Peter Laycock 1837-1905

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The life of Peter Laycock was one of struggle, perseverance and success. Peter Laycock’s contribution to the city and people of Leeds was remarkable and his legacy continues to this day, remembered as he is by the Peter Laycock Industrial Estate and in the iconic photographs of his now demolished mill in Woodhouse Carr featured in many photographic works and displays.

Peter Laycock was born into poverty in 1837 and started work as a piecer at the age of nine in a local mill. This was a very dangerous job especially for a child, yet he was determined from a young age to succeed and extract himself from the poor conditions that surrounded him.

A family story handed down is that one day as a young man while walking to work with his younger sister he said to her, “I’m going to persevere until I own my own mill not just work in one”. With little formal education he undertook studies at the Mechanics Institute to better his prospects. It must have been tough to attend classes after a day’s work and he recalled being taken from his bed at 5am and carried on his father’s shoulders to the mill, where he would work until “the evening was well advanced”. His hard work and motivation was rewarded when in 1875 (aged 38), he bought Perseverance Mill, Woodhouse Carr and turned it into a prosperous woollen and finishing mill with, in 1888, 79 looms and a workforce of 160. He also, at that time, had a further mill in Beeston employing 50 and a warehouse at 10 York Place, Leeds.

He was also very active in local politics, being both a Liberal councillor and a city alderman. In all he fought 22 elections and was well respected by both his colleagues and his Conservative opponents.

Peter Laycock was a no- nonsense Yorkshireman, somewhat stern but kind and generous as well. His popularity was shown at his funeral in 1867 where hundreds of people lined the route to the United Methodist Free Church in Headingley, while the church itself was full. A strong supporter of the Temperance Movement, a devout churchgoer and an advocate of decent working conditions for the ordinary people of Leeds, he was fondly remembered with affection and gratitude. The Leeds Mercury observed that he was a “self-made” man who owed his advancement to his own ability and industry. He was said to be held in the “highest esteem and affection” and “one of the most popular men in Leeds”. The minister officiating at the memorial service at the Working Men’s Temperance Society, the Rev R.W. Redfern said, “he was “overflowing with personal kindness; a man of laughter and tears, who could denounce wrong with the thunderings of the Lord, who could be as bold as a lion in fighting the unpopular cause but who was as tender as a woman when he heard the cry of distress. Was not that why people lovedhim?”

Peter Laycock married three times and had three sons and one daughter by his second wife and one daughter from his first. It is from his daughter Emily by his first wife Julia that I am descended, as she married my great grandfather Henry Sherwood in 1892. The Sherwoods themselves were part of the burgeoning Victorian cloth trade in Leeds and had several branches of the family in the city.

Steve Sherwood from Wavendon, Nr Milton Keynes