Grant, Albert (DNB01)

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GRANT, ALBERT, known as Baron Grant (1830–1899), company promoter, was the son of W. Gottheimer, partner of a foreign 'fancy' business in Newgate Street, London. Born in Dublin in 1830, he was educated at London and Paris, and assumed the name of Grant. Though his career had features in common with that of George Hudson [q. v.], the 'railway king,' he may be described as the pioneer of modern mammoth company promoting. The origin of his success as a promoter is said to have been his notion of obtaining lists of all the clergy, widows, and other small yet sanguine investors. The public which he discovered in this way was greedy to take up companies quicker than he could bring them out. 'All sorts of kind individuals were at his elbow, ready to supply him with the means of meeting the demand,' and he was tempted into embarking upon schemes without proper investigation. Among the companies floated by him were the Belgian Public Works, Cadiz Waterworks, Central Uruguay Railway, Labuan Coal Company, City of Milan Improvements, Credit Foncier and Mobilier of England, Imperial Bank of China, Imperial Land Company of Marseilles, Lima Railways, Odessa Waterworks, Russia Copper Company, and Varna Railway. Perhaps the most notorious of these schemes was that connected with the Emma Silver Mine. The prospectus was issued towards the end of 1871, the capital being fixed at a million sterling in shares of 201. each. The 'front page' was most imposing, and the profits were estimated at 800,000l. a year. The money was subscribed at a premium, for a venture which was worth virtually nothing at all, and all that the investors received was a shilling for each of their 20l. shares. Grant received 100,000l. as promotion money. Company after company in which he was interested came out until about 24,000,000l. had been raised, and about 20,000,000l. (on the market price of the shares) lost.

In the meantime Grant had been making a considerable display as a public character. He was returned to parliament for the borough of Kidderminster in 1865, and was re-elected in 1874, and in 1868 King Victor Emmanuel conferred upon him the title of baron for services rendered in connection with the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele at Milan. In 1873 he purchased a large area of slum land close to Kensington Palace, pulled down the houses, and erected Kensington House from the designs of Mr. James Knowles, a massive building surrounded by its own grounds. The building was only used once, upon the occasion of the Bachelors' Ball, given there on 22 July 1880. Three years later the house was demolished and the site seized by Grant's creditors; the grand staircase was removed to Madame Tussaud's exhibition in Marylebone Road. During 1873-4 Grant rendered a real service to the London public by purchasing the neglected area of Leicester Fields, occupied by dead cats and other refuse, surmounted by a broken statue of George I, and converting the space into a public garden, which was handed over by him on 2 July 1874 to the Metropolitan Board of Works for the enjoyment of the public. At each angle of the square were placed busts of former residents, Reynolds, Newton, Hogarth, and John Hunter; in the centre a statue of Shakespeare by Signer Fontana, reproduced from the statue (designed by Kent and executed by Scheemakers) on the Westminster Abbey cenotaph. In the same year, after a keen competition at Christie's, he bought for eight hundred guineas a fine portrait of Sir Walter Scott by Landseer, which he presented to the National Portrait Gallery at a time when the government confessed they had no available funds with which to make the purchase. In 1874 he bought the 'Echo' newspaper from Messrs. Cassell for 20,000l., and essayed for a very short time to run a halfpenny morning edition. Grant is said to have been the first person to persuade the morning papers to break their columns for advertisement. He soon transferred the ' Echo ' to Mr. Passmore Edwards. A series of actions and proceedings in the bankruptcy court, which lasted until the very eve of his death, shattered his resources and finally left him comparatively poor. His pictures were sold at Christie's in April 1877 for 106,202l., some of the more notable ones, such as Landseer's 'Otter Hunt,' at a very great loss. In June 1877 it was stated in the court of appeal that eighty-nine actions were pending in regard to Grant's affairs. In July 1876, in the court of common pleas before Lord Coleridge, Grant was the defendant in a case in which the plaintiff, Twycross, was a shareholder of the Lisbon Tramways Company, who charged Grant with fraudulent promotion. Grant pleaded his own cause in a very long, cynical, and conspicuously able speech. Judgment was given for the plaintiff for 700l., but the charge of fraud was negatived (see Times, 28 June 1877). The case dragged on until February 1879, when Grant's affairs were in liquidation, and when the judges of appeal refused the application of Twycross's widow for costs. He died at Aldwick Place, Bognor, on 30 Aug. 1899.

[Daily News, 31 Aug. 1899; Times, 15 and 18 July 1876, 13 Feb. 1879, 31 Aug. 1809; Illustrated London News, 9 Sept. 1899 (portrait); Truth, 7 Sept. 1899; Tom Taylor's Leicester Square, 1874; Hollingshead's Leicester Square, 1892 (caricature portrait); A List of Companies established under the auspices of Mr. Albert Grant, 1872 (portrait).]

T. S.