Robin Longbottom looks at how a family created one of the most successful textile businesses in Keighley

BY the mid 19th century, Butterfield Brothers were one of the most successful textile manufacturers in Keighley.

Their fortunes began with John Butterfield who died in 1818 at the age of 35 – leaving a personal estate of £25,000, almost £2 million in today’s money.

He made his fortune as a woolstapler, a middleman who bought fleeces and sold them on to manufacturers.

He had connections with Lincolnshire, where the wool was produced, and brought it by river and canal to Keighley to be spun into worsted yarn.

His father, Isaac Butterfield, was also a woolstapler as was his younger brother, Isaac, but by the date of his death neither of them had achieved John’s success in business.

His will divided the bulk of his estate between his brother, Isaac, and his illegitimate son, John Butterfield Hodgson. His son was born in 1804 but John had declined to marry the boy’s mother, Sarah Hodgson. Instead, they came to an arrangement for the boy to be brought-up by John’s sister, Ann Butterfield, and Sarah Hodgson returned home to Burley-in-Wharfedale, where she married a farmer.

As well as his personal estate, John Butterfield left a small, worsted spinning mill that he purchased two years before his death.

The mill, Prospect Mill at Ingrow, passed to his brother Isaac who with his newly-inherited wealth was able to expand the business.

Isaac also continued as a woolstapler and had a warehouse at 1 Chapel Lane, Keighley, no doubt continuing to trade with his late brother’s suppliers in Lincolnshire.

With regard to his personal life, in 1806 he had a son, Richard, by Sally Shackleton – the daughter of Richard Shackleton, of Holme House. Although the couple didn’t marry initially, they continued their relationship and in 1811 – when she was expecting their second child – they finally got married. They had five further children, John, William, Sarah Hannah, Isaac and Frederick.

With business prospering, Isaac bought Lumbfoot Mill at Stanbury in 1828.

He died in 1832 and left his estate to his six children and took care in the will to describe Richard Shackleton as his “natural son”, following which he changed his name to Richard Shackleton Butterfield.

The three elder brothers took over the business and Isaac junior and Frederick went to America, where in about 1840 they established a trading warehouse in New York.

In 1848 the three elder brothers bought Bridge House Mill in Haworth (later managed by Richard Shackleton Butterfield). And two years later Isaac, who had now changed his name to Henry Isaac Butterfield, and Frederick were made full partners in Butterfield Bros.

The brothers were now at their most successful, but things soon changed.

Henry Isaac Butterfield married a rich American heiress in 1854 and in 1856 he and Frederick resigned from the business.

Henry moved to Paris and Frederick set-up a new business, Frederick Butterfield & Co, with offices in both Bradford and New York.

The three elder brothers continued manufacturing in Keighley. John died unmarried in 1865, leaving almost £50,000 to be divided between his siblings. Richard died at Woodlands in Haworth in 1869, leaving his estate of £180,000 in trust for his daughter, Jennie.

Butterfield Bros finally closed after William, the last of the partners, died at his desk at Prospect Mill on Saturday June 20, 1874. He left his estate of nearly £300,000 to be divided between his two remaining brothers, Henry and Frederick. Their only sister had died some years previously.

Frederick remained in business in New York until his death in 1883.

Henry Isaac spent the remainder of his years between Cliffe Castle, Paris, Nice and later Teignmouth in Devon, where he died in 1910, leaving £250,000 to his son Frederick.