Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson, first baronet 1842-1919, chemical manufacturer and politician, was born 8 February 1842 in Everton, Liverpool, the second of the three sons and the fourth of the five children of John Brunner, a Swiss Protestant minister who migrated to Lancashire in 1832 and became a Unitarian and a schoolmaster, and his wife Margaret Curphey, from the Isle of Man. His mother died in 1847 and in 1851 his father married Nancy Inman, who had run a successful school near Birkenhead. He was educated at his fathers school, St Georges House, Everton, until, at the age of fifteen, of his own volition, he decided to pursue a commercial career. The young Brunner had been greatly influenced by both his fathers liberal Unitarian teaching and his affectionate stepmothers businesslike principles of household management.
He spent four years at a Liverpool shipping house and then in 1861 obtained a clerical post at Hutchinsons alkali works in Widnes. During the next twelve years he rose to the position of general manager, in charge of finance and personnel, and during this time established a reputation in the business community for ability and honest dealing. Here, about 1862, he first met and befriended Ludwig Mond [qv.], born at Cassel in 1839, a chemist educated at Heidelberg.
The bond struck between these ambitious men was to endure. In 1873 they formed a partnership, born of mutual respect and trust, to manufacture soda ash near Northwich in Cheshire. With little money they required financial backing and Brunners high business reputation, no less than Monds scientific eminence, was crucial for their success. After two years of grinding work they produced a small profit, which was to herald a creation of wealth unsurpassed in the British chemical industry of the nineteenth century. A managing partner from the start, Brunner was chairman of Brunner, Mond & Co. from 1891 until 1918. When the company became a founder member of ICI in 1926 the enterprise, launched in 1873 with less than £20,000, had a capitalization of more than £18 million.
In 1885 Brunner became Liberal MP for Northwich and held the seat, with one short break, until he resigned in 1909. His eldest son, John Fowler Leece, sat with him in the House of Commons from 1906. In the management of their chemical business Brunner and Mond were ahead of their times in introducing such socially enlightened measures as sickness and injury insurance, apprentice education, shorter working hours, and holidays with pay. As an MP Brunner could now promote his philanthropic principles through Parliament. A supporter of home rule, trade unions, and free trade he was an influential back-bencher and a prominent Liberal advocate whose wide business experience informed his sometimes humorous but always cogent participations in debate. Before 1914 he earned himself obloquy in some quarters by urging a less provocative British stance towards Germany. He was created baronet in 1895 and a privy councillor in 1906. He declined several offers of a peerage.
He was a generous benefactor. In Cheshire alone he provided schools, guildhalls, and social clubs, and he gave Northwich a Free Library. He endowed three chairs at Liverpool University and funded many scholarships. But his single largest gift was to finance a hospital in Bülach, the town of his fathers birth in Canton Zürich. In the political field he supplied munificent financial support to the Liberal Party and its numerous causes. Dubbed by The Times a chemical Croesus, he rejoiced in using his wealth for philanthropic ends.
In 1864 he married Salome, daughter of James Davies, merchant of Liverpool. She died in 1874 leaving a family of three sons and three daughters. In 1875 he next married his childrens governess, Ethel Jane (died 1910), daughter of William Sanderson Wyman, a Kettering physician. They had three daughters. Brunner died 1 July 1919 at his home, Silverlands, Chertsey. Of several portraits of Brunner, Augustus Johns hangs in the University Art Gallery, Liverpool, and Arthur Hackers in Manchester College, Oxford.
Stephen E. Koss, Sir John Brunner, Radical Plutocrat 1842-1919, 1970
W. F. L. Dick, A Hundred Years of Alkali in Cheshire, 1973: Brunner, Mond archives.
Contributor: Francis Dick