Up until the mid 19th century Withington was a small country village, Johnson’s 1819 map shows few buildings, by the 1848 Ordnance survey there are a few more, and fifty years later it is a busy and thriving place.
Holly Royde on Palatine Road was built in the late 1870s for William Farrer (1831-1884) a Lancashire Cotton and Wool Merchant, and named for Nether Royde where his father was born. It stands on Palatine Road just near Oak Road in Withington.
William was the son of John Farrar and Mary Ann Bentley and born around 1831. He probably came to Manchester with his father and traded as a Cotton and Wool Merchant, importing from the West Indies.
He married first Sophia Ann Harris (1827-1860) of Buckinghamshire on 24 April 1853 and the couple had five children, three girls and two boys. Of the boys, Benjamin Whitworth Farrar (1858-1906) entered partnership with Stavart Zigomala & Co, a merchant converter film (trading in products they manufactured themselves) who operated from Minshull Street in Manchester. Stavart Zigomala products were considered top end and were suitable for many different uses. The company still exists in Manchester today, although it has long diversified out of the cotton industry and is now and investment holdings vehicle.
After Sophia’s death William married Justina Hales in late 1867 and the couple moved to the newly built Holly Royde where they had three boys, William Ernest (b 1869), Percy Hales (1869-1935) and Herbert Victor (b 1871). William died on 12 September 1884 aged 53. He left a fortune of £80,745 (£10.1m in 2021). Justina remained at Holly Royde until around 1893 after which Gustav Nathan Behrens (1846-1936) moved in.
Gustav was the son of Sir Jacob Behrens (1806-1889). Jacob was born into a textile family in Bad Pyrmont, Germany. He became a buyer in his father’s business and travelled to England in 1834 to negotiate with local suppliers sourcing goods for his father’s firm. However, he was unsatisfied with the failure of local merchants in meeting his specifications, so together with his younger brother Edward he rented a warehouse and factory in Leeds manufacturing and packing textiles, first for his father’s firm, then branching out on his own as Jacob Behrens. His brother joined the firm in 1838 and they moved to Bradford, settling at the Sun Inn, but forced to leave because he did not drink as much as the innkeeper had expected, so he took up lodgings with a Mrs Patterson on North Parade, Bradford.
The business began to expand rapidly and by 1840 he established a branch in Manchester. Jacob returned for a while to Hamburg, where his father was now based and married Dorothea Hohenemser in 1844 and they returned to England to settle at Springfield House, on North Parade in Bradford. The couple had nine children, three of whom died at a young age.
Jacob was a philanthropist and did much for the people of Bradford, opening a grammar school at his own expense, advised William Forster on the Education Act of 1870. He also set up the Technical College, and Eye and Ear Hospital in the town. He also did great work with the Chamber of Commerce, working with Richard Cobden in France and negoitiating a commercial treaty which lead to other treaties with European countries.
He was knighted for his services by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 8 August 1882. He died in Torquay on 22 April 1889. The Bradford Chamber of Commerce said of him: He only seemed to exist to be of service to his fellow men.
Gustav, his son, was born on 23 February 1846 in Bradford. He joined the firm in 1870 in Manchester, living first at Ellenholme in All Saints, then moving out to Withington where he was living at 100 Palatine Road in 1891, moving into Holly Royde in the mid 1890s with his wife, Fanny Richoud Warburg (1855-1942). Fanny was born in San Francisco to Moritz Gumprecht Warburg a Manchester based German merchant with a literary bent, who translated Shakespeare’s sonnets into German.
Gustav succeeded his father in Jacob Behrens, and also became a director of the Midland and LMS railways.
Around the time he moved into Holly Royde, Gustav, who had a love of music became a member of the Manchester Gentleman’s Concert Society which was based in Peter Square until 1898 when it was torn down to be replaced by the Midland Hotel.
This lead to his biggest achievement for the cultural history of Manchester. Gustav, a close friend of Sir Charles Halle and wanted to further the tradition he had started through recitals given to the Gentleman’s Concert Society, without resorting to commercial exploitation. After Halle’s sudden death immediately before the 1895 season, Behrens, Henry Simon (the engineer) and James Forsyth (of the music shop) took over financial responsibilty for the Halle concerts, undertaking personally to underwrite any losses. They continued this tradition for the next four years, agreeing to stand losses and pay over any surplus in excess of £500 to the Halle’s executors.
For the 1898-1899 season the society was incorporated under the Companies’ Acts, with the proviso written into the Memorandum and Articles of Association that any surplus raised by the concerts be applied solely to the Society and not paid to members directly or indirectly by way of dividend or otherwise.
Gustav became Chairman of the Concerts Society and chaired the organisation through the scandal of Thomas Beecham conducting whilst being the co respondant in a well publicised divorce case in 1912 where he had to pay substantial damages to George Sherwood Foster after being found to have committed adultery with Maud Foster his wife. Bishop Welldon of the Cathedral protested in vain, Behrens countered the booking had been made before the scandal were made public. The two men had a further run in when Beecham gave a lecture at the RNCM complaining about the poor quality of singing in England compared with Germany. Gustav replied that he should have ascertained the work being done in Manchester at the very college in which he was lecturing before making such rash remarks¹. Despite Beecham’s bad boy image, he succeeded Gustav Behrens as Chair of the Halle Society.
By 1901 Gustav was firmly established in Manchester and as well as his interest in Jacob Behrens and Sons, he became a Justice of the Peace and the Vice President of the Manchester and Salford Penny Bank. He died at Holly Royde on 29 March 1936. Fanny died on 27 March 1942 at the family home.
Behrens continues to this day and is Manchester’s oldest textile company supplying British Airways, Virgin, the Manchester Football Teams as well as Asda, Tesco, Waitrose, etc with workwear. Gustav’s brother, Sir Charles (1848-1925) became Lord Mayor of Manchester from 1909-1911.
Gustav and Fanny had five children, Harold Jacob (1880-1960) worked in for Jacob Behrens and Sons, whilst Frank Edward (1881-1954) rose to Chairman of the group. He lost a leg in the First World War and became treasurer of the Hulme Settlement. He didn’t marry.
After the Behrens the house was given to Manchester University by Nathan Behrens and used by servicemen for study during the war years, Harold Evans², the future editor of the Times and Sunday Times studied there in 1946. After the war the house was used for adult education, until it was sold off and converted to apartments.
Let’s see some pictures:
¹ Thomas Beecham was a forerunner of the Rock Stars of the 1970s in terms of his behaviour, playing impromptu football matches with local orchestras, running upstairs after one well oiled meal in a hotel, gathering light bulbs from their sockets and hurling them back down the stairwell causing a tremendous explosion, and throwing fireworks from his train as it left the station, along with him having affairs with many women.
² I have just finished reading Harold Evan’s Autobiography, which I read during my research for this piece. It is excellent lockdown reading and a snip on Amazon or Abebooks.
Seventy Years of the Hallé Orchestra. The Musical Times, vol. 68, no. 1017, 1927, pp. 989–991.
Thomas Beecham An Obsession with Music, Lucas, Jenkins: Boydell, 2008
© Allan Russell 2021.