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The Reyrolle Story: Nine - The Death Of Alphonse Reyrolle

Robert Owen tells of the death of the founder of one of Britain's major engineering concerns.

To read earlier chapters of The Reyrolle Story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_reyrolle_story/

To purchase a copy of Robert's book visit http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reyrolle-Story-History-Co-Ltd/dp/1905295073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245678876&sr=1-1

The many problems of the war did nothing to improve Alphonse Reyrolle's health. Indeed, evidence suggests that his health slowly deteriorated and he made his last will and testament in May 1918. Alphonse knew he had little chance of recovery but, rather than stay at home to rest, he chose to devote all his strength to his life's work in Hebburn. That was until January 1919, when he was too ill to leave Grindon House at Elswick. He died there on Thursday 27th February at the age of fifty-four years. The cause of death was Renal Cirrhosis and his occupation on his death certificate read appropriately, 'Master Electrician'.

His funeral on 3rd March 1919 at St Michael's Roman Catholic Church, Westmorland Road, was attended by family and friends, representatives from the French Consul, numerous local engineering companies, and over two hundred of his employees. Alphonse was buried in St John's Cemetery - now known as Elswick Cemetery -about half a mile away from where he lived.

Reyrolle named William Negas - a London solicitor and Reyrolle Director, Alfred Gueritte - a French civil engineer, andNorbert Merz - his accounting colleague, as executors and trustees of his detailed will. The three wise men were charged with overseeing his personal estate of 17,000 - equivalent to over three-quarters of a million pounds in today's money. The capital of the limited company was, of course, separate from this amount.

One of the trustees, Alfred Gueritte, agreed to oversee Alphonse's son's maintenance and education and 3,000 was allocated for the task. Should Alphonse's wife die -which she did - before his son reached 25 years of age, Alfred Gueritte and Norbert Merz were named as guardians.

Alphonse's death was keenly felt by many of his former colleagues in the factory, where collections were made throughout the offices and works for some sort of permanent memorial. It was suggested that a Reyrolle Institute should be established in his memory. Other possibilities included a bronze bust, a brass plaque, an oil painted portrait or an endowed cot at Ellison Hall Infirmary.

It appears that the Reyrolle Memorial had to compete with other urgencies of the time, as Hebburn implemented a Welcome Home programme for returning servicemen and discussions took place about funding and siting a local war memorial.

Also in February 1920, the Board of Directors received a letter from Marguerite Reyrolle asking for a grant of money in recognition of the services of her husband. The October meeting approved a 1,000 gratuity and a wage payment of over 2,000.

Reyrolle had, at the time, an active Hospital and Charities Committee and strong links with the local Ellison Hall Infirmary. George Pawsey was a member of this committee and his son Alfred still has a copy of a letter from the Company, dated March 1920, which details, as follows, how the money allocated for Alphonse Reyrolle's memorial should be spent.

During the next ten years the ambitious Hospital and Charities Committee never gave up hope of providing a Reyrolle Institute. That was until December 1931 when it finally agreed "that the original idea of a Reyrolle Memorial Hall was not now practical". Was it a coincidence or could this desire for a Reyrolle Institute be linked to a Recreation Centre that was opened by the Company in Victoria Road West a few years later.

Therefore, the evidence seems to indicate Alphonse Reyrolle never had a permanent memorial within the factory site. That was apart from a portrait, (or was it a large photograph) of him, that hung in the Board Room? The Reyrolle Heritage Trust also possesses a set of original hand tools made by the French entrepreneur.

After Alphonse's death, Marguerite Reyrolle and their son Armand, returned to Paris, where she died in 1924. The Paris telephone directory holds several entries under the name of Reyrolle but only one replied to enquiries. That was a Michel Reyrolle who admitted to having relatives in the Correze area. One of these, Jacques Reyrolle confirmed he lived in Arnac-Pompadour, only about five miles from where Alphonse Reyrolle was born in 1864. Unfortunately, he and his family could prove no known relationship to Alphonse or Gustave Reyrolle. He did, however, add "Reyrolle is not an uncommon name in the Correze area of France".

So what became of Armand Fernand Reyrolle, the well-resourced son of Alphonse and Marguerite, remains a mystery.

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