Robert Haldane Bradshaw

Robert Haldane Bradshaw, Superintendent Trustee of the Bridgewater Trust: the man who bought Boothstown

The legacy of the Canal Duke

The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater died in March 1803, and in his will separated his industrial properties and estates in Lancashire from his other lands in Shropshire and Hertfordshire, placing them into trust. The lifetime of the Trust was defined in terms of the lifetimes of existing peers of the realm and their sons, the intention being that the Trust would exist for some considerable time; indeed the properties and estates did not revert to the Duke’s heirs until 100 years after his death, the Trust being wound up in 1903.

The Bridgewater Trust was to be managed by three trustees, of whom the Superintendent Trustee was the true administrator in whom power was vested; the other trustees held more honorary positions. The income from the Trust was to be paid to the heirs of the unmarried and childless Duke. The first beneficiary was the Duke’s nephew, the Marquess of Stafford, George Granville Leveson-Gower, who later became the 1st Duke of Sutherland; the Marquess was succeeded by his second son, Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, whose succession to the Bridgewater inheritance was dependent on him assuming the Duke’s surname, Egerton.

It is not known for certain why the Duke came to this arrangement, but it is thought likely that he wished to protect the Worsley estate and its business as an independent entity, rather than it be subsumed within the wider concerns of the Marquess of Stafford. A dedicated manager, in the form of the Superintendent Trustee, was more likely to dedicate himself to the interests of the Bridgewater enterprises.

Bradshaw’s appointment and early success

With the Duke’s trusted agents John and Thomas Gilbert already dead, the position of Superintendent Trustee was given to Robert Haldane Bradshaw, himself an agent of the Duke, who lived in London, close to the Duke’s own residence. Born in 1759, the son of Thomas Bradshaw, a Secretary of the Treasury whose extravagance led to debt and an early death, little is known of Robert Haldane Bradshaw’s early career. It is known that he was educated at Harrow, and that he had been in public service before becoming an agent to the Duke by 1800.

Worsley was one of the most industrialised places of its day, with the estate work-yards clustered on what is now Worsley Green. Bradshaw was given total charge of the management of the estate and was even granted the right to appoint his own successor. He was not compelled to live in Worsley but was given the right to reside at the Brick Hall, which had been built for Gilbert. Although appointed in 1803, it was 1810 when Bradshaw came to live at the Brick Hall, using it as his office. He was also given the right of abode at Bridgewater House in Runcorn, where his wife (of whom little is known) seems to have remained. Bradshaw was looked after in Worsley by house servants.

Bradshaw had a favourite pet dog which became ill, and he sent for Joseph Evans, the famous herbal doctor from Boothstown. Evans agreed to treat the dog which, on a cushion and accompanied by a footman, was transported by coach from the Brick Hall to his humble cottage in Boothstown. Joseph Evans saw that the dog was simply over-fed and over-spoiled, so he locked it away with only water to drink. The dog duly recovered and was returned home to Bradshaw’s delight. Evans would not accept payment for his help, but asked for, and received, permission to gather herbs on Bradshaw’s lands.

Although the profits from the Bridgewater enterprises were paid to the Marquess of Stafford, Bradshaw himself was paid the huge salary of £2,000 per year. With his increasing personal wealth, Bradshaw was able to purchase large areas of land adjacent to the Bridgewater Estate at Worsley. He first acquired Hollin Wood, to the west of Worsley, then in 1810 the estates of Booths (comprising Boothstown and Malkins) and Chaddock. To these he added Mosley Common, and land at Peel Hall in Little Hulton, where he also owned mineral rights; the Garrett Hall estate was purchased in 1829.

The twenty years after the Duke’s death saw considerable financial success for the Trust. Bradshaw has been criticised for displaying a commercial thrust which was in contrast to the style of the late Duke, but he successfully increased the estate’s profits on the coal and canal businesses. It is said that he sought short-term profit at the expense of longer-term gain through capital investment, but he was under pressure from the Marquess of Stafford to make large payments of income.

The coal mines

By 1800 the Duke’s colliery output had risen steadily to some 140,000 tons per year. This declined to around 99,000 tons in 1809 but rose to 165,000 tons by 1830. In the early 19th century, most coal extraction was based around the underground canals, or navigable levels, which had been constructed in the time of the Duke and John Gilbert. Coal reserves from the main navigable level reduced in the early years of the Trust, and by the 1820s deeper levels or independent pits on the edges of the Worsley coalfield were increasing in importance. The Duke had obtained leases for coal extraction rights in some areas surrounding Worsley, and Bradshaw continued this policy. As he personally acquired adjacent estates, he leased the mineral rights to the Trust.

The Booths estate, for example, gave the Trust access to the Worsley Four Feet coal seam, and a new navigable level, the Chaddock Level, was constructed from the Duke’s Canal at Boothstown to the Chaddock and Queen Anne pits which lay just to the north. The Duke’s Canal was also extended westwards to Leigh, providing a further means of transporting the extracted coal.

Local difficulties

Bradshaw’s influence and workload were increased by his role as a magistrate in Worsley, and by the fact that he was Member of Parliament for Brackley in Northamptonshire, one of the Duke’s estates. He complained about his duties as a magistrate, which he undertook from the Brick Hall: dealing with local villains, poachers and the like. People came to him for help at all times – even on Christmas Day.

Under the Duke’s paternal direction trade unionism was slow to take off, and in the early days of the Trust this feudal outlook remained prevalent. However, there were outbreaks of discontent. Though there were no cotton mills under his management, Bradshaw was required to deal with local opposition from the Luddite movement; they were campaigning for local workers to be granted the right to vote. Thomas Bury, who managed the estate’s mines, heard that Walkden miners had joined the Luddites, and arrangements were made for trusted men to join the Luddites under cover. Thus, the names of local Luddites were discovered, and they were compelled to ‘twist out’ of the movement or lose their livelihoods and cottages. A document exists which lists the names of the Luddites and remarks on their apologies. Once they had denounced the movement, Bradshaw recruited them as special constables to guard the estate works and the mines.

In August 1819, a few days before the ‘Peterloo’ massacre in Manchester (when at a rally for parliamentary reform eighteen people were killed by charging cavalry), Bradshaw wrote to the Marquess of Stafford to say that he had enrolled 1,000 special constables to protect the property of the estate from reformers, and that these could be mustered within half an hour.

Conflict with the new railways

From the mid-1820s the imminent arrival of the railways threatened the canal-based prosperity of the Bridgewater Trust, and Bradshaw was opposed to the building of a Liverpool-to-Manchester railway that would compete with the Duke’s Canal for trade. In 1824 Bradshaw obstructed railway surveyors, refusing access to his land, and firing shots at night to prevent them from making progress.

However, the Marquess of Stafford had declared his support for the railway plan by investing £100,000 in the new rail company. This established a division of interest, since the Marquess was still the beneficiary of the income from the Bridgewater Canal, managed by Bradshaw. The Marquess was heavily influenced in his decision by James Loch, his agent, who had become convinced that future prosperity lay in rail.

James Loch was a man of great self-esteem and efficiency; he was said to have been a good servant, but an arrogant master. He was a skilled and formidable operator, but he was also open-minded and enlightened with respect to economic progress, and he would not advise the Marquess that a narrow-minded protection of the canal trade was in his longer-term interests. At the same time, he was conscious that there was a conflict between the railway interest of the Marquess of Stafford and the prosperity of the Bridgewater Canal business, which would be the basis for the income of the Marquess’s second son, Lord Francis.

Bradshaw was forced to accept the situation, especially since his two fellow trustees were brothers-in-law of the Marquess. In a gesture towards compromise, Captain James Bradshaw, son of Robert, was given a seat on the board of the railway company, while Lord Francis Leveson-Gower was granted the inheritance of his father’s shares in the company.

Bradshaw ordered improvements to the canal and to the Duke’s docks while the railway was being built. He hoped this would help the canal avoid being too adversely affected by the new railway, but he was also prepared for a price-war to protect canal interests. This ensued, and canal trade initially increased, though profits declined.

Bradshaw is persuaded to retire

Despite support from local notables such as Thomas Bury, Benjamin Sothern, and his son Captain James, the stresses of his workload took their toll on Bradshaw. The pressures were perhaps made worse by an unwillingness to delegate, and in November 1831 he suffered a stroke which left him paralysed in his left arm and leg. He did not enjoy good health thereafter, and he became increasingly intractable. Captain James Bradshaw alerted James Loch to his father’s demeanour, suggesting that the well-being of the Trust was at risk.

In 1833 the Duke of Sutherland died, and Lord Francis Leveson-Gower became the second heir to the Canal Duke’s Worsley estate. The Bridgewater Estate was to remain in trust under the terms of his will until 1903, but Lord Francis, having adopted the Egerton surname, became the beneficiary of the estate’s profits. James Loch requested that Bradshaw make an interim payment of income to Francis, and further requested new financial arrangements for Francis’s wife and children. Bradshaw is said to have responded angrily, given the financial difficulties of the Trust.

Loch was provided with further testament to Bradshaw’s instability by Gilbert Winter, a director of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, who even ventured to suggest impropriety with regard to the female house servants who accompanied Bradshaw to Sunday chapel. This may simply have been a case of Winter telling Loch what he thought he wanted to hear; indeed, other business associates of the Trust and the canal were not forthcoming with criticism. But income from the canal was lower in 1833 than at any time since the Duke of Bridgewater’s death, and this was partly attributed to Bradshaw’s policy of competitive pricing.

Lord Francis Egerton wished to assume control of the management of Worsley and sought Bradshaw’s removal. James Loch eventually persuaded Bradshaw to retire in 1834, the blow being softened by the payment of his full salary as a pension, and by him having the right to appoint a successor as Superintendent Trustee. Rather than appoint one of his sons, William Rigby Bradshaw or Captain James Bradshaw, Robert chose James Sothern as his replacement. The choice was probably prompted by Loch and was accepted by Robert Haldane Bradshaw because Sothern had been a respected member of his staff since 1813.

It is believed that Captain James Bradshaw had expected to be his father’s successor, and his dismay at being overlooked is usually presumed to be the reason that he took his own life. His role in his father’s removal may partly explain his failure to be appointed as his successor, and (though we will never know) it is possible that feelings of guilt contributed to James’s demise. It is often said that he cut his own throat in the Brick Hall, though the contemporary account of Robert Lansdale of Booths Hall says that the deed was done in Worsley Old Hall. Local folklore has it that, as a suicide, James could not be buried in consecrated ground at Ellenbrook chapel, but that he was laid to rest outside, the chapel later being extended to cover his grave. This is said to be the reason why the road is so narrow between the chapel and the Red Lion inn, but Robert Lansdale’s account states that James was buried at the chapel after a funeral service. Lansdale is to be trusted because he was given the task of going to Runcorn to inform Mrs. Bradshaw of her son’s tragic death.

Robert Haldane Bradshaw retired to Kings Langley in Hertfordshire, where he died one year later, thus saving Lord Francis Egerton his considerable pension. It was a sad end for a man who had been so influential, and initially so successful in managing the business of the Bridgewater Estate.

The lands around Worsley (such as Boothstown and Chaddock) that had been acquired by Bradshaw were purchased by Lord Francis Egerton from Bradshaw’s executors for £127,000. These lands thus became the personal property of Francis, and became known as the Ellesmere Estates, as opposed to the Bridgewater Estate of Worsley, which remained in trust until 1903.

A postscript

The new Superintendent, James Sothern, proved to be his own man, and was unwilling to be a puppet of Lord Francis and James Loch. He was living at the Brick Hall in 1834 when he tried to prevent Lord Francis Egerton from moving into the Old Hall at Worsley. A bitter personal and legal battle ensued, continuing until 1837 when Sothern agreed to resign. It required the payment of £45,000 – a fortune – for Francis to be able to dispense with Sothern’s services.

James Loch was duly appointed Superintendent Trustee, and he remained the agent of Lord Francis Egerton, in due course appointing his own son, George Loch, as Deputy Superintendent. Control of Worsley and the Bridgewater Trust thus came to rest with Lord Francis, later 1st Earl of Ellesmere, particularly after James Loch’s death in 1855, when Francis’s third son, Algernon Fulke Egerton, became Superintendent, remaining subservient to his father.


This web page was compiled by Tony Smith with Mrs C.E. Mullineux, and was based on notes of a lecture on R.H. Bradshaw given by Mrs Mullineux in January 1999. Additional sources were After the Canal Duke, by F.C. Mather, Oxford, 1970, and The Canal Duke’s Collieries, Worsley 1760-1900, by Glen Atkinson, Published by Neil Richardson.