Sir Edmund Beckett, 4th Baronet

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Sir Edmund Beckett-Denison, 4th Baronet (28 January 1787 – 24 May 1874), railway promoter and politician, was born at Gledhow Hall, Leeds, on 29 January 1787, son of the banker Sir John Beckett, 1st baronet (1743–1826), and his wife, Mary, daughter of Christopher Wilson, bishop of Bristol.

Personal life[edit]

On 14 December 1814 he married Maria, daughter of William Beverley of Beverley. Among their children were Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe (1816–1905) and William Beckett (1826–1890) and Christopher Beckett Denison (9 May 1825 – 30 October 1884). His daughter Mary married Charles Wilson Faber and was the mother of the novelist Mary Eliza Kennard (1850–1936).

Through his wife Beckett inherited the estate of Sir Thomas Denison (d. 1765). On 17 November 1872 he inherited the baronetcy of Beckett.

In 1818 Beckett settled in Doncaster, whose richest citizen he became. His wealth came from his share in the Beckett family bank. He became active in municipal and county politics, and in the 1841 general election was elected Tory MP for the West Riding. Having expected an unopposed return in 1847, he withdrew when the Liberals nominated Richard Cobden, but was returned again at a by-election in 1848 and sat until 1859. He was close to Sir Robert Peel (indeed he supplied Peel with the horse that threw and fatally injured him); although he voted against the repeal of the corn laws in 1846, by 1848 he opposed a return to protection and by 1857 described himself in Dod as a Liberal.

Beckett is best-known, however, for his role in the development of the railway. In 1844 there were two railway routes north from London: one (later the Midland Railway) controlled by George Hudson, and the other (later the London and North Western Railway) under Mark Huish. The direct but thinly populated route from London to York was not served. Beckett became chairman of the Great Northern Railway (GNR), which proposed a direct line from London to York via Peterborough and Doncaster, with a loop to serve Lincolnshire. Bitterly fought by both Hudson and Huish, because it would draw away their traffic, the GNR prospectus was opposed by the railway department of the Board of Trade, and faced a petition alleging that its list of subscribers was inflated. However, the petition was rejected, and the GNR's private bill was approved in 1846. At over £600,000, this was the most expensive parliamentary contest in British railway history. Perhaps as a consequence, the line's terminus at King's Cross was to be built ‘for less than the cost of the ornamental archway at Euston Square’, according to Beckett's engineer. Beckett became famous for calling Hudson a blackguard on Derby Station platform in 1845, and featured in a Punch cartoon of the incident. The opening of the GNR defeated Hudson, but not Huish, who built an alliance of lines to try to undercut the GNR. This dispute went to arbitration under W. E. Gladstone, whose rulings mostly favoured Beckett, by awarding the GNR at least as high a proportion of the revenue as it claimed from most of the routes it contested with Huish's confederation. When Beckett retired in 1864 the GNR constituted, as it subsequently remained, the southern end of the fastest route from London to north-east England and Scotland.

On all the surviving evidence Beckett was tough and uncompromising. At his death even the local Tory paper, in its long effusive obituary, described him as ‘brusque in his manner, impatient to a degree of human vanity in all its ugly shapes, and with little trace of sentiment or poetry of any description’.

Beckett died at Doncaster on 24 May 1874, his wife having died on 27 March that year. A funeral service was held at Christ Church, Doncaster, on 29 May, after which he was buried in a family vault there. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe.

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Viscount Morpeth
Sir George Strickland, Bt
Member of Parliament for the West Riding of Yorkshire
1841–1847
With: John Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie 1841–1846
Viscount Morpeth 1846–1847
Succeeded by
Viscount Morpeth
Richard Cobden
Preceded by
Viscount Morpeth
Richard Cobden
Member of Parliament for the West Riding of Yorkshire
1848–1859
With: Richard Cobden 1848–1857
Viscount Goderich 1857–1859
Sir John Ramsden, Bt 1859
Succeeded by
Sir John Ramsden, Bt
Sir Francis Crossley, Bt
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Beckett
Baronet
(of Leeds)
1872–1874
Succeeded by
Edmund Beckett