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CHAP Xxx11.] MR. HUDSON'S RAILWAY CAREER.
Mr. Hudson was a respectable draper in the latter place. He was esteemed as a shrewd, practical man of business, had accumulated property, was a member of the corporation, and an active politician. As one of the managing directors of the Union Bank, he exercised considerable influence on the commercial affairs of his district. When a provisional committee was formed at York to promote a Leeds line, Mr. Hudson was requested to act as the deputy chairman, Mr. Alderman Meek being the chairman. The reputation which Mr. Stephenson had by this time acquired as a successful railway engineer induced the committee to invite him to act as their engineer. His report in favour of the line connecting York with the Midland system was adopted, and the act was obtained in 1835. When the railway was opened in 1839, Mr. Hudson had become Lord Mayor of York, and was shortly after elected the chairman of the Company.
Mr. Hudson's views with respect to railways were at first extremely moderate, and his intentions were most honourable and praiseworthy. The York and North Midland line was only about thirty miles long; and he interested himself in it chiefly for the purpose of securing for York the advantages of the new system of communication which Mr. Stephenson had devised, and placing it in the most favourable position with reference to any future extension of the main line of railway, north and south. Viewed in this light, Mr. Hudson was one of the greatest local benefactors that the city of York had ever known, and was entitled to the gratitude and respect of his fellow.citizens.
The railway was not very prosperous at first; and during the years 1840 and 1841 its shares had greatly sunk in value. But Mr. Hudson, when chairman of the Company, somehow contrived to pay improved dividends to the proprietors, who asked no questions. He very soon exhibited a lease the Leeds and Selby Railway at five per cent. That line had been a losing concern; so its owners struck a bargain with Mr. Hudson, and sounded his praises in all directions. He increased the dividends on the York and North Midland shares to ten per cent., and began to be cited as the model of a railway chairman.
He next interested himself in the North Midland Railway, where he appeared in the character of a reformer of abuses. By this time he had secured the friendship of Mr. Stephenson, who had a high opinion of his practical qualities — his indefatigable industry and shrewdness in matters of business. He had abundance of pluck, and was exceedingly self-reliant. The North Midland shares had also gone to a great discount; and the shareholders were very willing to give Mr. Hudson an opportunity of reforming their railway. They elected him a director. His bustling, pushing, persevering charaoter soon gave him an influential position at the board ; and he shortly pushed the old directors from their stools. He laboured hard, at much personal inconvenience, to help the concern out of its difficulties; and he succeeded. The new directors recognised his power, and elected him their chairman. He had thus conquered an important and influential position as a railway man.
Railway affairs generally revived in 1842; and public confidence in them as profitable investments steadily increased Mr. Hudson had the benefit of this growing prosperity. The dividends in his lines improved, and the shares rose in value. The Lord Mayor of York began to be quoted as one of the most capable of railway directors. Stimulated by his success and encouraged by his followers, he struck out or supported many new projects—a line to Scarborough, a line to Bradford, lines in the Midland districts, and lines to connect York with News castle and Edinburgh. He was elected chairman of the Newe castle and Darlington Railway; and when—in order to complete
the continuity of the main line of communication – it was found necessary to secure the Durham junction, which was an important link in the chain, he and Mr. Stephenson boldly purchased that railway between them, at the price of 88,5001. It was an exceedingly fortunate purchase ; the liability was afterwards undertaken by the parent Company, to whom it was worth double the money. This act was a successful stroke of policy, and was lauded as it deserved to be. Mr. Hudson, thus encouraged, purchased the Brandling Junction line for 500,0001., in his own name — an operation at the time regarded as equally favourable, though he was afterwards charged with appropriating 1600 of the new shares created for the purchase, when worth 211. premium each. The Great North of England line being completed, Mr. Hudson had thus secured the entire line of communication from York to Newcastle ; and the route was opened to the public in June, 1844. On that occasion Newcastle eulogised Mr. Hudson in its choicest local eloquence; and he was pronounced to be the greatest benefactor the district had ever known.
The adulation which now followed Mr. Hudson would have intoxicated a stronger and more self-denying man. He was pronounced to be the man of the age, and was hailed as The RailwAY King. The grand test by which the shareholders judged him was the dividends that he paid, although subsequent events proved that these dividends were in many cases delusive, intended only “to make things pleasant.” The policy, however, had its effect. The shares in all the lines of which he was chairman went to a premium; and then arose the temptation to create new shares in branch and extension lines, often worthless, which were issued also at a premium. Thus he shortly found himself chairman of · nearly 600 miles of railways, extending from Rugby to Newcastle, and at the head of numerous new projects, by
means of which paper wealth could be created, as it rere, at pleasure. He held in his own hands almost the entire administrative power of the companies over which he presided : he was chairman, board, manager, and all. His devoted admirers for the time, inspired sometimes by gra. titude for past favours, but oftener by the expectation of favours to come, supported him in all his measures. At the meetings of the companies, if any suspicious shareholder ventured to put a question about the accounts, he was summarily put down by the chair, and hissed by the proprietors. Mr. Hudson was voted praises, testimonials, and surplus shares, alike liberally; and scarcely a word against him could find a hearing. He was equally popular outside the circle of railway proprietors. His entertainments at. Albert Gate were crowded; and he went his round of visits among the peerage like any prince.
Of course Mr. Hudson was a great authority on railway questions in Parliament, to which the burgesses of Sunderland had sent him. His experience of railways, still little understood, though the subject of so much legislation, gave value and weight to his opinions; and in many respects he was a useful member. During the first years of his membership he was chiefly occupied in passing the railway bills in which he was more particularly interested. And in the session of 1845, when he was at the height of his power, it was triumphantly said of him, that “he walked quietly through Parliament with some sixteen railway bills under his arm.” One of these bills, however, was the subject of a very severe contest— we mean that empowering the construction of the railway from Newcastle to Berwick. It was almost the only bill in which Mr. Stephenson was that year concerned. Mr. Hudson displayed great energy in support of the measure, and he worked hard to ensure its success both in and out of Parliament; but he himself attributed the chief merit to Mr. Stephenson.
CAAP. xxxu.] EULOGY OF MR. STEPHENSON.
451 Lord Howick, the leading supporter of the rival atmospheric line, proposed a compromise ; but Mr. Stephenson urged its decided rejection. At a meeting of the York, Newcastle, and Berwick Company, held shortly after the passing of the bill, Mr. Hudson thus acknowledged the services rendered to them by their consulting engineer. “This Company,” said he, “is indeed under great obligations to Mr. Stephenson. Every shareholder who is about to get his additional share is almost entirely indebted to him for it. I know, and my brother directors know full well, the resolute and energetic manner in which he held us from any compromise in reference to the Berwick bill. He felt so strong in the integrity of his case, that whenever compromise was -named, he always resisted the offer, and urged us to fight the battle on principle. By his indomitable perseverance and high tone of feeling we were induced to do so, and thus at length we have so successfully accomplished our object."
Mr. Hudson accordingly suggested to the proprietors that they should present some fitting testimonial to Mr. Stephenson, as a recognition of the important services which he had rendered to them, as well as to the railway interest generally. With the same object, he appealed to the proprietors in the Midland, the York and North Midland, and the Newcastle and Darlington Companies, of which he was chairman, and they unanimously adopted resolutions, voting 2000l. each for the erection of a statue of George Stephenson on the High Level Bridge at Newcastle, and the presentation to him of a service of plate,“ in testimony of the deep obligations under which the above-mentioned Companies, in common with the whole country, feel themselves placed towards that eminent person."*
Mr. Ellis, M. P., then deputy chairman of the Midland, in * Resolution of the York, Newcastle, and Berwick Company, unanimously adopted, 31st August, 1845.