George Hudson

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For other people named George Hudson, see George Hudson (disambiguation).
George Hudson

George Hudson (probably 10 March 1800 – 14 December 1871), English railway financier, known as "The Railway King", was born, the fifth son of a farmer, in Howsham, in the parish of Scrayingham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, north of Stamford Bridge, east of York. He is buried in Scrayingham.


George Hudson was born to parents John and Elizabeth Hudson on 10 March 1800. His mother died at the age of 38 when George was 6 and his father 2 years later. He was brought up by older brothers William and John and after a cursory education he left Howsham at age 15. Beaumont (2003) suggests that this may have been the result of the slump affecting agriculture in 1815, but there was also a payment of 12 shillings and 6 pence recorded in the Howsham poor book as being “received of George Hudson for bastardry”.[1]

Hudson was apprenticed to Bell and Nicholson, a firm of drapers in College Street, York. He finished his apprenticeship in 1820, was taken on as a tradesman, and given a share in the business early in 1821. On 17 July that year he married Nicholson's daughter Elizabeth. When Bell retired, the firm became Nicholson and Hudson.[2] By 1827 the company was the largest drapery, indeed the largest business, in York.[3]

In 1827, his great-uncle Matthew Botrill fell ill and Hudson attended at his bedside. In thanks for this, the old man made a will leaving him his fortune of £30,000.[3] In later years when exiled in France, Hudson acknowledged "it was the very worst thing that could have happened to me. It let me into the railways and all my misfortunes since".[4] Hudson became a prominent member of the York Board of health and when cholera visited the city in 1832 Hudson distinguished himself as a spirited public servant visiting the sick and reporting on their welfare.”[5]

From being a Methodist and a Dissenter,[Note 1] Hudson changed his allegiance to become a High Church Tory and became treasurer of the York Conservative Party in 1832. He supported the unsuccessful candidature of John Henry Lowther in the general election of 1832 and again in an 1833 bye-election. Although York was primarily a Whig city the influence Hudson had on the campaigns was being noticed.[6]

In 1833 it became possible for joint stock country banks to conduct their business in the City of London and he took a leading part in the establishment of the York Union Banking Company with its agent in the city being George Carr Glyn.


At about this time the group considered the idea of a railway line to Leeds with Hudson as Treasurer. Hudson subsequently subscribed for 500 shares and was the largest shareholder. They retained John Rennie to survey the line and Hudson accompanied him, learning the practicalities of railway construction and of dealing with landowners.[3] In spite of the success of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway on the other side of the Pennines, Rennie produced plans for a horse-drawn line, and matters fell into abeyance.

In 1835 Hudson was elected to the newly reformed York city council (becoming lord mayor in 1837).[2] In the same year he met George Stephenson by chance in Whitby and they became friends and business associates. He learnt of Stephenson's dream of a railway from London, using a junction of the London and Birmingham Railway at Rugby, through Derby and Leeds to Newcastle – but bypassing York.

In fact, since 1833, plans had been advanced for three lines – the Midland Counties Railway from Rugby to Derby, the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway from Henley in Arden just outside Birmingham to Derby, and the North Midland Railway from there to Leeds. In 1835 he formed a committee to promote a line to be known as the York and North Midland Railway.[3] This would join the North Midland at Normanton a few miles east of Leeds and received its Act of Parliament in 1837.[2]

At this time, of course, each railway was a separate company with its own infrastructure, rolling stock, even stations.[Note 2] This meant that, at each stage of the journey it was necessary to change trains and buy a new ticket. With his powerful influence and financial interest in so many railways, it was Hudson who played a great part in setting up the Railway Clearing House in 1842.[3]

He also invested in North Midland shares but, with the expense of constructing the line and an economic depression, by 1842 the dividend was a mere 1% and the Lancashire and Yorkshire shareholders took over the board from the Derby members with George Hudson becoming chairman. The two other lines which connected to London, the MCR and the B&DJR, were also in trouble from having fought a long "war of attrition." Hudson's intervention led to the three amalgamating in 1844 to become the Midland Railway.

He had initiated the Newcastle and Darlington line in 1841. With George Stephenson he planned and carried out the extension of the Y&NMR to Newcastle, and by 1844 had control of over a thousand miles of railway. The mania for railway speculation was at its height, and no man was more courted than the "railway king", a name conferred upon him by Sydney Smith.

Member of Parliament[edit]

Despite his personal wealth, he was presented with a tribute of £20,000. Deputy-lieutenant for Durham, and thrice Lord Mayor of York (1837,1838 and 1846), he was elected the Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Sunderland at a by-election in August 1845,[7] holding the seat until his defeat at the 1859 general election.[8]

Fraud and ruin[edit]

Full of rewards and honours, he was suddenly ruined by the disclosure of fraud in the Eastern Counties Railway, along with the discovery of his bribery of MPs. Upon investigation, it was also found that Hudson was paying dividends out of capital, and appropriating large sums to his personal use.[9] Sunderland clung to her generous representative till 1859, but, on the bursting of the financial and political bubble, he had lost influence and fortune. His later life was chiefly spent on the continent. Some friends gave him a small annuity a short time before his death, which took place in London.

His name has been used to point the moral of vaulting ambition and unstable fortune, Thomas Carlyle calling him the "big swollen gambler" in one of the Latter-Day Pamphlets. He was roundly chastised by those who had blindly believed in his golden prophecies. He ruined investors, disturbed the great centres of industry, and beggared himself in the promotion of his schemes. But he had an honest faith in his schemes, and he succeeded in overcoming the powerful landed interest.

Family life[edit]

He married Elizabeth Nicholson in 1821. Their four surviving children were: George, who was called to the bar and became an inspector of factories; John, who entered the army and was killed in the Indian Mutiny; William, who became a doctor; and Anne, who married a Polish count, Michał Hieronim Leszczyc-Sumiński.[2]

Baldersby Park[edit]

In 1845 he bought from Lord de Grey Colen Campbell's already much-remodelled Newby Park in the North Riding of Yorkshire, between the small towns of Ripon and Thirsk, which is often referred to as the first Palladian villa in England.[10] He rebuilt it as Baldersby Park, providing it with a northern front in a Jacobethan style, retaining its Georgian south front. The mansion, its interior reconstructed after a fire in 1902,[11] is now home to Queen Mary's School, a girls' independent school.


Hudson House, on the site of the former York and North Midland Railway terminus in York, is named after him, as is George Hudson Street in the City of York running parallel to North Street.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ There seems to be disagreement here between Vaughan (1997) who states he was a Methodist lay preacher and Beaumont (2003, p. 20) who states that "Hudson denied this act later in life when there would have been no harm in admitting it".
  2. ^ Derby was one of the first to be built for more than one railway company but, even there, the one long platform was divide into three sections.


  1. ^ Beaumont 2003, pp. 13–15.
  2. ^ a b c d Michael Reed, Hudson, George (the Railway King) (1800–1871), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2008 [1], accessed 19 October 2009]
  3. ^ a b c d e Vaughan 1997
  4. ^ Beaumont 2003, p. 19.
  5. ^ Beaumont 2003, p. 21.
  6. ^ Beaumont 2003, pp. 22, 23.
  7. ^ Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1977]. British parliamentary election results 1832–1885 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 295. ISBN 0-900178-26-4. 
  8. ^ Craig, op. cit, page 296
  9. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Hudson, George". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 
  10. ^ " Newby (later Baldersby) Park, 'the first Palladian villa in England", e.g. Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, Creating paradise: the building of the English country house, (2000:243).
  11. ^ Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600–1840, 3rd ed. 1995, s.v.Belwood, William".


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hudson, George". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Beaumont, Robert (2003). The Railway King. London: Headline. ISBN 0 7472 3236 9. 
  • Vaughan, A. (1997), Railwaymen, Politics and Money, John Murray, London 

Inquest and legal reports[edit]


  • Peacock, A.J.; Joy, David (1971), George Hudson of York, Dalesman 
  • Arnold, A.J.; McCartney, S.M. (2004), George Hudson: The Rise and Fall of the Railway King, Hambeldon and London, London and New York 
  • Lambert, Richard S (1964), The Railway King 1800–1871, a study of George Hudson and the Business Morals of his Times, George Allen and Unwin 

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
David Barclay and
Viscount Howick
Member of Parliament for Sunderland
With: David Barclay to 1847
Sir Hedworth Williamson 1847–1852
William Seymour 1852–1855
Henry Fenwick
Succeeded by
Henry Fenwick and
William Shaw Lindsay

External links[edit]