Bibby, Joseph

Born on 12 January 1851, he was the second son of James Bibby, a farmer and corn miller who was Sunday School superintendent at Quernmore WM church, near Lancaster. He had a devout Methodist upbringing, but his interest in spirituality was wide enough to include the teaching of eastern religions.

Leaving school in 1865 he joined his father in the family milling business, but continued his education in his spare time. Seeking better prospects, he visited Canada and the USA, which alerted him to the growing threat from the north American grain trade. Taking over the family business in Lancaster, with his brother James, in 1878, he began experimenting with new blends of cattle fodder and in 1882 built a five-storey steam mill. When this was destroyed by fire in 1885, the firm moved to new premises in Liverpool, rebuilt and enlarged after another fire in 1892. A new product, Bibby's Pure Soap, was marketed in 1896. The firm continued to grow and became a limited company in 1914, with sons from the next generation becoming directors. Joseph's concern for both individual needs and good causes was reflected in the introduction of non-contributory pensions and other improvements to working conditions.

James Bibby concentrated on production, while Joseph's skills were in marketing and publicity. His Bibby's Annual featured reproductions of famous paintings. Although he was a regular worshipper at Palm Grove WM Church in the Birkenhead Circuit, he later developed an interest in theosophy and became a vegetarian. He was a generous benefactor to Methodist causes. He served as a Liberal councillor between 1904 and 1911 and also as a JP. He wrote books on social issues: Social Progress (1926) and Capitalism, Socialism and Unemployment (1929). He died at Bidston, Birkenhead on 11 March 1940.


'He was blessed with boundless energy, which he regarded as one of God's great gifts to him. It was typical of him that he invariably rose at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning, rejoicing in the opprotunity which the day offered him of using his energies for the good of his fellow men. He was absolutely unselfish by nature, all his thoughts being for others, for his family, his friends, his workers, the poor and needy... 'It was not great business acumen or financial genius that brought success to Joseph Bibby, for he would laughingly admit that these were never his strong points. Integrity, diligence, courage, enthusiasm, fearless enterprise - these were the secret.'

Methodist Recorder, 21 March 1940

  • Times, 13 March 1940
  • Methodist Recorder, 21 March 1940
  • J.B. and C.L. Bibby, A Miller's Tale: a history of J. Bibby & Sons Ltd., (1978)
  • Dictionary of Business Biography
  • Oxford DNB