John Moores (British businessman)

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Sir John Moores
Statue of John and Cecil Moores
Born (1896-01-25)25 January 1896
Barton-upon-Irwell, Lancashire, England
Died 25 September 1993(1993-09-25) (aged 97)
Freshfield, Formby, England
Nationality British
Occupation Businessman
Known for Littlewoods, Everton F.C., Liverpool F.C.

Sir John Moores CBE (25 January 1896 – 25 September 1993) was an English businessman and philanthropist most famous for the founding of the now defunct Littlewoods retail company that was located in Liverpool, England.

Early years[edit]

John Moores was born into a working-class family in Barton-upon-Irwell, Lancashire on 25 January 1896. He was one of eight children and the eldest of four sons. He left elementary school in 1910, at the age of 14, and became a messenger boy at the Manchester Post Office but was soon accepted in a course at the Post Office School of Telegraphy. This enabled him, in 1912 to join the Commercial Cable Company as a junior operator. He was in the Navy during the First World War, from 1917 onwards, as a wireless operator.

Pre Littlewoods days[edit]

Moores' father, John William, was a bricklayer, then later became a site foreman but he developed a drink problem. He was off work in the last two years of his life with an injury sustained at work. He died on 9 February 1919 at the age of 47 of tuberculosis. John Moores Jnr was demobilised from the Navy two months later. He carried on working for the Commercial Cable Company. In 1920 he was posted to Liverpool where he stayed for a few months, but later that year, Moores was posted to Waterville in County Kerry, Ireland. He noticed there was no public library around for miles so he set up a store that sold books and stationery. He bulk imported books and called it the Waterville Supply Company. He also sold golf balls as there was no sports shop or golf course.

However, in 1922, Moores was back in England as the cable company reposted him again to Liverpool, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

Littlewoods business empire[edit]

John, Colin Askham and Bill Hughes were friends who had worked together as Post Office messenger boys in Manchester. It was whilst looking for a new money-making idea that Moores met John Jervis Barnard, a Birmingham man who had latched onto the public's growing passion for two things: football and betting. Moores had always been an avid football fan from when he was very young. When he lived in Manchester he supported Manchester United as did his father. He played amateur football himself until retiring at the age of 40.

Barnard had devised a 'football pool', where punters would bet on the outcome of football matches. The payouts to winners came from the 'pool' of money that was bet, less 10 per cent to cover "management costs". It had not been particularly successful. Clearly, Barnard was struggling to make a profit. Moores obtained one of Barnard's pools coupon, and the three Manchester friends decided they could do it better.

They could not let their employers, the Commercial Cable Company, know what they were doing, or they would be sacked. No outside employment was allowed. That ruled out calling it, for example, John Moores Football Pool. Moores recalled years later: "Calling it the John Smith's Football Pool sounded a bit dodgy". The solution to that particular problem came from Colin Askham. He had been orphaned as a baby and been brought up by an aunt whose surname was Askham, but he had been born Colin Henry Littlewood. And so, in 1923, the Littlewood Football Pool – as it was called originally – was started.

Each of the three partners invested £50 of their own money into the venture, and with the help of a small, discreet and cheap printer they got to work. In 1923, £50 was a huge sum to invest in what – based on Barnard's experience – was a precarious venture, and as Moores himself remembered: "As I signed my own cheque at the bank, my hands were damp. It seemed such a lot of money to be risking".

A small office in Church Street, Liverpool, was rented and the first 4,000 coupons were distributed outside Manchester United's Old Trafford ground before one Saturday match that winter. Moores handed the coupons out himself, helped by some young boys eager to earn a few pennies.

It was not an instant success as just 35 coupons were returned. With bets totalling £4 7s 6d (£4.37½), the 10 per cent deducted did not cover the three men’s expenses. They decided to print 10,000 coupons, and took them to Hull, where they were handed out before a big game. This time, only one coupon was returned. Their venture was about to collapse almost as soon as it had begun. In the canteen of the Commercial Cable Company, the three partners held a crisis meeting. They had kept pumping money into the fledgling business, but midway through the 1924-25 football season it was still losing money. The three young men had alread invested £200, with no prospect of things improving. Bill Hughes suggested they cut their losses and forget the whole thing. Colin Askham agreed. They could see why John Jervis Barnard's idea of a football pool had failed in Birmingham. They expected Moores to concur, but instead he said: "I'll pay each of you the £200 you've invested, if you'll sell me your shares".

Moores admitted that he considered giving up on the business himself, but was encouraged by his wife, who told him "I would rather be married to a man who is haunted by failure rather than one haunted by regret". Moores kept faith and he paid Askham and Hughes £200 each. In 1928, Moores' younger brother Cecil devised a security system to prevent cheating. Eventually the pools took off, becoming one of the best-known names in Britain.

In January 1932, Moores, by now a millionaire, was able to disengage himself sufficiently from the pools to start up Littlewoods Mail Order Store.[1] This was followed on 6 July 1937 by the opening of the first Littlewoods department store in Blackpool. By the time World War II started there were 25 Littlewoods stores across the UK and over 50 by 1952.

Everton Football Club[edit]

In 1960, Moores gave up his chairmanship of the Pools business, and handed over the reins to his brother, Cecil Moores, (10 August 1902 – 29 July 1989), so he could become a director of Everton Football Club. In June he became the chairman and in April 1961 he famously sacked Johnny Carey in the back of a London Taxi and appointed Harry Catterick as Everton manager in his place. The event would become synonymous in football with the phrase "taxi for...", particularly for under fire football managers.

He would remain as Everton chairman first of all up to July 1965, resigning due to the poor health of his wife, who died two months later. In August 1972, Moores regained the chairmanship. He was chairman until August 1973 when he resigned for the second and final time. He then became vice-chairman. Moores resigned from the Everton board altogether on 8 July 1977.


John Moores was a keen baseball fan and created a league for Liverpool-based teams in 1933. He later enticed Everton players such as Dixie Dean to the game. In 1938 he donated the John Moores trophy to Great Britain national team for beating the United States Olympic team four games to one in a five-game series.[2] The Great Britain team consisted largely of Canadians from the Yorkshire-Lancashire league.

For his efforts, he was posthumously inducted into the British Baseball Hall of Fame in October 2009.


In April 1970 Moores was made a Freeman of the city of Liverpool. In 1972 he was made a CBE, in 1978 he was awarded the first Gold Medal for achievement, and in June 1980 he was knighted.

Later years[edit]

Moores retired as chairman in October 1977 of Littlewoods and was succeeded by his son Peter. However, as profits fell from 49 million to 11 million, (Moores remained on the board) he resumed the chairmanship in November 1980. He resigned, and retired for the second and final time on 25 March 1982. On 28 May 1982 he was made life president of the organisation.

His family carried on running Littlewoods but John Clement succeeded Moores as chairman. Moores had two operations straight after each other, on his achilles tendon and then for an enlarged prostate during the spring of 1986, but never fully recovered nor regained his health. He remained involved at Littlewoods until later that year when he finally retired.

At the 1987 League Cup final, sponsored by Littlewoods, Moores was the guest of honour. In 1988 he began to lose his speech. His final years, where he suffered from dementia, were spent mostly confined to his home.


On 25 September 1993, Sir John Moores died at his home, "Fairways", at Shireburn Road, Freshfield, Formby, where he had lived since 1930. He was cremated six days later in Southport.

The Sunday Times Rich List 1989 estimated his estate to be worth £1.7 billion.[3] The Littlewoods businesses were sold to the Barclay Brothers, nine years after Moores' death, in October 2002.


Moores married Ruby Knowles (13 October 1894 – 8 September 1965) in Liverpool on 19 September 1923. They had four children:

  1. Elizabeth, now Betty Suenson-Taylor, Lady Grantchester, or The Dowager Lady Grantchester (b. 8 June 1925) who married on 12 April 1947 Kenneth Bent Suenson-Taylor, 2nd Baron Grantchester (1921–1995), and had issue including the present Lord Grantchester.
  2. John Moores, Junior, CBE (b. 22 November 1928 – d. 22 May 2012),
  3. Peter Moores, CBE (b. 9 April 1932 - d. 23 March 2016) and
  4. Janitha Moores (b. 4 July 1937).[4]

Other interests[edit]

In 1992, Liverpool Polytechnic took the name Liverpool John Moores University in his honour upon being granted university status. A statue was later built which stands in the courtyard of the university's Avril Robarts Library.

In the Sunday Times Rich List 2006 the Moores' family wealth was estimated at £1,160m.

The John Moores Painting Prize is co-ordinated by National Museums Liverpool. The first John Moores exhibition was held in 1957, six years after the Walker Art Gallery re-opened after World War II. It was intended as a one-off, but its success led to it becoming a biennial event. By the early 1960s, the exhibition was regarded as the UK’s leading showcase for avant-garde painting. Winning works have included classic paintings by Jack Smith ('Creation and Crucifixion'), William Scott, Roger Hilton ('March 1963') and David Hockney ('Peter getting out of Nick's Pool').

During the 1930s and '40s John Moores was a councilor for the Sefton parish for Sefton Rural District and West Lancashire Rural District. In November 1978 during a rare TV interview, in a documentary made about him, Moores said he believed in equality in regards to equal opportunities, but he also stated that there could never be equality in an economic sense. Even though Moores was a Conservative voter, he was good friends with the Labour MP Bessie Braddock and the two worked together on several projects involving Liverpool.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Barbara Clegg, ‘Moores, Sir John (1896–1993)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [1], accessed 28 January 2008

Unless stated otherwise, all dates are from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


  • Barbara Clegg, ‘Moores, Sir John (1896–1993)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 3 June 2006

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