Death of Charles Bradbury

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Another Pioneer Gone

From The Journal of Domestic Appliances 1918

Yet another pioneer of the sewing machine trade has gone to his last rest - Charles Bradbury died, at the age of 65, after a long illness, on July 18, at his home, 20 Portland Street, Southport.

To those who have joined the trade since the start of the present century this announcement means but little, for "Charlie Bradbury," as he was generally called, has for 20 years been engaged in another branch of industry. But to all others it will mean the passing of one who knew the trade from A to Z, and was a man of sterling character. And to myself it means the loss of one of the dearest friends I have ever made in life - a very close friend in more ways than one, as for several years we resided in the same building of flats in central London.

To completely chronicle Bradbury's career would be a big task, for he has lived a very full life. His real name was Charles Cliff, and he was born in Huddersfield in 1853. But when he was quite a child his mother married George Bradbury, who at this time was making sewing machines at Rhodes Bank, Lancashire, having started in 1852, and at the wish of George Bradbury the lad's name was changed to that of the step-father.

In 1865, George Bradbury's factory having been removed to Wellington Street, Oldham, Charles pleaded that he be permitted to enter the works as an apprentice, and this he did at a salary of 4s. a week for 60 hours of work as a minimum. Having acquired a good knowledge of sewing machine manufacture, Charles was transferred to the office, where he was trained to business methods, one of his colleagues being Mr J. E. Hough, who later traded as Shepherd, Rothwell & Hough, sewing machine manufacturers, Oldham, and now manufactures gramophones.

This training in factory and office work was largely at the expense of regular schooling, but young Bradbury made good by home study and he devoted much of his leisure time to acquiring a knowledge of French and German as well as piano playing, later becoming a musician of no small order.

The export trade of Bradbury & Co had so developed by 1871 that the firm opened depots in Paris and Brussels, and to Charles was entrusted the foreign correspondence. After a short time he was given two years' residence in the leading cities of the Continent in order to acquire experience abroad and perfect his knowledge of French and German, and in 1873 he represented his firm at the Vienna Exhibition.

The next year was an important one in the history of Bradbury and Co., for then they formed their business into a company, opened a London depot at 14, Newgate Street, EC and started other depots in various towns to supply their machines on the "new hire system". Charles was appointed depot inspector and auditor, a few months later relinquishing his duties to go to Spain and straighten out some difficulties which had arisen at the Bradbury Co.'s depot in that country. Returning, he was given a similar task as regards his Company's Glasgow depot, and that completed he was appointed manager of the London business, opening branches in Commercial, Kingsland, and Edgware Roads.

We now come to April, 1883, and by this time Charles Bradbury, because of certain friction between one of the directors and himself, felt it desirable to sever his connection with Bradbury & Co., Lim., and he gave up his post of London manager, being succeeded by Mr. James. A. Jackson.

Mr Bradbury now took a step which he later had cause to regret - from selling sewing machines to Germans he changed to selling them for Germans. In a word, in 1883 he became British representative for Grimme, Natalis & Co., sewing machine manufacturers, Brunswick.


Bradbury very soon built up a first-class trade, largely in hand machines, but by the 90's his sales declined and largely because his firm trusted to their old models and turned a deaf ear to his appeals for more up-to-date styles. As I myself observed when visiting the Grimme, Natalis factory, the concern was busying itself in the production of calculating machines and oil stoves at the expense of its main trade, which was sewing machines. Further, they were financially suffering, and in the early 90's commenced to draw upon Mr. Bradbury for urgently required funds.

So long as this was kept within reason he did not object, and to help them he suggested that his stipend be reduced and he be allowed to take other agencies, to which they agreed - hence he became London agent for Taylor & Wilson's mangles.

But money became tighter at the factory, and I well recall Charles Bradbury coming to me for my advice as to what he should do. His firm were now drawing on him for amounts far beyond what was reasonable, and at once getting the bills discounted in London via a German bank. As an honest man he felt that this must not continue, and he resigned his post with Grimme, Natalis & Co. in November, 1895, after 12 years' service.

In December, 1895, Mr Bradbury undertook a journey to Spain, Algiers, Tunis, Egypt, and India for the White Sewing Machine Co., and the Triumph Cycle Co., for whom he did good business. To show the respect felt for him, before departing for abroad he was entertained by the leading members of the sewing machine trade and bid a sincere God-speed.

On returning to England, Mr. Bradbury ceased his active interest in sewing machines, and applied himself to the study of calculating machines, of which he had had some experience whilst with Grimme, Natalis & Co. Presently, the Burroughs Adding Machine Co. required a manager for a branch in Brussels, and they gave him the appointment. This gave him great pleasure, which was much enhanced when through his business acumen he, in a short time, got the Burroughs machine adopted in all the Belgium public offices, banks, etc.

Later Mr. Bradbury returned to England to take up the position of secretary to this company and reside in Nottingham. After a time he returned to his old post in Brussels, and became one of the best known commercial men in that city.

August, 1914, found him engaged in his business, highly prosperous, and living in Brussels with his wife under the happiest of conditions. But a storm was impending, and during the second week of that month his landlord, a German, came to him for his protection against the antipathy of the populace, for war, the greatest of all wars, had started. Good fellow that he was, Bradbury threw a protecting cloak round that German, and it is only fair to say that when the German army entered Brussels, that landlord told the chiefs of Bradbury's kindness, and he was treated with more consideration than most of the citizens of Belgian's capital.

Of course, Bradbury's business was now affected, it practically ceased to exist, yet he was compelled to stop in Brussels, and there he remained until 18 months ago, when he was repatriated. But although allowed to come to England, he was not permitted to bring away any of his possessions - the savings of his life, at least for a time, being lost to him.

My first sight of Bradbury, on his return from Belgium, told me that he was broken in healthy and his cough, an old trouble, was painful to hear. For a few months he lived in London and put in a few hours of work each day at his company's office in Cannon Street, E.C., but became too weak to continue, and then removed to Southport hoping that here he would be restored to health and return to his post in Brussels. But this was not to be - a stroke on the Monday and eternal sleep by the following Friday evening, without recovering consciousness, Mrs. Bradbury being present to the last.

In my opinion Bradbury's death was hastened by the war, since for nearly three years he was, practically, a prisoner in Brussels. I tried to get him to give me his experiences of living in a beleaguered city, but could get little news, and for the reason that he had given his word of honour that until the war was over he would not make public such experiences. I am aware, however, that Bradbury knew of much suffering being inflicted on his Brussels friends, and, considering his temperament, I am sure that his health must have suffered as the result.

I have already said that Bradbury was a pianist as well as a linguist - he could play any class of music at sight. He also had a fine fund of humour and was full of anecdote. I well remember that in the early 90's he played a practical joke on me. One evening he ran up to my rooms, in the same building as his own, and asked me to join his party below, which was being entertained by one of the heads of the Edison Phonograph Co. On being introduced I was told to speak very loud to this gentleman, and, recalling a something I had just read, I shouted "how strange that you, like Edison, should suffer from deafness and not be able to properly hear the phonograph." At this the whole party broke out in laughter, and I soon discovered that Charles had sold me.

Here is one incident in connection with Bradbury's journey for the White Co.

When about to return to England, Bradbury found that his "boy," who had accompanied him in his travels all over India, was unduly slow in packing the luggage, and on enquiring the cause he discovered that the parcels were too numerous for the boxes. This puzzled him considerably and he then discovered that the "boy" had packed several dozen pairs of knives and forks, comprising a pair from every hotel he had stopped at. "A present from 'boy' to Sahib" was all he could get out of the "boy," and Bradbury utterly failed to make him understand that he had done wrong, and that the cutlery would have to be returned with apologies.

Mr. Bradbury had no children, and he leaves behind a wife towards whom, I am sure, all the trade will feel sincerely sympathy in her great loss.

In our last issue our editor made a mistake by stating that Mr. Bradbury had acted as secretary of the Burroughs Co. His post was that of general manager. Mrs. Bradbury informs us that she is very grateful for they sympathy expressed by the trade at the death of her husband. And she adds that the whole of his property had to be left in Brussels, which she hopes to visit at the end of the war to try and get back as much as she can.