A Brief History of
the Mander Family
by Nicholas Mander
In the early industrial revolution, the Mander family entered the vanguard of the expansion of Wolverhampton, on the edge of the largest manufacturing conurbation in the British isles, as entrepreneurs, city fathers and philanthropists. The family had been farming quietly since 1291 on the Warwickshire / Worcestershire borders of Midland England, when Thomas Mander, a younger son, migrated a few miles north to Wolverhampton, then a market town of 7,500 people, in 1742. There he settled as a merchant and manufacturer, and in due course inherited property from his wife's family in John Street which became, just over two hundred years later, one of the first large-scale shopping mall developments in Britain, known as the Mander Centre. A large area of the family agricultural land at Perton, outside Wolverhampton, was developed for housing by the third baronet in the 1970s.
By 1773, Benjamin and John, Thomas's sons, were setting up a cluster of loosely-integrated businesses in Wolverhampton, including one of the largest chemical manufacturing works in the country, and later a varnish works, together with businesses in baking, japanning and tin-plate working, canals and gas manufacture.
The japanning works was sold in 1840, but the more industrial varnish side of the business expanded, to be formed as a partnership known as Mander Brothers in 1845. It prospered through the nineteenth century as a progressive company, with a paint and colour works by 1865 and a printing ink division by 1882, with branches first in London, and then in Paris, Florence, Vienna and Berlin, and agencies throughout the 'enlightened countries of the world'. By late Victorian/Edwardian times, as the applications for their products multiplied with the industrial revolution, Mander Brothers became a household word, the subject of Punch cartoons, and the Number One producer of paints and varnishes in the British Empire.
An advert from the November
1939 edition of the British Printer
From the outset, as successful manufacturers, the family emerged as active philanthropists. They were noted nonconformists, who married into a network of Dissenter industrial families in the Midlands. They were grave and earnest, but always progressive and public spirited, and became champions in their small way of the religious and social reforms of the early nineteenth century. They financed prolonged litigation personally. One famous Chancery suit surrounding the endowments of the chapel in Wolverhampton lasted 23 years, culminating in the Dissenters Chapels Act of 1844. When Charles Mander rescued two soldiers from the gallows in 1817, his lobbying for reform in the penal code resulted in the abolition of 'Blood Money Act' the following year. The affair became the subject of a Methodist novel by Samuel Warren, Now and Then (1847). The Manders involved themselves wholeheartedly in local and civic affairs, four of them standing at the same time among the first commissioners of the Georgian borough; they campaigned against the slave trade and helped to found free libraries, and chapels, drinking fountains and schools. As they prospered through the nineteenth century, they served as mayors and aldermen, high sheriffs, deputy lieutenants and magistrates, in the yeomanry and in national government.
It was an age of confident and powerful city governments in the heyday of the industrial city, when public life was a fashionable pursuit, and England's great new trading cities, businesses – and by definition families – were seen as the dynamos which powered the Empire to international pre-eminence. The Manders had fingers in many pies, becoming involved in a wide variety of charities and in the manifold affairs of the wider county, also one of the biggest employers in a thriving manufacturing town. They became typical examples of the high-minded liberal, with a strong belief in public service and a patrician sense of social duty. As such, they were at the centre of a network of connections by marriage and association with a small group of local families who were, for 150 years, the satraps of Wolverhampton. Charles Tertius (the third) Mander was made a baronet for his public services in the Coronation honours of George V in 1911. Charles Nicholas (the sixth) Mander, the owner of Owlpen, is the fourth baronet.
An advert from the autumn 1937 edition of Printing Review
The family were equally remarkable, living in the same large houses for successive generations, for never throwing anything away, and so accumulating a rich and haphazard archive. The Mander papers include diaries, letters, notes and publications, as well as watercolour sketches, well-kept press-cuttings books of their public lives, photographs and ephemera. They give a well-documented history of their careers as pioneer manufacturers, merchant industrialists and public figures with wide-ranging interests and social contacts over seven or eight generations, against the background of the emergence of modern Britain. Among many publications on the family, Sir Geoffrey Mander's History of Mander Brothers was published in 1955, and the private papers of Samuel Theodore Mander, builder of Wightwick Manor, were published in 1996 as A Very Private Heritage, edited by Patricia Pegg. Charles Nicholas Mander published Varnished Leaves, an extensive biography of the family, in 2004.
The family contributed not only to stolid industry and public life. They produced a modest quota of soldiers, antiquarian scholars, gentleman farmers, artists and writers of distinction, a suffragist and Irish nationalist, even a Hollywood actor, Miles Mander, who married an Indian princess. Invariably, they were cultivated and well read, with opportunities for foreign travel, friendships and marriages, and art collecting.
The family were responsible for building two great Arts and Crafts houses. Wightwick Manor was built by the architect Edward Ould for Theodore Mander in 1889-93. In a sixteenth-century picturesque, half-timbered style of exquisite workmanship and detailing, and with its richly-textured surfaces of stained glass, tiles, metalwork and William Morris furnishings and textiles, it is the ideal of the 'Old English' house. The outstanding collections were extended by his son, the Liberal MP Sir Geoffrey Mander, to include pre-Raphaelite and late Romantic paintings and literary manuscripts, so that it is now one of England's most representative late Victorian houses. It was given by the family to the National Trust in 1937 as one of its first country houses.The Mount, also completed by Ould in two phases, but most successfully in the more splendid 'English Renaissance' style of 1909, was a lighter, more visible house, visited by many public figures of the day, including Queen Mary, and Lloyd George, who announced his General Election campaign of 1918 there. Today it has adapted well as a hotel with 56 bedrooms. Many of its collections survive at Owlpen Manor, a romantic Tudor manor house open to the public, which was saved from ruin in 1926 and now contains family portraits and works by the Cotswold Group of craftsmen. The three contrasting houses illustrate successive themes of the Arts and Crafts movement, and their patrons' interaction with the industry which made the houses possible
Manders PLC remained based in Wolverhampton, the town where it was established, into its third century, with interests in paint, property and printing ink. The successful mini-conglomerate was broken up in the 1990s by a career management no longer involved with the family or the city. First the paint and property businesses were sold in 1994. Finally, after 225 years, the core business, by then an international company developing the higher-technology activities of speciality chemicals and coatings, with particular emphasis on printing inks, was sold for £100 million in 1997 to Flint Ink of Detroit, in the United States, so ending a long chapter in the British chemicals industry. The Mander brands survived in the global coatings industry and Manders Premier established itself as one of the world's largest suppliers of coatings and inks, as well as graphic arts products, consumables, and machinery.