As well as providing jobs during their construction phase and then while they were operational, Westmorland’s new railways provided an important investment opportunity for the county’s middle class. One such was Elizabeth Morland of Ravenstonedale who we came across in the 1861 census for Ravenstonedale ‘Town’ listed as being a ‘Railway Proprietor’. She was 74, unmarried and living alone with her 63-year-old domestic servant Ruth Metcalfe. Members of the Ravenstonedale Parish History Group have done more research into her for us and it turns out she was living at Town End Cottage “…which her brother Anthony Morland, ‘yeoman of Stouphill Gate’ had bought at auction for £220 on 20 May 1854. On 21 February 1861 Elizabeth paid £5/10/- ‘to the I.R. [Inland Revenue] as succession duty [an inheritance tax due to Anthony’s death]’.” Jackie Wedd pers comm
Earning an income as a Railway Proprietor meant that Elizabeth had invested her capital in railway shares, most likely in the South Durham & Lancashire Union Railway Company, since that line passed close to the village and had just opened in 1861 with Ravenstonedale Station located at nearby Newbiggin. This extract from the Westmorland Gazette describes the large number of local investors there were. Averaged out, each would have invested around £1500.
“SOUTH DURHAM AND LANCASHIRE UNION RAILWAY – Mr Fitzroy reported from the committee that the proposed capital of the company is 400,000l. [£], and the amount of loan 133,000l. The amount of shares subscribed for is 311,875l., and the deposits paid thereon amount to 31,187l. The number of shareholders who may be considered as having a local interest in the line is 183, and the amount of capital subscribed for by them is 291,500l. The number of other parties is twenty-eight, and the capital taken by them amounts to 20,375l., the length of the line forty-four miles sixteen chains, and the steepest gradient is one in sixteen. It is intended that the railway shall cross on the level twelve turnpike roads and highways, and to alter the level of five other roads. The estimate cost of the railway is 400,000l., and the quantity of land required 350 ½ acres.”
Westmorland Gazette – Saturday 04 July 1857
Investing in railway shares was not always a safe bet however. During the first half of the nineteenth century many middle class investors were taken advantage of by disreputable or badly-run companies and lost everything during a period of so-called ‘Railway Mania’. The problem was that some of the early railway companies realised high returns for their investors and so very quickly a bubble in railway shares was created. George P Landell writes on his Victorian Web website that successive panics were in part due to the government’s failure to regulate the companies, something which in the end nearly destroyed the national economy. He quotes Ruskin author Robert Brownell as follows:
“The 1844 Railway Bill had not capped dividends at 10% and had allowed some railway companies to submit accounts which did not allow for depreciation on fixed assets. This resulted in continued public expectation of inflated profits and the promise of high dividends on shares, which in turn lifted share prices even higher. Railway Bills were rushed through Parliament in 1846 much faster than was sensible. Famously, the Board of Trade offices were besieged by railway scheme promoters on the last day for the submission of plans for the 1846 Parliamentary session. The share price bubble attracted thousands of new investors. Investment in the railways rose from less than £4m per year in the early forties to over £30m in 1847: a sum so staggering that it has been represented as 45% of total domestic capital investment.” ‘For Godsake be done with railways and shares!’ — the Railway Panics of the 1840s https://victorianweb.org/economics/railwaypanic.html
Luckily for Elizabeth Morland, the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway Company, formed in 1856, was a well-regulated and profitable enterprise built mainly to carry coal and steel between centres of industry to the east and west. By the end of the nineteenth century up to twenty trains a day, mostly carrying minerals, operated along the line. The share prices of all the railway companies were regularly published in the pages of the Westmorland Gazette and other local newspapers and we see from associated adverts, that South Durham shares were in demand.
We were interested in how Elizabeth came to be in a position to invest in railway shares so we followed her back though the censuses to 1841. There we find her living with her unmarried brother Anthony Morland who is a farmer. They are living at Stouphill Gate farm which lies about a mile south-east from the village on Townhead Lane, which leads to what was the Kirkby Stephen to Sedbergh turnpike road (A683). The name of the farm is interesting in itself – a ‘stoup’ is a waymarker often associated with packmen/packhorse routes, it comes from the Old Norse stolpi ‘a post’ – a ‘gate’ is an old Anglo-Saxon name for a track. Townhead Lane was clearly once an important cross country route for the marker post to be remembered in the name of the farm it was presumably beside.
Members of the Ravenstonedale Parish History Group did a little digging in the records for us and it seems that there have been Fawcetts living at Stouphill Gate from at least 1632 and that a Fawcett married a Morland in 1708. The Morland family have lived in Ravenstonedale since at least 1656 and there’s a Morland in the Hearth Tax list for 1669-72. The Ravenstonedale DNA Project website even has a photograph of the signature of a John Morland in a list of jurors dating to 1724 from the Great End Book for Ravenstonedale.
Along with Elizabeth (50) and Anthony (60), there is 55-year-old Thomas Morland who we assume is a brother, and not forgetting Ruth Metcalfe (40) ‘F. S.’ or female servant, the only member of the household not born in Ravenstonedale.
Ten years later and Thomas is no longer there but the two remaining elderly Morland siblings have acquired another ‘House Servant’ to help Ruth and 71-year-old Anthony has understandably hired a younger Farm Labourer to help him. There is more detail now under ‘Rank, Profession or Occupation’. Anthony is described as ‘Freehold Farmer of 50 Acres’ and Elizabeth is described as a ‘Housekeeper’, however that was subsequently crossed out. One imagines Elizabeth perhaps taking umbrage at such a lowly description of her status! We also discover that faithful servant Ruth was born over the border in remote Lunds in [North] Yorkshire.
As we already know, ten years after this, Elizabeth and Ruth have moved to a cottage in the village itself and Elizabeth is now living off the returns from railway shares. It turns out that her brother Anthony had died in 1860 at Stouphill Gate having bought Townend Cottage for her six years previously. As a freeholder his farm would have been sold by his executors and presumably Elizabeth’s share of the capital was used to buy her railway shares.
Sadly Elizabeth is only there for another five years before she too dies, aged 79. She is buried in the family plot at St Oswald’s Church in Ravenstonedale. Town End Cottage was sold by Anthony Morland’s executors in 1865 for £145 after an auction at which it did not reach the desired price.
With thanks to genealogist Cait Stringer and members of the Ravenstonedale Parish History Group for helping with the research for this blog.
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