James Woolley established a major company for the manufacture and supply of pharmaceutical and photographic chemicals in Manchester, which lasted for 130 years.
He was born in Dukinfield, Cheshire on 9th June 1811, and served his apprenticeship with Samuel Dean, a Chemist with premises in Piccadilly, Manchester. He took a course of lectures in medicine and in 1832 he studied medicine at Edinburgh University. However, he did not qualify as he could not stand watching operations, which at that time were performed without anaesthetic. James returned to Manchester in 1833 and became a chemist and druggist, with premises on King Street.
On 18th January 1836, James Woolley married Ann Johns at Manchester Cathedral. She was born on 9th June 1814 in Woolwich, Kent, the daughter of Stephen and Sarah Johns. They lived in Gartside Street, Manchester, later moving to Broughton and had 8 children: George Stephen (born 1837), Herbert (born 1840), Catherine (born 1843 and married Abel Heywood in 1865), Hermann (born 1847), William Johns (born 1849), Harold (born 1851), Jane Ann (born 1853) and Florence (born 1855).
James was active in local associations of chemists and druggists and in 1841, was one of the first members of the new Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, later serving in its Council. He was also associated with the Victoria Gallery for the Encouragement of Practical Science and read a paper at its first conference in 1842. In 1844, he bought the Market Street business of R.H.Hargreaves. He was a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and became a member of Manchester Council for six years.
In late 1857, James became ill and after three operations, using the new anaesthetic chloroform, he died on 30th January 1858 at the relatively young age of 46, leaving Ann and eight children. He was buried in Plot A3 of the Dissenters portion of Weaste cemetery. Tragedy struck again later that year when his son William died on 17th September at the age of 9. Ann died on 3rd June 1866, a week before her 52nd birthday.
James's son George Stephen took over the business at the age of 21. He had served his apprenticeship there and studied at Owens College and in London. Herman joined the company in 1868. He had studied in Germany, then Owens and then at the London School of Pharmacy. In 1872 Harold joined the firm and they expanded into scientific instruments. Tragically, Harold died in a workplace accident in 1889 after inhaling nitric acid fumes. The Market Street premises were destroyed by fire and they moved to Cheetham Hill and expanded into cameras. In 1892 they moved into large, purpose-built premises at Victoria Bridge and continued to be prosperous. George Stephen died in 1918 aged 81 and Hermann died in 1920 aged 73. The company survived two World Wars and was eventually taken over in 1963.