Thomas J.  Sugden

by Katharine Short, Archivist

Thomas Sugden was born in Oldham, Greater Manchester, in 1849, the son of Thomas, a machine agent, and Ann Eleanor. His siblings were Zaccheus (1843), Mary Ann (1845), Benjamin (1847), Hannah Rebecca (1849), John Robert (1853), Emma (1855) and Ellinor (1857). A family story had it that Thomas senior exhibited, at the Great Exhibition in 1851, one of the first sewing machines seen in Britain. Thomas junior started working in his father’s workshops aged 11, going on to apprenticeships with Messrs Bradbury and Company, machinists, and with Wellington Ironworks, Oldham. At the same time he undertook evening classes at Oldham Municipal Technical School. In 1872 he was awarded a studentship of the Royal College of Science and School of Mines, and in 1873 he was awarded a Whitworth Scholarship, enabling him to study Engineering at Owen's College, Manchester as a full time student. The collection includes some papers relating to his apprenticeship and education, including a set of essays on engineering topics.

In 1877 he joined the engineering staff of the Manchester Steam Users' Association, following this job with roles as Chief Mechanical Engineer to the Chamber Colliery Company Limited and General Manager of Chadderton Ironworks Company Limited, engineers and boiler makers. He seems to have moved down to London at some time in the 1890s, and took a position as Assistant to the General Manager of Babcock and Wilcox Limited, working on the design and construction of power station plant all over the country.

Advert for T. Sugden Ltd product

Advert for T. Sugden Ltd product

In 1902 Sugden formed his own business, T. Sugden Limited, engineers and contractors, specialising in steam plant economy. They had offices in the Strand, Westminster. Sugden held numerous patents for inventions and designs, chiefly relating to the improvement of boilers and steam superheaters. He was active in various engineering societies, becoming the senior vice-president of the South Wales Institute of Engineers and President of the Whitworth Society. Sugden retired as managing director of T. Sugden Ltd in 1933, although he maintained an active interest in the company. Sugden’s activities within the engineering sphere are well represented in the collection. Although there are no official records of T. Sugden Ltd, there are some business files which Sugden evidently kept at home, including correspondence, advertising material and blueprints. Other records reveal Sudgen’s thoughts on engineering matters, particularly relating to steam and boilers; his contributions to engineering societies and keen sense of fellowship with other engineers; and the patents for some of his designs.

In addition to his interests in engineering, Sugden was a committed Methodist. The collection features a variety of records relating to Oldham Methodist Circuit, where Sugden first started teaching Sunday School at the age of 15. In London, Sugden joined the Sydenham Methodist Circuit; becoming a Circuit Steward, assisting with fund-raising, chairing events, and teaching Bible classes. In the 1920s he actively campaigned against Methodist Union (the re-uniting of branches of Methodism which had split away from Wesleyan Methodism) and the collection includes some campaign materials including press cuttings, pamphlets and speeches.

Thomas Sugden married Mary Ackroyd, the daughter of Thomas Ackroyd, a machine turner, in Oldham in 1877. They had two children, both born in Oldham: Annie (1883) and Arthur (1886), but Mary died in 1887. In 1890 Thomas married Mary's younger sister Alice in Camberwell. There were no children of this marriage. Alice died in May 1930 while Thomas Sugden died on 1 February 1935. The collection includes records relating to the family, including birth, vaccination, marriage and death certificates. Sugden looked after the interests of several of his siblings, reflected in papers relating to the settling of their estates. There are a large number of files on domestic arrangements such as the purchase of the Sugden family home, ‘Brooklyn’ at 26 Underhill Road, Dulwich, and their Daimler motor-car, both later destroyed in an air raid. A good deal of Sugden’s correspondence is preserved, including management of his son Arthur’s affairs during the First World War and letters and photographs from Arthur in France.

Annie Sugden studied music, but lived with her parents, nursing them both. She died in 1969. The papers in this collection were initially collected together by her, before passing into the ownership of her maid and companion Ethel Gregory. The collection includes a number of Annie’s personal files including correspondence, domestic and financial arrangements, and a poignant diary recording her father’s last illness and death. The largest section of files relate to legal wrangling between Annie and her brother over the disposition of their father’s estate.

Arthur Sugden during WW1

Arthur Sugden during WW1

Arthur Sugden was educated at Dulwich College before entering private practice as a solicitor and then serving in the First World War. In 1914 he married Margery Harris in Bedford (the collection includes a photograph of their wedding). In 1926 he joined Boots the Chemist (at that date formally known as Boots Pure Drug Company Limited) as their Company Secretary and legal adviser, becoming an expert in chemical patent law before retiring in 1948 and moving from Beeston, Nottingham, to Deben, Suffolk. He died in January 1958, leaving his estate to Margery. They had no children. 

This collection provides a snapshot of the concerns of a family which crossed centuries and saw two world wars. Thomas Sugden’s mother could not sign her name on his birth certificate, yet her grandson became the company secretary of a successful national business, illuminating the great change which occurred within the social circumstances of the Sugden family between the 1850s and the 1930s, success which Thomas Sugden attributed to hard work and his Methodist faith.