Holden family of Bradford

Isaac Holden, 1st Baron Holden (1807-1897), was born on 7 May 1807 at Hurlet, near Glasgow, the son of a Cumbrian WM local preacher, lead miner and tenant farmer who moved to Paisley to find work as a coal miner. Isaac decided in 1824 to candidate for the WM ministry, but his father's death in 1826 meant that he had to support his mother. Finding the physical demands in the mine too great, he became a teacher at Sigston's Academy in Leeds, but lost his post by refusing to join the Protestant Methodists. By 1839 he was in the employment of the worsted manufacturing firm of Townends at Cullingworth, Yorks., where, during his 16 years, he perfected wool-combing machinery. He went into business by himself in 1846 and built up a Bradford textile empire. His large Alston Works, Thornton Road, Bradford were opened in 1864. His sons Angus and Edward became his partners to form Isaac Holden & Sons. He extended his business interests into France, aided by his marriage into the Sugden WM family which had a worsted manufacturing business in the Worth Valley. He is also credited with the invention of the lucifer match.

A local preacher and member of Eastbrook Chapel, Bradford, his wealth was used in WM causes, including the Metropolitan Chapel Building Fund and the building of chapels at Knaresborough (1865) and Manningham St John's, Bradford (1879). He was Liberal MP for Knaresborough in 1865-1868, for the Northern Division of the West Riding 1882-1885 and for Keighley, 1885-1895. He was created baronet in 1893 and a freeman of the borough of Keighley just before his death. He died at his home, Oakworth House, near Keighley, on 13 August 1897.

His eldest son Angus Holden (1833-1912), born 16 March 1833, was educated at Wesley College, Sheffield, and learned the wool-combing business at the factory in France. He had a distinguished career as a Liberal politician. He was elected to the Bradford council in 1868, became an alderman 1879-1886 and was mayor in 1878-1881 and again in 1886-87. He stood unsuccessfully for Knaresborough in 1884, was MP for Bradford East 1885-1886 and then the Buckrose Division of the East Riding, 1892-1900. On the death of his father he became the second baronet and was raised tp the peerage in 1908 as Baron Alston. He died on 25 March 1912. His son Ernest Illingworth Holden (b 8 January 1876; d 30 January 1937) succeeded to the title.

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In the next generation, Sir Isaac Holden (son of Edward Holden and grandson of Isaac Holden and Dr. Peter Wood), was born on 8 July 1867. Educated at The Leys School and Christ's College, Cambridge, he was chairman of the family firm for 25 years. While living in Southport, he became a prominent resident and a JP. He later moved to Keswick. He was a generous supporter of foreign missions and one of the initiators of the Laymen's Missionary Movement (later known as Methodists for World Mission). He was Vice-President of the Conference in 1939 and died on 5 January 1962. His granddaughter, the children's author Lucy Boston, painted an unflattering portrait of him in her autobiographical Perverse and Foolish (1979, reprinted as part of Memories (1992).)

Angus William Eden Holden (1898-1951), son of Ernest Isaac Holden, born 1 August 1898, a professional diplomat, was at the Holy See 1918, then subsequently ambassador to Spain, 1921-1924 and Germany, 1924-1926. He stood unsuccessfully for the Liberals for Tottenham North in 1929. He joined the Labour Party in 1945 serving as Speaker and Deputy Chairman in the House of Lords and then as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, March to July 1950. Having become the third baron on the death of his father in 1937, but remaining unmarried, the line ended with the his death on 6 July 1951.


'Uncle Holden … lived in style. He was a big, fat man who spoke broad Yorkshire. His bearded kisses always smelled of soup. His beard was very long and as soft as a girl's hair. His eccentricities were our joy. He was deaf, and in order to save himself the trouble of holding his hand behind his ear he had caused to be made for himself a pair of tortoise-shell ears almost big enough for an African elephant, held in place by a spring fitting over the top of his head. These he wore in Chapel with great effect, and they enabled him to shout "Alleluia" or "Praise be to God" at suitable (to his idea) moments in a sermon…

'Uncle was a glutton. My sharp nursery eyes must have widened when the butler carried in two large plum puddings, one of which served five people and the other was lifted whole onto uncle's plate.. After lunch he slept and snored with a large handkerchief over his face… Uncle before he aged into gluttony and sleep must have been a lively generous fellow.'

Lucy M. Boston, Perverse and Foolish, reprinted in Memories (1973), pp.29-32

  • Methodist Times, 1 February 1894
  • Methodist Recorder, 20 July 1939
  • Conference Handbook, 1939
  • M. Stenton, Who's Who of British MPs, vol. 2 (1978)
  • Katrina Honeyman and Jordan Goodman, Technology and Enterprise: Isaac Holden and the Mechanisation of Woolcombing in France, 1848-1914 (Aldershot, 1986)
  • E. Jennings in WHS Proceedings, 43 pp.117-26, 150-58
  • C. Giles & I.H. Goodall, Yorkshire Textile Mills, 1770-1930 (1992)
  • Colin Clark and Reuben Davison, In Loving Memory: the story of Undercliffe Cemetery (Stroud, 2004)
  • Tony Holden, Holden's Ghost. The Life and Times of Sir Isaac Holden, inventor, woolcomber and Nonconformist Radical Liberal MP (2015)
  • Oxford DNB