Railways – The First Big Business – The Property Chronicle
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Railways – The First Big Business Railway companies were from the start giants in terms of capital employed and numbers of employees.

The Analyst

Railways were big businesses long before the creation of the Big Four after World War I (London, Midland & Scottish, London & North Eastern, Great Western and Southern). Compared with firms in other industries the railway companies were from the start giants in terms of capital employed and numbers of employees. In 1825 there were only eight firms in Britain with a capital of more than £1million – four canals, two docks and two insurance companies. The first main line railway, the Liverpool & Manchester (LMR) opened in 1830 had a capital of some £600,000.  By 1840 16 railway companies had more than £1 million authorised capital and the London & Birmingham (LBR) had £5 million. By 1850 the  recently amalgamated London & North Western (LNWR) and its constituents had raised £25 million and the industry as a whole over £200 million so dwarfing the fixed investment in cotton, iron and engineering. Like canals and  docks railways were authorised by Act of Parliament while it was difficult to form joint stock companies before the legislation of the late 1850s and 1860s, but even so in 1870 the seven largest companies in Great Britain were all railways and the industry as a whole was employing 275,000 or 3.3 per cent of the country’s entire male labour force.

The LBR demonstrating it had arrived in the  capital: The Entrance to the new Euston station (C.F Steffens, published 1837 before completion)


The Analyst

About David Hodgkins

David Hodgkins was a career civil servant in the Ministry of Labour and latterly under secretary in the Department of Employment and Health and Safety Executive. Since retirement he has written articles and several books on railway history, concentrating on the business aspects, notablyThe Second Railway King, the Life and Times of Sir Edward Watkin. 1819-1901, and George Carr Glyn, Railwayman and Banker, which deals with his part in the building up of the London and Birmingham and London and North Western Railways, both of which he chaired, and the relations between Glyn’s Bank and railways.

Articles by David Hodgkins

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