Records of Isaac Reckitt

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This important small collection which records the early nineteenth century milling business of Isaac Reckitt, founder of Reckitt & Sons in Hull in 1840, arrived as part of a larger deposit of miscellaneous items relating to the East Riding of Yorkshire from the British Records Association in the 1940s.

The papers give a quite comprehensive picture of the early mercantile and milling business of Reckitt in Boston, Lincolnshire, and later in Nottingham. They comprise six cash books covering the period 1818-1832; flour account books 1833-1838; bone account books 1830-1835; Reckitt's ledgers as a wool merchant in Boston 1830-1835 and as a corn factor at Nottingham 1834-1840; his sack account book as a miller at Nottingham 1833-1839; his shop acount book from Nottingham 1833-1840 and a few wheat and other accounts which post-date the setting up of Reckitt & Sons in Hull, from the early 1850s.

Administrative / Biographical History

Family reconstruction for the Reckitts has been done by Basil N Reckitt and he has had to rely on some speculation. He has traced the family back to Edward Reckitt of Gate Burton in Lincolnshire, a husbandman who died around 1650. His youngest son, Thomas Reckitt (d.1679), of Gate Burton had six children, the youngest of whom, Thomas Reckitt (1669-1724), married Susanna Turner in 1694 and had four children. The family were Quakers who lived within the area of the Gainsborough Monthly Meeting. The father went insane, spending some time in the Gainsborough house of correction while his wife and family were supported by the Gainsborough Friends. Susanna died young and the Friends continued to aid the children (Reckitt, William Reckitt, pp.1-8).

Their oldest surviving son, William Reckitt (1706-1769), was apprenticed by a Friend for a while and then set up as a weaver in the Wainfleet district and married Ellen Maw in 1731. They went on to have nine children though several of them did not survive childhood. In 1744 William Reckitt began a travelling ministry and in 1756 he embarked on a long journey across France and out to visit Friends in America and the West Indies before returning in 1760. From his experiences he wrote Some account of the Life and Gospel Labours of William Reckitt and editions of this contain printed copies of his letters home. The text contains detailed descriptions of the American colonies and is interesting for its anti-slavery content. In the West Indies he saw such cruelty that `it raised such a just indignation in my heart, that I used great freedom of speech sometimes in conversation'. Any contrition he encountered he took as a sign that `the Lord is judgement in the hearts of those negro keepers, shewing them the practice is evil'. William Reckitt made a second trip in 1764 during which his wife died. He returned to Lincolnshire and died himself in 1769 (Reckitt, William Reckitt, pp.9-49; Reckitt, Some account of the Life...of William Reckitt, pp.176-7).

One of William Reckitt's sons, Thomas Reckitt of Wainfleet (1741-1819), was Isaac Reckitt's father. He married Katherine Massey in 1772 and they had thirteen children, only seven of whom survived to adulthood. Isaac Reckitt was the fifth child and third son and he was born in 1792. His father was a successful grazier, having stayed at home to carry on his father's business while other family members followed him out to America on missionary work. Isaac took the lead from his own father, staying at home and conducting business though he seems to have inherited some of his grandfather's considerable energies. He and his older brother began a milling business in Boston and Isaac followed this with his own business in Nottingham in corn. The business records relate to this early activity. In 1840 he took over a small starch-making factory in Hull and founded Reckitt & Sons (Reckitt, William Reckitt, p.49).

Reckitt & Sons proved to be one of the most sucessful businesses in Hull in the last half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Part of the reason for success was early diversification into black lead and washing blue manufacture. By 1851 Reckitts was one of the few large industrial units in Hull, employing 51 people and putting up a stand at the Great Exhibition of that year. Already more than half its workforce was made up of women, starting a tradition of being a big employer of female labour in Hull. During the next decade the workforce quadrupled in number to 210 employees (Bellamy, `Some aspects of the economy of Hull', I, pp.102, 112, 114, 127, 279, 280; Reckitt, The history of Reckitt and Sons Limited, passim).

In 1862 Isaac Reckitt died. He and his wife, Ann Coleby, whom he had married in 1819, had had seven children, two of whom had predeceased him. The firm was left equally to three of his sons, George (1825-1900), Francis (1827-1917) and James (1833-1924) and they in their turn brought three more sons in in 1898 to carry on into the twentieth century. This was a period of continued expansion and diversification, partly under the direction of T R Ferens who had started life as a clerk for James Reckitt and ended up as general manager from 1888. Offices were opened in London and New York, sometimes staffed by family members and the company branched into pharmaceuticals as a natural progression from producing disinfectants. In 1938 Reckitt's merged with J and J Colman Ltd. to form Reckitt and Colman Ltd. and the firm, originally started by a Quaker miller in 1840, is still an important employer in Hull over 150 years later. Through family members such as James Reckitt, the impact of this family firm also needs to be measured in cultural terms. The Reckitt family dominated the village life of Swanland for several decades, ensuring that there were no pubs until quite recently. Paternalistic welfare schemes ensured that Reckitt's workers were fed and housed and pensioned and Reckitt's Garden Village in East Hull produced an area with a self-contained identity with public buildings in classical style and vernacular architecture that was influenced by the arts and crafts movement (Reckitt, The history of Reckitt and Sons Limited, passim; Chapman-Huston, Sir James Reckitt, passim; Pevsner & Neave, York and the East Riding, pp.563-4).

Conditions Governing Access



Originally published by Access to Archives - A2A. The data in this finding aid is in the copyright of the place of deposit.

Other Finding Aids

Listed to item level


Bellamy, Joyce, `Some aspects of the economy of Hull in the nineteenth century with special reference to business history' (PhD, University of Hull, 1965)

Chapman-Huston, D, Sir James Reckitt: a memoir (1927)

Pevsner, Nikolaus & Neave, David, The buildings of England: York and the East Riding (1995)

Reckitt, Basil N, A history of Sir James Reckitt charity (1981)

Reckitt, Basil N, A history of the Albert Reckitt charitable trust (1987)

Reckitt, Basil N, The history of Reckitt and Sons Limited (1958)

Reckitt, Basil N, William Reckitt: an eighteenth century Quaker transatlantic traveller (1989)

Reckitt, William, Some account of the Life and Gospel Labours of William Reckitt (1776)