PARISHIONERS in a North Yorkshire village are raising funds to restore the grave of a Victorian railway entrepreneur, and, at the same time, hope to rescue his tattered reputation.
In the mid-19th century, George Hudson was dubbed the “Railway King” for his work in the expansion of the country’s rail network, including extending the East Coast main line through York rather than Leeds. But, by the time he died in 1871, his empire was in ruin, he had fled the country to avoid huge debts, and he was believed to have used financial deception.
Hudson was buried in the churchyard at the Grade II* listed St Peter and St Paul, in Scrayingham, between York and Malton in North Yorkshire, a few miles south of his birthplace at Howsham. His granite tomb lies within a family plot, in which his mother, wife, and son are also buried. It last received attention more than 80 years ago. Today, the grave stonework has moved and is broken.
A community group, the Friends of Scrayingham and Leppington, plan to raise up to £11,000 to refurbish the grave. So far, they have raised £2000 and have pledges of £1000 from the Railway Heritage Trust and £500 from an anonymous supporter.
They also hope to set up a learning centre in the adjoining church hall, in which to display the story of how Hudson rose from a draper’s assistant in York, to become the City’s Mayor, an MP for Sunderland, and the owner of more than 1000 miles of the country’s rail network. It would also tell how he often bribed his way to success and how, when the railway bubble burst in the 1840s, he misused company funds to stave off his creditors.
A Friends’ committee member, Mervyn Stone, said: “Hudson soon found enemies in high places, who forgot his achievements and sought his demise, but many respect how quickly he built and influenced railways throughout the world. If he were alive today, HS2 would have been finished last year. He is not recognised today for what he did. Without him, there would be no main line through York to Edinburgh.
“By bringing his story to light, we hope to show there was a better side to him. History seems to miss the good and human side he possessed.”
Hudson’s biographer, Robert Beaumont, said: “He is greatly misunderstood. Whilst his financial practices were dubious, to say the least, his legacy was Britain’s great rail network, which he almost single-handedly created in ten absolutely fantastic years. He had amazing energy and vision.
“At his height, he was the richest man in England, and The Times estimated that thousands upon thousands of jobs were dependent on him.
“But he was probably disliked by too many people who were prepared when things started going wrong to shoot him down and ruin him. However, he kept his counsel to the end; he didn’t take anybody down with him, although there were lots of rogues and villains alongside him. He was a real gentleman.”