Allport, James Joseph (DNB01)
ALLPORT, Sir JAMES JOSEPH (1811–1892), railway manager, born at Birmingham on 27 Feb. 1811, was third son of William Allport (d. 1823) of Birmingham by Phœbe, daughter of Joseph Dickinson of Woodgreen, Staffordshire. His father was a manufacturer of small arms, and for a time prime warden of the Birmingham Proof House Company. James was educated in Belgium, and at an early age, on the death of his father, assisted his mother in the conduct of her business.
In 1839 he entered the service of the newly founded Birmingham and Derby Railway as chief clerk, and after filling the post of traffic manager was soon appointed manager of that railway. While in this employment in 1841 he was one of the first to advocate and propose the establishment of a railway clearing-house system. On the amalgamation of his company with the North Midland and Midland Counties Railway on 1 Jan. 1844, Allport was not selected as manager of the joint undertaking, but through the influence of George Hudson [q. v.], who had marked his ability, was appointed manager of the Newcastle and Darlington line. This line prospered under his six years’ control, and developed into the York, Newcastle, and Berwick Railway. He was next chosen in 1850 to manage the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire, then little more than a branch of the London and North-Western; and three years later, on 1 Oct. 1853, he was appointed general manager of the Midland Railway. At this period the Midland Company only possessed five hundred miles of railroad, consisting of little more than an agglomeration of local lines serving the midland counties, and was in a position of dependence on the London and North-Western. The extension of his railway system and its conversion into a trunk line were the first great objects of the new manager, and the policy of securing independent approach to the centres of population was now inaugurated, and henceforth consistently followed. In 1857 this work began by the completion of the Midland line from Leicester to Hitchin, which now, instead of Rugby, became the nearest point of connection with London. In this same year Allport was induced to accept the position of managing director to Palmer’s Shipbuilding Company at Jarrow, and resigned his office in the Midland on 25 May 1857, but was elected a director on 6 Oct. 1857. Three years later it was, however, found to be to the interest of the Midland to recall him to the post of general manager, and his services were almost immediately successfully employed in opposing a proposed bill which would have enabled the London and North-Western, the Great Northern, and Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railways by far-reaching agreements seriously to handicap traffic on the Midland. In 1862 the act of parliament was secured by means of which the company was enabled to reach Lancashire through the Derbyshire dales, and in the following year powers were granted to lay down the line between Bedford and London. Not satisfied with this rapid extension, Allport in 1866 was mainly responsible for the introduction of the bill into parliament authorising the creation of the Settle and Carlisle line. Great perseverance and determination on the part of the manager were necessary after the railway panic in 1866 to maintain the company’s resolve to establish an independent route to the north. The difficulties and expense of the enterprise were immense, and its construction gave Allport more anxiety than any other railway work he had ever undertaken (Railway News, 1892, p. 685). The line was not completed for passenger traffic to Carlisle before 1875. The St. Pancras terminus of the Midland Railway had been opened on 1 Oct. 1868. By the securing of a London terminus, and the creation of a new and independent route to Scotland, Allport’s main purpose was accomplished, and the Midland line was established as one of the great railway systems of the country.
The development of the coalfields in mid-England by means of his line was an object always kept in view by the general manager, and eventually successfully accomplished. The process, however, led in 1871 to a severe coal-rate struggle with the Great Northern Railway, in which Allport’s action in suddenly withdrawing through rates to all parts of the Great Northern system, besides being unsuccessful, proved subsequently somewhat prejudicial to the interests of his company. Competition with the Great Northern was one of the chief reasons which in the first instance caused the Midland board to decide on running third-class carriages on all trains on and after 1 April 1872. But Allport was a firm believer from the first in the eventual success of a course regarded at the time by most railway managers as revolutionary, and in after-life looked back on the improvement of the third-class passenger’s lot as one of the most satisfactory episodes in his career (Williams, The Midland Railway, p. 280). The abolition of the second class on the Midland system from 1 Jan. 1875 was a further development of the same policy; but the change, though now followed on other lines, was not at first approved by public opinion.
Allport retired from his post as general manager on 17 Feb. 1880, when he was presented with 10,000l. by the shareholders, and elected as a director of the company. In 1884 he received the honour of knighthood, and in 1886 was created a member of the royal commission to report upon the state of railways in Ireland. He was a director of several important industrial undertakings. After his retirement he inspected the New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio railway system on behalf of the bondholders, and exposed its mismanagement. He died on 25 April 1892, and was buried in Belper cemetery, Derby, on 29 April. He married in 1832 Ann (d. 1886), daughter of John Gold of Birmingham, by whom he left two sons and three daughters.
[Times, 29 April 1892; Railway News, April 1892; Acworth’s Railways of England, ed. 1900, pp. 31, 55, 206; Burke’s Landed Gentry, 1886; Williams’s History of Midland Railway; and information kindly conveyed by the secretary of the Midland Railway Company.]