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Laycock, Burdett (1861–1941)

by Graeme Cope

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

This is a shared entry with Frederick Laycock

Frederick Laycock (1839-1909) and Burdett Laycock (1861-1941), wool traders and blanket and textile manufacturers, were father and son. Frederick was born on 13 April 1839 at Harden Beck near Bradford, Yorkshire, England, second son of Joshua Laycock, wool and waste dealer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Birt. Following his elder brother Burdett to Australia in 1857, he spent some time on the Bendigo goldfield but returned to England none the richer in 1859. Subsequently a potato and fruit wholesaler and woollen waste trader at Bradford, he married Mary Jowett there at the Zion Chapel, with Baptist forms, on 22 January 1861; after her death in 1865 he married, on 1 January 1866, a widow Elizabeth Ambler, née Wigglesworth (d.1881). In 1878, with debts of several hundred pounds, he again decided to try his luck in Victoria where his nephew Edmund Jowett was doing well.

Arriving in Melbourne in February 1879 he formed a six months partnership with William Hudson, a Brunswick rag merchant; then with his son Burdett he partnered F. & F. Pearson in a waste and flockmaking venture until its stormy dissolution in March 1884. Continuing the business in association with Burdett and Samuel Nettleton, his second wife's relation by marriage, Laycock used the proceeds of an insurance settlement on his burned-out Yarraville factory to build the South Melbourne works which were to become the cornerstone of a commercial and manufacturing empire.

The firm of Laycock, Son & Nettleton, initially seriously undercapitalized, grew by ploughback, family loans and the reluctant support of banks until, by gradually diversifying its interests into bedding, wool-scouring and the importing of kapok, timber and upholsterers' supplies, it employed in Melbourne alone 81 people in 1890 and represented a capital investment of some £30,000. There was already a branch in Sydney. In 1893 the company began selling wool on its own account in Bradford. Under the control of Frederick's younger brother Alfred and, after 1907, Walter Andrews, a Nettleton relative, this side of the business quickly expanded to include tops-making for the American and European markets and, through wholly owned subsidiaries formed during the early 1930s, spinning and combing. In 1896 the firm became one of the first Australian companies to begin wool-carbonizing. In 1897 the company entered the Queensland market in partnership with Alfred J. Littledike, a Brisbane bedding manufacturer, and, after a characteristically thorough investigation of the blanket industry, added the Laconia woollen mill to its original works in 1904. Selling directly to retailers, the mill became the principal source of the Laycocks' Australian success. A New Zealand wool-buying agency followed in 1906.

Frederick Laycock died of cerebral haemorrhage at his home, Belmont, Glen Iris, on 3 April 1909, leaving an estate valued for probate in Victoria and New South Wales at £55,858. Buried in the Baptist section of Boroondara cemetery, he was survived by his third wife Lavinia Georgina, née Witford, whom he had married in Melbourne on 9 November 1882, and by their five daughters and Burdett, the son of his first wife.

Burdett was born on 25 October 1861 at Heaton near Bradford. Educated at Allerton, Wilsden and Cottingley, he began work as a 10-year-old half-timer at Thomas Baines's Cottingley mill and spent several years learning the woollen trade with his grandfather in Bradford.

After his father's death and an awkward parting of the ways with Samuel Nettleton in 1910, Burdett reorganized the firm as Laycock, Son & Co. and admitted his sons Frederick Cornelius and Edwin Burdett to full partnership in 1915. Active in the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures in 1911-36, he was also a member of the Central Wool Committee during World War I and sometime chairman of the Australian Woollen Manufacturers' Association. Profiting from government contracts during the war, the company re-entered the Sydney market and established a short-lived buying operation in South Africa during the 1920s. In 1933 it purchased Mt Fyans, a 15,300-acre (6191 ha) pastoral property near Darlington in the Western District.

Burdett Laycock died after several years of failing health at his home, Frognall, Canterbury, on 26 December 1941 and was buried in Box Hill cemetery, leaving an estate sworn for probate at £37,543. He had married Mary Ann Cornelius in St Paul's Church, Melbourne, on 25 October 1883; she survived him with their sons and two daughters.

Demanding, quick-tempered and indomitable, both father and son lived for their business and family. Neither was active in community affairs. Frederick summed up the Laycock philosophy: 'A man without ambition is not much use in a competitive world'.

Select Bibliography

  • N. J. Holt, The House of Laycock, 1879-1959 (Melb, priv print, 1959)
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Apr 1909
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5, 7 Apr 1909
  • T. G. Parsons, Some Aspects of the Development of Manufacturing in Melbourne 1870 to 1890 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1970)
  • Laycock, Son & Co. Pty Ltd papers (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

Graeme Cope, 'Laycock, Burdett (1861–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/laycock-burdett-7745/text12295, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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