Friday, 5 August 2011

Landlords, family and railways

In the eighteenth century, the distinction between a class of landlords and a class of capitalist farmer tenants had been sharpened by the continuing process of agricultural improvement.[1] By 1850, the enclosure movement was all but completed and a third rural class of agricultural wage labourers had been created. The three classes of landlord, tenant farmer and labourer characterised Victorian rural society and formed the basis of contemporary images of the rural world.[2]

The landlord was dominant in terms of wealth, power and prestige while tenant farmers were under increasing economic pressure and their social status had fallen below manufacturers and merchants. [3] In 1850, rentier landowners held about 75% of the land in England and a considerably higher proportion in Scotland and Wales. Running a great landed estate was a matter of efficient economic management. [4] The estate was treated as a unit of capital and was administered through various rules, procedures and routines similar to those used in the larger mines and ironworks. In landed estates, there was a partial separation of ownership from control: the general supervision of the affairs of the estate remained with the landowner while the general day-to-day administration was the responsibility of a managerial staff.

Class 23

The estate was managed by the landowner through agents and stewards, to whom management responsibilities were delegated and who collected rents, kept accounts and supervised the tenants. Large estates employed both a resident land agent with delegated authority but often also a chief agent with a subordinate staff to handle specialised tasks such as timber, minerals and so on. [5] Where land was let out to tenants, strategic control was shared between the landowner and the tenant. The landowner and his agents exercised supervision over tenants and made decisions over the renewal of tenancies as well as contributing to the capital requirements of the farms. The relationship between landowner and tenant was cemented in the financial arrangements with tenants receiving the profits from their farming activity and using it to pay his rent to the landowner.[6]

Family strategy was an important structuring mechanism in economic life and the highly regulated marriage market helped to ensure both the maintenance of the traditional family life-style and the maintenance of the family estate. It was under the continuing influence of these family strategies that landowners began to diversify their interests. During the nineteenth century, farming offered a relatively poor return compared to the investment opportunities available in industry. For this reason, many landowners diversified into investments in minerals, in urban property, in railways and docks and in overseas mining concerns to supplement their, at least static, agricultural earnings.[7] Many landowners, for example, began to develop those parts of their estates that were well-sited for urban growth.[8] Until 1850, the urban areas, apart from London, were relatively small and localised, but the pace of development soon increased. In London the major landowners included the Duke of Portland, the Duke of Westminster in Pimlico, Belgravia and Mayfair and the Duke of Bedford in Bloomsbury and Covent Garden.[9] In smaller cities and towns, prominent landowners included the Duke of Norfolk and Earl Fitzwilliam in Sheffield; the Marquess of Salisbury and the Earls of Derby and Sefton in Liverpool; the Marquess of Bute in Cardiff and the Calthorpes in Birmingham. As fashion shifted from the spa towns to seaside resorts in the 1880s and 1890s, landowners such as the Duke of Devonshire profited from the growth of such leisure centres as Eastbourne, Brighton, Hastings and Scarborough. In 1886, 69 out of 261 provincial towns were largely owned by great landowners and a further 34 were owned by smaller landowners. Similarly, the Duke of Sutherland, the Marquess of Bute and the Earl of Dudley were prominent as mineral developers.[10]

Rugby’s headmaster Thomas Arnold saw railways as heralding the downfall of the aristocracy and initially many landowners saw railways as an interference with their territorial rights and strenously opposed them. However, railways offered opportunities not only through investment but through the sale of land to railway companies and through compensation.

‘There is nobody so violent against railroads as George...he organised the whole of our division against the Marham line!’ ‘I rather counter on his’, said Lord de Mowbray, ‘to assist me in resisting this joint branch here; but I was surprised to learn he had consented.’ ‘Not until the compensation was settled’, innocently remarked Lady Marney; ‘George never opposes them after that. He gave up his opposition to the Marham line when they agreed to his terms’. [11]

The 1850 edition of Bradshaw’s General Railway Directory listed only 24 peers and 25 sons of peers as railway directors and during the last twenty-five years of the century the number of directors in the House of Lords did not rise above fifty-one at any one time. Where landowners did invest heavily in railways, this tended not to be in main-line companies but in the secondary lines that connected their mineral interests to the main arteries of the railway network. In this way, landowners saw railway investment as a way of improving the yield earned from the agricultural and mineral resources of their own estates.[12] As his rents fell in the depression, the Earl of Leicester put about £170,000 in home railways between 1870 and 1891 or about half of his non-landed investment.

Landowners complemented their estate business with interests in industrial and commercial ventures. This diversification was eased by the already close business links between landowners and City financiers. City financiers were also important as promoters of business ventures, especially railway companies. The railways were giant enterprises whose capital requirements outweighed those of all other businesses together. London bankers, especially Glyn Mills, acted as active promoters for railway companies and brought together the masses of ‘anonymous’ investors, many from the professions and many ‘widows and orphans’, who provided much of the railway capital.[13] By the 1850s, over 200 railway companies, both domestic and foreign, banked with Glyn, Mills, and Co.

Class 24

Garden party, Morton Hall, Norfolk, June 1887

The railway boom in the 1840s resulted in the 15 largest companies controlling 75% of railway revenue and by the boom of the 1860s the top four companies had 44% of revenue. [14] As a result, from the 1860s, many landowners began to take portfolio investments in the big main-line companies, a move away from their previous commitment only to local lines. The railway booms brought together some of the interests of the financial community and the landowners. The development of railways was also had an indirect impact on industrial funding. Limited liability had rarely been thought necessary by industrial entrepreneurs but, as the capital requirements of some industries increased, the trust and the partnership gave way to the joint-stock company.[15] This enabled manufacturers to draw on a wider pool of capital and to provide for the various members of their families by issuing shares to them.[16] For example, the Pease family held several firms in the North of England. These included Joseph Pease & Partners, coal-owners, J. W. Pease & Co. dealt in ironstone and limestone and the banking business was carried on under the style of J & J. W. Pease. The extensive woollen mills were run under the name of Henry Pease & Co. The headquarters of all these firms was in Northgate, Darlington. By the mid-1860s, about a thousand new joint-stock companies were being registered annually, though the majority were still run as partnerships. The spread of railway shareholding encouraged the growth of the London and provincial stock exchanges and made it easier for expanding industrial enterprises to raise capital and for landowners to invest.

[1] Thompson, F.L.M., English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century, (Routledge), 1963 is the basic work. Stone, L. and Stone, J.C. Fautier, An Open Elite? England 1540-1880, (Oxford University Press), 1984, Mingay, G.E., The Gentry, (Longman), 1976 and Beckett, J.C., The Aristocracy in England 1660-1914, (Basil Blackwell), 1986, 2nd ed., 1989 cover broader periods. These should now be supplemented by Carradine, D., The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, (Yale University Press), 1990 and Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain, (Yale University Press), 1994.  General views, with sociological emphasis, can be found in Powis, J., Aristocracy, (Basil Blackwell), 1984 and Scott, J., The Upper-classes, (Macmillan), 1980.

[2] Lindert, Peter H., ‘Who owned Victorian England?: the debate over landed wealth and inequality’, Agricultural History, Vol. 61, (1987), pp. 25-51.

[3] See, Moore, D.C., ‘The Landed Aristocracy’, in ibid, Mingay, G.E., (ed.), The Victorian countryside, Vol. 2, pp. 367-382.

[4] Spring, David, The English landed estate in the 19th century: its administration, (John Hopkins Press), 1963 remains important.

[5] See, for example, Richards, E., ‘The Land Agent’, in ibid, Mingay, G.E., (ed.), The Victorian countryside, Vol. 2, pp. 439-456, Webster, Sarah A., ‘Estate Improvement and the Professionalisation of Land Agents on the Egremont Estates in Sussex and Yorkshire, 1770-1835’, Rural History, Vol. 18, (2007), pp. 47-70 and Colyer, Richard J., ‘The land agent in nineteenth-century Wales’, Welsh History Review, Vol. 8, (1977), pp. 401-425.

[6] See, Moore, D.C., ‘The gentry’, in ibid, Mingay, G.E., (ed.), The Victorian countryside, Vol. 2, pp. 383-98 and Rothery, Mark, ‘The wealth of the English landed gentry, 1870-1935’, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 55, (2007), pp. 251-268.

[7] See, for example, Ward, J.T., ‘West Riding Landowners and Mining in the Nineteenth Century’, Bulletin of Economic Research, Vol. 15, (1), (1963), pp. 61-74.

[8] A good introduction to this subject is Cannadine, David, Lords and Landlords: the Aristocracy and the Towns 1774-1967, (Leicester University Press), 1980 and Cannadine, David, (ed.), Patricians, power and politics in nineteenth-century towns, (Leicester University Press), 1982.

[9] See, for example, Sheppard, F.H.W., ‘The Grosvenor estate, 1677-1977’, History Today, Vol. 27, (1977), pp. 726-733.

[10] Davies, John, Cardiff and the marquesses of Bute, (University of Wales Press), 1981, Richards, Eric, The Leviathan of Wealth: the Sutherland fortune in the Industrial Revolution, (Routledge & Kegan Paul), 1973.

[11] Ibid, Disraeli, Benjamin, Sybil: or The two nations, p. 106.

[12] Ward, J.T., ‘West Riding Landowners and the Railways’, Journal of Transport History, Vol. 4, (1960), pp. 242-251.

[13] Gore-Browne, Eric, The history of the house of Glyn, Mills and Co., (Privately Printed), 1933

[14] Irving, R.J., ‘The capitalisation of Britain’s railways, 1830-1914’, Journal of Transport History, 3rd ser., Vol. 5, (1984), pp. 1-24.

[15] See, Bryer, R. A., ‘The Mercantile Laws Commission of 1854 and the political economy of limited liability’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser., Vol. 50 (1997), pp. 37-56 and Loftus, Donna, ‘Limited Liability, Market Democracy, and the Social Organization of Production in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in Henry, Nancy and Schmitt, Cannon, (eds.), Victorian investments: new perspectives on finance and culture, (Indiana University Press), 2009, pp. 79-97.

[16] Rose, Mary B., ‘The family firm in British business 1780-1914’, in Kirby, M.W. and Rose, Mary B., (eds.), Business enterprise in modern Britain: from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, (Routledge), 1994, pp. 61-87 and Nenadic, Stana, ‘The Small Family Firm in Victorian Britain’, in Jones, Geoffrey and Rose, Mary B., Family Capitalism, (Routledge), 1993, pp. 86-114 provide the context.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thank you for this informative blog. I am doing research on railways in Britain during the time period you wrote. I will check out the references you listed. Greatly appreaciated!