Robin Longbottom examines the extraordinary lives of two brothers, who became leading figures in the textile industry

IN the late 1840s, two brothers were often seen in Keighley marketplace selling humbugs from an old tea tray.

The boys were Ira and James Ickringill, and the humbugs were made by their mother and sold to supplement the family income.

The Ickringills had moved to Keighley from Bingley shortly before James was born and their father worked as a hand woolcomber in their cottage near Castle Mill. When hand combing was mechanised, he turned to weaving and then became an overlooker at the mill. By 1860 the family had moved into a terraced house in Oakworth Road.

Both boys received schooling up to the age of eight, when they started work in the mill. Ira eventually obtained a job in Bradford as a wool buyer and sorter. James learned worsted spinning and aged about 20 set up in business in a vacant cellar with a 30-spindle 'dandy rover'. He then took room and power in a mill at Dowley Gap, near Bingley, before moving to Eastwood Mill in Keighley in 1871. The move to Eastwood Mill was largely financed by Ira, and they went into partnership and traded as Ira Ickringill & Co. Despite some early financial problems, they proved to be exceptional businessmen. The mill at Eastwood doubled in size and they took Walk Mill in Keighley in about 1880. By the middle of that decade they also occupied Tower Mill at Dalton Mills and North Worth Sheds. In 1887 they converted to a company of limited liability and were reputed to be the largest worsted spinners in the world, employing almost 2,000 workers and running machines with an estimated 80,000 spindles.

Until their rapid expansion in the 1880s both brothers lived in mill cottages in Park Terrace, off Dalton Lane. Ira then bought a piece of land above Devonshire Park and built a substantial house named Laurel Mount. It had a conservatory, greenhouses, service buildings to the rear and a lodge at the entrance from Belgrave Road. He also employed two servants and a gardener. With his newfound status he entered local politics and was the mayor of Keighley three times.

James Ickringill, unlike his elder brother, did not hanker after a grand house in the fashionable part of the town. He was a devoted Primitive Methodist and moved to a more modest house in Oakworth Road, that was rather un-inspiringly named Oakworth Road House. From here he pursued the cause of Primitive Methodism. Across the road from his house, he established the Oakworth Road Mission, now the Church of the Nazarene. He also formed a Boys Brigade and provided the instruments for Ickringill’s Brass Band. After the marriage of his eldest son, Jeremiah, in 1895 a house was built for him in the grounds of Oakworth Road House and later named Poplar House. His younger son, James Jnr, married in 1898 and moved into his father’s house, whilst his father and mother, and a servant, moved into a cottage at the rear. A few years after the death of his wife in 1903, James Ickringill pulled down the cottage and replaced it with Balcony House, one of the most unusual houses to have been built in Keighley. It faced the rising sun and was built in the ‘colonial’ style. It had a first-floor balcony running along the length of the front and was protected from the weather by an overhanging roof supported by twin wooden columns.

Ira died in 1911 and Laurel Mount has since become a nursing home. James died in 1924 and Oakworth Road House and The Poplars are today divided into flats whilst Balcony House is sadly derelict. Ira Ickringill & Co Ltd ceased trading in Keighley in 1920 and moved all business to Legrams Mill in Bradford.