John Kay invented the flying shuttle in 1733. He was born on July 16th, 1704 at Rothwell’s Park, Walmersly, Bury. Sadly his father, a yeoman farmer died three months before he was born. The young John received £40 as a legacy and it is believed that he enjoyed a good childhood and education as a result. John Kay was apprenticed to a reed maker at the age of 14, and went on to become a prolific inventor.

The shuttle that he invented completely changed the weaving of textiles and helped to set the Industrial Revolution in motion. Traditionally, a handloom weaver would physically throw the shuttle carrying the weft thread from left to right and back again, interlacing it with the warp thread that ran at right angles to the weft of the loom; a wide loom required a weaver standing at each end to pass the shuttle back and forth. Kay’s invention consisted of little ‘hammers’ which knocked the shuttle in each direction across the warp thread. A ‘picking stick controlled each “hammer” and was itself operated via a string held by the weaver. This meant that one person could operate a shuttle across a very wide loom, which greatly increased the rate of cloth production.

John Kay’s invention of the flying shuttle transformed the weaving industry and shifted production of woven cloth from the home into the factory. Large weaving sheds could contain hundreds of powered looms working continuously, which increased the demand not only for the manufacture of looms but also the shuttles which carried the weft thread across them.

Without the flying shuttle there would have been no demand for the spinning machines that followed, and Lancashire’s cotton and textile industries would never have developed to the point where they were able to bankroll the expansion of the British Empire. Indeed, the UK’s industrial revolution might have been seriously delayed or even stillborn had it not been for the flying shuttle.

In 1753 John Kay’s house in Bury was ransacked and designs and models of his inventions were destroyed by a mob of textile workers who thought the invention of these machines would destroy their livelihoods. As is so often the case the opposite was true. The jobs for textile workers increased dramatically as the textile industry was mechanised and the vast Lancashire textile mills were developed.

John Kay himself made little from his inventions due to being a far better engineer and inventor than businessman. Many mill owners and textile machinery manufacturers cheated him of the royalties due to him for his designs. A group of them formed the Shuttle Club, members of which contributed jointly to pay for their defense against Kay’s patent lawsuits. John Kay spent much time and money defending his rights through the courts and although he won many of the cases, the costs of litigation almost bankrupted him.

John Kay created several other inventions including a card setting machine; improved methods of spinning twine, worsted and mohair; wind and horse powered pumps; a powered tape loom; malt kilns and salt pans. It is believed that he also assisted Richard Arkwright in the development of the water frame spinning jenny that was patented in 1768.

Disillusioned by the actions of the mobs of angry workers and the treatment he received from mill owners and textile equipment manufacturers John Kay moved to France where he set up as a manufacturer of his designs in Paris with help and encouragement from the French government. Again, he made little wealth from his activities and again, other manufacturers pirated his designs. He moved out of Paris and lived modestly. There is no record of his death and no known grave but it is thought that he died somewhere in the South of France around 1780. At that time Britain was fighting the American war of independence and was also at war with France at the same time. He would have been 76.

A monument to Kay stands in the town centre, near the Interchange and Metro link, and illustrates Kay’s invention.

John Kay of Bury 1704-1779
John Kay of Bury, Unknown Artist, Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre collection

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood is Bury’s most famous daughter. She was born on 19th May 1953 at the Holyrood Maternity Home, Bury Old Road Prestwich, she was the fourth of four children to be born to Helen & Stanley Wood. Victoria’s first home was a modest terraced house at 98 Tottington Road, Bury. Her school life started at Elton County Primary School, however, in 1958, very soon after starting at Elton Primary her parent moved house and Victoria relocated to Fairfield County primary School on Rochdale Old Road.

The Wood’s new home was a large rambling house at Birtle Edge, Bury. Built in 1908, the house was a former children’s’ holiday home which provided holidays for less well of children of Bury. During the Second World war it was used as a look out post and to house Polish war refugees. As soon as the Wood’s moved into their new home, Victoria’s mother set about dividing up the space with a series of hardboard walls so each of the family members had their own space.

Victoria led a solitary life in this house, her eldest brother Chris had already left home in 1958 when Victoria was five, so she was left with two older sisters Penelope and Rosalind.

Her mother was an avid collector of Victorian novels and Victoria too was a keen reader. She often frequented Bury library after school but was too shy to ask the lady behind the desk how to join the library so instead she would sit in the Reference Library and read. She would also take books home with her in her school satchel. In 1999 Bury Library received a letter of apology from Victoria together with £100 in cash to pay for all the books she had stolen.

In September 1964, Victoria entered Bury Grammar School for Girls. It is well documented that Victoria struggled whilst at Bury Grammar and didn’t on the whole enjoy her time there.

In the summer of 1968, Victoria outlook on life changed immeasurably as she joined the Rochdale Youth Theatre Workshop. It is here that Victoria blossomed, she found her calling, she realised this is something she could do and was good at. Based on the top floor of HeyBrook County Primary School, she described the workshops as her ‘salvation’. She appeared in many productions such as The Rising Generation, Dracula, and The Swish of the Curtain. In 1968 she met her first boyfriend at the theatre workshops – Bob Mason. Bob was popular and a leading light and went on to become something of a celebrity. In 1968 he won The Daily Mirror poetry competition and the Rediffusion Write a Play competition. He went on to play Terry Bradshaw in Coronation Street (1976), during the 80s he concentrated on his script writing he wrote various plays as well as writing for Coronation Street. Later he moved back into acting and appeared in The Lakes (1997) and Casualty (2000s), he passed away in 2004.

Inspired by her time at the Rochdale Youth Theatre, in 1969 Victoria auditioned for the school play A Winter’s Tale. She also appeared in The Pearl. 1969 saw Victoria enter the sixth form, given the freedom that sixth forms afford, she discovered that she was quite clever and began to enjoy her time there. She took her A-levels in English, music and Scripture and she went on to gain Grade VII with Merit in Pianoforte.

As her time in the sixth form at Bury Grammar came to a close, she began to audition to various drama schools. She lacked the confidence to apply to the more well know drama schools such as RADA or the Central School of Speech and Drama, instead she chose to apply to the lesser well know courses. One of which was Manchester Polytechnic’s School of Theatre. It was here as she toured round the school on an open day, she met Julie Walters who was the girl showing the group around. Victoria didn’t get a place at Manchester; eventually she secured a place at Birmingham University to study Dram and Theatre Arts. Bob meanwhile was at the central School for drama in London. And by 1973 their long-distance relationship had come to an end.

Victoria struggled at Birmingham University, she found the course too academic and restrictive, however, she did graduate. later in life Victoria was awarded an honorary degree from Birmingham University in 1996 she was also awarded degree from Lancaster University (1989), Sunderland University (1994) and Bolton Institute (1995) and Manchester University (1998).

Victoria went on to be one of the countries most loved comediennes her wit and humor made her a favorite of millions of T.V. viewers and her talents as a playwright, stand-up comedienne, actress, writer and singer-songwriter earned her many awards and accolades throughout her life.

Copyright Andy Hollingworth

Celia Birtwell

Celia was born Prestwich in 1941.  She studied textile design at the Royal Technical College, Salford, where in 1959 she met the fashion designer Ossie Clark. She rose to fame in the 1960’s as the creative partner of Ossie Clark. She is best known for her distinctive bold, romantic and feminine designs, and was the most important textile designer of her generation.

Ossie Clark and Celia’s collaboration began with a 1966 collection for the Quorum boutique in London, which they shared with the designer Alice Pollock. It was Clark who began the modern catwalk show: the previous procession of modelled clothes was put to music, the London Glitterati was invited, and the shows became events. Birtwell worked at home designing textiles for Clark, who used his skill in cutting and understanding of form, together with her knowledge of fabrics and textures to produce haute couture for the emerging 60’s culture. From 1967 to 1973 Celia and Ossie were at the top of the fashion industry and dressed everyone from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, and Twiggy all the way to the British Aristocracy.

Celia married Ossie in 1969. In the early seventies, David Hockney painted the portrait Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. Birtwell was pregnant with her second son, George at the time. The picture which can be seen at the Tate Britain is the bestselling postcard in the Gallery’s shop today. The painting also featured in the final 10 of the Greatest Painting in Britain vote in 2005, the only work by a living artist to do so.

The Little Rock Dress designed by Celia Birtwell for Top Shop in 2006.

Richmal Crompton, (b1890 – d1969)

Famous for writing 38 Just William Books

Richmal Crompton was born on the 15th November 1890 in a house on Manchester Road, Bury. Her father was Revd Edward John Sewell Lamburn and her mother was Clara (nèe Crompton). Her sister was Mary Gwendolen she was 17 months older than Richmal. Her brother Jack was born in April 1893 her other sister Phyllis born September 1894 died of whooping cough at the age of fourteen months.

Richmal’s father was a clerk in holy orders and licensed curate but he choose to become a schoolmaster instead of taking a parish. With a degree in Latin, maths and French, he taught at Bury Grammar School.

In 1896 the family moved to number 4 Marlvern Villas, a large, terraced house in Chesham Road, Bury.

Richmal’s grandmother (maternal) was the 1st woman in the family to have this combination of names ‘Richmal Crompton’ however, ‘Richmal’ the Christian name had been handed down over many generations.

When small, Gwen, Richmal and Jack all attended a private ‘Dame’ School nearby to where they lived. Later jack became a pupil at Bury Grammar School and the two girls went to board at St Elphin’s Clergy Daughters’ School in Warrington. Richmal started at the school in 1901 when she was 11 years old. In 1904 there was a severe outbreak of scarlet fever at the school, suspect drains were discovered, and the building was condemned. Girls and staff moved to Darley Dale, near Matlock in Derbyshire, into a building which has once been a hydropathic hotel.

In 1911, Richmal did so well in the Cambridge Higher Local Examinations that she could have had a place at Newham. Earlier, however, she had been awarded an open entrance scholarship of £60 per year, to Royal Holloway College, which she had already accepted.

In 1911/12 she became the senior first-year student; she gained a university open classical scholarship for one year in 1912 and in 1914 the College’s Driver Scholarship in Classics. She remained at Royal Holloway until October 1914, when she obtained her BA degree in classics with Second Class Honours, ‘being the best candidate of her year’.

Richmal left Royal Holloway College to return to St Elphin’s as Classics Mistress in the autumn term of 1914.

On leaving St Elphin’s Richmal wanted to be near her family who (except her brother) lived in London. She applied, and was accepted, for the post of Classics Mistress at Bromley High School.

Richmal’s first ‘tale’ to be published appeared in a 1918 issue of the ‘Girl’s Own Paper’ (a woman’s paper). The piece was called ‘Thomas, A little boy who wouldn’t grow up’. Richmal began having her stories published whilst a teacher at Bromley High School. These storied appeared with the Richmal Crompton by-line. The High School (Girls’ Public Day School Trust) had a rule that their staff should have no other employment without the Headmistresses permission. Richmal was not sure whether freelance writing counted as ‘other employment’ and played it safe by not using her full name. She forgot, however, that the annual index to Punch used proper names, not nom de plume. The Headmistress discovered this but was very pleased that Richmal was the author of the Just William stories.

Richmal Crompton

Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet

Sir Robert Peel was born at Chamber Hall in Bury in 1788. After Peel’s birth, the family only remained a further 10 years in Bury before departing to what became the family seat at Drayton Manor, near Tamworth in Staffordshire.

As the birthplace of Sir Robert Peel, Bury may be referred to as the birthplace of the modern police force too. In 1829, Peel introduced a Bill for “improving the Police in and near the Metropolis”, which became law as the Metropolitan Police Act on July 19th of the same year. The new force was organised along non-military lines to try and avoid public opposition. This was reflected in the policeman’s uniform, which consisted of a dark blue long-tailed jacket, white (summer) or blue (winter) trousers and a black lacquered top hat.

A few months after the establishment of the Metropolitan Police, the Duke of Wellington wrote to Peel, congratulating him on the “entire success of the Police in London”. Peel replied “I am very glad that you think well of the Police. It has given me from the first to the last more trouble than anything I ever undertook. But the men are gaining a knowledge of their duties so rapidly, that I am very confident of the ultimate result. I want to teach people that liberty does not consist of having your house robbed by organised gangs of thieves, or by leaving the streets of London in the nightly possession of drunken women and vagabonds”.

Within a decade, Peel’s model of an organised police force had spread to most of England’s large towns. After his death, the people of Bury erected a statue of Peel which still stands in the old marketplace; the ‘model’ (or maquette) for it of painted plaster, made by the sculptor Edward Hodges Baily is on display in Bury Art Museum. The name of Bury’s most famous son also lived on in popular terms used to describe the early policemen- notably ‘Peelers’ and ‘Bobbies’.

The first uniformed policemen appeared in Bury in 1840, but unfortunately the quality of early recruits was not high; 30 men were sacked after 6 months for being drunk on duty. The first police station in Bury was on Agur Street (now under the Millgate Centre) – between 1871 and 1883 the police were stationed in the Derby Hall on Market Street.

(Bury Art Museum currently has a selected number of police items on display).

Summary of Sir Robert Peel’s Political Career

Peel first entered parliament at the age of 22 in 1810, his father having bought him the seat of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. By the time of his death in 1850 he had held the offices of:

Under-Secretary for War and the Colonies, 1810.

Chief Secretary for Ireland, 1812-1818

Home Secretary, 1822

Leader of the House of Commons, 1828

Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1834

PM again in 1841 (Bedchamber Crisis 1837) until 1846.

Portrait of Sir Robert Peel by George Baxter (BUYGM.0240.1907)