Ferens, Rt Hon Thomas Robinson, MP

WM businessman and benefactor, born at East Thickley near Bishop Auckland on 4 May 1847, the son of a miller. He was educated by a Bishop Auckland clergyman and began his working life as a clerk at the age of 13. His career was largely spent in the service of the Quaker firm of Reckitt & Sons Ltd of Hull. He became confidential clerk to James Reckitt in 1868 and enjoyed rapid promotion within the company. Aware of the vital importance of consistent quality in the firm's products, he became works manager in 1874, the first company secretary of Reckitt & Sons Ltd. in 1879, general manager in 1880 and Chairman in 1927. He oversaw the firm's overseas expansion and the introduction of new products in response to a changing market.

He was a generous donor to medical and educational causes, and particularly to the WM Church and its boarding schools (including extensions at Kingswood School, where a new teaching block, opened in 1926, was named after him). Hull Art Gallery was established in 1917 through his generosity. Hull University College, established in 1925, was largely facilitated by his gift of £250,000. The College (now the University) chose as its motto 'Lampada Ferens' ('bearing the torch') and he endowed a Chair of Philosophy there. He was involved in the development of the Garden Village at Hull. He was given the Freedom of the City in 1911 and became High Steward of Hull the following year, but declined a title when offered it.

He attended Brunswick Chapel, Hull and served as superintendent of its Sunday School for over 40 years. He was a strong advocate of teetotalism. He endowed a Chair of NT Language and Literature at Headingley College in the 1920s (later transferred to Wesley College, Bristol). In 1902 he joined in the refusal to pay rates, as a protest against the Education Act of that year. As Liberal MP for East Hull 1906-18 he never spoke in the House except to ask occasional questions, but chaired several committees and was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1912. He died at his home, Holderness House in Hull, on 9 May 1930.

  • Times, 10 & 28 May 1930, 8 May 1997
  • Methodist Recorder, 15 May 1930
  • Geoffrey E. Milburn, 'Piety, Profit and Paternalism', in WHS Proceedings 44 (1983-84)
  • Christine Caddy, 'Thomas Robinson Ferens' in Bulletin of the North East Methodist History Society 108 (Autumn 2017) pp.8-10
  • Dictionary of Business Biography (1984), vol.2 pp.342-45
  • Oxford DNB