Barlow family, of Bolton

James Barlow of Bolton, Lancs., was born on 23 April 1821, the son and heir of a small mill-owner in Edgworth, near Bolton. He prospered as a quilt-manufacturer by introducing steam-powered machinery into his mill, in the face of fierce opposition from the hand-loom weavers in his employment. His business interests also included Chairman of Ansley Hall Coal & Iron Co., Director of Union Bank, Manchester, and Direcor of Montpenna Forest and Mine Co, Italy.

He was elected to Bolton town council 1853-56 and 1862-56, became an alderman in 1863 and was elected mayor in 1867 and again in 1868. As mayor he had to read the Riot Act in the face of a series of Fenian outrages. The first Chairman and Treasurer of the WM Insurance Company, he remained a devoted and influential Methodist and temperance advocate, serving for a time as President of the British Temperance League. He was an early supporter of NCHO, to which he gave a former public house and the adjoining land at Edgworth to be developed as a training centre for boys. He died at Bolton on 16 August 1887.

The oldest of his seven children was Sir Thomas Barlow (1845-1945), born at Edgworth on 4 September 1845. He read natural sciences at Owens College, Manchester, took a London BSc in 1867 and qualified as a physician at University College, London in 1870. He gained his MD in 1874 and was appointed medical registrar at Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he served until 1899. He also served at the Charing Cross Hospital, London Hospital, University Hospital and London Fever Hospital before retiring in 1910. His most important research was into infantile scurvy, meningitis and rheumatic illness. In his later years he concentrated on private practice, where his patients included Archbishop Davidson and the royal family. A Wesleyan by upbringing and a lifelong teetotaller (and president of the National Temperance League 1923-1930), he led a Bible class at King's Cross chapel and as a close friend of J. Scott Lidgett suggested his nomination to the Athenaeum in 1923. But in later years he worshipped as an Anglican. He was created a baronet and appointed KVCO in 1901, became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1909 and president of the Royal College of Physicians from 1909 to 1914. He died in London on 12 January 1945.

Another son, John Robert Barlow (1852-1923) was born on 7 March 1852. He remained the chairman of the family cotton-spinning business and continued his father's active interest in the work of the NCHO, serving as its General Treasurer. He died on 16 July 1923.

One of Thomas Barlow's daughters, Alice Barlow (1861-1919), born on 14 May 1861, was a student at Girton College, Cambridge, taking her MA at Trinity College, Dublin. Living at Edgworth she was actively involved in the local Sunday School and in organising events for the NCHO and in support of the WM Missionary Society. As a member of the Saint Martin's Band, she would have promised to 'try to do one hour's work each month for the poor and friendless'. She was a representative to the WM Conference in 1911. Alice Barlow House at the Bermondsey Settlement was named after her. She died on 31 October 1919.

Another daughter, Annie Barlow (1863-1941), was an enthusiastic supporter of social and educational causes, notably the Egyptian Exploration Fund. One result of this was the Egyptology collection in Bolton Museum, considered one of the finest in the provinces.

Sir Thomas Barlow (1883-1964) (a grandson?) built up the family cotton business of Barlow & Jones Ltd., of Bolton and Manchester, joined the board of the District Bank in 1922 and became its chairman in 1947. Between 1930 and 1958 he was a governor, and for a time chairman, of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, to which he had donated a van Gogh in 1927. He continued the family support for the NCHO at Edgworth, where Barlow House was opened in 1922.


[Sir Thomas Barlow] '… a beloved physician indeed … a man of wide culture, not only in medicine, but also in literature and in art. He carried his many high honours with a beautiful modesty, and was one of the most friendly of men.

'Some years ago he was knocked down in a street accident in London, taken to hospital and placed in a public ward. When later the authorities discovered who he was they wanted to remove him to a private ward. But he refused this and said: "I have spent much of my life in hospital wards, and now I will be a patient in one."'

W. Bardsley Brash, in Methodist Recorder

'Sir Thomas Barlow … had his roots in Methodism , and for some years he was a member of the Wesleyan Conference … For many years we were joint treasurers of the National Children's Home. I cannot think he liked sinecures, for in all his offices he seemed to devote an extraordinary amount of time to the detail work. He was especially energetic in correspondence, and punctilious in attending committee meetings… Honours fell thick and fast upon him… All these distinctions, and other honours which came to him, left him quite unspoiled. He was always unaffected, friendly and most approachable. He had a specially warm corner in his heart for children, and one of the appointments which brought him much happiness was the office of consulting physician to the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street. In the work of the National Children's Home he was a tower of strength, particularly on all questions relating to the health of our family of between three and four thousand children.'

Harold Bellman, Cornish Cockney: Reminiscences and Reflections (1927) p.208

  • [James Barlow] The Christian Miscellany, 1883, pp.385-89
  • Methodist Temperance Magazine, 1887, pp.145-48
  • William Bradfield, Life of Thomas Bowman Stephenson (1913) pp. 271-73
  • Times, 15 January 1945
  • Methodist Recorder, 25 January 1945
  • H. and A. Barlow (eds.), Sir Thomas Barlow, bt. (1965)
  • Century of Service (Methodist Insurance Company Centenary booklet, 1970) p.16
  • Anita D. Forth, Edgworth to Crowthorn: the story of a Lancashire Children's Home (Blackpool, 2005)
  • Brian Mills, 'James Barlow, Mayor of Bolton 1867-69' in Lancashire Wesley Historical Society Bulletin, no. 64, Spring 2017, pp.27-8
  • Oxford DNB