Hudson, George (DNB00)

HUDSON, GEORGE (1800–1871), the 'railway king,' son of a farmer and constable, who died in 1806, was born at Howsham, a village near York, in March 1800, and after an education at local schools was in 1815 apprenticed to Bell & Nicholson, drapers, College Street, York. His apprenticeship over, he received a share in the business. Bell soon afterwards retired, and the firm became Nicholson & Hudson (Richard Nicholson was found drowned in the Ouse at York on 8 May 1849, aged 56). At the age of twenty-seven Hudson, already a wealthy man, received from a distant relative, Matthew Bottrill, a bequest of 30,000l., which he invested in North Midland Railway shares. In 1833 he had risen to be the head of the conservative party in York. In 1835 he was a town councillor, in January 1836 an alderman, and in November 1837 lord mayor. He was the originator of the York Banking Company in 1833, and as manager for some time afterwards made it a permanent success. In 1833 also he spoke at a meeting held to consider the construction of a railway from York to certain portions of the West Riding, and subscribed for five hundred shares. The scheme was not carried out till 1837, when a capital of 446,666l. was raised under an act of parliament, and Hudson was appointed chairman of the company—a joint association known as the York and North Midland. By good management the railway was made at a moderate cost, and was opened on 29 May 1839. Hudson was presented on the occasion with a testimonial. His next enterprise was to assist the Great North of England Company to complete their line to Newcastle. In 1841 he vigorously supported the plan of opening an eastern communication with Edinburgh by way of Newcastle and Darlington, and he was elected chairman of the company formed to carry out this project in June 1842. He subscribed five times as much as any other director, and personally guaranteed the payment of six per cent. dividend. To obviate the inconvenience of transferring passengers and freight from one train to another at junctions, Hudson suggested the railway clearing system, originally devised by Mr. Morrison in 1841. It first came into operation on two roads in January 1842. Three competing lines were at the time approaching Derby. Hudson undertook to counteract the fatal principle of competition by amalgamating the three schemes. This he successfully accomplished, bringing together a capital of 5,000,000l., and became chairman of the amalgamated directory of what soon became the Midland Railway Company. In conjunction with George Stephenson he then planned extending the Midland's road to Newcastle, and to that town the line was opened 18 June 1844. In the same year he actively resisted the scheme of bringing the railways under government supervision.

The rage for railway speculation was in 1844 approaching its zenith. 1,016 miles of road were at the time largely under Hudson's control; all his companies were successful in developing traffic and in paying dividends. In a parliamentary return made in 1845 of the names of subscribers to railway schemes which were seeking authorisation from parliament, the total amount of Hudson's subscriptions appears as 319,835l., 200,000l. of which he held in shares in the Newcastle and Berwick Railway. His influence was unparalleled, and he acquired the sobriquet of the 'Railway King.' He numbered the prince consort among his acquaintances, and the aristocracy of London crowded his parties at Albert Gate, Knightsbridge. His admirers presented him with 16,000l. as a testimony of their respect. He purchased Londesborough estate, Yorkshire, from the Duke of Devonshire to prevent it falling into the hands of the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company, and he became the owner of Newby Hall. He was appointed a deputy-lieutenant of Durham and a magistrate for that county, and for the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire. He was elected M.P. in the conservative interest for Sunderland on 15 Aug. 1845, his opponent, Colonel Perronet Thompson, the Anti-Cornlaw Leaguer, being defeated by 128 votes, although Cobden and Bright both actively assisted him. The event was deemed of so much public interest that the 'Times' newspaper chartered a special train to convey the news to London, and the 305 miles were covered in eight hours, part of the journey being performed by post horses. Hudson probably owed his success at the poll to his influence as chairman of the Sunderland Dock Company. In the succeeding year (1846) he again served as lord mayor of York. He continued to represent Sunderland until the general election of 1859, when he was defeated by William S. Lindsay, the shipowner. Hudson, who rapidly obtained a position in the House of Commons, declined to follow Sir Robert Peel in his renunciation of protection.

Hudson's business transactions grew very questionable as his operations extended. On the amalgamation of the Newcastle and Berwick Railway Company with the Newcastle and North Shields he increased the authorised issue of shares from forty-two thousand to fifty-six thousand, and made no entry of the fact in the account-books. Of these shares he appropriated 9,956, on which he probably made about 145,000l. Similar transactions followed, and he not unfrequently received large presents of shares from the directoral boards of which he was member. His speeches at the annual meetings were always plausible, and he was sanguine as to future dividends. He enriched personal friends by early information and the allotment of shares. In 1845, as chairman of the Newcastle and Darlington Company, he purchased, by the advice of George Stephenson, the Great North of England Railway, i.e. the York and Darlington, on most ruinous terms; but the price of a share at once rose from 200l. to 255l. About the same time the Eastern Counties Railway called on him to take the management of their affairs, which were in a deplorable condition. He accepted the call, but even his skill was powerless, and in desperate circumstances he paid a dividend out of capital, and thus in three years a sum of 294,000l. was unjustly charged to capital account. Towards the close of 1847 the value of railway property fell rapidly. The depreciation in the shares of the ten leading railway companies was calculated at 78,000,000l. In the following year stormy meetings were held, and between 28 Feb. and 17 May 1849 Hudson was forced to resign his position as chairman of the Eastern Counties, Midland, York, Newcastle and Berwick, and York and North Midland Railway Companies. Committees of investigation were appointed in each case, and they reported that he was personally indebted in very large sums to the various companies. Hudson at once admitted these debts, and made arrangements for paying them off by instalments. In his place in parliament on 17 May he tried to explain his position, but was heard in silence. For twenty years he was involved in a chancery suit with the North-Eastern Railway Company, who sought to foreclose his interest in the Whitby estate and in the Sunderland Docks in satisfaction of their claims upon him. After 1849 he lived much abroad, and tried to operate in continental finance, but without success. On 10 July 1865 he was committed to York Castle for contempt of the court of exchequer in not paying a large debt, but was released on 10 Oct. following. In 1868 some former friends raised by subscription 4,800l., with which was purchased an annuity for his benefit. In the following year he was entertained at a banquet in Sunderland, 'in recognition of his past services to the town and port.' Carlyle, in his 'Latter Day Pamphlets,' calls Hudson 'the big swollen gambler.' He died at his residence, 37 Churton Street, Belgrave Road, London, on 14 Dec. 1871, and was buried in Scrayingham churchyard, Yorkshire, on 21 Dec. He married in 1828 Elizabeth, daughter of James Nicholson, by whom he had a large family.

[Fraser's Mag. August 1847, pp. 215-22; Tait's Edinburgh Mag. 1849, pp. 319-24; Punch, 1849,xvi. 191; Richardson's Mysteries of Hudson's Railway Frauds, 1850; Report of Evidence of Hudson on Trial Richardson v. Woodson, 1850; Bankers' Mag. December 1851, pp.746-54; Hunt's Merchants' Mag., New York, July 1853,pp. 36-50; Evans's Facts, Failures, and Frauds, 1859, pp. 6-73; Times, 16 Dec. 1871, p. 9, and 22 Dec. p. 3; Lord W. P. Lennox's Celebrities I have known, 2nd ser. 1877, i. 185-92; Frederick S. Williams's Midland Railway, 1877, pp. 99-124, 132; Graphic, 27 Aug. 1881, pp. 223, 229, with portrait; Illustrated London News, 6 Sept. 1845, p. 157, with portrait, 14 April 1849, p. 233, with view of his house at York, and 23 Dec. 1871, p. 619; York Herald, 16 Dec. 1871, p. 7, 23 Dec. pp. 4, 10; Hansard, 21 Sept. 1841, p. 672 et seq.]

G. C. B.