Binns family

Binns family

The Binns family (per. c.1810–1897), who were drapers, originated with George Binns (1781–1836), born at Crawshawbooth, Lancashire, the fourth son of David Binns, a clogger, and his wife, Ann, née Robinson. The Binns family were Quakers who had extensive links with other Quaker families throughout the North of England. David and Ann, along with their eldest children, began a drapery and later grocery shop in which George learned his craft. The family soon entered the expanding cotton trade, putting out work to local hand-loom weavers and selling finished calicoes in Manchester. After George's marriage in 1807 to Margaret, the daughter of Joshua and Rachel Watson of Staindrop, County Durham, he began to look for an opening near by. In 1811, he purchased the woollen drapery and linen shop of Thomas Ellerbury at 176 High Street, Bishopwearmouth, which employed a journeyman and three apprentices. His nephew David Binns, the son of his elder brother Richard, came as an apprentice in 1814 and was quickly entrusted with buying for the shop in the Manchester market and travelling around the local mining villages to sell goods. David left in 1822 to manage another drapery business for his uncle at Staindrop and was replaced by George's eldest son, Henry Binns (see below). In addition to Henry, there were seven other children, including George Binns (1815–1847), a prominent Chartist in Wearside. The whole family were radicals and maintained close associations with local Quaker families such as the Grimshaws, the Richardsons, and the Robsons. The elder George Binns died in Sunderland in 1836, and the shop was left to Henry.

Henry Binns (1810–1880), born in Sunderland, was a deeply committed Quaker and an active member of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and he advertised his refusal to sell "any goods manufactured from cotton not warranted to be free labour grown", giving his customers the opportunity to strike an "effectual blow to the traffic so opposed to the services of religion and humanity". Nevertheless, the business prospered and moved to larger premises on the other side of Bishopwearmouth's high street in 1844. Binns's opposition to slavery was a reflection not just of his religious principles but also of his political views, which embraced further constitutional reform and the repeal of the Corn Laws. Through Quaker circles in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he knew John Bright before the Anti-Corn Law Association was founded in 1839, and he and his brother George were involved in the growing protest movement, helping to form the Durham Charter Association in 1838. George and James Taylor, his partner in a local bookshop, were the most active, printing tracts, handbills, and posters and speaking throughout the North East of England. Both were arrested in 1839 along with other Chartist leaders, but they continued their activities until their trial in summer 1840. George Binns was imprisoned for six months, and Henry himself was briefly detained with Bright but was not put on trial. After his release, George was elected to the executive of the National Charter Association in June 1841, coming fifth in the poll.

George Binns's health had suffered during his time in prison and he left Sunderland for Port Nelson, New Zealand, in August 1842; he died there of tuberculosis in 1847. His obituary in the "Northern Star" described him as "a handsome, high spirited talented true-hearted man—every inch a democrat". Henry Binns was involved in Bright's attempt to stand against Lord Dungannon for the Durham parliamentary seat in March 1843, his bid to be nominated for the Sunderland seat, and his eventual election for Durham in July. Unlike some Quakers, Binns did not break with Bright over his opposition to the Anti-Slavery Society's call for tariffs on goods produced by slave labour.Henry Binns married Elizabeth Bowron, probably in 1836. They had ten children, the eldest of whom, Sir Henry Binns (1837–1899), emigrated to Natal in 1858. Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1855 and Henry retired in 1865 to Croydon, where the following year he married Emma Andrews, the widow of John Grimshaw. She died in 1868; Henry died at his home, 62 Lansdowne Road, Croydon, in 1880.

The shop was left to Henry's second son, Joseph John Binns (1839–1922), born in High Street, Bishopwearmouth, in 1839, who married, probably in 1874, Rosa Robinson of Nottingham. The growing prosperity of the North East allowed him to expand the business, and in 1878 he achieved a turnover of £17,500 (£1,182.65 in 2007) and a profit of £3500 (£243,487.70 in 2007) . In October 1884, the shop moved to larger premises on Fawcett Street in Sunderland, and it became a proper department store with three floors. In 1897, the business was floated as a limited liability company, whereupon effective control passed out of the family, though Joseph Binns remained as chairman until his death. He died at his home, Bainbridge Holme, Sunderland, in 1922 and was survived by his wife.


*Michael S. Moss, "Binns family (per. c.1810–1897)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edition, May 2008 [, accessed 7 August 2008]

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