Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Furness, Christopher

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FURNESS, CHRISTOPHER, first Baron Furness, of Grantley (1852–1912), shipowner and industrialist, was born at West Hartlepool 23 April 1852. He was the seventh son of John Furness, provision merchant, of West Hartlepool, by his wife, Averill, daughter of John Wilson, of Naisbet Hall, co. Durham. Christopher Furness was privately educated and at an early age joined the firm of Thomas Furness & Co., wholesale provision merchants, of which an elder brother, Thomas, was a partner. During the Franco-German War Christopher proved his business ability when acting as agent for this firm in Norway and Sweden. It was at his suggestion that the firm began to use its own steamers in foreign trade. In 1877 the shipping business was separated from the provision business, the elder brother retaining the latter while Christopher set up as a shipowner under the style of Christopher Furness & Co. He next acquired the interest of the principal partner in the shipbuilding firm of Edward Withy & Co., of West Hartlepool. This, in 1891, was amalgamated with his shipping company, as Furness, Withy & Co., Limited. The amalgamation was the first step in a process by which many shipping and shipbuilding organizations, and many coal, steel, and iron undertakings, were linked and co-ordinate under Furness’s guidance.

In 1891, on the death of Mr. Thomas Richardson, the unionist member for the Hartlepools, Furness successfully contested that constituency as a liberal and Home Ruler, defeating another local candidate, Sir William Gray; he held the seat successfully against Mr. Richardson’s son and namesake (afterwards Sir Thomas Richardson) at the general election of 1892, but in 1895 he was defeated in the debacle of the liberal party. In 1898 he was an unsuccessful candidate for York city. In 1900 he was again elected for the Hartlepools, which he represented until the general election of 1910. Though he was re-elected on this occasion, he was unseated on petition owing to an irregularity on the part of his agent. His nephew, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Stephen Wilson Furness (died 1914), carried the seat at the consequent by-election and held it for the next four years. Furness was knighted in 1895 and in 1910 was created Baron Furness, of Grantley. In 1912 he was attacked by a serious illness to which he succumbed, dying on 10 November at Grantley Hall, near Ripon, after some months of suffering endured with characteristic fortitude.

In 1876 Furness married Jane Annette, only daughter of Henry Suggit, of Brierton, co. Durham, by whom he had one son, Marmaduke (born 1883), who succeeded him in his peerage and in his business interests and was created Viscount Furness in 1918.

Furness was a man of remarkable character, and possessed extraordinary powers of organization, which were always displayed at their best in times of stress and difficulty. He was extremely energetic and never spared himself. He was not popular in his own neighbourhood, or among business competitors; and his business methods were severely criticized. But to friends and associates he was singularly loyal. The outstanding feature of his career is the ability with which he applied the policy of integration and combination to the characteristic industries of the North-East coast.

[Private information.]

H. W. C. D.