Owen Balmforth (1855-1922)

Owen Balmforth was a former Mayor of Huddersfield and a Justice of the Peace.


undated portrait

He was born in Lockwood in 1855, the son of knife grinder and mechanic Watts Balmforth (1826-1904) and his wife Nanny (née Moorhouse).

Watts Balmforth was a socialist and follower of the Owenist Movement[1], named after the social reformer Robert Owens, and this seemingly influenced the naming of his son.[2]

According to an obituary article, he began work as an office boy at age 10.[3]

In 1872, the Balmforth family gave an evening of entertainment at the Lowerhouses and Longley Working Men's Club, which consisted of "readings, recitations, songs, melodies, and dialogues."[4]

By the mid 1870s, he was the secretary of the Huddersfield Secular Institute.[5]

In March 1877, he lectured on the topic of "The Land Question" at the Odd Fellows' Hall in Meltham at the invitation of the Meltham and Meltham Mills Liberal Association. The Chronicle summarised the lecture as showing how land, "from the time of William the Conquere to present, had been monopolised by a few noblemen, to the detriment of the country."[6]

He married Ellen Beaumont on 17 June 1878 at the Unitarian Church on Fitzwilliam Street, Huddersfield. They had four known children:

  • Amy Balmforth (1880-?)[7]
  • Gertrude Balmforth (c.1882-1940)[8]
  • Percy Balmforth (c.1884-1910)[9]
  • Alice Balmforth (c.1886-1894)[10]

In June 1881, he was named as the secretary of the Huddersfield and District Anti-Compulsory Vaccination Association in the Chronicle.[11]

By 1881 working as a book keeper[12] and, by 1891, was residing at 6 Bland Street[13], Lockwood.

In 1883, he was narrowly elected onto the Huddersfield School Board to replace the late Joel Denham, although church members strongly objected to a secularist being a member of the board.[14] He remained a member of the board until at least the early 1890s, eventually becoming its chairman.

Owen's younger brother, Ramsden Balmforth (1861-1941), was also a member of the School Board, but resigned in January 1894 after obtaining a scholarship to "one of the Oxford Colleges".[15] Ramsden later became an Unitarian minister and spent time in South Africa from 1897 onwards.[16][17]

On 30 November 1893, he lectured on the topic "Huddersfield, Past and Present, From a Social and Industrial Standpoint" at the Huddersfield Technical School.[18]

He was elected the Mayor of Huddersfield in 1906/7 and 1907/8, before becoming the Secretary of the Huddersfield Education Committee from 1909 onwards.[3]

Ellen Balmforth died in September 1909 and was buried on 21 September at Emmanuel Church in Lockwood. Their daughter Alice had died aged 8 in February 1894 and their son Percy died in May 1910.

By the time of the 1911 Census, he was residing at No. 2 Thornton Lodge Hall, together with his daughter Gertrude and their housekeeper, Mary Ramsden (aged 62).

In the final years of the First World War, he presided over the local military service tribunals, which heard appeals against men joining the forces.[19]

Owen Balmforth spent his final years in a Huddersfield nursing home.[20] He died on 30 January 1922 and was buried on 1 February alongside his wife at Emmanuel Church.


Notes and References

  1. Wikipedia: Owenism
  2. Underground Histories: Huddersfield Hall of Science
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Office Boy's Rise" in Hull Daily Mail (31/Jan/1922).
  4. "Almondbury" in Huddersfield Chronicle (27/Jan/1872).
  5. "Huddersfield Secular Institute Bazaar" in Huddersfield Chronicle (29/Dec/1876).
  6. "Meltham" in Huddersfield Chronicle (24/Mar/1877).
  7. Married John Arthur Matthews on 14 August 1907 at the Unitarian Church, Fitzwilliam Street.
  8. Died a spinster in May 1940 in Birkby.
  9. Died aged 26 in May 1910 and was buried on 19 May at Emmanuel Church, Lockwood.
  10. Died aged 8 in February 1886 and was buried on 21 February at Emmanuel Church, Lockwood.
  11. "Huddersfield Board of Guardians" in Huddersfield Chronicle (04/Jun/1881).
  12. 1881 & 1891 Censuses.
  13. 1891 & 1901 Censuses.
  14. "Opposition to a Secularist" in Manchester Times (23/Jun/1883).
  15. "Huddersfield School Board" in Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Feb/1894).
  16. See "Contours of Pacifism: Ramsden Balmforth's Advocacy of Peace in the Union of South Africa and Beyond" by F. Hale in Acta Theologica (2013).
  17. A number of Ramsden Balmforth's writings are available to read on archive.org.
  18. "Local Social and Industrial Contrasts" in Huddersfield Chronicle (02/Dec/1893).
  19. "Military Service Tribunals" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (17/Jun/1918).
  20. He reportedly underwent an unspecified operation on 29 September 1921. Source Yorkshire Post (30/Sep/1921).

Owen Balmforth (1855-1922)


Buried at Emmanuel Church, Lockwood | Justices of the Peace | Mayors of Huddersfield | People | People connected to Lockwood | Poor Law Guardians
This page was last modified on 9 February 2018 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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