Sir John Tomlinson Brunner, 1st Baronet

Sir John Tomlinson Brunner was a British chemical industrialist and Liberal Party politician. At Hutchinson's alkali works in Widnes he rose to the position of general manager. There he met Ludwig Mond, with whom he later formed a partnership to create the chemical company Brunner Mond & Co., initially making alkali by the Solvay process. As a Member of Parliament, he represented Northwich, Cheshire, in 1885–1886 and then from 1887 to 1910.

He was a paternalistic employer and as a politician supported Irish Home Rule, trade unions, free trade, welfare reforms and, leading up to the First World War, a more sympathetic stance towards Germany. Brunner was a prominent Freemason, and a generous benefactor to the towns in his constituency and to the University of Liverpool. He is the great grandfather of the Duchess of Kent.

John Tomlinson Brunner was born in Everton, Liverpool, the fourth child and second son of John Brunner (b. 20 June 1800), a Swiss Unitarian and schoolmaster, and Margaret Catherine Curphey (d. 8 September 1847), who originated from the Isle of Man, daughter of Thomas Curphey and wife Margaret Leece. His father established a school in Netherfield Road, Everton, known as St George's House, to teach children along the lines advocated by Pestalozzi. Brunner's mother died in 1847, when he was aged five; his father married Nancy Inman in 1851. She had a shrewd business sense and Brunner gave credit to her for teaching him skills in practical matters. Brunner was educated at his father's school and then, at the age of 15, he decided to follow a career in commerce.[3] He spent four years in a shipping house in Liverpool, but found it neither exciting nor lucrative, and so decided on a change of career. In 1861, Brunner took a clerical post at Hutchinson's alkali works in Widnes, where his older brother Henry was already working as technical manager. There, he rose to the position of general manager. Shortly after starting work at Hutchinson's, Brunner met the German-born chemist Ludwig Mond.

Brunner was a generous benefactor whose gifts included the provision of schools, guildhalls and social clubs. In Northwich he provided a free library and re-endowed Sir John Deane's Grammar School. In Runcorn he purchased a disused chapel and presented it to the town to be used by the trades unions and the Friendly Societies,[38] and in nearby Weston village he bought a disused school and gave it to the local community to serve as its village hall. He also endowed the chairs of economics, physical chemistry and Egyptology (the Brunner Professorships) at the University of Liverpool.

Abroad he gave gifts to the Landesmuseum in Zürich and provided a hospital, also in Switzerland. In 1885 he became a Freemason and in 1900 founded the John Brunner Lodge at Over Winsford. The following year he was honoured with the brevet rank of Past Grand Deacon of England.

In 1899 Brunner (who had by then been created a baronet) became chairman of the Runcorn and Widnes Transporter Bridge Company. He subscribed £25,000 (£2.9 million in 2022) towards its construction plus a loan of £12,000 (£1.4 million in 2022)[6] together with a personal guarantee on a bank loan of £31,000 (£3.6 million in 2022). When the building of the bridge was complete in 1905 it was due to be opened by Edward VII, but the king was unable to attend, and so Brunner performed the ceremony himself. By 1911 it had become apparent that the bridge would always operate at a loss, and Brunner assigned his interest in it to Widnes Corporation. The Times stated that this action amounted to a "virtual gift of £68,000" (£7.1 million in 2022)

Brunner believed that his success owed much to the "courage and independence of thought" that he derived from his Unitarian faith and recalled the influence of visits to Renshaw Street Unitarian Chapel with his father as a child. On 14 June 1864 Brunner married Salome Davies, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant with whom he had six children. Salome died on 29 January 1874 and the following year he married Jane Wyman, the daughter of a Kettering physician and the governess to his children.[3] From this marriage three more children, all daughters, were born. On 8 September 1890 his oldest son, John, got into difficulties whilst swimming in Lake Como, Italy. He was rescued by his younger sibling, Sidney Herbert Brunner, who lost his life in the process. Sidney's body was found on 10 September and buried in Bellagio, beside the lake, the next day. In 1891 the Brunners moved from Winnington Hall to Wavertree, a suburb of Liverpool.

Amongst other offices held, he was Vice-President of the British Science Guild, Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Lancashire (from 1904) and Pro-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool. In 1909 the University of Liverpool awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1895 he was made the Baronet of Druids Cross in the County of Lancashire and in 1906 he became a member of the privy council, but he declined offers of a peerage. He died in 1919 at his home in Chertsey, Surrey. His estate amounted to over £906,000 (£43 million in 2022). In addition, he had given generously to his five married daughters, and had transferred investments to his sons.

John Brunner