Priestman, John (DNB00)

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PRIESTMAN, JOHN (1805–1866), quaker, son of Joshua and Hannah Priestman, was born at Thornton, near Pickering, Yorkshire, where his ancestors—sturdy yeomen and quakers—had been settled for more than two hundred years. He was educated at the Friends' school, Ackworth, Yorkshire, and apprenticed to an uncle, a tanner at York, but at nineteen joined his brother-in-law, James Ellis, in the Old Corn Mill, Bradford. Together they founded the first ragged school in Bradford, in a room at the top of one of their mills. The teacher's salary was privately defrayed by them.

Priestman was one of the founders in 1832 of the Friends' Provident Institution, a society whose conspicuous success was due to economic management and the temperate habits of the members, and he remained on the board of directors until his death. In early life Priestman became a free-trader, and entered warmly into the anti-corn law agitation. He represented Bradford at many of the conferences called by the league, and used all his influence to keep alive the agitation in the north of England.

Priestman and his partner, Ellis, actively resisted the collection of church-rates. For refusal to pay the rate for 1835 they were summoned before the magistrates, and pleaded with such cogency the illegality of the impost that the rate was not levied again in their parish. Chiefly from a desire to utilise the waste power of machinery in his mills, Priestman, in 1838, commenced manufacturing worsted goods in an upper room. Discovering that the weaver's shuttle generated wealth more easily than the millstone, he removed to larger premises in 1845, and in 1855 he abandoned corn-milling altogether. His treatment of the mill hands, chiefly women and girls, was sympathetic and enlightened, and their tone grew so refined that his works obtained the title of ‘Lady Mills.’ He introduced with success a system of profit-sharing among the superior workpeople.

Much of his time and means was also devoted to the causes of peace and temperance. From 1834, when the Preston ‘teetotallers’ first visited Bradford, he adopted total abstinence. At the same time he and his partner relinquished malt-crushing, the most profitable part of their milling business. He was one of the few supporters of Cobden in his condemnation of the Crimean war (1854), and seconded the unpopular resolution proposed by him at a great meeting at Leeds in that year. Sternly adhering to quaker principles through life, he died at Whetley Hill, Bradford, on 29 Oct. 1866, aged 61, and was buried on 2 Nov. in the Undercliffe cemetery, Bradford. Eleven hundred of his workpeople attended the funeral.

Priestman married, first, on 28 Nov. 1833, Sarah, daughter of Joseph Burgess of Beaumont Lodge, Leicester, who died in 1849, leaving two sons, Edward and Frederick, and a daughter, who married Joseph Edmondson of Halifax. Secondly, he married, in 1852, Mary, daughter of Thomas Smith, miller, of Uxbridge, Middlesex, by whom he left two sons, Arnold, a landscape artist, and Walter.

[Bradford Observer, 1 Nov. 1866; Biogr. Cat. of Portraits at Devonshire House; Friends' Quarterly Examiner, July 1867, p. 344; Ackworth Scholars, 1879, Registers at Devonshire House.]

C. F. S.