Philanthropists? Are there any left?

In today’s world, filled with hate and division, often fostered by a cynical media to sell more of their product, it would be easy to think philanthropy is dead. Far from it. Looking at a list of people on both sides of the Atlantic, who are happy to pay their luck and good fortune forward, there are more than one would think. To mention but a few, in America, Michael Bloomberg has given, among other donations, £1.1 billion to the John Hopkins University. Sir Ganesh Dutt gave all his earnings to charitable works. Bill Gates is known for his charitable trusts.


And, the person I must single out, Andrew Carnegie, an American born in Scotland, who funded libraries for all. One of his most famous quotations is No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit. On this side of the pond, we have Sir Tom Hunter, Gordon and the late Anita Roddick, the late George Michael, J K Rowling and, perhaps a little surprisingly, Sir Elton John.


But where did it all start? Mostly with Quakers in the 19th century. Caring factory owners who had made their money in industry and wanted, initially, to make life for their workers happier and healthier. Thus, we have Port Sunight in the Wirral, built by Lever Brothers, Richard and George Cadbury in Birmingham, who built most of Bournville for their employees, Titus Salt in Bradford, Joseph Rowntree in York and James Reckitt in Hull, among others.


This last one is very close to my heart, because it was at Reckitt & Colman in the late 1990s I met my husband. I was the R&D Librarian, he was a senior formulation and analytical chemist – in fact, Paul’s name is on the patent for Gaviscon Advance. James Reckitt, son of the original factory owner, built Garden Village to the north of the city and a public library close to the factory. My husband can remember a time when there was a swimming pool on the factory site for the use of the employees! I can remember the bank, open on a Friday morning, so none of us needed to go into the city centre.


It can be no surprise then, that given the opportunity to put Reckitt & Sons in a book, I grabbed it with both hands when I wrote Sherlock Holmes and the Oakwood Grange Affair. In the story, Reckitt’s starch plays a central role in the plot. I foreshadowed the building of Garden Village by twenty years, but I am sure James Reckitt’s son was carrying out his father’s wishes.


Hull gets such a poor and, in my view, wholly undeserved press, that, in 2017 when it is the City of Culture, I am pleased to have brought some true feelgood history to the table, even if it is in the middle of a Sherlock Holmes story!

You can find Sherlock Holmes & The Oakwood Grange Affair  here.

new-sherlock-cover – –

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