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PrimroseSir James Lees Knowles, 1st Bart.
(1857-1928)
Primrose

Born in 1857 the son of a great Lancashire mining family from Westwood, Pendlebury. James Lees Knowles 1 Bart. (1903) C.V.O. (1909) O.B.E. (1920) T.D., D.L., M.A., LL.M. Cantab., was eventually to preside over coalmines at Agecroft, Little Lever, Clifton Hall and Pendlebury, employing over 3,400 men in the 1880's. His father John was already a notable industrialist and influential local entrepreneur who owned a cotton spinning factory, was the first Chairman of the Swinton & Pendlebury Local Board, was Justice of the Peace, an Alderman to Lancashire County Council and a Deputy to the High Sheriff of Lancashire.
As a boy, James Lees Knowles had been educated at Rugby School and later at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he emerged as an outstanding athlete and was President of the University Athletics Club. He also played rugby for Manchester and Lancashire County. Still an active athlete and as a member of Salford Harriers he was instrumental in the establishment of the Salford Athletics Festival of 1884.
After Cambridge Lees Knowles studied Law and served at the Bar at Lincoln's Inn before returning to Lancashire with an ambition to become a politician. He was elected as Conservative Member of Parliament for the West Salford Constituency (1886 - 1906) and was most active in local politics, including the Primrose League. On the death of his father John in 1894, Lees Knowles not only succeeded to the Chairmanship of the Andrew Knowles & Sons coalmines, but inherited many large properties and estates in the region and in Pendleton. He was the archetypal Tory landed gentleman of wealth and privilege.
The late 1890's saw what was probably his finest hour as several emergent wars in Africa - the Ashanti War in 1896, and in the Sudan in 1898 - and subsequently, the Boer war in South Africa. In October 1899, Lees Knowles was appointed as Honorary Colonel, the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and seems to have thrown himself wholeheartedly into the role, supporting it with his own funds. Knowles went on to offer the services of 'his' volunteer battalion to the British forces in the Cape Colony, whom he would arm and equip at his own expense - earning him the name of the 'Armchair Colonel'.
The Lancashire Fusiliers distinguished themselves in battle, and Knowles fought for recognition of their bravery so that the War Office conferred three honours on them and the City Council erected the Boer War Monument in Salford in 1905 to honour their action at Spion Hill - another monument was erected at their headquarters in Bury. For his contribution to the war effort he was created a baron in 1903.
He went on to purchase Turton Tower, where many of his ancestors were buried. His ownership and chairmanship of the family's Mining concerns occupied most of his time thereafter, with many troubled times including his opposition to Trades Unionism, the Eight Hour Act and the Working Men's Compensation Scheme, all of which he opposed and which made his work more difficult. These events marked a period of change and reform as a more liberal political climate emerged, and Knowles' die-hard Tory values lost public and electoral favour.
By 1906 his political career was at an end and he concentrated on running his mines and in writing. In 1915 he married Lady Nina Ogilvie-Grant, youngest daughter of the 10th Earl of Seafield. In 1923 he published a translation of 'The Taking of Capri' one of several undistinguished literary works to his credit. By the time of the General Strike of 1926 the former great mining company of Andrew Knowles & Sons had ceased to exist.
He died without issue on 7th October 1928 and his personal fortune was assessed at around £227,000.

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References:
Whitaker's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage & Companionage. 1911.
Who's Who. 1922.
Kelly's Handbook of the Titled, Landed & Offical Classes. 1923.
Encyclopaedia of Greater Manchester. Papillon Graphics'. 2000.
The Bronze Medal measures 38mm in diameter.