Henry Sudell was a Blackburn cotton merchant and manufacturer who, at the height of his success, was reputed to be a millionaire – a fantastic sum of money for the early 1800s.
For many years it was his custom, at Christmas, to provide an ox to roast in the old market place. The beef was distributed to the poor people of the district, together with clothing and considerable sums of money. In 1800 it was estimated that over 500 people benefited from his charity.
But it wasn’t just at Christmas that he remembered the poor of the town. The Blackburn Mail reported on the 12th November 1800:
Last Wednesday, Saturday and Yesterday, H. Sudell, Esq. ordered several loads of potatoes to be sold to the poor inhabitants of the town at the rate of eight shillings per load, which is below half the market price, and we understand it is his intention to continue the same in the sale of some hundreds of loads of his own growing.
He also provided half of the cost of £8000 that was needed to build St John’s church in 1788. Sadly this church has recently been extensively damaged by fire.
The Sudell family had been associated with Blackburn since the Middle Ages when John Sudell is recorded as holding chantry lands at Oozebooth in 1548. A William Sudell, living in Blackburn during the reign of Elizabeth I, had a son who was baptised at the parish church on 13th September, 1601. Although they were originally of yeoman stock, the Sudells took an early interest in trade. John Sudell, described as a chapman, married Ann Ashe on 5th January 1656. His son, William, was elected Governor of Blackburn Grammar School in 1714 and must have died in about 1725 when his executors paid a legacy of £20 into the school funds. It was William Sudell, together with Henry Feilden and William Baldwin who purchased the manor of Blackburn. His brother Henry married Mrs Alice Yates of Eccleshill and they had many children. His third son, also Henry, married Alice Livesey, but died the same year, leaving Alice a widow at the age of 23. She survived her husband by 60 years and lived in Sudell House on King Street. It was here that the third Henry Sudell was born after his father’s death and he was baptised at St Mary’s Mellor on 4th May 1764.
On the deaths of his uncles, both in 1785, Henry Sudell became the most influential merchant and manufacturer in Blackburn. He married Maria Livesey and his house on Church Street was built for him the same year. Three years later he bought the Woodfold estate and built Woodfold Hall at Mellor. Here he lived in a regal state with a deerpark, wildfowl and his own pack of hounds. His entry into Blackburn was regarded as a state occasion when he came in his magnificent carriage, drawn by four perfectly matched horses, ridden by postilions in a livery of crimson and gold. All caps were doffed at his approach!
But his wealth and his charitable giving all came crashing down in 1827 when he speculated on the Continental and American cotton markets. The price of cotton plummeted and he was bankrupted.
The Blackburn Mail reports on 15th August 1827:
Within the last few days, two meetings of the creditors of H. Sudell, Esq., of Woodfold Park, near this town, have been held in Manchester. At the first meeting, the balance sheet was laid down before the creditors and stated the debts at £131,793, and the assets available to the discharge of these claims at £60,434.
Prior to the news of his losses being made public, Henry Sudell and his family left Woodfold secretly in the middle of the night to hide their shame. He never returned to the town and died at Ashley House near Bath in 1856 at the age of 91.