George Carr Glyn
Image: portrait of George Carr Glyn, 1860s © RBS 2018
George Carr Glyn (1797-1873) was a partner in Glyn, Mills & Co from 1819 until his death, and an important early promoter of railways.
Background and early life
George Carr Glyn was born on 27 March 1797, the fourth surviving son of Sir Richard Carr Glyn and his wife Mary.
He was educated at Westminster School, after which he entered the banking house of Glyn, Mills, Hallifax, Glyn, Mills & Co, where his father was a partner.
In 1819, when he was 22, George Carr Glyn became a partner in the family bank. The firm was already well-established as a London agent for provincial banks, but during George Carr Glyn’s years at the bank it expanded into large-scale infrastructure finance. One of its first such projects was the construction of St Katherine’s Dock in London in 1825. This dock, proposed in 1824 and completed four years later, was planned as a monopoly-free, secure point for loading and unloading all manner of precious cargoes. The important engineer Thomas Telford was involved in its design. Under George Carr Glyn’s direction, Glyn, Mills, Hallifax, Glyn & Co handled the stock subscriptions for the company's initial capital of over £1.3m. He himself invested in the company, and was instrumental in raising more investment among his friends, family and colleagues. He also served as a director and treasurer of the dock company.
In 1830 Glyn turned his attention to a new form of transport: railways. The successful demonstration of Stephenson’s rocket the previous year had given a taste of what might be possible, and although some investors remained cautious, George Carr Glyn showed no trepidation. In 1830 he became one of the promoters of a proposed London & Birmingham Railway, placing his full weight – and that of his bank – behind it. His support gave other investors confidence, and by 1834 the first part of the line had opened. In 1837 he became the railway company's chairman. He went on to play an instrumental role in building it through amalgamation into one of the largest joint stock companies in the world, London & North Western Railway Company.
The bank’s involvement with railways did not stop there. By 1845 Glyn, Mills was banker to 110 railway companies, and its railway customers accounted for around one-sixth of the bank's entire deposits. It became so closely associated with the sector that it earned the nickname ‘the Railway Bank’.
In 1837 George Carr Glyn successfully represented the bank in negotiations for it to become one of two London agents for the provincial government of Canada. Under his direction, these two London agents – Glyn’s Bank and Baring & Co – advanced the Canadian government considerable sums, eventually arranging for Canadian government securities to be quoted on the London stock exchange.
In 1863, following the death of his elder brother Sir Richard Plumptre Glyn, George Carr Glyn became the bank’s senior partner. The following year Glyn, Mills & Co merged with Curries & Co to become Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co. George Carr Glyn was heavily involved with the merger, and took control of two-fifths of the resulting partnership.
In the later 1860s the bank branched out into investment trusts. One of the earliest, the Foreign & Colonial Government Trust, was formed in 1868 with Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co as its banker.
Glyn also served as chairman of the Bankers’ Clearing House.
George Carr Glyn continued as senior partner in Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co until his death in 1873.
Views on banking matters
In 1832 George Carr Glyn gave evidence before a parliamentary committee, strongly opposing the creation of joint-stock banks. In his view, private banks were better-equipped to deal with the needs of their clients discreetly and efficiently.
He also believed that the Bank of England should become the single note-issuing bank in the country, thereby relieving private banks of the necessity of stockpiling their own banknotes to meet customer demand.
George Carr Glyn’s role as a promoter, and eventually chairman, of the London & Birmingham Railway was by no means his only involvement in the sector, although it was his most long-standing. He remained chairman of London & North Western Railway Company (as it became) until 1852, and thereafter continued as a director until 1870.
The sudden boom in railways led to fierce competition, and Glyn worried about the harmful effects of unbridled rivalry. To address the issue, he led the formation in 1842 of the Railway Clearing House. Modelled on the Bankers' Clearing House, which processed cheques between member banks, this organisation enabled passengers to buy a single ticket for a journey involving more than one railway company's routes. A similar through-booking system was developed for freight. Glyn also supported Gladstone's proposal for the state purchase of the railways in 1844, over a century before rail nationalisation finally went ahead in 1947.
The public acceptance of railways in the middle years of the 19th century was greatly aided by their adoption by members of the royal family, and here, too, Glyn played a facilitating role. He personally supervised arrangements when the Dowager Queen Adelaide became the first member of the royal family to travel from Euston station, and later, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert travelled on the railway to stay with Sir Robert Peel at Drayton Manor in Staffordshire.
His enthusiasm for railways was not confined to Great Britain. In 1852 he joined with Thomas Baring as a promoter of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. This ambitious project ran into serious financial difficulties, however, and it was 12 years before it became financially sound.
George Carr Glyn was elected to parliament to represent Kendal in 1847. He was a Liberal, and a staunch supporter of free trade. He served on numerous committees and commissions, and was frequently consulted on financial matters by the senior politicians of the day, including Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone.
Glyn retired from parliament in 1868.
In 1869, on the recommendation of William Gladstone, George Carr Glyn was elevated to the baronetcy. As a nod to his railway interests, particularly his chairmanship of the London & Birmingham Railway, he took the name Lord Wolverton, after the town at the mid-point of the route.
Other appointments held by George Carr Glyn included:
- Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company
- Joint High Commissioner for Canada
- Treasurer of the Globe Insurance Company
- Governor of Harrow School
- Committee member of Bridewell and Bethlem Hospital, 1862-9
In 1839 he founded a school at Wolverton for the families of workers of the London & Birmingham Railway.
In 1823 George Carr Glyn married Marianne, third daughter of Pascoe Grenfell of Taplow House. George and Marianne had nine sons and two daughters together. Their eldest son was George Grenfell Glyn, who entered the family bank in the 1840s.
The family lived at Iwerne Minster, two miles south of Fontmell, Dorset. They also owned Gaunts House, Wimborne, and property in London.
George Carr Glyn died on 24 July 1873 at home in London. His obituary in The Economist noted that he would be ‘remembered not only as a powerful London Banker, and as the first in a line of peers, but as a man whose noble qualities of intelligence, public spirit, generosity, and loyalty to truth enabled him to become one of the veritable leaders of an age full of intense activity and pregnant with far-reaching consequences.’