John Tweddle – unlucky in business and politics

John Tweddle, of Alston, may not have been born in Cumbria, but his story definitely qualifies him as a Cumbrian Character…

Looking at some old postcards with a Cumbrian angle, I spotted one of a J Tweddle, Liberal candidate, no other detail, who I thought had a kind face. 

A quick search on the British Newspaper Archive, and I found he was an Alston iron merchant in 1904, when he was selected… and he was jailed for four months in 1911, for obtaining credit by false pretences from the London Joint Stock Bank and £250 from the Midland Discount Company, Leicester. 

He was then a magistrate, and that and his previous involvement in politics caught the interest of the Press. 

The first report I found was on March 4, 1911, by the Bexhill-on-Sea Observer.

It’s on a page advising how Keatings Lozenges can Cure The Worst Cough (for 1/1- a tin), and reporting that Christabel Pankhurst was encouraging men not to fill in the census paper. If you can’t find your family in Sussex in 1911, you know who to blame!

And above a paragraph saying the Post Office telegraphs and telephones haven’t made a profit since 1891, is the news that John Tweddle, a JP for Cumberland and former Liberal candidate for Penrith had been jailed at Newcastle Assizes the previous day.

So, who was John Tweddle, and what happened?

The obvious place to start is the census returns.

One report in 1910 gives his age as 49, meaning he was born 1860/61. His address is given as Alston House, Alston. But in 1901, it shows up on the census as uninhabited.

1901 has a match at 10 Clarence Crescent, Whitley, Northumberland: John, 40, ironfounder, b Winlaton, Durham, with wife Emily, 36, children Joseph, 13, and Dorothy M, 3 (born Cambridge). The household includes a visiting Wesleyan minister, Clement Stuchbery, 50 and his wife Rachael, also 50, and a domestic servant. 

The 1911 census was taken on April 2, just a few weeks after John was jailed. Sure enough, there is a John Tweddle, 50, married, sanitary engineer (employer), born Winlaton, Durham, among the 243 prisoners in HMP, Carlisle Square, Newcastle. 

Look for his family and they are in Alston, and we get some more detail. Emily Mary, 46, has been married 19 years but has no children. Joseph Somerset Tweddle, 23, is her step-son and a plumber. Dorothy May is 13 and adopted (born Oxford). The address is given as Hillcrest, Alston, it has 20 rooms and Emily is a boarding house keeper.  

I couldn’t find ‘Alston House’ on the census, so perhaps Emily renamed it.

The children show up later on Canadian records, but it is John we are interested in.

Bright prospects

In 1891, aged 30 and widowed, he and Joseph, aged three, are living with John’s widowed father Thomas, a master butcher, in Winlaton, along with other adult children, spouses and grandchildren. John is then an ‘ironmonger, plumber etc’). He married Emily Mary (Welford) – the daughter of a steam shipping company managing director – later that year.

John must have prospered, as in 1903, he’s described as an iron merchant of Alston and Gosforth, Newcastle. And somewhere along the line, he became heavily involved in politics.

It is reported in January 1904 that John Tweddle had accepted the invitation of the Liberals of the Penrith Division to stand against Jimmie Lowther at the next election. 

James William Lowther, 1st Viscount Ullswater (1855-1949), was from one of the most-prominent families in Cumbria, a family that had long been involved in politics. Jimmie had been the Conservative MP for Penrith from 1886, when he won with a majority of 644, and in 1900 had been returned unopposed. 

However, the seat had been Liberal before he defeated a member of the other political heavyweight family of Cumbria, Henry Howard of Greystoke.

For the local Liberals to have chosen John Tweddle as their prospective candidate was surely a sign he was well-esteemed.

Meanwhile, he was still doing well in his business and private affairs. In June 1904, it was reported he had laid down a bowling green near to his home at Alston House, and it was hoped a club would soon be in full swing.

And in September, he gave the opening address at the re-opening for worship of Blencarn Methodist Chapel.

Hopes dashed, by a tradition

The thorny issue of Home Rule for Ireland is the next thing that brought John to the attention of newspapers. In October 1904, Lord Rosebery found himself on the horns of a dilemma over a forthcoming visit to Penrith.

Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, had used his first speech as Prime Minister in 1894 to say Home Rule could only come about when England agreed to it. He resigned as PM a year later and broke with the Liberal Party over Home Rule.

A contemporary newspaper report says he was to give ‘the Radicals of Mid-Cumberland an opportunity of hearing his latest opinions on the political situation.’ He was to be the guest of Henry Howard, of Greystoke Castle:  ‘the local head of the Liberal Party… respected for his devoted labours in the public service.’

Henry and Lord R were both strongly opposed to Home Rule, ‘while the candidate for the division, John Tweddle is as strongly in favour’.

John didn’t get to put his views to the test in the 1906 General Election. Seven months earlier, in June 1905, Jimmy Lowther was elected Speaker of the House. 

The tradition that a Speaker’s seat isn’t contested isn’t always observed, but it was in this case: John retired from the contest.

The retiring speaker was Liberal William Gully, who was elevated to the Upper House as Viscount Selby, leaving his Carlisle seat vacant.

The front-runners to contest the seat were a Mr. Morton and Sir Benjamin Scott, failing which ‘it is probable that Mr. John Tweddle, of Alston, may be invited to contest the seat’.

In the event, it was ‘none of the above’. Sir Frederick William Chance (1852-1932), who ran a cotton manufacturing firm in Carlisle, had been the mayor in 1904, and won the nomination (and the by-election the following month). 

Later that month, there was a series of open-air meeetings, ending in in crowded one in the market place, where: ‘The principal speaker was Mr John Tweddle, of Alston… A vote confidence was passed enthusiastically’.

A star on the wane

John was clearly still seen as potential star for the party, but not for much longer.

In July 1906, the Liberals of the Cockermouth Division were looking for a candidate to represent them, and hoped Mr Tweddle would agree to do so.

However, it is reported he is unable, for business reasons, to accept the position. It remains to seen whether this decision is final. 

It was. Because those ‘business reasons’ were the start of a slide that was end in Newcastle’s jail.

The London Gazette. March 1, 1907 has a voluntary winding-up notice for John Tweddle and Company Ltd, ‘as the company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business’.

Just over a year later, the Gazette lists some of the creditors of the company, including a plumbers’ merchant, an engineer, a lead and general merchant, and a foundry and engineering company. And on November 13, 1908, it reported that the case of John Tweddle and Company Limited 27, Bath-lane, Newcastle-on-Tyne, was listed for public examination at Newcastle County Court on December 1 at 10am.

What’s in a name?

With John Tweddle and Company Ltd wound up, he started out  again, just a few months later, as ‘Tweddle and Partners’ – having borrowed £1,000 to do so. Despite the new name, there were no partners. 

What made him think he could make a go of it this time, who knows? 

It didn’t work. by October 1910, he was in financial trouble again and meeting of creditors was held. ‘The ranking liabilities were returned £9,218, and assets £6,624, with regard to the latter they were partly estimated surplus on secured debts, and the Official Receiver advised they should be taken with reserve. The debtor attributed his position to the loss of £6,000 in John Tweddle & Co. A trustee and committee of inspection were appointed.’

The  Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of October 21 1910, devoted a hefty 677 words to the hearing at Newcastle Bankruptcy Court. 

And John’s attitude wasn’t exactly contrite. For a start, he blamed his latest failure on losses sustained when he was running John Tweddle and Co.

The Post reports the £6,624 assets were dependent on a surplus of £5,101 mortgaged properties. 

‘If he could have realised these assets, would not have been in the Court, He had been seriously pressed for money during his recent trading, and had tried to turn part of this £5,000 into cash, but failed.’

Being “in a hurry,” he went to moneylenders, and paid 40 per cent. 

There were signs he’d not been entirely frank. ‘In June, 1909, three months after he commenced business, he submitted statement of his affairs to the London Joint Stock Bank. That showed his assets at £3,655, and his liabilities £1,229…he did not show that he owed £2,000 to two gentlemen, because he only made a statement of his business affairs.’

Silence might have been golden

Asked by the Official Receiver if he distinguised between business an private debts, the former was probably less than impressed with John’s reply: “Yes; they are quite different. Business debts you have to meet, private debts you don’t.”

 He did not show to another bank his liabilities for Tweddle and Co., because “he thought then there would be no liability”. 

It was put to John, who called it “rubbish” that had been claiming as debt-free properties that were actually mortgaged to the Cumberland and Carlisle Bank.

He also told the court that land he’d referred to in a statement was now “of no value,” while £1,500 of household furniture he’d claimed as an asset was actually his wife’s.

So, either he’d showed £5,560 of free assets which were worth nothing, or he was now trying to ensure those assets didn’t get sold to pay his creditors.

Either way, his attitude in the rest of the proceedings is less than apologetic.

Official Receiver: “How do you account for a trading loss of £2,269, or £30 a week, while you were carrying on business?

John: “l did not know of it until a few days ago.”

“But can you expain it? “

“No. I have not tried to find out. I cannot suggest why, and I am not interested now.”

This disinterest extends to those to whom he owed money.

“Don’t you think you have a duty your creditors in view of having lost their money?”

“No, I lost my money. I couldn’t say whether the business ever paid not, and at this stage I don’t care.”

A financial juggling act

John Tweddle admitted he had robbed Peter to pay Paul, using money ‘out of the pockets’ of his current creditors to pay the bank more than £3,000 for John Tweddle and Co.

At which point in the proceedings, he declared it was all the bank’s fault the ‘new’ firm had got into trouble

“If he had not been harassed the bank continually, he added., it would have been easy to make the business pay”. 

He then turned on his creditors, saying he’d offered them assignment, and offered to guarantee 20s. in the pound, but they were “bent on his destruction, and drove hint into bankruptcy”. 

The Official Receiver wasn’t moved, saying that given that many of the current creditors were also creditors of the old firm, why would they have faith in his offer?

The examination was adjourned until November 10.

The Official Receiver passed things on to the Director of Public Prosecutions. And in February, 1911, John was committed for trial on charges of obtaining money false pretences trom the London Joint Stock Bank and Midland Discount Company.

The false statements alleged to have been made were that he was worth £16,000, had an income of £1,000 year, that he owned furniture settled on his wife, and that he paid income tax on £1,000 a year, when in fact his balance was in debit.

He was accused of using these ‘fictitious’ assets to obtain credit.

There were three charges: the LJSB charge, £250 from the Midland Discount company, Leicester, and; £250 from Stanley and Co, Leeds. This third charge was dropped.

The court was told John had submitted a balance sheet showing him to be £16,463 in credit, when he was actually £1,572 in debit.

He owed £1,000 to the Hon W Howard, £900 to his brother, £2,100 to Barclary and Co, and other smaller amounts. He claimed to have properties worth £8,485 when there was no such equity, to have furniture worth £1,500 which was actually his wife’s, and to have £600 land at Boldon, when he didn’t.

He then used the bank’s money to release two houses from other mortgagees, and lodged them with the bank as security. 

The other charge was of a similar nature.

The LJSB manager allowed John an overdraft of £200, which rose to £1.428, once the bank had £1,000 security. But, had he known the truth, he’d never have done business with John at all.

The court was then told that in 1909, John owed Barclays £2,100; Thomas and Co, London financial agents, £750 (since risen to £1,750; and the properties mentioned on the balance sheet as free were mortgaged to the Carlisle and Cumberland Bank, with £2,792, plus interest, still owing.

The hearing was adjourned.

He appeared back at Newcastle Assizes a fortnight later, and without further detail, was duly jailed on March 4.