Railway Mania

But a notice of the Railway Mania would be very incomplete without mention of George Hudson, the Railway King. He was born at Howsham, a village near York, in March 1800, was apprenticed to a draper in York, and subsequently became principal in the business; thus, early in life, becoming well off, besides having £30,000 left him by a distant relative. In 1837 he was Lord Mayor of York, and the same year was made Chairman of the York and North Midland Railway, which was opened in 1839. In1841 he was elected Chairman of the Great North of England Company, and, afterwards held the same position in the Midland Railway Company. He speculated largely in Railways; and in the Parliamentary return, already alluded to (p. 270) his subscriptions appear as £319,835.

He came to London, and inhabited the house at Albert Gate, Knightsbridge (now the French Embassy) where he entertained the Prince Consort, and the aristocracy generally. He was elected M.P. for Sunderland in Aug. 1845, and again served as Lord Mayor of York in 1846. The Railway smash came, and year by year things went worse with him, until, early in the year 1849 he had to resign his chairmanship of the Eastern Counties (now Great Eastern), Midland, York, Newcastle and Berwick, and the York and North Midland Railway Companies. He went abroad, where he lived for some time, and tried, unavailingly, to retrieve his fortune. In July 1865 he was committed to York Castle for Contempt of the Court of Exchequer, in not paying a large debt, and was there incarcerated till the following October.

He fell so low, that in 1868 some friends took pity on him and raised a subscription for him, thus obtaining £4800, with which an annuity was purchased. He died in London, 14th Dec. 1871.

Not  particularly exaggerated is “Railroad Speculator” in Punch  (Vol. viii., p. 244):

“The night was stormy and dark, the town was shut up in sleep: Only those were abroad who were out on the lark, Or those who'd no beds to keep.

I passed through the lonely street, The wind did sing and blow; I could hear the policeman's feet, Clapping to and fro.

There stood a potato man, in the midst of all the wet; He stood with his ‘tato can, in the lonely Haymarket.

Two gents of dismal mien, and dank and greasy rags; came out of a shop for gin, swaggering over the flags:

Swaggering over the stones, these shabby bucks did walk; and I went and followed those seedy ones, and listened to their talk.

Was I sober or awake? Could I believe my ears? Those dismal beggars spake of nothing but Railroad Shares.

I wondered more and more: Says one, ‘Good friend of mine, how many shares did you write for? In the Diddlesex Junction line?'

‘I wrote for twenty,' says Jim, ‘but they wouldn't give me one'; His comrade straight rebuked him, for the folly he had done.

‘Oh Jim, you are unawares of the ways of this bad town: I always write for five hundred shares, and then  they put me down.'

‘And yet you got no shares,' says Jim, ‘for all your boast': ‘I would  have wrote,' says Jack, ‘but where was the penny to pay the post?'

‘I lost, for I couldn't pay that first instalment up; but here's ‘taters smoking hot—I say, Let's stop, my boy, and sup.'

And, at this simple feast, the while they did regale, I drew each ragged capitalist, down on my left thumb nail.

Their talk did me perplex, All night I tumbled and tost; and thought of railroad specs, and how money was won and lost.

‘Bless railroads everywhere,' I said, ‘and the world's advance; Bless every railroad share in Italy, Ireland, France; for never a beggar need now despair, and every rogue has a chance.'”

Should anyone wish to watch the progress of the Railway Mania, I would recommend a perusal of Punch, Vol. ix., in which appears, inter aliaJeames's Diary, by Thackeray, afterwards published as The Diary of C. Jeames De la Pluche, Esq. The idea was started on p. 59, under the heading of—

A Lucky Speculator

Considerable sensation has been excited in the upper and lower circles in the West End, by a startling piece of good fortune which has befallen James Plush , Esq., lately footman in a respected family in Berkeley Square.

One day, last week, Mr James waited upon his master, who is a banker in the city; and, after a little blushing and hesitation, said he had saved a little money in service, and was anxious to retire, and to invest his savings to advantage.

His master (we believe we may mention, without offending delicacy, the well known name of Sir George Flimsy  of the firm of Flimsy Diddler , and Flash ,) smilingly asked Mr James , what was the amount of his savings, wondering considerably how—out of an income of thirty guineas, the main part of which he spent in bouquets, silk stockings and perfumery—Mr Plush  could have managed to lay by anything.

Mr Plush , with some hesitation, said he had been speculating in railroads, and stated his winnings to have been thirty thousand pounds. He had commenced his speculations with twenty, borrowed from a fellow servant. He had dated his letters from the house in Berkeley Square, and humbly begged pardon of his master, for not having instructed the railway secretaries, who answered the applications, to apply at the area bell.

Sir George , who was at breakfast, instantly rose, and shook Mr P. by the hand;Lady Flimsy  begged him to be seated, and partake of the breakfast which he had laid on the table; and has subsequently invited him to her grand dejeuner  at Richmond, where it was observed that Miss Emily Flimsy , her beautiful and accomplished seventh daughter, paid the lucky gentleman marked attention.

We hear it stated that Mr P. is of very ancient family (Hugo de la Pluche  came over with the Conqueror); and the new Brougham which he has started, bears the ancient coat of his race.

He has taken apartments at the Albany, and is a director of thirty-three railroads. He purposes to stand for Parliament at the next general election, on decidedly conservative principles, which have always been the politics of his family.

Report says, that, even in his humble capacity, Miss Emily Flimsy  had remarked his high demeanour. Well, ‘none but the brave,' say we, ‘deserve the fair.'—Morning Paper.

This announcement will explain the following lines, which have been put into our box, with a West End post mark. If, as we believe, they are written by the young woman from whom the Millionaire borrowed the sum on which he raised his fortune, what heart would not melt with sympathy at her tale, and pity the sorrows which she expresses in such artless language?

If it be not too late: if wealth have not rendered its possessor callous: if poor Maryanne  be still alive, we trust Mr Plush  will do her justice.

Jeames of Buckley Square

A Heligy.

Come, all ye gents vot cleans the plate,

Come, all ye ladies maids so fair—

Vile I a story vil relate

Of cruel Jeames  of Buckley Square.

A tighter lad, it is confest,

Never valked vith powder in his air,

Or vore a nosegay in his breast,

Than andsum Jeames  of Buckley Square.

O Evns! it vas the best of sights,

Behind his Master's coach and pair,

To see our Jeames  in red plush tights,

A driving hoff from Buckley Square.

He vel became his hagwiletts,

He cocked his at with such  an hair;

His calves and viskers vas  siech pets,

That hall loved Jeames  of Buckley Square.

He pleased the hup stairs folks as vell,

And o! I vithered vith despair,

Misses vould  ring the parler bell,

And call up Jeames  in Buckley Square.

Both beer and sperrits he abhord,

(Sperrits and beer I can't a bear,)

You would have thought he vas a lord,

Down in our All in Buckley Square.

Last year he visper'd, “Mary Hann,

Ven I've an ‘under'd pound to spare,

To take a public is my plan,

And leave this hojous Buckley Square.”

O how my gentle heart did bound,

To think that I his name should bear.

“Dear Jeames ,” says I, “I've twenty pound,”

And gev him them in Buckley Square.

Our master vas a City Gent,

His name's in railroads everywhere;

And lord, vot lots of letters vent

Betwigst his brokers, and Buckley Square.

My Jeames  it was the letters took,

And read ‘em all, (I think it's fair),

And took a leaf from Master's book,

As hothers  do in Buckley Square.

Encouraged with my twenty pound,

Of which poor I  was unaware,

He wrote the Companies all round,

And signed hisself from Buckley Square.

And how John Porter  used to grin,

As day by day, share after share,

Came railway letters pouring in,

J. Plush , Esquire, in Buckley Square.

Our servants' All was in a rage—

Scrip, stock, curves, gradients, bull and bear,

With butler, coachman, groom and page,

Vas all the talk in Buckley Square.

But O! imagine vat I felt

Last Vensdy veek as ever were;

I gits a letter, which I spelt

“Miss M. A. Hoggins, Buckley Square.”

He sent me back my money true—

He sent me back my lock of air,

And said, “My dear, I bid ajew

To Mary Hann and Buckley Square.

Think not to marry, foolish Hann ,

With people who your betters are;

James Plush  is now a gentleman,

And you—a cook in Buckley Square.

I've thirty thousand guineas won,

In six short months, by genus rare;

You little thought what Jeames  was on,

Poor Mary Hann , in Buckley Square.

I've thirty thousand guineas net,

Powder and plush I scorn to vear;

And so, Miss Mary Hann , forget

For hever Jeames , of Buckley Square.”

But, joking apart, there is no exaggeration in Jeames. Look at a “Return to the Order of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 8th April 1845, for an Alphabetical list of the Names, Description, and Place of Abode of all Persons subscribing to the Amount of £2000 and upwards to any Railway Subscription Contract deposited in the Private Bill Office during the present Session of Parliament,” and amongst the names will be found many of the leading nobility, large manufacturing firms, names well known in commerce and literature, mingled together in a most heterogeneous manner. The same columns shew a combination of peers and printers, vicars and vice-admirals, spinsters and half-pay officers, M.P.'s and special pleaders, professors and cotton spinners, gentlemen's cooks and Q.C.'s, attorney's clerks and college scouts, waiters at Lloyd's, relieving officers and excisemen, barristers and butchers, Catholic priests and coachmen, editors and engineers, dairymen and dyers, braziers, bankers, beer sellers and butlers, domestic servants, footmen and mail guards, and almost every calling under the sun.

These, it must be remembered, were subscribers for £2000 and upwards; those who subscribed for less, were supposed to be holders of £21,386,703, 6s. 4d. in Stock.

The first blow given to this frightful gambling was on Thursday, 16th Oct. 1845, when the Bank of England raised its Discount, which had such a disastrous effect, that by Saturday, people began to be alarmed, and, as Mr Francis describes the situation, “Money was scarce, the price of stock and scrip lowered; the confidence of the people was broken, and a vision of a dark future on every face. Advertisements were suddenly withdrawn from the papers; names of note were seen no more as provisional committee men; distrust followed the merchant to the mart, and the jobber to the Exchange. The new schemes ceased to be regarded; applications ceased to be forwarded; premiums were either lowered, or ceased to exist. Bankers looked anxiously to the accounts of their customers; bill brokers scrutinised their securities; and every man was suspicious of his neighbour.

“But the distrust was not confined to projected lines. Established Railways felt the shock, and were reduced in value. Consols fell one and a half per cent.; Exchequer Bills declined in price, and other markets sympathised. The people had awoke from their dream, and trembled. It was a national alarm.

“Words are weak to express the fears and feelings which prevailed. There was no village too remote to escape the shock, and there was, probably, no house in town, some occupant of which did not shrink from the morrow. The Statesman started to find his new Bank Charter so sadly, and so suddenly tried: the peer, who had so thoughtlessly invested, saw ruin opening to his view. Men hurried with bated breath to their brokers; the allottee was uneasy and suspicious: the provisional committee man grew pale at his fearful responsibility: directors ceased to boast their blushing honours, and promoters saw their expected profits evaporate. Shares, which, the previous week, were a fortune, were, the next, a fatality to their owners. The reputed shareholders were not found when they were wanted: provisional committee men were not more easy of access.

“One Railway advertised the names and addresses of thirty—none of whom were to be heard of at the residences ascribed to them. Letters were returned to the Post Office, day after day. Nor is this to be wondered at, when it is said that, on one projected line, only £60 was received for deposits which should have yielded £700,000.

“It was proved in the Committee of the House of Commons, that one subscription list was formed of ‘lame ducks of the Alley'; and that, in another, several of the Directors, including the Chairman, had, also, altered their several subscriptions to the amount of £100,000, the very evening on which the list was deposited, and that five shillings a man was given to any one who would sign for a certain number of shares.

“Nothing more decidedly marked the crisis which had arrived, than the fact that every one hastened to disown railways. Gentlemen who had been buried in prospectuses, whose names and descriptions had been published under every variation that could fascinate the public, who had figured as committee men, and received the precious guineas for their attendance, were eager to assure the world that they were ignorant of this great transgression. Men, who, a month before, had boasted of the large sums they had made by scrip, sent advertisements to papers denying their responsibility, or appealed to the Lord Mayor to protect their characters. Members of Parliament who had remained quiet under the infliction, while it was somewhat respectable, fell back upon their privileges when they saw their purses in danger. There is no doubt that an unauthorised use of names was one feature of fraudulent Companies, and that, amid a list of common names, it was thought a distinguished one might pass unnoticed. The complaints, therefore, of those who were thus unceremoniously treated were just; but the great mass of denials emanated from persons who, knowingly, encountered the risk, and meanly shrunk from the danger.

“It is the conviction of those who are best informed that no other panic was ever so fatal to the middle class. It reached every hearth, it saddened every heart in themetropolis. Entire families were ruined. There was scarcely an important town in England, but what beheld some wretched suicide. Daughters, delicately nurtured, went out to seek their bread; sons were recalled from academies; households were separated: homes were desecrated by the emissaries of the law. There was a disruption of every social tie. The debtor's jails were peopled with promoters; Whitecross Street was filled with speculators; and the Queen's bench was full to overflowing. Men who had lived comfortably and independently, found themselves suddenly responsible for sums they had no means of paying. In some cases they yielded their all, and began the world anew; in others, they left the country for the continent, laughed at their creditors, and defied pursuit. One gentleman was served with four hundred writs: a peer, similarly pressed, when offered to be relieved from all liabilities for £15,000, betook himself to his yacht, and forgot, in the beauties of the Mediterranean, the difficulties which had surrounded him. Another gentleman, who, having nothing to lose, surrendered himself to his creditors, was a director of more than twenty lines. A third was Provisional Committee man to fifteen. A fourth, who commenced life as a printer, who became an insolvent in 1832, and a bankrupt in 1837, who had negotiated partnerships, who had arranged embarrassed affairs, who had collected debts, and turned his attention to anything, did not disdain, also, to be a railway promoter, a railway director, or to spell his name in a dozen different ways.”

In 1845 began the most wonderful era of gambling in modern times, the Railway Mania, which rose to such a height that it was noticed on Oct. 25. “During the past week there were announced, in three newspapers, eighty-nine new schemes, with a capital of £84,055,000; during the month, there were 357 new schemes announced, with an aggregate capital of £332,000,000.”

On 17th Nov. The Times  published a table of all the railway companies registered up to the 31st October, numbering 1428, and involving an outlay of £701,243,208. “Take away,” it said, “£140,000,000 for railways completed, or in progress, exclude all the most extravagant schemes, and divide the remainder by ten, can we add from our present resources, even a tenth of the vast remainder? Can we add £50,000,000 to the railway speculations we are already irretrievably embarked in? We cannot, without the most ruinous, universal and desperate confusion.”

The Annual Register  for 1845 gives a graphic account of an incident in the Railway Mania. “An extraordinary scene occurred at the office of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, on this day (Sunday, 30th Nov.), being the last day on which the plans of the new projects could be deposited with the Railway Board, in order to enable Bills to authorise them, to be brought before Parliament, in compliance with the Standing Orders.

“Last year, the number of projects in respect of which plans were lodged with the Board of Trade, was 248: the number, this year, is stated to be 815. The projectors of the Scotch lines were mostly in advance, and had their plans duly lodged on Saturday. The Irish projectors, too, and the old established Companies, seeking powers to construct branches, were among the more punctual. But, upwards of 600 plans remained to be deposited. Towards the last, the utmost exertions were made to forward them. The efforts of the lithographic draughtsmen and printers in London were excessive; people remained at work night after night, snatching a hasty repose for a couple of hours on lockers, benches, or the floor. Some found it impossible to execute their contracts; others did their work imperfectly. One of the most eminent was compelled to bring over four hundred lithographers from Belgium, and failed, nevertheless, with this reinforcement, in completing some of his plans. Post horses and express trains, to bring to town plans prepared in the country, were sought in all parts. Horses were engaged days before, and kept, by persons specially appointed, under lock and key. Some railway companies exercised their power of refusing express trains for rival projects, and clerks were obliged to make sudden and embarrassing changes of route, in order to travel by less hostile ways. A large establishment of clerks were in attendance to register the deposits; and this arrangement went on very well until eleven o'clock, when the delivery grew so rapid, that the clerks were quite unable to keep pace with the arrivals. The entrance hall soon became inconveniently crowded, considerable anxiety being expressed lest twelve o'clock should arrive ere the requisite formalities should have been gone through. This anxiety was allayed by the assurance that admission into the hall before that hour would be sufficient to warrant the reception of the documents. As the clock struck twelve, the doors of the office were about to be closed, when a gentleman, with the plans of one of the Surrey railways, arrived, and, with the greatest difficulty, succeeded in obtaining admission. A lull of a few minutes here occurred; but, just before the expiration of the first quarter of an hour, a post chaise, with reeking horses, drove up to the entrance, in hot haste. In a moment, its occupants (three gentlemen) alighted, and rushed down the passage, towards the office door, each bearing a plan of Brobdingnagian dimensions. On reaching the door, and finding it closed, the countenances of all dropped; but one of them, more valorous than the rest, and prompted by the bystanders, gave a loud pull at the bell. It was answered by Inspector Otway, who informed the ringer it was now too late, and that his plans could not be received. The agents did not wait for the conclusion of the unpleasant communication, but took advantage of the doors being opened, and threw in their papers, which broke the passage lamp in their fall. They were thrown back into the street; and when the door was again opened, again went in the plans, only to meet a similar fate. In the whole, upwards of 600 plans were duly deposited.”

Mr Francis, in his “History of the English Railway,” says: “The daily press was thoroughly deluged with advertisements; double sheets did not supply space enough for them; double doubles were resorted to, and, then, frequently, insertions were delayed. It has been estimated that the receipts of the leading journals averaged, at one period, £12,000 and £14,000, a week, from this source. The railway papers, on some occasions, contained advertisements that must have netted from £700 to £800 on each publication. The printer, the lithographer, and the stationer, with the preparation of prospectuses, the execution of maps, and the supply of other requisites, also made a considerable harvest.

“The leading engineers were, necessarily, at a great premium. Mr Brunel was said to be connected with fourteen lines, Mr Robert Stephenson with thirty-four, Mr Locke with thirty-one, Mr Rastrick with seventeen, and other engineers with one hundred and thirteen.

“The novelist has appropriated this peculiar portion of commercial history, and, describing it, says, gravely and graphically: ‘A Colony of solicitors, engineers and seedy accountants, settled in the purlieus of Threadneedle Street. Every town and parish in the kingdom blazed out in zinc plates over the doorways. From the cellar to the roof, every fragment of a room held its committee. The darkest cupboard on the stairs contained a secretary or a clerk. Men who were never seen east of Temple Bar before, or since, were, now, as familiar to the pavement of Moorgate Street,[1] as the Stockbrokers: ladies of title, lords, members of Parliament, and fashionable loungers thronged the noisy passages, and were jostled by adventurers, by gamblers, rogues and impostors.'

“The advantages of competition were pointed out, with the choicest phraseology. Lines which passed by barren districts, and by waste heaths, the termini of which were in uninhabitable places, reached a high premium. The shares of one Company rose 2400 per cent. Everything was to pay a large dividend; everything was to yield a large profit. One railway was to cross the entire Principality without a single curve.

“The shares of another were issued; the company formed, and the directors appointed, with only the terminal points surveyed. In the Ely railway, not one person connected with the country through which it was to pass, subscribed the title-deed.

“The engineers, who were examined in favour of particular lines, promised all and everything, in their evidence. It was humorously said, ‘they plunge through the bowels of mountains; they undertake to drain lakes; they bridge valleys with viaducts; their steepest gradients are gentle undulations; their curves are lines of beauty; they interrupt no traffic; they touch no prejudice.'

“Labour of all kinds increased in demand. The price of iron rose from sixty-eight shillings to one hundred and twenty per ton. Money remained abundant. Promoters received their tens and twenties of thousands. Rumours of sudden fortunes were very plentiful. Estates were purchased by those who were content with their gains; and, to crown the whole, a grave report was circulated, that Northumberland House, with its princely remembrances, and palatial grandeur, was to be bought by the South Western. Many of the railways attained prices which staggered reasonable men. The more worthless the article, the greater seemed the struggle to obtain it. Premiums of £5 and £6 were matters of course, even where there were four or five competitors for the road. One Company, which contained a clause to lease it at three and a half per cent., for 999 years, rose to twenty premium, so mad were the many to speculate.

“Every branch of commerce participated in the advantages of an increased circulation. The chief articles of trade met with large returns; profits were regular; and all luxuries which suited an affluent community, procured an augmented sale. Banking credit remained facile; interest still kept low; money, speaking as they of the City speak, could be had for next to nothing. It was advanced on everything which bore a value, whether readily convertible, or not. Bill brokers would only allow one and a half per cent. for cash; and what is one and a half per cent. to men who revelled in the thought of two hundred? The exchanges remained remarkably steady. The employment of the labourer on the new lines, of the operative in the factory, of the skilled artisan in the workshop, of the clerk at the desk, tended to add to the delusive feeling, and was one of the forms in which, for a time, the population was benefited. But, when the strength of the kingdom is wasted in gambling, temporary, indeed, is the good compared with the cost. Many, whose money was safely invested, sold at any price, to enter the share market. Servants withdrew their hoards from the savings banks. The tradesman crippled his business. The legitimate love of money became a fierce lust. The peer came from his club to his brokers; the clergyman came from his pulpit to the mart; the country gentleman forsook the calmness of his rural domain for the feverish excitement of Threadneedle Street. Voluptuous tastes were indulged in by those who were previously starving. The new men vied with the old, in the luxurious adornments of their houses. Everyone smiled with contentment; every face wore a pleased expression. Some, who, by virtue of their unabashed impudence, became provisional committee men, supported the dignity of their position, in a style which raised the mirth of many, and moved the envy of more. Trustees, who had no money of their own, or, who had lost it, used that which was confided to them; brothers speculated with the money of sisters; sons gambled with the money of their widowed mothers; children risked their patrimony; and, it is no exaggeration to say, that the funds of hundreds were surreptitiously endangered by those in whose control they were placed.”

The Marquis of Clanricarde, in a speech, spoke very boldly as to the status, social and financial, of some of the subscribers to Railway Companies. Said he: “One of the names to the deed to which he was anxious to direct their attention, was that of a gentleman, said to reside in Finsbury Square, who had subscribed to the amount of £25,000: he was informed no such person was known at that address. There was, also, in the Contract deed, the name of an individual who had figured in the Dublin and Galway Railway case, who was down for £5000, and who was understood to be a half-pay officer, in the receipt of £54 a-year, but, who appeared as a subscriber in different railway schemes, to the amount of £41,500. The address of another, whose name was down for £12,200, was stated to be in Watling Street, but it appeared he did not reside there. In the case of another individual down for £12,500 a false address was found to have been given. Another individual, whom he would not name, was a curate in a parish in Kent; he might be worth all the money for which he appeared responsible in various railway schemes, but his name appeared for £25,000 in different projects, and stood for £10,000 in this line. Another individual, who was down for £25,000, was represented to be in poor circumstances. A clerk in a public company was down for upwards of £50,000. There were several more cases of the same kind, but he trusted that he had stated enough to establish the necessity of referring the matter to a committee. There were, also, two brothers, sons of a charwoman, living in a garret, one of whom had signed for £12,500, and the other for £25,000; these two brothers, excellent persons, no doubt, but who were receiving about a guinea and a half between them, were down for £37,000.”

[1]From Moorgate Street 83 prospectuses, demanding £90,175,000, were sent out. Gresham Street issued 20, requiring £17,580,000.