Charles Akrill (1840-1907)
His name remembered in a place he probably never knew
This short biography by Audrey Deacon was first published as part of an article on Akrill House in Newsletter 93 p15, February 2004. It is part of her research paper, dated 1991, on Akrill House, which acquired this name in 1931 in memory of a staunch Methodist – see page in Topics: buildings.
Charles Akrill was born at Lincoln in 1840; his father died early, and he was mainly brought up by his mother. At about twenty-five years of age he went to London to take charge of a large chemical works in the East End and brought it from the brink of failure to a flourishing condition, through the success of an invention of his own. In 1878 he purchased the Gold’s Green Ironfoundry, then derelict, in the West Bromwich area. This rapidly grew under his guidance, and he retained his interest in the London chemical works as one of its directors. He went to live in West Bromwich, and was elected Mayor for 1892-3 and again for 1896-7. According to the West Bromwich and Oldbury Chronicle of 13 November 1896, writing on the latter occasion, he was noted “not only over all England, but on the Continent also, as the manufacturer of chilled and grain rolls, which are used in the manufacture of both iron and steel”.
While working in London Charles Akrill had married Elizabeth, daughter of Israel Parkes of West Bromwich and sister of Ebenezer Parkes, MP for Birmingham. A few years later, on Christmas Eve 1874, travelling from London to West Bromwich, he was in a railway accident, when 53 people were killed and a hundred injured. Though the carriage in which he was travelling was severely damaged, he escaped serious injury; and after that experience he felt that his life had been “providentially spared, and spared, moreover, in order that some portion of it should be devoted to lightening in some degree the loads borne by the poor and the oppressed” (ibid, 21 June 1907)
The Methodist link with the NCH
Both Charles Akrill and his wife were active Methodists: he had joined the Band of Hope as a boy and remained a total abstainer for the whole of his life. He apparently brought the same qualities of energy, organising ability, progressive ideas and integrity to everything he did, both in public and private life. He was always active in philanthropic work, especially in connection with Methodism, both in London and subsequently in West Bromwich, where he became superintendent of a Sunday school and senior steward of a Methodist circuit. During his first year as Mayor, a sanitary survey of the town was undertaken and led to the clearance of the unsatisfactory areas. He was a member of the Board of Guardians, president of the West Bromwich and district Nursing Association, a member of the board of management of the West Bromwich District Hospital and president of the West Bromwich Orchestral Society. Workhouse inmates, hospital patients and orphan children were entertained at his expense. After eleven years at West Bromwich he moved, on account of his wife’s health, to Edgbaston (Birmingham), where he died in June 1907. They had no children.
Charles Akrill “built a house in Grange Road (West Bromwich) in 1901-2 and settled it as a home and training and recreational centre for nurses engaged in home nursing”. In 1952 it was sold to the borough and the proceeds, with the funds accumulated by the West Bromwich Nursing Association, were invested.
Mrs Akrill died in 1912 and under her will, which runs to twenty pages of typescript, she made several charitable dispositions. One was for the purchase of land; the construction of almshouses, to be known as the Akrill Homes(1), and an endowment for them. Another was for Akrill Scholarships for fees, books and materials for “promising and deserving students” at the Municipal Schools, West Bromwich or at the University of Birmingham.
Charles Akrill had left the residue of his estate to be disposed of by his widow and from this she left £10,000 to purchase land and build within two years of her death, either at Clent of Rhyl “or elsewhere as my trustees may decide” a convalescent home or homes for women and children. The home was to be named “The Akrill Convalescent Home for Women and Children” or “The Akrill Home for Crippled Children”, as appropriate, and to bear the inscription:
“Erected by Elizabeth Akrill in memory of her husband Alderman Charles Akrill JP, Mayor of West Bromwich 1892-3 and 1896-7”. (see the inscription on Akrill House, Harpenden).
A further £9,000 was left to establish “The Akrill Memorial Sunday School” and to build a chapel to be known as “The Akrill Memorial Church(2) at West Bromwich or Smethwick or in “the Circuit known as the Bristol Road Circuit of the Birmingham and Shrewsbury District of the Wesleyan Methodist Church”. Her trustees were given absolute discretion to use any ultimate residue of her of her husband’s estate for the benefit of any of her institutions, and to depute the management to any committee or body of trustees they might select.
Help received from Smethwick Public Library is acknowledged with thanks – AD 1991.
(1) Akrill Homes continue to provide homes for poor people of West Bromwich over 60 not receiving poor relief. “Each home might be occupied by one or two people. A married couple might be given a home when only one of the partners was qualified, and at the trustees’ discretion a widow or spinster might share one with an unqualified female relative or friend. In recent years, however, homes have been granted to married couples only. The trustees appoint a resident matron and a medical attendant and provide the alms-people with gifts of coal at Christmas.”
From: ‘West Bromwich: Charities for the poor’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp. 83-86. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36171 Date accessed: 18 December 2011.
(2) The Akrill Memorial Methodist Church, built in 1932 in Londonderry Road, Smethwick, was still in existence in 1991, but in 2008 was threatened with demolition due to the high costs of repair. However in February 2011 Sandwell Council granted planning permission for alterations to access between church and hall.
“The Akrill Memorial Church was built there in 1928-31, mainly with money left by Elizabeth Akrill of Edgbaston (in Birmingham), by will proved in 1913. The church, designed in a Gothic style by Alfred Long, (fn. 83) is a brick building with a tower. The Akrill Memorial Sunday School and Institute in Queen Street was opened in 1931 and used as a Sunday school until the opening of the Sunday school adjoining the Akrill Church in 1932.
From: ‘Smethwick: Protestant Nonconformity’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp. 129-134. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36183 Date accessed: 18 December 2011.