Isaac Holden

(7 May 1907 -13 August 1897)

Isaac Holden was a Scottish inventor and textile industrialist, known for his work both in developing the square motion wool-combing machine and as a radical Liberal Member of Parliament.

Born into poverty in the village of Hurlet near Glasgow, Holden is a striking example of the 19th century self-made man. Largely self-educated, in his early life, he was apprenticed to a hand weaver, before working as a school teacher, moving into book-keeping, inventing and wool combing. After a failed business venture he went into partnership with Samuel Cunliffe Lister which resulted in a long and bitter power battle and argument over who was the true inventor of the square motion wool comb.

After setting up wool-combing business in revolutionary France, in 1864 Holden opened the massive Alton Mills Industrial complex in Bradford. By the 1870s his factories in England and France were the largest wool-combers in the world. Holden became enormously rich and celebrated his success by building a large Italianate mansion, Oakworth house in Oakworth near Keighley. As a leading Wesleyan, Holden’s philanthropy was largely concentrated on building Wesleyan chapels. He pledged 35000 to build 50 chapels in London.

Motivated by his early experience of extreme poverty and his non-conformist religious beliefs, Holden became a radical Liberal MP in 1865 and continued with a number of breaks till 1895. He was an MP for Keighley from 1885 -1895. In 1893, at the age of 86, he was created a Baronet. Holden died in August 1897, aged 90, and is buried in Undercliffe Cemetery.

Holden’s Bust

After his death in 1907 Holden’s mansion Oakworth House burned down. In 1927 its grounds were given by the family to the people of Oakworth as a public park. It is called Holden Park and at the entrance of the park there is a bronze bust of Isaac Holden on a plinth with the inscription – ‘Erected by the Inhabitants of Oakworth as a Token of Affectionate Respect for Sir Isaac Holden 1807-1897’

Holden Today

Holden is remembered as a man of great character and contradictions.

As a radical MP with strong religious beliefs he campaigned for the final abolition of slavery, educational and electoral reform, church disestablishment and Irish Home Rule. However, he was also a capitalist (considered at one time to be the richest MP in the man in the House of Commons) who had made his fortune in an industry which relied on long hours, low wages and casual employment. In this area he stood firmly against factory reform and the improvement of rights and conditions for workers.

The creation of Holden’s great wealth, as with much of British industry in the 19th century, has links with colonialism. The success of wool combing machine he helped create caused a revolution of the wool-combing industry. This contributed to the intensive development of Australian sheep farming and the clearance from the land and destruction of aboriginal people in this process.