CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Essex Life today CLICK HERE

Essex History: Samuel Courtauld, 1793-1881

PUBLISHED: 10:22 21 October 2014

EXG NOV 14 ERO

EXG NOV 14 ERO

Archant

Victorian industrialist Samuel Courtauld left a lasting legacy within the county. Here Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office traces some of his history

Samuel Courtauld was a Victorian industrialist who developed his family’s silk weaving firm into one of the UK’s leading textile businesses.

Samuel was born in Albany, New York, in 1793, the eldest son of George Courtauld and his wife, Ruth. The Courtauld family had arrived in England from France at the end of the 17th century as Huguenot refugees. For three generations the family stayed in London and prospered as silversmiths.

Breaking with the family tradition, Samuel’s father, George, was apprenticed to a silk weaver in Spitalfields at the age of 14 in 1775, and later set himself up as a silk throwster. George made a series of trips to America from 1785, and it was there in 1789 that he met and married Samuel’s mother, Ruth Minton, who was of Irish descent.

Shortly after Samuel was born, the family returned to England and George established George Courtauld & Co, with a water-powered silk mill at Pebmarsh.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, George Courtauld ‘proved to be a remarkably incompetent businessman’. By 1816, the company was in financial trouble and his ambitious son Samuel took over to rescue the family business.

Under Samuel’s leadership, the company became known as Samuel Courtauld & Co and opened new mills in Halstead and Bocking. Samuel expanded into hand-loom and power-loom weaving as well as silk throwing, and from about 1830 began manufacturing the fabric that really made the family’s fortune, black silk mourning crape, which became the standard mourning dress in Victorian England.

The firm was always heavily dependent on young female workers; in 1838 over 92% of the workforce was female. By 1850, the business had grown to employ more than 2,000 people in three silk mills, and over 3,000 by the 1880s.

Silk production used machines for spinning and weaving and centralised production in factories, gradually bringing to an end the tradition of weavers working on hand looms at home. Samuel Courtauld introduced a shift system, using two 12-hour shifts so that his mills were working all day and night.

Samuel’s biographer, DC Coleman, describes his leadership as a ‘benevolent despotism’. Under him the company built workers’ cottages, schools, reading rooms and a hospital in Braintree. He refused to allow any trade union activity at his factory, but offered his own system of rewards and punishments for his workforce.

Samuel also publicly supported a range of political issues. He was an active supporter of the Whigs, who, in opposition to the rival Tories, supported toleration for nonconformist Protestants, the supremacy of Parliament over the monarch, free trade, the abolition of slavery and the expansion of the franchise.

Under Samuel’s leadership the Courtauld company became extremely profitable. In 1854 Samuel bought Gosfield Hall, a very fine house that during the French Revolution had housed the exiled King and Queen of France. Samuel also had a London house and a yacht to enjoy. By the time of his death in 1881 he was worth about £700,000. He left the bulk of his estate to two adopted children. He never really retired, but continued to play an active role in the company until shortly before his death at the age of 88.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Essex Life

Tue, 12:54

The agricultural heritage of the county cannot be underestimated. Here Stephanie Mackentyre visits three farms that have been feeding Essex for generations

Read more
Tue, 12:23

Laurie Page of the Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council shares with us this beautiful six-mile walk around Bradwell’s stunning coastal delights

Read more
Tue, 10:07

As an enduring British institution, it’s incredibly important to get your Sunday lunch right. Here are 12 pubs in Essex that know how to deliver precisely what you require.

Read more
Mon, 12:47

For those still figuring out how to spend your Friday through Sunday, we’ve rounded up 5 of Essex’s best things to do to ensure no second of your weekend is wasted

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

Over the October half term Essex will be filled with spooky events that’ll be sure to put you in the ideal mood for Halloween. Here are 15 great places for kids and adults alike

Read more
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Paycocke’s House and Gardens, now owned by The National Trust, is one of the county’s most precious historic sites and 2018 marks 500 years since the death of the man who gave the house its name. Ruth McKegney tells the tale of this Coggeshall jewel

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Essex Life Food & Drink Awards for 2018 took place on September 27th at Down Hall Hotel

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Treat yourself to a pint of real ale surrounded by fresh sea air and coastal views at any one of these 12 glorious Essex pubs

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

With one of the warmest and driest summers on record, this year has been a difficult one for gardeners. Susie Bulman from The Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmstead Market shares some top tips for plant survival, even in these conditions

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search