Chapter 11

The End of an Era


It was around this time that grievances of Scottish MPs were being heard in the House of Commons, with particular regard to the Small Landholders’ Act. Their aim was to have Scottish land retained for the sole use of Scottish people. The Aberdeen Journal in its issue dated Friday 27th June 1913 printed the following, where Mr Hogg complained that

there was a larger exodus from the shores of Scotland today than had occurred in the memory of any man in the House, and on the other hand it was perfectly possible for people who were not Scotsmen to get possession of land in Scotland, for purposes which were entirely different from the purposes which this Act was seeking to provide for. It was easy to get shooting land in Scotland for the Glorious Twelfth, but hard to get land that was wanted for the smallholder. It was pathetic when one thought what was the condition of Scotland today that such small progress was made with this particular Act. The shores of Cromarty Firth were in the hands of Lee & Perrin’s Sauce, Ben Wyvis in the hands of Shoolbred’s furniture, Mackenzie’s and Mathieson’s was owned by Baron Schroder, Skye belonged to Nixey’s blacklead, Loch Ness was rented by Bass’s Beer, and Inverary Castle was owned by Beecham’s Pills. With regard to land, at any rate under present conditions, the very men they wanted to help in Scotland to cultivate the land were leaving in thousands every day from the Clyde.

Did Nixey’s Black Lead really own the Isle of Skye? To get a clearer understanding of this matter, I contacted the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre and asked for their assistance. I was told that Inverness-shire property valuation rolls for Skye list W. G. Nixey as the occupier of the shootings at Kyleakin, in the parish of Strath, from 1906/07 until 1911/12. The next valuation roll for 1912/13 has the occupier listed as “W. G. Nixey’s heirs”, and by 1914/15 the occupier was Victor & Rev E Gatty. However, these property valuation rolls also state that The Right Hon Lord Macdonald was the proprietor, which means that W. G. Nixey was actually leasing the shooting rights from Lord Macdonald. The yearly rent or value on the shootings of Kyleakin at the time W. G. Nixey leased it was 110 0s 0d. So the newspaper article is quite misleading in stating that “Skye belonged to Nixey’s blacklead”, but the article does refer to the easy availability of shooting land in Scotland, which would certainly tie in with the information found in the property valuation rolls.

The Lincolnshire Echo of 3rd July 1913 shows that W. G. Nixey Ltd was not the only company that had been amalgamated into Hargreaves Bros. and co. Ltd., and it certainly wasn’t the first either:

Lincoln Grocers’ Excursion
Interesting Visit to Hull
Year by year the members of the Lincoln Grocers’ Association visit, by invitation, works where some great household commodity is produced, and learn at first hand a good deal of the way in which an article of world wide fame is made and sent forth to all point of the compass. ... the new works of Messrs. Hargreaves Bros. and Co., Ltd., of Hull in the suburb in the parish of Sculcoates, to which has been given the picturesque title of Gipsyville. ... Up to the present only one-tenth of that land has been brought into use, but there are immense buildings at Gipsyville in which such products as the firm’s “Gipsy” black lead, “Glosso”, the one-minute metal polish, and “Linoleo”, the well-known floor polish, are made, as well as the Nixey specialities. ... Nearly two years ago the old-established business of Messrs. W. G. Nixey, Ltd., London, was amalgamated with that of Messrs. Hargreaves, who now make Nixey’s black lead and other commodities associated with that firm’s name. This is by no means the first business bought by Messrs. Hargreaves, whose turnover and output may be fairly described as stupendous.

In the 1914 edition of Who’s Who in Business, the following is recorded, as found at the website of Grace’s Guide:

Nixey, W. G., Ltd., Black Lead and Graphite Manufacturer and Importer, 12, Soho Square, London, W. Established in 1846 by William George Nixey, inventor and patentee of Nixey’s Refined Black Lead in Blocks. Directors: E. H. Secker (the Managing Director), G. P. Hargreaves, E. W. Buckley, J. G. Hewett (Secretary). Premises: Offices, &c., at 12, Soho Square; extensive Works, Gipsyville, Hull. Specialities: Black Lead; Stove Polishing Paste; Laundry Blue; Graphite Lubricants; and a variety of articles of domestic utility. Awards: Prize Medals, Diplomas, &c., at International Exhibitions. Connection: United Kingdom, Foreign, Colonial. Royal Warrants: Special Appointments to H.M. King George V., His late Majesty King Edward, and H.M. King George V. when Prince of Wales. Also held the Royal Warrant of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria. Telephone: No. 5116 Gerrard. Telegraphic Address: “Nixey, London.” Code: A B C (4th and 5th). Bankers: Coutts & Co.

On 30th May 1915, William George Nixey’s widow, Lucy, died at 29 Iverna Gardens, Kensington. Probate was granted on 18th September 1915 to her son-in-law, Frederick George Francis Browne, a colonel in His Majesty’s army, and to Percy Marr Johnson, solicitor. Her Effects amounted to 51090 9s. 10d [2,199,956.57].

On 5th January 1916,, William George Nixey’s brother-in-law, Edward Onslow Secker, then aged seventy-six, found himself in court facing a criminal prosecution for dangerous driving, as reported on in the Gloucestershire Chronicle in its issue dated Saturday 29th January 1916, under the heading: “Dangerous Motoring Near Gloucester”:

Sequel to a Collision
Edward Onslow Secker, of Upton, Rosemount Road, Bournemouth, was summoned for driving a motor car to the danger of the public, and also with failing to stop a motor-car after an accident. Mr. A. Lionel Lane defended. Cecil Edward Cole, St. Mary’s Lane, Tewkesbury, said he was driving a wagon from Gloucester to Tewkesbury on January 5th, and when near the King’s Head at Norton, he heard a motor over-taking him. He pulled in to his near side as far as possible, but the motor-car was kept practically in the middle of the road, with the result that it struck the front wheel of witness’s wagon, smashed it, and threw witness on to the grass. Witness shouted to the motor driver to stop. There was a lady and gentleman in the car, and although the former looked round the car was not stopped. Cross-examined: He was not on his wrong side, and did not slowly pull over on his right side. He also denied that defendant endeavoured to pull over, that his car skidded. He measured the road and found that the wheel marks of the car were 2ft. 6ins. from the near side of the road. He considered that the car was travelling at 30 miles an hour. Herbert Marsden, Norton, said he was in the vicinity at the time of the occurrence and heard a crash. He also heard someone shouting “Stop!” but a car came on at a good speed and did not stop. He afterwards saw the damage done to Cole’s wagon. James Bishop, Norton, deposed that he also heard the crash and Cole’s shouts. P.C. Arthur Fluck, Coombe Hill, deposed to examining the road and taking measurements. The road was 15 feet wide, and the marks of Cole’s wagon were four inches from the side of the road. Defendant stated that he had held a driving license for ten years. He was on January 5th driving to Droitwich. He drove from Gloucester to Worcester, 26 miles, in an hour and a half. When he saw the wagon it was on the wrong side of the road, but the driver slowly drew over until defendant only just had room to pass. On account of the greasy nature of the road the car skidded and his mud guard just grazed the wagon. The lady who was with him told him that the driver of the wagon had jumped down and had taken the number of the car. The lady with him had to catch a train at Worcester, so he did not stop. At the time of passing the wagon he was travelling at a rate of 14 miles an hour. Defendant, against whom there were two previous convictions for driving to the danger of the public, was fined 10, including costs.

If Edward thought that was the end of the matter, he soon found out how wrong he was when Cecil Cole started civil proceedings in the County Court to recover his losses from the accident, as reported on in the Gloucester Journal of Saturday 22nd April 1916:

Cecil Cole, general dealer and haulier, of St. Mary’s-lane Tewkesbury, claimed 73 18s. of Edward Onslow Secker, of Rosemount-road, Bournemouth, for damages to wagon 7, loss of mare 20, loss of profit 30, personal injuries 15, veterinary surgeon’s fee 1 15s., paid for hire of cart and helpers 15s., caused by a motor-car collision near Norton, Gloucester, on January 5th, through the negligent driving of defendant. Mr. L. G. Badham, of Tewkesbury, appeared for plaintiff, and Mr. Lionel Lane, of Gloucester, for defendant. Evidence was given by plaintiff, by John T. Smith, wheelwright, and A. G. Elder, of Tewkesbury, veterinary surgeon, and his Honour gave judgment for 43 16s.

On 22nd January 1918, William George Nixey’s eldest sister Charlotte Elizabeth Secker of Upton, Rosemount-Road, Bournemouth passed away at the age of seventy-two. Probate was granted on 11th April to John Knowles esquire and Percy Marr Johnson, Solicitor, her personal effects being valued at 58030 10s. 7d.  Almost a year to the day later, on 20th January 1919, her husband Edward Onslow Secker died at Glencoe, Florence-Road, Boscombe, Hampshire at the age of seventy-nine. A grant of limited administration was made to John Knowles, Merchant on 17th June 1919, in advance of full probate which was granted to Edward Howard Secker and John Knowles on 13th February 1920. His personal effects were valued at 65172 2s. 5d.– The Bucks Herald of Saturday 25th January 1919 printed the following regarding his death under the heading “Death of a Magistrate”:

We regret to have to record the death of Mr. Edward Onslow Secker, which occurred at his residence, “Upton,” Rosemount-road, Bournemouth, on Monday. He was the second oldest member of the Slough Bench of Magistrates, and for several years was the chairman of the Slough branch of the South Bucks Conservative and Unionist Association. He was also chairman of the Slough Water Company whose undertaking was bought by the Urban District Council and serves the town and surrounding parishes.

Memorial inscriptions appear on the front and left panels (respectively) of the Nixey family vault , which read:

Also in loving memory of Charlotte Elizabeth
eldest daughter of William and Charlotte Nixey and wife of Edward Onslow Secker
passed to her rest on 22nd January 1918 aged 72 years

Edward Onslow Secker JP, Born September 6th 1839 Died January 20th 1919

Below are extracts from the Western Daily Press (Bristol) of Monday 5th July 1920, regarding Hargreaves Bros. & Co. Ltd and a “Notice of Issue of Shares”:

Hargreaves Bros. & Co. Limited
(Incorporated under the Companies Acts, 1862 to 1900.)
“Gipsyville”, Hull, and at Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Toronto, Montreal &c
Makers of Gipsy Black Lead “Glosso”, “Pyn-Ka”, “Zog” &c., &c. ...
The Company was incorporated on 8th March 1906 to acquire the business of Hargreaves Bros. and Co., Makers of Blue and Black Lead, established in Hull in 1868. The business of John Johnson and Co. Ltd, St Anne’s Works, Liverpool, manufacturers of Blue, Black Lead, Floor Polish, Furniture Polish and Metal Polish, had been taken over during the previous year, and was included in the sale to the Company. Since 1906 some 20 other businesses have been bought outright, while in several others a controlling interest has been purchased. Many of these have been continued under their old name as important source of revenue, and have in many ways strengthened the position of Hargreaves Bros., Co., Ltd. Amongst the Associated Companies referred to are the following:
W. G. Nixey, Ltd., Black Lead Makers To H. M. The King, London ...
The specialities of the Company and its Associated Companies consist principally of Laundry Blue, Black Lead, and Household Polishes of every kind. It owns a large number of Trade marks, many of which have become household words and are of great value, e.g. ...
Nixey’s Black Lead ...
Nixey’s Boot Polish ...
Goods under these and many other brands are not only sold throughout the British Isles but are exported in considerable quantities to almost every part of the civilised world. ...
Copies of the Prospectus and forms of application may be obtained from the Bankers, Solicitors and Auditors of the Company; the Brokers to the Company; the Secretary at the Company’s Registered Offices, “Gipsyville”, Hull; and the offices of W. G. Nixey Ltd., 12 Soho Square, W.1.

The 1921 People’s Year Book And Annual of the English and Scottish Wholesale Societies, stated:

Steadily the number of makers of daily requirements is lessening, and Hargreaves Bros. Co., of Hull, who recently issued the now familiar Eight percent Cumulative Preference shares, not only makes its own polishes, but owns or controls such household firms as W. G. Nixey, Ltd., Day Martin, the Aladdin Polish Co., the Radium polishes, and Zog.

The following year, the Hull Daily Mail in its issue dated Tuesday 26th September 1922 printed the following:

Hargreaves Bros. and Co. Ltd.
Annual Meeting of Shareholders
Trade Improving after a Difficult Year
The 16th ordinary general meeting of this company was held at Gipsyville on Monday, when there was a good attendance of shareholders.
Mr G. P. Hargreaves presided, and expressed the sincere regret of the directors that the trading of the past year had resulted in a heavy loss. He referred to the abnormal position created by the collapse in the export trade, resulting from world conditions over which the company had no control. Exhaustive particulars were given to the meeting of the difficulties which had followed the suspension of this overseas trade owing to the depreciation of foreign currencies, and to political and industrial unrest in almost every part of the Globe.
It was unfortunate that, during the period covered by the Report, the Home Trade had also been seriously affected by the recurrence of labour disputes and widespread unemployment. The means taken by the directors to meet the unprecedented situation were detailed, and encouraging facts relating to recent trading were given. The outlook, so far as the export business of the company was concerned, had greatly improved, and good orders recently received had necessitated the working of overtime in some departments, while in the home trade, the renewed activity in purchasing the company’s products – particularly Gipsy Black Lead and Glosso Metal Polish – had met with immediate success.
Mr. Hargreaves made reference to the development of the company’s business outside the United Kingdom by the establishment of factories in France, Ireland, Canada, etc. where progress was being made in spite of continued unsettled conditions in some of these countries.
The directors’ report and accounts were adopted unanimously, and the chairman invited a number of local shareholders to consult with him as to the best means for further improving the company’s position and prospects.

However, just a few months later, the Dundee Courier of Wednesday 20th December printed the following:

Hargreaves Bros. & Co: Offer for Assets.
An offer for the assets of Hargreaves Bros. & Co., Hull, manufacturers of blacklead, polish etc., will be put before the shareholders on Friday, 22d inst. The Company, which has a big stake in Day & Martin, registered a loss of 122,000 [3,656,340.00] in 1921, and the dividend on the 8 per cent cumulative preference shares is in arrears as from July of that year. The provisional agreement for the sale of the assets does not provide for the transfer of the liabilities.

Also in the Hull Daily Mail of Friday 22nd December 1922, the following was published:

Shareholders Consider Offer of Purchase
An extraordinary general meeting of Messrs Hargreaves Bros. and Co., Ltd., manufacturers of blacklead, metal polish, etc., Hull, was held at the offices at Dairycoates this afternoon for the purpose of considering and, if thought fit, approving an agreement for the sale of the company’s assets. The company is a combination of a large number of firms, and in September reported that it had lost nearly 123,000 in its last financial year. The circular to the shareholders by the secretary calling this afternoon’s meeting was in the following terms:
“You will remember that at the annual meeting held in September your directors promised to put forward reconstruction proposals, and an advisory committee was appointed to confer with the directors. Several Meetings of this committee have been held. The force of circumstances has become such, however, that your directors have had to take into consideration the sale of the company’s assets.
“They have recently entered into a provisional agreement with this object, and you will find herewith formal notice of an extraordinary general meeting to consider and, if thought fit, approve of the agreement.
“We need scarcely remind you that until the meeting has actually been held the nature of the agreement referred to cannot be made public, but you may rest assured that the directors are satisfied it is the best which can be negotiated in the circumstances.”
It is understood that the provisional agreement to which the letter refers is with Messrs Reckitt and Co., Ltd. The meeting was private.

The following day, the Hull Daily Mail announced:

Hargreaves Bros. and Co. Ltd, Gipsyville, Hull
An extraordinary general meeting of the shareholders of this company was held at its registered offices yesterday afternoon, when there was a large attendance.
Mr G. P. Hargreaves moved a resolution approving a provisional arrangement which had been entered into by the directors for the sale of the company’s assets, and in doing so, referred to the efforts which had been made since the annual general meeting in September last to provide the necessary additional working capital. Unfortunately endeavours in the direction of reconstruction had not been successful, and the Advisory Committee, which had met on several occasions, confirmed the resolution of the directors accepting the offer made by Messrs. Reckitt and Sons, Ltd., for the purchase of the company’s assets.
It was hoped at one time that arrangements might be made for an exchange of shares between the two companies, but this had not been found possible.
Under the provisional agreement, it was proposed to sell the company’s land, buildings, plant, stock-in-trade, book debts, goodwill, and trade marks, etc., and its entire interest in 22 associated companies for a sum of approximately 355,000 [10,639,350.00]. This amount might be varied a little according to the realisation of certain assets.
It was intended that the liquidator to be appointed would wind up the company’s affairs as quickly as possible, and that this would not take longer than from three to six months.
After meeting the claims of the bank, who held a First Debenture, and all other liabilities of every description, it was anticipated that there would be a balance of about 100,000 [2,997,000.00] for distribution between the holders of 322,000 8 per cent Preference shares. Owing to their priority in respect of capital as well as dividends, there would be nothing for the Ordinary shareholders, but this result was anticipated at the last general meeting.
It was hoped that the distribution on the Preference shares would amount to not less than 5s to 6s per share.
When the liquidator was in a position to make a distribution, every Preference shareholder would have the option of accepting either cash or Reckitt’s 1 Ordinary shares at the fixed price of 3 each, and in the opinion of some members of the Advisory Committee and many of the shareholders this option was one which had a distinct value to the Preference shareholders of this company.
The Board recommended this agreement for acceptance, because they felt that under the existing circumstances it was the best that could be done.
Mr. J. G. Howett, in seconding the resolution, said that he had an intimate knowledge of the company’s history during the past 11 years, and he, too, while deeply sorry that any shareholder should be asked to take a step which would mean loss, felt that any other course might be less satisfactory, and for this reason the directors were unanimous in recommending the agreement for confirmation.
Mr G. A. Gale, who was appointed auditor to the company at the last annual general meeting, stated that he had made a minute investigation of the company’s affairs, and he, too, was satisfied that the interests of the shareholders would be best consulted by the acceptance of the offer now under consideration.
This resolution was supported by Dr T. C. Jackson, the solicitor to the company, who explained the restrictive covenant of a world-wide nature which Mr Hargreaves was called upon to enter into.
Mr Thomas Bailey and ex-Councillor Evans, members of the Advisory Committee, also supported the resolution, which was carried unanimously.
A vote of thanks to Dr T. C. Jackson for the active part he had taken in the negotiations was carried with acclamation, and before the proceedings terminated the Right Hon. T. R. Ferens, J.P., and Mr W. H. Slack, J.P., addressed the meeting.

The name W.G. Nixey Ltd survived as part of the Hargreaves Bros. group of companies until 31st December 1923, when a decision was taken at Gipsyville to wind it up, and a liquidator was appointed. In the Hull Daily Mail of Monday 30th June 1924, the following advertisement left the public sure of one thing, as far as the products that had been so well known and respected for several decades, it was an end of an era:

For Sale, Miscellaneous
Special Offer
3 doz. 1 1/2d Nixey Black Boot Polish ... 2s
3 doz. 3d Nixey Black or Brown Boot Polish ... 4s
Carr. extra. Special prices, gross lot.

Two siblings of William George Nixey survived to see everything their father and brother had worked so hard for slowly disappear from view. In 1931 Clara Burnell Harrison died at Cheltenham aged seventy-one. The Gloucester Journal of Saturday 27th June 1931 printed the following announcement:

Family Pictures for Son
Cheltenham Woman’s Big Estate
Mrs. Clara Bernell Harrison, of Evesham House, Cheltenham, who died on April 21st last, wife of Col. Bernard G. Harrison, left gross estate of the value of 38,914 3s. 10d., with net personalty 38,798 6s. 7d. Messrs Coutts and Co., of 440 Strand, W.C., are the executors. The will is dated November 2nd, 1923. Testatrix left her family pictures, known as the Sydenham and Ross pictures, to her son George Sydenham Holmes, the funds of her first marriage settlement over which she had power of appointment to her children George Sydenham Holmes, Clara Augusta Moore, Frederica Vera Holmes and Dorothy Christine Gauntlett Starkey, and from her own estate she left her husband a sum equal in value to 1-4th of the said marriage settlement funds, and the residue of her property to her husband and children in equal shares.

The longest surviving child of William George and Charlotte Nixey was Augusta, who died in 1946 aged eighty-eight. The Surrey Mirror of Friday 8th March printed the following announcement:

The Late Mrs. A. Stevens. – The funeral took place on Thursday last week of Mrs. Augusta Stevens, widow of Mr. Charles Bridges Stevens, and daughter of the late Mr. W. G. Nixey, who passed away at Reigate on February 25th at the age of 88 years. The service which preceded interment in Redstone Cemetery was held at St. George’s Chapel, the Northover Funeral Home, Reigate, and was conducted by the Rev. W. E. Morrison. The principal mourners were: Major Stevens (son), Mr. and Mrs. Rind, and Capt. H. G. Caldwell. Also present at the Church were Mrs. Osten, Miss Taylor and Mrs. Haslett.

Even now in the 21st century, Nixey’s Black Lead has not been allowed to be forgotten. In 2012, Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt published “Sapphire Battersea,” a book about a Foundling Hospital girl who was sent into service. This excerpt is from page 95 where a description of the scullery is given:

[The scullery] had a big lead sink, a wooden draining board, a mangle, hooks for all the assorted dusters, mops, brooms and brushes, and several dark depressing cupboards full of matches and candles and cakes of coal-tar soap, Nixey’s Black Lead and Japan lustre shoe-blacking. Sadly, there was no food.

Also, in 2014, Rebecca Mascull published “The Visitors,” her first novel about a deaf, blind and mute girl living in Victorian times. The fictional character Liza Golding appears to have regained some sight by the time we reach the following excerpt:

I look around the room as I eat. The tiles on the wall are blue and white check and around the range a mixture of earthy reds and browns. I love the kitchen and all its bits and bobs, its pots and pans and paraphernalia. It is as rich in treasure as Aladdin’s cave. On the shelves there are dozens of packets of food and other goods, I know not what, with pictures of people and objects on them and writing in different colours. People store these items in cupboards and throw away the packets after they have finished the contents. They do not see the beauty in them as I do with my new eyes. I ask Lottie to pass me some and examine a box of Reckitt’s Bag Blue, patterned in red, blue and white – so bright and cheerful. And Nixey’s Black Lead, which they tell me is for cleaning the Kitchener and yet the picture on the front is so eerie, it gives me a chill; there is a woman in her kitchen and a figure reaching to her, giving her the Nixey’s Black Lead. The figure is wearing a black hat and has a glow all around her. I ask Lottie, “Is that a Visitor?”. “None of that nonsense”, she says and takes my cleared plate away. I must talk with her later about this. I have something to tell her.


“Sapphire Battersea” by Jacqueline Wilson, Nick Sharratt; Yearling ISBN 978-0440869276.

“The Visitors” by Rebecca Mascull; Hodder & Stoughton ISBN 978144476521.

Unless otherwise stated, all newspaper articles can be found at the British Newspaper Archive.


The photograph of the wooden shop display for W G Nixey’s Celebrated Black Lead appears by kind permission of Severn Beach Antiques.