James Downs was Beverley Golf Club captain in 1911.
He was born in Glasgow in 1857, the son of James (Snr.) and Lilias Downs. But the family came to live in Hull when he was quite young as his father had been head-hunted by Christina Rose. He subsequently became a director of Rose, Downs and Thompson.
In 1861, the Downs family had but recently arrived in Hull and lived modestly on Leonard St. in Hull. By 1881, the family lived at 2 The Elms and now had two live-in servants. James Snr. describes himself as an Engineering employer. James Jnr. now 24 is an Engineer Cashier/Clerk. The situation is more or less the same in 1891.
In 1894 James Jnr. married Ethel Ester Wilson from Liverpool.
At the time of the 1901 census, James Jnr. was to be found in the Central Station Hotel in Glasgow and his occupation is now given as “Secretary of Company”. In 1911, James Jnr. was with his family at home, now 5 Beech Grove, Newland.
James Jnr. features in a painting by Fred Elwell and kept in the Beverley Art Gallery. It’s entitled “Four Friends”. The painting is of a large dining room with four diners in foreground; three waitresses and two chefs behind. The painting is set in the Beverley Arms Hotel, Beverley, where Fred was a frequent visitor. The interior has been made to look more grand by the addition of some columns (these do not exist in the actual room). The costumes of the maids suggest a date in the 1920’s or early 30’s. The four people depicted were all friends of the artist. They are John Turton, manager of the Midland Bank in Beverley (in foreground), Dr. Robert Grieve, a consultant surgeon on Beverley Road, Hull, James Downs Jnr., chairman of Rose, Downs & Thompson Ltd. (a Hull seed crushing business) and Ernest Mills (leaning back in his chair), who was the landlord of the Push Inn. Ethel Downs, the wife of James Jnr., was the subject of a pastel portrait by Elwell, also in the Gallery’s collection.
Rose Downs and Thompson (subsequently part of the Davy Ashmore Group) had a long pedigree. The firm began life in the late eighteenth century as a ship chandlery on a site called the Old Foundry. From 1840 it was taken over by Mrs Christiana Rose, the daughter of one of the original partners, Duncan Campbell. By 1851 she employed 50 men. In 1859 she employed James Downs Snr. as manager and the business thrived by specialising in machinery for oil crushing. By 1861 the firm employed 101 men. In 1871, a few months before the death of Mrs Rose, James Downs Snr. was made a partner and the firm operated as a partnership until 1893 when difficult times forced it into becoming a limited company.
Mrs Rose’s daughter, Susannah, married John Thompson in 1850 (a rival seed crusher) and their son became a partner in 1874. During this period James Downs Snr. visited America, returning with the plans for new machinery in the form of Anglo-American presses; these could press larger numbers of oil cakes than before and the firm soon became the principal British firm for oil mill machinery. Most of their customers were the seed-crushing firms. Diversification into winches, grab cranes and other pieces of steam machinery for trawl fishing helped them to survive a period of debt in the 1880s and their financial position improved in the 1890s. In the 1910s they had an average annual turnover of 87,000 and they expanded, buying a gear wheel firm in Leeds and opening branch offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, the time of the painting, Rose Downs and Thompson was prospering; the value of its output was nearly 105,000 and 324 people were employed.
In 1938, we have a record of James and Ethel, now 81 and 71 respectively and retired, boarding a ship in London heading to Port Said. They return a couple of months later bound for their home at Dunedin, 71 The Park, Hull.
James and Ethel’s son, Brian, became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. He was also Professor of Scandinavian Studies and Master of Christ’s College at the same University. It was he who commissioned Fred Elwell’s portrait of his mother. He died in 1984.