People and places of Middleton
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The Schwabes


Schwabe is a name in Middleton's history most of us have heard of. Many know that Salis Schwabe was the man behind the calico printing factory in Rhodes with its famous chimney, who employed hundreds of Middletonians in his time and that he, along with his wife Julia, were much adored and respected for their kindness to their work-force and the provision of educational facilities for the children of the town, but what else do we know of this couple who achieved so much, touched the lives of so many locals and had associations with people in high places, some of whom they even brought to the town?

Why did they come to Middleton and where from? Considering all that this family was involved in, surprisingly very little has been written in-depth about them other than snippets of information from sources written on other subjects rather than the story of their own lives.

Having had seven children, a few descendant Schwabes were to follow on, take over the Schwabe empire and go on to have tales of their own to tell but I have gathered what information I can to paint a picture of the original man and his wife, a strong character in her own right, who were to start it all.

The beginning

Salis Schwabe Salis Schwabe (born Salomon ben Elias Schwabe) was born 20th February 1800 in Oldenburg, Westphalia, Germany. At aged 17 he came over to the UK, firstly settling in Glasgow and becoming a cotton merchant. Considering we are talking nearly 100 years before the two world wars of the 20th century, it is clear that there was, even then, a lot of unrest and political conflict between the people and their leaders in Europe, particularly regarding the Jewish community who were somewhat oppressed and even persecuted. Being of Jewish roots, Salis was one of the first to sling his hook but it was mostly during the 1830's and 40's that many of these Jewish German immigrants flooded into Britain.

This co-incided with the industrial revolution and it was the boom in many of the northern English towns that attracted these somewhat wealthy immigrants. Already in Scotland, Salis was one of these to see the potential in the north of England and upped sticks and headed down to Middleton in 1832 to establish his renowned and affectionately remembered Schwabe Calico Printing Works at Rhodes.

The German Jews had a strong sense of civic loyalty, charity and humanitarianism. Salis was particularly noted for being a philanthropist, which basically means someone with the greatest consideration, kindness and respect for his fellow man, whatever their status. He is said to have been involved in a "secret charity which enabled young men of slender means to set up in business" as he had himself done. As an employer, his attitude would have been especially appreciated by his Middleton workers as it is well known that the wealthy mill owners were not usually the kindest of people and working conditions really were dire in those days.

Salis was an outspoken critic of extreme political trends, particularly socialism which he described as "the wretchedness of the working-classes, ruin to the employers and total subversion of existing relations of society". He wanted free competition and mutual respect between employer and employee which he believed he had achieved at Rhodes. He maintained that it was up to the business community to "do all in our power to make our people frugal, provident, truly religious". He publicly urged thrift on his own workers to cope with the ups and downs of the economy. At the time of his death he was planning a public reading room with books and newspapers, where men could meet in the evening for a cup of coffee. The exceptionally harmonic relationship between Salis and his work-force was evident.

Such immigrants often had liberal ideals in politics, possibly down to their own experiences of oppression and almost rebelled against any unfairness by joining forces and standing up to be counted. Many, including Salis, even gave up their Jewish faith, joining Unitarian Christian churches instead. This may have been due to a combination of wanting to escape from any aspect of life that threatened their freedom to choose for themselves, along with a desire to integrate within the communities they had chosen to make their homes. It didn't go down too well in the stricter Jewish community and is a possible reason why some of the more prominent people don't seem to feature in some of the history books they deserve to have a place in but as it was quoted; "the German national virtues, rectitude, industry and practical usefulness seemed to have already assured the Germans in Manchester of the respect of their fellow citizens". Salis was naturalized British in 1835.

Julia Schwabe

Julia Schwabe

Julia deserves credit equally alongside her husband for being just as strong and passionate, if not more, for fighting for what is right or needed. They shared a belief in education and Julia carried on her campaign and benevolence in this area for many years after Salis' death. They instilled these qualities into their children who carried on their work in the community for some time after their demise.

Also a German Jew, Julia (born Ricke Rosetta Schwabe) was born in Bremen on 31 January 1818, and educated in Hamburg. At 18 on 14 October 1837, she married Salis who was her cousin, and already by now a highly successful calico printer here in Middleton. Rhodes would have been little more than tranquil countryside at that time and initially, the couple may have lived close to the factory at Rhodes House. This is described as a large manor like building in a rural setting with bordered lawns.

Both Julia and Salis developed a friendly relationship with the people of the village. Not long after their marriage, they built a school and library at the print works in the late 1830's. Bearing in mind that this was a few years before factory owners were required by law to provide education for factory children, it shows how the couple gave these facilities to the people at their own expense, not because they had to but because they wanted to. Just one of many examples of their kindness and willingness to give something more back to the people who worked for them and had accepted them into the community, and why they were so fondly remembered for many years to come.

The Factory

Salis had taken over Daniel Burton's Mill which had been previously burnt down in the Luddite riots of 1825 but had been largely rebuilt before he took over the lease in 1832. He then expanded on this to become a very successful and wealthy man. The factory buildings eventually covered 8.5 acres with 14 surrounding reservoirs taking the total acreage of the site up to over 30. There were around 750 employees and 21 printing machines. The number of pieces that could be printed in one year was 600,000, each piece 28 yards in length making a total of 16,800,000 yards.

The Chimney

The 'Collossus' from the top of Boardman Lane, courtesy of Frank Jackson The Collossus of Rhodes, John Ashton's Monument, Big Bertha (Who was Bertha?), call it what you will, Schwabe's famous chimney that dominated the skyline of Middleton has to be worthy of a mention.

The wealthy mill owners vied for a place in the record books and had the money to have a go, no doubt taking time off to play with the 'boy's toy's' of the day, just because they could! Rhodes chimney went down in the history books for a while as being the tallest chimney in Europe but it wasn't long before Salis was 'outdone' and no doubt he was a bit gutted but still, Rhodes chimney had its glory moment and remained standing until the early 1980's.

The chimney from an old postcard, courtesy of Frank Jackson Built by John Ashton of Blackley in 1846 at a cost of £5,000 and 8 months in the making, the chimney contained over one and a half million bricks and was 358 feet high. As many bricks again were underground in a basement 39ft deep with flues reaching outwards and onwards to 16 boilers in various buildings on the vast site. The chimney had iron neck moulds and a cap weighing 11 tons. It was said that this cap was wide enough to ride a horse and cart round it. The inside diameter at the entrance of the flues was 22 feet and inside diameter at the top, 9 feet.

The stone bore the monogram "S.S & Co. 1846." Typically of Salis, it is said that he had a portrait painted of the builder "seated at home with the chimney, his masterpiece, in view through an open door" and presented it to him. It would be interesting to know what became of this. Could it be gathering dust in someone's loft?

Crumpsall House

In 1848, the Schwabes moved just out of Middleton to Crumpsall House off Middleton Road, just after Heaton Park near to the bottom of Crumpsall Lane. Rhodes would have been getting quite built up and of course they could afford a bigger and better home for their growing family. Moving literally just up the road would suggest they didn't really want to leave Middleton at all as they certainly didn't go very far. Maybe Crumpsall House was the nearest property suiting their needs to become available.

The 1851 Census details the family at this address and gives an indication of how wealthy they were at this point and how big this house must have been as shown below:

Schwabe Sales, aged 51, Head (of the house), Printer, (b) Germany
Schwabe Julia, aged 31, Wife, (b) Germany
Schwabe Harriett, aged 12, Daughter, Home, (b) Middleton
Schwabe Edwin Golis, aged 10, Son, Scholar, (b) Middleton
Schwabe George, aged 7, Son, Scholar, (b) Middleton
Schwabe Frederick, aged 6, Son, Scholar, (b) Middleton
Schwabe Julia, aged 5, Daughter, Home, (b) France
Schwabe Catherine Mariama, aged 3M (months) Daughter, Home, (b) Crumpsall
Schwabe Emilie, aged 20, Niece, Visitor, (b) Germany
Megurn Betsy, aged 16, Visitor, Visitor, (b) Germany
Frances Rachael, aged 30, Serv, Governess, (b) London, Middlesex
Brendon Isabella, aged 28, Serv, Companion, (b) Werrington, Devon
Grotz Augusta, aged 24, Serv, Master, BS, Germany
Taylor Elizabeth, aged 25, Serv, Nurse, (b) Scotland
Leonard Eliza, aged 35, Serv, Lady Maid, (b) London, Middlesex
Rosenthal Julia, aged 30, Serv, Cook, (b) Germany
Stewart James, aged 27, Serv, Laundry Maid, (b) Scotland
Platt Sophia, aged 20, Serv, Sewer, (b) Cheshire
Brough Margaret, aged 30, Serv, House Maid, (b) Lancashire
Balmer Mary Ann, aged 27, Serv, Nurse, (b) London, Middlesex
Percival Jane, aged 26, Serv, Kitchen Maid, (b) Runcorn, Cheshire
Williamson Sarah, aged 20, House Maid, House Maid, (b) Salford, Lancashire
Windmuller Caroline, aged 20, Servant, Laundress Maid, BS, Germany
Cole Henry, aged 17, Servant, Butler, (b) Gloucester
Booth James, aged 23, Servant, Footman, (b) Lancashire
Keenan Frederick, aged 22, Serv, Groom, (b) Coventry

That's a total of 26 persons living or staying at the house on the day the Census people visited. The couple themselves and their seven young children, two guests and no less than 16 staff. That's a lot of wages to pay (aside from the factory staff) and a lot of house to accommodate them. Salis had become devoted to Unitarian Christianity and his servants were gathered for evening prayer meetings at which he read from the Bible.

Crumpsall House was demolished in 1934 and as sadly all too often, streets of houses now occupy the site. In its heyday, it was described as standing in its own extensive grounds and of Georgian style with stables and various outbuildings. Ornamental gardens surrounded the house with more fields, one containing a lake, surrounding the gardens. The family also had Villa at Glyn Garth, Anglesey, which stood on the road from Menai Bridge to Beaumaris. The Schwabes also travelled abroad frequently, both for business and pleasure, especially in Europe and also had a house in Paris. They loved to entertain and accommodated many interesting and famous guests at all their properties. There would have been a hive of activity much of the time, especially at Crumpsall.

Famous friends and events

The Schwabes both socialised and worked with many notable and famous people from all backgrounds. As well as the rapport they seemed to share with the Middleton townsfolk, they moved easily into the middle-class circles embracing the causes of the time and developing relationships with like-minded people.

Richard Cobden

Richard Cobden Salis strongly supported the Anti-Corn Law movement and he and Julia became intimate friends with campaigner Richard Cobden and his wife Catherine. Salis gave generously to the fund and both he and Julia accompanied the Cobdens on their European tour in 1846. Here they were said to have 'bumped into' Alexandre Dumas, famous French author of "The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo", another snippet of information that suggests that they were well known in artistic circles in Paris.

Later after Salis' death, Julia wrote a book about Cobden, "Reminiscences of Richard Cobden" under the name Mrs Salis Schwabe.

Frederic Chopin and Jenny Lind

Chopin In 1848 Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin was a guest at Crumpsall House. Himself a victim of the troubles in Europe, he had taken up residency in Paris and it's thought that this was where he too became acquainted with the Schwabes. Chopin had a concert booked in Manchester arranged by the Schwabes to raise funds for the infirmary in August of that year and was invited to stay with them for the duration of his stay which was about four days. Chopin was prone to ill health and wasn't well during his visit. Letters he wrote to friends reveal details of his stay.

"I am here to rest after the London season and keep quiet till 28th of this month when I am due in Manchester. I will get £60 for it. One can't reject that in these days. Schwabe (a rich local manufacturer) awaits me in Manchester. They live not right in the town but a few miles outside."

And after his stay

Jenny Lind "Since I wrote to you, I have been in Manchester. They received me very well. I stayed in the country (there is too much smoke in the town) all the rich people live outside. I stayed at the kind Schwabes. He is one of the first manufacturers, owns the biggest chimney in Manchester which cost £5,000. He is a friend of Cobden and himself a great Free Trader. He is a Jew but a protestant. His wife is particularly kind. They wanted to insist on me staying on because Jenny Lind is to come there this week and will also stay with them."

Jenny Lind was an opera singer who sang at the Theatre Royal in Manchester. She too stayed with the Schwabes just a few days later. Chopin never spoke of the Schwabes without using the words "good" or "kind". He was said to be a charming guest, genuinely interested in all he saw. His frail health was to cause his demise only the following year of tuberculosis, aged 39 in October 1849.

Rumour has it that when Rhodes chimney had reached a height of about 20ft, a block and tackle was used to hoist a 'passenger basket' for local dignitaries to be hauled up to the top so that afterwards when the chimney was referred to as the highest in Europe, they could claim to have 'been up it'. Chopin is said to have been one of these but this is unlikely as his visit was a couple of years after it was built and although the evidence suggests he had indeed marvelled at the structure, his frail condition would not have allowed such a feat.

Charles Halle

Charles Halle There were over a hundred German firms in Manchester by 1851 and the census of that year suggests the presence of one thousand persons of German birth. There were German language teachers in schools, music teachers and musicians, particularly in the orchestra of Charles Halle, the pianist and conductor, himself an exile, and also a personal friend of the Schwabes hailing from the same German province.

Halle had moved to England, settling in Manchester where he started a series of classical music concerts. He was an important influence in the musical education of England and founded his famous Manchester Orchestra in 1858 which thrives to this day. It was quoted, "They (the Germans) brought a new culture with them which was, like the Halle Orchestra, to remain long after they were gone and forgotten."

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, often referred to simply as 'Mrs Gaskell', was an English novelist during the Victorian era. Her novels include Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South and Wives and Daughters. Her father, William Stevenson, was a Scottish Unitarian minister at Failsworth. Her husband William also had a literary career.

Their house in Plymouth Grove, Manchester, was a social centre for German families like the Schwabes, Jewish or otherwise. The Schwabes were also linked to the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, of which her husband was junior minister. The Gaskells themselves stayed on many occasions at Crumpsall House, Glyn Garth and the Schwabes' Parisian house. Mrs Gaskell's letters portray Julia as one of her closest friends and confidantes, often referring to her tastes and opinions.

A letter written by Mrs Gaskell in 1838 describes an occasion when "they thought nothing of walking, Elizabeth in great thick shoes and William in boots and without gloves, to a christening party in north Manchester, walking back home in daylight at 3.30 a.m." This date would fit in with the birth of daughter Harriet Schwabe in the census details above.

Other visitors to Plymouth Grove included Charles Dickens, John Ruskin and Harriet Beecher Stowe, while Charles Halle lived close by and taught piano to one of Gaskell's daughters. In 1849, Julia circulated a pamphlet on education for young children by Colonel James Fitzgibbon. Elizabeth Gaskell reported that Julia had returned from London "full of Mr Nash's Ragged School and of half hundred other people besides".

The Carlyles

Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, historian and teacher. He suffered a painful stomach ailment which contributed to his reputation as a crotchety, argumentative man. His thinking was heavily influenced by German Idealism and he established himself as an expert on German literature. He married Jane Baillie Welsh, another equally cranky writer and they moved to London where Thomas was known as the "Sage of Chelsea".

Jane Welsh Carlyle has been cited as the reason for his fame and fortune. She was most notable as a letter-writer. The Schwabes and the Carlyles were certainly well acquainted and reference to them is clear in Jane's letters. One quotes, "What nice people these Manchester Schwabes of Geraldine's turned out. I quite took to the Lady and she to me. I had a kind letter from her this morning swearing everlasting friendship and pressingly inviting us to visit them. I will certainly go the next time I am in Lancashire. They were staying with the Cobdens here."

Jane Welsh Carlyle Another letter directly to Julia in 1849 reads;
"My dear Mrs Schwabe, I was very glad indeed to receive a note from you. I should regret that you came at all, had our acquaintance been to give just one cry in the world and then return “into the womb of uncreated night”! Your next visit to London will be, I hope in milder weather, when I may follow my inclinations without risk of laying myself up, which Geraldine can tell you, it is mighty easy for me to do."

"Your patronage of Colonel Fitzgibbon, is about as gratifying to me as to himself. Mr C and I have talked about him to all our official, and professedly benevolent friends till our tongues have been wearing smaller in our heads, and with no earthly result or prospect of result, and here you descend like “a Goddess out of a Machine” to benefit him precisely in the way most gratifying to his feelings by buying and circulating his pamphlet, for this Education-Theory is the good old man's hobby which he rides with a sublime superiority to all considerations of profit and loss. It is a most romantic and touching history which I will tell you the first long tete a tete we have together. Will you give my kind remembrance to Mr Schwabe, most truly yours, Jane Carlyle."

The Carlyles' marriage is said to be one of the most famous, well documented, and unhappy of literary unions. Some 9000 letters between them have been published showing the couple had an affection for one another marred by frequent and angry quarrels. Samuel Butler wrote, "It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four."

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas. He pioneered advances in musical language which greatly influenced the development of European classical music and built his own opera house, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

In Wagner's biography he describes how he thought that money he had received from Julia Schwabe (5,000 francs) when he was living in Paris in 1860 was a gift and the great shock he experienced when he found out she considered it a loan. This may explain why it took her five years to recover, including sending the police to his flat to remove his furniture.

Other famous names

Ary Scheffer, a French painter of Dutch extraction was an accomplished portrait painter. His subjects included Chopin and Liszt. He painted portraits of both Julia (entitled ‘Prophetess of liberal education’ showing a bright, buxom woman with dark hair, full lips, and a challenging gaze, dated 1850) and Salis, including one commissioned by Julia after Salis' death.

Other names linked to the Schwabes include Thomas Erskine of Linlathen who was an outstanding revisionary and constructive lay theologian, Alexander John Scott of Owens College, the fore-runner of Manchester University, Florence Nightingale, George Eliot, Dame Ethel Smyth and the Brownings. Chevalier Sigismund Neukomm, considered to be one of Haydn's most brilliant pupils, resided for a while at Crumpsall House in the 1840's. Baron von Bunsen was a German diplomat and scholar. His wife Frances who visited Rhodes in 1849, admired ‘the numberless arrangements’ which Schwabe had made ‘for the comfort and intellectual furtherance’ of his work-people.

Other endeavours and successes

Just how much can two people pack into a lifetime, as well as having a huge business and large family to bring up? Salis was a founding member and vice president of the Manchester Society for Promoting National Education which became the National Public School Association. Another example of his compassion was quoted; "his humane ideas were a century before his time". After seeing mental asylum inmates in Manchester being chained and beaten, which was customary in those days, he collected £25,000 to build a lunatic asylum. The result was Cheadle Royal Lunatic Asylum of which he became treasurer for the rest of his life.

Julia was said to have once walked out of a bullfight disgusted in Madrid. An indication of her sensitivity to pain of any kind. As well as education of the working classes, the Schwabes contributed personally and financially to the expansion and improvement of the Manchester Royal Infirmary (the Chopin concert being just one of many events organised to raise funds), lodging houses for the wayfaring poor and a reform school for juvenile offenders.

The revolution in Europe drew German people of all creeds together. Salis chaired a meeting of 200 Germans in Manchester in 1848 who voted an address of sympathy to the Frankfurt Assembly, "itself a tribute to the 'orderly' methods of the German rebels" Salis claimed. His belief in compulsory education was also aired at this meeting having witnessed violence in Paris where Julia had given birth to their 5th child. He stressed "how worthy the rebels were to receive true liberty. It must not be forgotten that they had diffused throughout the whole of the German people that high degree of education which had prepared the people for receiving and rightly using freedom, and without which education they could never have received it."

Salis was a generous patron of the arts and music. He made large donations to the Manchester School of Art and Manchester Athenaeum which was built behind the City Gallery as an extension of the facility when it became overcrowded.

In 1851, doctors August Schoepf Merei and Oldham born James Whitehead wrote a pamphlet which was circulated among their friends describing the need for a children's hospital in Manchester as well as the proposed management structure. It is likely that they put prospective donors off as they expected people to donate without being part of the active management of the hospital but both men had experienced conflict with hospital committees.

It was two years before they found a suitable benefactor who would help with fundraising but trust the doctors to make decisions for themselves as to the running of the hospital. Enter Salis Schwabe, who would have done the fundraising without interfering in the doctors' work as he was already prominent and influential in Manchester and didn't need the prestige of involvement in a hospital management committee.

In 1853, there was a meeting with Salis as Chairman to discuss the project. Unfortunately, he died before any progress was made and the efforts were discontinued for a time as they were deprived of the scheme's "most efficient promoter." No other help was forthcoming after Schwabe's death so a committee was eventually agreed and The Clinical Hospital for the Diseases of Children opened in 1856 at 8 Stevenson Square. Among the first members of the committee also on the list of benefactors were the Rev. William Gaskell and his wife Elizabeth who was a member of the Ladies' Committee.

Death of Salis

Salis died 23rd July 1853 in his 54th year at Glyn Garth, his house in Anglesey. It was said that he died of "a complication of cholera, jaundice and scarlatina." During their stay the 2 younger boys developed scarlet fever, causing great anxiety to their father who eventually "took the infection" himself. A local doctor and a Manchester homeopathic surgeon were there and later Sir Benjamin Brodie was sent for but he arrived from Manchester only 2 hours before Salis died.

The funeral was July 30th at Harpurhey Cemetery and was quite an occasion. Shops were shuttered along the route of the procession which people waited over an hour to see. Mutes walked up front and more on horseback escorted the hearse drawn by four horses. More mounted mutes came next followed by 10 mourning coaches and seventy three carriages including those of Civic Authorities and business representatives.

The most touching part of the spectacle, it was said, was that of 354 black-clad workmen from Rhodes who, at their own request, accompanied their master to his resting place, walking four abreast at the head of the procession, later to line the paths to the vault.

Richard Cobden was one of the pall-bearers. Charles Halle, William Bally, the Bishop of Manchester and many of the leading persons in the city were there as well as leaders of the local Jewish community. The obituary makes it clear that Salis was regarded as a great man, deeply respected and liked by all classes. The Schwabe vault in Harpurhey Cemetery bears the following inscription; "Children and friends may you live and die like him." He and Julia's bodies were eventually moved to London and the vault in Harpurhey with it's, now rusty, wrought iron railings is sadly overgrown.

Salis left Julia a widow and seven young children, none of them old enough to take over Rhodes Works, which passed into the temporary control of his brother-in-law Adolf Schwabe and the Manchester cotton merchant James Reiss.

Manchester poet Charles Swain wrote the following epitaph regarding Salis;

Whoe'er thou art who read'st this sculptur'd line,
Here pause, and learn how death becomes divine,
How holy grows the spot where rests the just,
What living flowers enwreath his lifeless dust!
And learning thus what Virtue's path can give,
Oh! seek thy home, and aim like him to live!

Of gentle manners, cultivated mind,
A spirit seeking good for all mankind,
A heart with every fond affection rife,
Through all the dear relationships of life;
A lover of that greatness which hath birth
In things of heaven, and not in gauds of earth;
The high, the pure, the intellectual dower
That soars from truth to truth, from power to power,
And seeks to prove, wherever man hath trod,
That Progress is the ordinance of God!

To Art, to Science, lending aid sincere,
Anxious to cherish and expand their sphere;
To welcome Knowledge as the people's friend,
And bid the lowest in earth's scale ascend!
Woe for the hour when that warm heart grew cold,
'Twas the first time, to young, or poor, or old!
Woe for the hour when that kind hand grew still,
'Twas death alone could check the generous will!
'Twas death alone, no other might succeed
To keep unhelped the widow in her need!
Oh! ye to whom the like rich store is given,
Learn here the way that leads the heart to heaven;
And you, ye poor, with flowers his sad grave strew:
He was a Man! woe that such men are few!

Salis Schwabe Salis was described as, "the epitome of all that was refined, benevolent, tolerant, and high-minded in the middle-class citizens. His life demonstrates the ease with which German businessmen (many of recent Jewish extraction) were allowed to move in the Liberal circles of Manchester's middle-class society. For their part, the local Liberal élite, by drawing men such as Schwabe into their midst, effectively linked the city with the civilized milieux of Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, so adding substance to their aspiration to convert the ‘boom city’ of Manchester into a centre of modern civilization."

William Bally was an artist and sculptor and after Salis' death, he created a life-like marble bust of him which was exhibited at the Manchester Art Gallery before going on display at the Rhodes Works. The bust's location was lost for a while in the years to follow with changes of ownership of the premises but it was found in recent years and displayed at Middleton Library before being moved to its current location, the Old Grammar School off Boarshaw Road where it can be viewed Tuesdays and Thursdays between 2-4pm.

A woman on a mission

After her husband's death, Julia continued relentlessly to pursue their shared passions alone. In a letter to Richard Cobden only 3 months after Salis' death, she insisted "that education for the masses is the safest means to improve 'rapidly' the degraded dwellings of the poor in this country. Of course, after the children have tasted for some time the blessings of education, they cannot any longer 'dwell quietly' in dirt and filth, they will revolt against it, and that is just what is wanted."

Giuseppe Garibaldi She funded medical relief for victims of conflict everywhere. Poles in 1863, Germans in 1866, French in 1870 and Russian Jews in 1891. In 1860, along with the Countess of Shaftesbury and other noble-minded Englishwomen, she shipped tents, mattresses and medical supplies to Garibaldi's troops and raised money for the wounded, also drafting in Florence Nightingale to help. In 1861 she became British representative of the Italian Ladies' Philanthropic Association and persuaded Garibaldi to provide food, work, and education for the masses. She raised £2000 in subscriptions and a further £1000 through a Jenny Lind concert. Ever determined, Julia knocked at famous doors in the hope of sponsorship and few dared to refuse. When Garibaldi was injured at Varignano in 1862 she rushed to his side, made him a clean shirt and organised delivery of a waterbed for him from Paris.

After the war, Julia continued with her mission in Italy. Shocked by squalor and ignorance, she established a girls' elementary school in Naples. Many difficulties were encountered but the movement grew despite them. In 1872, the Italian authorities granted the large government building of the Ex Collegio Medico in Naples for the project. Here in 1873, a kindergarten and elementary school for boys and girls opened.

Julia and The Froebel connection

Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel was a German schoolmaster who laid the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. He created the concept of the “kindergarten”, and also coined the term. Julia had discovered his philosophy during her travels in Germany, and had embraced it as the key to social progress.

Queen Victoria's eldest daughter As far as friends in high places go, you can't get much higher than royalty and Julia had a friend in Princess Victoria, the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She became German Empress and Queen of Prussia by marriage to German Emperor Frederick III. After his death, she was known as The Empress Frederick. She established schools for the higher education of girls and for nurses' training. As a talented and gifted artist in her own right, she was a patron of the arts and learning, becoming one of the organizers of the 1872 Industrial Art Exhibition.

A Times article dated 16 November 1877 stated; "Today Mrs Salis Schwabe's Exhibition of Pictures, Photographs and other Works of Art was opened. The Exhibition, being intended to assist the elementary schools founded at Naples by Mrs Schwabe, excites considerable attention and sympathy in this capital. The Empress has contributed some magnificent majolica. The King of Bavaria sent a photographic album containing scenes from the Ammergau Passion Plays and other valuable pictures. The bulk of the Exhibition consists of oil paintings, sketches, busts, and statuettes by German, English, and Italian masters. His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince honoured the Exhibition with a visit immediately after the opening ceremony."

With the proceeds of art sales such as this in London and Berlin, a training college was added to the schools at Naples in 1877 and in 1879 secondary classes for girls, whose parents helped cover the costs of poorer pupils. Despite opposition from the church, Julia persevered until, in 1887, her establishment was publicly incorporated as the Istituto Froebeliano Internazionale. In 1890 a handicrafts centre was added.

After the success of the Naples project, Julia set her sights on a similar project in England. As a result, the Froebel Educational Institute was inaugurated in 1892. Another friend of Julia, Manchester industrialist and politician William Mather, became the first Chairman of the English school. The college and school finally opened in Kensington in 1894, and as Patroness, Julia secured the services of Empress Frederick for Grand Opening which took place in 1895. The financial deficits were met by Claude Montefiore and Julia. Froebel College is now a constituent college of Roehampton University.

Throughout all of this achievement, Julia still continued charitable work she had started here in Middleton, visiting the schools at Rhodes whenever she could, donating cloth for the children's uniforms and arranging parties and outings. Although she could more than afford a life of luxury and leisure, she wanted to personally be involved in as much as she could. Also, preferring not to squander money on herself unnecessarily, she even opted to travel third class thus saving money that she could then, instead, put into more needy causes.

Death of Julia

Julia died suddenly of pneumonia at the Collegio Medico on 20 May 1896, and was buried three days later at the British cemetery in Naples in the presence of Italian and foreign dignitaries. In a subsequent tribute Claude Montefiore praised "her tremendous faith in the supreme importance of the cause, her unshaken conviction that persistent pegging away will at last overcome every obstacle".

The Guardian announced on May 23rd 1896; We regret to announce the death of Mrs Julia Salis Schwabe, widow of the late Mr Salis Schwabe of Glyn Garth, Anglesey and late of Rhodes house and Crumpsall House which took place suddenly in Naples on Wednesday from pneumonia in the 77th year of her age. The sad intelligence was received at Rhodes at 9 o'clock on Thursday morning and when the inhabitants became aware of the fact quite a gloom was cast over the village, for although the deceased lady had not been a very frequent visitor to Rhodes during recent years, she was nevertheless well known by almost every inhabitant except the juvenile portico and her many deeds of kindness will long be remembered by them. Immediately on receipt of the news the flag at Rhodes Works was hoisted half-mast."

Confusion and general mistakes

Rhodes School And there is the story of the very full and active lives of the Schwabes. There seems to be a lot of confusion over subsequent members of the family. In 1884, it was reported that Mrs Schwabe opened the schools at Mount Pleasant, which superseded the Chimney School and were built as a memorial to her youngest son. "Bands played, scholars walked and the entire population followed Mrs Schwabe into the building having opened the door with a gold key whilst she and Mr Schwabe unveiled the stone which is inscribed, "Rhodes School, built in affectionate remembrance of Salis Arthur Schwabe, by his mother and brothers, 1884." Julia didn't have a son called Arthur and this Mrs Schwabe was in fact Salis and Julia's daughter-in-law who had married their son Fred. This couple evidently continued the Schwabes good work. The death of this Mrs Schwabe was also reported at her home on Anglesey; "Aged 91 Mrs Schwabe packed her long life with deeds of sincerity and her goodwill was of unlimited dimensions. Associated with the owners of the Rhodes Print works, Mr and Mrs Schwabe left the village in the early part of 1895 having resided at Rhodes House for 21 years." The couple must have taken over Glyn Garth not long before Julia's death.

Another misconception is that Salis Schwabe committed suicide. The death of Edmund Salis Schwabe while on holiday in Canada was reported; "Flags were hoisted at half mast at the Rhodes Works, Middleton Liberal and Conservative Clubs, Rhodes New Bleach Works, Rhodes bowling green and the cricket ground. He suffered an attack of gout and depression that would result in his demise. Salis, aged 50, a widower for 20 years, was staying at the Windsor Hotel, Montreal. Early in the morning of 4 August 1891, a single gunshot was heard. Mr Schwabe was found in a state of unconsciousness with a bullet wound to his head. At the inquest the jury returned a verdict of suicide while in a temporary state of insanity." Again, this refers to another son of the Schwabes and the age and dates tie in with Edwin, listed in the earlier Census.

George Salis-Schwabe was a British army officer, calico printer and Liberal politician. He was a partner in firm of Salis Schwabe & Co, Calico Printers, of Rhodes and Manchester. In 1885 Salis Schwabe was elected Member of Parliament for Middleton holding the seat until the 1886 election. This was another son, George, also listed in the census.

This should confirm some of the stories in Middleton about which Schwabe was which. Daughter Julia married Liberal MP Frank Lockwood but I haven't really begun to delve any deeper into what the Schwabes children went on to achieve. That could be a whole new article one day.

Is there anything left today?

Workers pointing the chimney back in the early days. No safety equipment back then! Courtesy of Frank Jackson Not a lot. It took four years for workmen to bring down the Schwabe chimney finally getting to the bottom in 1982. Local demolition man Ben Lancaster bought it for £5 after it became a liability. The owners even failed even to give it away. Standing only 3 feet from the main road, it couldn't be blasted. Men had to scale ladders which took half an hour to climb and take it down brick by brick. Ben was critical of health and safety officials who forced him to take unnecessary precautions. He said, "Without the bureaucrats, the job would have taken 4 days, not 4 years."

The Rhodes works were eventually taken over by Tootal's and Brunnschweiller's, who eventually moved to premises in Manchester. Modern factories, industrial estates and housing now occupy most of the original site, although some of the reservoirs remain and are known as 'Rhodes Lodges' forming part of Alkrington Woods.

It was reported that "the Mssrs Schwabe wrote to the Education Authority offering them Rhodes School at Mount Pleasant in 1903 and Middleton Finance Committee accepted with grateful thanks." The school is one of the only remaining testimonies to the Schwabe family along with the street name it lies adjacent to. The building is now sheltered accommodation owned by Contour Housing Association. Although sadly no longer serving the purpose it was built for, at least the building, incidentally designed by our very own Edgar Wood, retains its character and should remain maintained in all its glory for the foreseeable future.

Written by the editor March 2010

Any relevant pictures or information to enhance this article will gratefully be received and credited to the contributor.

Click here to read about a scandal involving Julia Schwabe


Information for this article was found through the following sources;

Rural Historical Gleanings in South Lancashire by Joseph Fielding
The Making of Manchester Jewry by Bill Williams
Julia Schwabe and the Poor of Naples by James C Albisetti
Salis Schwabe by Bill Williams
Julia Schwabe by Patrick Waddington
The Manchester Genealogist, Vol 18, They came to Manchester (part 2) by Robert G. Chorlton


Middleton Guardian
Manchester Evening News

Middleton Library

Apologies to anybody inadvertently overlooked


Comments on this article

Makes for very interesting reading. You have done a great service to a remarkable family. DM

I think your article is truly first-rate. MB

I have just read your article today. It is brilliant and very well researched. They crammed so much into their lives, they were very wealthy and though deservedly they had a good life themselves, they were very generous with their money. They helped so many ordinary people and so many needy causes, they were truly good people. GW

I enjoyed your article. It was very informative and some good pics to go with it. You really put in some research time in on that didn't you? DH

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