Thursday, 1 March 2012

"gentlemen residing at different points" - Railway Directors in the 1850s

In 1868 Herbert Spencer wrote an essay entitled 'Railway morals on railway policy.' Looking back on the thirty three years of railway history that had passed, he assessed who exactly were running these new corporations as it was a matter of interest to the public. After all, railway directors and managers at the time were the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the mid-Victorian period, steering the destiny of the maturing railway industry. Spencer noted that up to the 1850s directors were mainly:

‘...gentlemen residing at different points throughout the country traversed by railways they control; some of them landowners; some of them merchants and manufacturers; some of them owners of mines and shipping. Those in close proximity to it gain either by the enhanced value of their lands or by increased facilities for transit for their commodities. Those at more remote parts of the main line, through less directly interested, are still frequently interested to some degree: for every extension opens up a new market for either produce or raw materials.[1]

To what extent each of these economic groups sat on railway company boards in the 1850s is unclear. However, the economic character of different British regions clearly would have been evident in the business interests of the directors of the railway companies running through them.
[1] Spencer, H., ‘Railway morals and railway policy’, in Essays: Scientific, Political and Speculative, II (1868), p.286-287, quoted in Cain, P.J., ‘Railways 1870-1914: The maturity of the private system’, in Freeman, Michael J. and Aldcroft, Derek H. (eds.) Transport in Victorian Britain (Manchester, 1988), p.113-114

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