A History of Wilson Gunn - 1864 to 1964

Written by former Wilson Gunn employee F.J. Meredith in 1964

THE FOUNDER of the firm, John Guy Wilson, opened in 1864 an office at No. 109 Market Street, Manchester, and after a few months removed to No. 24 Market Place, Manchester, where he practised as Patent Agent, Practical and Mechanical Engineer, and Draughtsman, under the title of John G. Wilson & Co., and as a side line acted as agent to the Alliance Insurance Company. Market Place in those days was bounded by warren of old buildings, mostly converted dwelling houses, and formed a maze of tiny offices and other premises, usually very dark and approached by narrow stairways and corridors, the type of place so well described by Charles Dickens in some of his novels. Leading off Market Place were a number of narrow courts or alleys with similar buildings, so narrow that it was possible to lean across from the windows of opposite buildings and shake hands. Market Place itself, besides being lined with offices and shops of various kinds, was also crowded with open stalls displaying all kinds of goods, especially foodstuffs, and the resultant noise could not have been conducive to quiet thinking about patent specifications! The photograph of Market Place, reproduced here and taken about 1900, gives a vivid impression of the locality, which had changed little from the time John G. Wilson shared a second floor office in the building on the extreme right of the picture. It may be that a search for a quieter locality caused Mr. Wilson, after a brief sojourn in 1868 at No. I Imperial Chambers, Market Place, to move to Mitre Buildings, Church Gates, Cateaton Street, which he did in 1869. This locality, which is now known as Cathedral Gates, is opposite the side entrance to Manchester Cathedral, which Mancunians then called “th’owd Church”.

John G Wilson

John G. Wilson & Co Patent Office
Wilson Gunn would like to thank the Manchester Evening News for providing this photograph.

Probably because he found this locality rather out of the way for business callers, Mr. Wilson moved in 1871 to No. 7Ia Market Street where he remained until 1887, when he again removed, this time a little lower down Market Street to No. 55 at the corner of Back Cannon Street and Market Street.

There is no record that Mr. John G. Wilson ever became a member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents but this is in no way surprising since during the period between 1885 to 1895 there were no less than 28 active Patent Agencies in Manchester and only two or three of the individuals concerned were members of the Chartered Institute. A few of the old names still appear in the titles of some of the present-day agencies.

John G. Wilson dies and Mr. John James Royle takes over

John G. Wilson died in the early 1890s and the firm was subsequently taken over by Mr. John James Royle, owner of an engineering business in Manchester.

Mr. Royle was elected a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents in 1899 but resigned therefrom in 1902. He had also given up his activities in practice in order to devote his full time to his rapidly expanding engineering business of Royles Limited, Irlam, near Manchester. Mr. Royle was a very prolific inventor and took out numerous patents especially in connection with steam traps and similar devices. One Oliver Mathews Row, a partner of Mr. Royle, was also the proprietor of a number of patents and was the inventor of the well-known Indented Tube, frequently used where rapid raising of steam is required.

Mr. Walter Gunn takes over the practice in 1901

During Mr. Royle’s connection with the firm of John G. Wilson & Co., he employed as a technical assistant Mr. Walter Gunn. Mr. Gunn, who was educated at Manchester Grammar School and was a Whitworth Scholar, passed his qualifying examination as a Patent Agent in 1900 and was elected as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents in the same year. He took over the practice on the retirement of Mr. John J. Royle about 1901.

Mr. Gunn carried on a gradually increasing business, first with the technical assistance of Mr. Pickles Denby Bailey, Chartered Patent Agent, who subsequently resigned to take over a patent practice in Leeds, and then with the assistance of Mr. Bernard Hayward, Chartered Patent Agent, who came from a Birmingham office, and who eventually left the firm in 1925 to start an independent practice.

Mr. Gunn regreted that his sons did not take an interest in the practice

It was a matter of regret to Mr. Gunn that neither of his two sons evinced any interest in carrying on the practice, although they were for some time employed in the office in clerical capacities. The younger son, Harold, died in early manhood. The elder son served with distinction in the First World War as a despatch rider, being twice mentioned in despatches for gallant conduct, but no information as to his subsequent career is available.

The practice is renamed Wilson, Gunn & Ellis

Mr. Gunn was joined in 1925 by Mr. Geoffrey Henden Stuart Ellis, Chartered Patent Agent, from a family practice in London, which had for many years acted as London Agents for John G. Wilson & Co. Mr. Ellis became a partner in the firm the title of which was changed in the same year to the style of Wilson, Gunn & Ellis. Mr. Gunn finally retired from the firm in 1932, and died in 1953.

Due to expansion of business the need for additional accommodation caused a move to be made in 1938 to larger offices on the opposite side of Market Street, at Nos. 54-56. Subsequently for similar reasons a further move took place in 1953 to No. 57, Market Street (on the opposite corner of Back Cannon Street to the previous premises of the firm at No. 55) which is still the address of Wilson, Gunn & Ellis in 1964 when this piece was written. For over 75 years, therefore, the firm’s location was within the same small area of Market Street.

Mr. Ellis later took into partnership his chief technical assistant Mr. John Vaughan Worthington, Chartered Patent Agent, who joined him in 1951 from a Liverpool practice. The partnership took effect in 1956, the firm’s title remaining unchanged.

In 1957 they also took over Howard Cheethams patent practice

In 1957 Wilson, Gunn & Ellis took over the Patent Practice of Howard Cheetham of St. Ann’s Square, Manchester, which was incorporated with the firm of Wilson, Gunn & Ellis.

Although the firm of Howard Cheetham, as so named, dates only from 1893, when the late Mr. Howard Cheetham succeeded his father, the late Mr. William Thomas Cheetham, their predecessors in patent agency are in an unbroken line back to 1836, at least, when the practice was known as Newton & Son. In 1840 the firm’s name was Newton & Berry, located at No. 4 Town Hall Buildings, Cross Street, Manchester.

In 1845 the name had reverted to Newton & Son and the address was 14a St. Ann’s Square. In 1863 the name appears as William Tudor Mabley, Mechanical Engineer and Patent Agent for Newton & Son, Clarendon Chambers, 4 St. Ann’s Square, and this continued until 1871 when a removal was made to Carlton Chambers, 16 St. Ann Street, and in 1878 the address appears as 18 St. Ann Street. Following the death of Mr. Mabley the business was acquired in 1882 by Mr. William Thomas Cheetham, a Mechanical Engineer, the address being then given as Carlton Chambers, 18 St. Ann Street. Mr. W. T. Cheetham was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Patent Agents in 1883, being a founder member thereof. On the death of Mr. W. T. Cheetham in 1893 the business passed to his son Mr. Howard Cheetham who practised under the name Howard Cheetham. He had an unrivalled knowledge of textile machinery and dealt with many patents relating to such machinery. In 1934 Mr. Cheetham entered into partnership with Mr. W. C. Fairweather and Mr. H. G. C. Fairweather of a well-known Glasgow and London patent agents. Mr. Cheetham died in 1936 and the business was carried on by the surviving partners, the firm’s name still continuing as Howard Cheetham.

In 1940 the offices of Howard Cheetham were totally destroyed by fire caused by enemy action in the Christmas air raids of that year, with a serious loss of records. Fortunately a certain number of duplicate records had been kept in Glasgow and with the very kind assistance of H.M. Patent Office, which furnished copies of all documents on record, the business was enabled to carry on at Haworths Buildings, Cross Street, Manchester.

In 1955 a move was made to No. 4 St. Ann’s Square, the same address as that of Newton & Son in 1836. In 1957 the patent practice of Howard Cheetham was, as already noted, acquired by and incorporated with Wilson, Gunn & Ellis.

In 1964 Mr. Kenneth Mellor and Mr. Harry Funge become partners

In 1964, the centenary year, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Worthington took into partnership two of their senior technical assistants, Mr. Kenneth Fred Mellor and Mr. Harry Funge, both of whom had been with the firm for several years and were already well-known at that time to most clients and associates.

In 1964 Wilson, Gunn & Ellis had common partnership ties with the firms of E. K. Dutton & Co., Chartered Patent Agents (since 1946); Sydney E. M’Caw & Co., Chartered Patent Agents (since 1964); and Leeming, Ray & Whittle, Trade Mark Agents (since 1961). The office manager of Wilson, Gunn & Ellis, Mr. Ronald Arthur Pennington, was also a partner in the last mentioned firm.

(re-edit by Mark Goodwin June 2005)