new head office was built in Spring Gardens. Robert was a large shareholder of the Bank and one of the longest serving directors.

Now a very wealthy man, Robert moved his young family to Rusholme (at that time a very pleasant suburb of Manchester). He purchased a large house in Victoria Park and lived there until 1857 when he bought Bolesworth Castle and estate of 2,000 acres, retiring there in 1866.

With his usual energy and enthusiasm Robert immediately set about improving and expanding the estate. He called in architect James Harrison to design two ‘model farms’. The first was the complete reconstruction of the farm buildings alongside Tattenhall Hall, and the second was a new farmhouse and outbuildings on the Bolesworth Hill Road – now known as MountbattenMuch needed improvements were also carried out on the other estate farms and cottages.

It would be a disservice to finish without mentioning Robert’s great passion throughout his life which was the Scottish Presbyterian Church. His strong faith and deep commitment led him to fund the building of churches and schools in and around Manchester and further afield. It was his firm belief that by providing the means for the spiritual and educational development of the poor he could help improve their future lives.

Robert died at Bolesworth Castle on 17th January 1885. His only son George continued to manage and develop the estate which at this time amounted to 4,500 acres.


Wendy Bawn 2012

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