1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hudson, George

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HUDSON, GEORGE (1800–1871), English railway financier, known as the “railway king,” was born in York in March 1800. Apprenticed to a firm of linendrapers in that city, he soon became a successful merchant, and in 1837 was elected lord mayor of York. Having inherited, in 1827, a sum of £30,000, he invested it in North Midland Railway shares, and was shortly afterwards appointed a director. In 1833 he had founded and for some time acted as manager of the York Banking Company. He had for long been impressed with the necessity of getting the railway to York, and he took an active part in securing the passing of the York and North Midland Bill, and was elected chairman of the new company—the line being opened in 1839. From this time he turned his undivided attention to the projection of railways. In 1841 he initiated the Newcastle and Darlington line. With George Stephenson he planned and carried out the extension of the Midland to Newcastle, and by 1844 had over a thousand miles of railway under his control. In this year the mania for railway speculation was at its height, and no man was more courted than the “railway king.” All classes delighted to honour him, and, as if a colossal fortune were an insufficient reward for his public services, the richest men in England presented him with a tribute of £20,000. Deputy-lieutenant for Durham, and thrice lord mayor of York, he was returned in the Conservative interest for Sunderland in 1845, the event being judged of such public interest that the news was conveyed to London by a special train, which travelled part of the way at the rate of 75 m. an hour. Full of rewards and honours, he was suddenly ruined by the disclosure of the Eastern Railway frauds. Sunderland clung to her generous representative till 1859, but on the bursting of the bubble he had lost influence and fortune at a single stroke. His later life was chiefly spent on the continent, where he benefited little by a display of unabated energy and enterprise. Some friends gave him a small annuity a short time before his death, which took place in London, on the 14th of December 1871. His name has long been used to point the moral of vaulting ambition and unstable fortune. The “big swollen gambler,” as Carlyle calls him in one of the Latter-Day Pamphlets, was savagely and excessively reprobated by the world which had blindly believed in his golden prophecies. He certainly ruined scrip-holders, and disturbed the great centres of industry; but he had an honest faith in his own schemes, and, while he beggared himself in their promotion, he succeeded in overcoming the powerful landed interest which delayed the adoption of railways in England long after the date of their regular introduction into America.