Of all the people who lived in the Heatons, Hans Renold is perhaps the most well known, and deservedly so. Everyone who grew up or lived there between 1900 and 1990 is aware of Renold Chains on Burnage Lane. In business he was a visionary engineer, making great advances in chain technology, but he also was a pioneer of management techniques, and did much to introduce the ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor, and Scientific Management into the UK. He built a skilled and loyal workforce, and ploughed profits back into the business to develop it further.
Therefore, on the 140th anniversary of the foundation of Renold Chains, it is fitting that Hans Renold is the next owner of Priestnall Hey.
Aarau is the capital of the Northern Swiss canton of Aargau, in 1798 it was briefly the first capital of a United Switzerland, since then its two claims to fame are the invention of Muesli, and Hans Renold.
Our Hans¹ was born Johannes Renold in Aarau, Switzerland on 31 July 1852, the son of Johannes Renold, a baker and restaurant owner, and Maria Wildi (born 1828) daughter of Jakob Wildi.
Johannes Renold senior was one of thirteen children born to Daniel Renold (1776-1858). Most of Daniel’s children stayed and married local people in Switzerland, apart from Jakob who trained as a banking apprentice, but after some irregularities found it opportune to emigrate to the United States where he became a restauranteur in Dayton, Ohio, and Karl who emigrated there as well, but during the Civil War, he suffered severe injuries and died. Jacob had married in the USA and one of his daughters wed a rich railway magnate, who bequeathed her fortune back to the family in Aarau.
Johannes and Maria Renold and Jakob Wildi copyright Arnold Widmer, Aarauer Neujahrsblatter
Hans’ uncle Karl Heinrich Rychner was a gunsmith, and it was he who gave Hans a passion for things mechanical.
I remember how my uncle heated metal in a blazing fire and then let it harden by by cooling. It took a lot of time and skill to get the steel consistently hard. If Uncle forged and pulled the metal out, then the sparks flew in all directions. But we tied had wet rags around ourselves and doused ourselves with water from buckets, so as not to burn our clothes.
From Hans Renold’s Diary as published by Arnold Widmer, Aarauer Neujahrsblatte
In 1869 Hans took up a mechanical workshop apprenticeship in Neuchatel, and by 1871 he is working in St Denis in Paris, where his colleagues were so impressed with him, they wrote him a reference saying Hans Renold will do a real service to mechanical engineering. The management of Compagnie Claparede clearly saw his potential.
In 1873 he moved to London which did not suit him, he requiring a more industrial atmosphere, so he made his way to Manchester, first working for J Felber & Co, who were engineers, merchants and ship agents. This was not enough for his entrepreneurial spirit, so he borrowed £300 from his fiancee’s father Charles Herford to buy the business of James Slater & Co of Salford who made driving chains for the textile industry.
He married Mary Susan Herford in 1880 and they went to live at 70 New Street in Altrincham. In 1881 Hans naturalised as a British Citizen, and by 1891 they are at 57 Parsonage Road in Withington, in 1896 the family has grown so much that they have taken over number 55 as well.
57 Parsonage Road
Whilst the textile industry was still booming, Hans was canny enough to see the potential of chains for the nascent cycling industry, and by 1880 he had developed and patented the bush roller chain for the bicycle. This was a wise move and he was soon expanding, first to a new premises on Brook Street, which he was able to fund from his own profits.
Renold Brook Street Factory, Manchester Image Archive
The original design of the Renold bush-roller chain was so successful that it remains the same basic design of transmission chain to this day. It is made up of a series of journal bearings, held in precise positional relationship to each other by constraining link plates.
Each bearing consists of a bearing pin and bush on which the steel roller revolves as the chain moves around steel sprockets during operation. This was a highly advanced design for chain at the time with great wear resistance could handle great loads.
In 1885 the Rover Safety Bicycle was launched. It was designed with two wheels of a similar size on a diamond-shaped frame and a seat that was low enough for the rider’s feet to touch the ground. The bicycle was driven with pedals, connected by gears and chain to the wheel at the back. This was to keep the pedals, and the rider’s feet away from the front wheel for safety reasons, for a better ride and for ease of use.
Renold’s bush-roller chain was the perfect solution for this as the existing textile pin chain would have worn out too quickly on the bicycle’s sprockets. As a result the Rover Safety Bicycle was a huge success and it remains the basic design of bicycles to this day.
The Renolds became good employers, and Hans believed that his job was not to make chains; it is to make men and women, they will make the chains for us, Mary Renold took an interest in the factory girls – she read to them in the lunch hour, and brought round hot soup and mittens for them. In 1896, he introduced the 48 hour working week, which was lower than the general minimum of 52 hours, he also established a works canteen for his staff.
It was in 1901 that he is first seen at Priestnall Hey, it was a while before he built the works on Burnage Lane, that was around 1906, but the vast difference he made to the area can be seen by comparing the 1911 OS map (survey date 1904) to the 1923 one (surveyed 1911). As a reminder of his home country, he had each railing adorned with a small Swiss flag.
OS Maps of 1911 and 1923 showing before and after Renold works.
By now he is known for both cycle and driving chains. His innovation and diversification continued, by 1909 he was supplying driving chains for aircraft, which was the year the first DeHaviland Biplane flew in the UK. That same year the Renold Social Union was established, which played a part in the later history of the house.
Renold were now becoming a worldwide company, and were the place to go for anything chain related.
1914 advert in Das Fahrzeug, and two Renold Chain boxes, one for a bicycle and one motorcycle from the 1920s.
Renold Works, Chorlton
Hans and his family now occupied a magnificent house overlooking his works, but Heaton Mersey was still largely rural in the early 20th Century.
Priestnall Hey copyright Phil Childs and Ian Littlechild.
What a fine house it is! It is to my shame that I walked the ginnel between the leisure centre and the school tens of times, and as a child I played on Heaton Mersey Common, but have no memory of it, yet this picture is from 1979. Granted I knew about Renold Chains on Burnage Lane, but if you had asked the younger me just exactly what they made, I would have struggled, despite the answer being in the question, and me being a very keen cyclist, who could dismantle and reassemble a bicycle.
Hans Renold 1944 © Basil H Tripp from Renold Ltd 1956-1967 (George Allen & Unwin)
Hans and Mary Herford had six children between them. Hans Herford Renold (1889-1893) died in infancy, as did Mary Robberds Renold (1885-1895).
Mary Katherine Renold (1881-1950) married William Hartas Jackson in September 1908, a brilliant mathematician (in 1901 he came third in his exams at Cambridge, gaining a first class degree, and publishing books on mathematics). He at first worked as an assistant manager at the Renold plant in Burnage, but they moved to Maypole Cottage in Chiveley, Newbury where he became an HM Inspector of Schools. They had twin daughters, Ruth and Barbara who never married, and were named joint executors of their father’s estate on his death in 1977.
Austen Hugh Renold (1895-1957) married first Alice Hickinbottom in 1939 and lived in Bournemouth, in 1949 after her death he wed Sarah Testall in 1949. He was retired incapacited in 1939, at the age of 44.
Amy Madeline Renold (1886-1962) married Eric Charles Cassels Hunter (1876-1962), the eldest son of Charles Hunter and Emma Margaret Cassels.
Charles Hunter (1841-1918) was a wealthy merchant, drysalter and bleacher born in Moss Side. He grew up at Elm Bank in Whalley Range. Charles had married Emma Margaret Cassels who was the daughter of a rich East Indies merchant. Emma was born in Bombay, in the Indian Territories, but came to the UK whilst young.
Eric and Amy Hunter lived in Bucklow and Mobberley, latterly at Gorsey Brow, celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in 1960. Eric continued the merchant business of his father, Charles, becoming managing director of the family firm.
Hans Renold’s eldest son, Charles Garonne Renold (1883-1967) followed in his father’s footsteps. He was educated at Abbotsholme School in Stafford and Cornell in the United States, and joined the Renold and Coventry chain company in 1905, becoming a director in 1906.
Sir Charles Garonne Renold, National Portrait Gallery, by Walter Stoneman
In 1909 he married Eric Charles Cassels Hunter’s sister, Margaret Hilda Hunter, and they went to live at 53 Heaton Road in Withington (which is just around the corner from his childhood house in Parsonage Road). By 1939 he and Margaret had moved next door to his father, to Woodheys on Mersey Road.
In 1943 after his father’s retirement he was made Chairman of the Renold Chains company, and in 1948 he was knighted for services in the causes of good management and the development of humane and progressive ideals in industry.
Meanwhile back with Hans, Mary Herford died in 1919 in Eastbourne, and in 1923 he married Rowena Hague Pigott (1874-1962).
To recognise his achievements, The University of Manchester awarded him an honorary DSc in 1940. Hans Renold died on 2 May 1943, at Grange Over Sands. He left £473,000 – the equivalent of £21.4m in 2019. He left his house to his widow, after which it should pass to his son Charles. Charles gifted it to the Hans Renold Social Union, for the benefit of staff in 1944. We will look at the final years of the house in the next part.
Hans Renold by William H Myers
After Margaret’s death, Charles Garonne Renold moved to Derbyshire where he lived briefly in Chapel En Le Frith with his son, Peter, until his death in 1967.
He and Margaret had four children, Hans (1910-1987) who followed him into the Renold company, as did Peter (1911-2002), Penelope (1916-2006), his only daughter, never married, She toured pre war Europe on a Harley Davison, served in the WAAF, and became a devout Catholic, upholding high church values, and became closely involved with the movement to preserve the traditional liturgy. She died in Oxford. Finally there was Timothy Renold (born 1918) who toured Europe with his sister, where both of them had a serious accident, Penelope required trepanning. Timothy also served in the war, rising to the rank of Captain.
Penelope Renold copyright Latin Mass Society
¹ Hans Renold was known as Johannes Renold possibly until naturalised on 16th December 1881. At his first marriage he was registered as Johannes. However, to minimise confusion I will refer to him as Hans.
Copyright 2019 Allan Russell