Ernest Terah Hooley (5 February 1859 – 11 February 1947) was an English financier who specialised in acquiring companies and then reselling them at inflated prices, making himself substantial profits in the process. The first company that passed through his hands was an American subsidiary of Humber & Co., cycle manufacturers. Household names including Raleigh, the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company, Schweppes and Bovril were to follow.
Hooley’s initial success ended abruptly in June 1898, when he was forced to declare himself bankrupt following a collapse in the market for bicycles the previous year.[a]Hooley was made bankrupt four times and was jailed twice. Two years earlier he had bought the 1183-acre (479 ha) Trafford Park from Sir Humphrey Francis de Trafford, in what was then the outskirts of Manchester. He almost immediately transferred ownership of the park to a new company called Trafford Park Estates, making himself a great deal of money. Hooley was a significant shareholder in and chairman of the new company, under whose management the park was developed into the world’s first planned industrial estate and still the largest in Europe.
Hooley increasingly became involved in dubious company flotations, culminating in him receiving a three-year prison sentence in 1921 for fraudulent misrepresentation.
Hooley was born in Sneinton, Nottinghamshire, the only child of Terah Hooley, a lacemaker, and his wife Elizabeth. He joined his father’s lace business in 1880 and in following year he married baker’s daughter Annie Maria née Winlaw, with whom he had four daughters and three sons. In 1888, possibly with the assistance of an inheritance from his mother, Hooley bought Risley Hall in Derbyshire for £5,000, and set himself up as a stockbroker in Nottingham. He bought Papworth Hall in Cambridgeshire for £70,000 in 1895, and subsequenty added several adjacent estates costing £210,000.
In 1897 Hooley was selected by the Conservative Party as their candidate to contest the parliamentary constituency of Ilkeston, Derbyshire at the next general election, but his bankruptcy the following year made him ineligible to stand.
Hooley died on 11 February 1947, at 197 College Street, Long Eaton, Derbyshire. Described by his biographer as a “musically gifted”,[b]Hooley played the piano and the organ. warm-hearted man with a contagious sense of humour, Hooley’s enduring legacy was the Papworth estate, where he built a series of “new model cottages” for his farmworkers.
In 1896 Hooley moved his business from Nottingham to London, where he began to affect “a lavish lifestyle”. The rise in his fortunes coincided with the boom in bicycles that year, and until the 1898 slump in that business he had promoted 26 manufacturers with a total nominal capital of £18.6 million; to impress investors he populated the boards of his companies with members of the aristocracy. One of his most profitable deals was the purchase of the Trafford Park estate from Sir Humphrey Francis de Trafford in 1896. Hooley’s original plan was to convert the park into a high-class residential area containing 500 grand villas, a racecourse, and an industrial fringe along the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, but he was persuaded instead to develop the site as an industrial estate, the first in the world and still the largest in Europe.
Increasingly Hooley became involved in shady, even fraudulent business schemes. Between 1899 and 1904 he was involved in series of dubious companies set up to exploit concessions abroad. One, the Siberian Goldfield Development Company Ltd., resulted in Hooley and his associate H. J. Lawson being prosecuted for fraudulent share promotion. Hooley was acquitted, but his associate was sentenced to twelve months in prison. In 1911 Hooley himself received a twelve-month prison sentence for obtaining money under false pretences in connection with an abortive land deal in Nottinghamshire. He received an even more severe sentence in 1921 of three years in prison for fraudulent misrepresentation while promoting the flotation of shares in Jubilee Cotton Mills Ltd.
Hooley was declared bankrupt four times and served two jail sentences, which had very little impact on his opulent lifestyle as he had made over his two country homes of Risley and Papworth, along with their contents, to his wife. Despite his setbacks he remained unrepentant throughout his life; as he cheerfully admitted, “My great business was to buy something without the money to pay for it, sell it for as much as I could, and get out with the profit … I was never one to concern myself with whatever happened afterwards.”