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Samuel Morton Peto

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Samuel Morton Peto (1809-1889) was a civil engineer and contractor and traded as Grissell and Peto, Peto and Betts and Peto, Brassey and Betts

1809 August 4th. Born in Woking, Surrey, the eldest son of William Peto (1776-1849) of Cookham, Berkshire, farmer, and his wife, Sophia (1783-1869), daughter of Ralph Alloway of Dorking. His siblings were William (1811-1889), Sophia (1813- ), James (1815- ), and Ann (1821- ). William and Sophia have a tomb beside the church in Cookham churchyard

Attended Cobham village school

Attended two years at Jardine's boarding-school at Brixton Hill, Surrey.

1824 December 7th. His uncle Henry Peto, Loriner of London, took Samuel Morton Peto as his apprentice for seven years

1830 When his uncle died, Peto and his older cousin, Thomas Grissell went into partnership together as Grissell and Peto (1830–1847)

1831 May 18th. Married(1) Mary Grissell (1811-1842), the eldest sister of his partner. They had -

1832 Birth of daughter Mary, who married Penruddocke Wyndham, a grandson of Colonel Wadham Wyndham, in 1852 and had two daughters.

1834 Birth of daughter Annie

1836 Birth of daughter Sophia (1836-1856)

1839 Samuel M. Peto of Lambeth, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1840 Henry (1840–1938) who succeeded as the 2nd baronet on 1899

1842 Mary his first wife died

1843 July 12th. Married(2) Sarah Ainsworth Kelsall (1821-1892), the daughter of Henry Kelsall of Rochdale, and they had six sons and ? daughters -

1844 Bought Somerleyton Hall, Suffolk and re-built the hall with contemporary amenities, as well as constructing a school and more houses in the village. He next built similar projects in Lowestoft. For many years he was the largest employer of labour in the world.

1845 Birth of son Morton Kelsall Peto (1846-1921)

1846 Peto became co-treasurer of the Baptist Missionary Society. From 1855 to March 1867, he was sole treasurer, resigning after personal financial difficulties.

1847 Birth of daughter Sarah Maude (1847-1938)

1847 Grissell became increasingly nervous of the risks taken by Peto, and dissolved the partnership of Grissell and Peto. Peto then entered into partnership with Edward Ladd Betts, who had married his sister Ann, as Peto and Betts

1847-54 Peto served for two decades as a Member of Parliament. He was elected a Liberal Member for Norwich in 1847 to 1854, for Finsbury from 1859 to 1865, and for Bristol from 1865 to 1868. During this time he was one of the most prominent figures in public life. He helped to make a guarantee towards the financing of The Great Exhibition of 1851, backing Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace.

1849 Birth of son William Herbert Peto (1849-1827)

1851 Birth of daughter Emily Lydia (1851-1931)

1851 Living at Butts, Wardleworth, Lancashire: Henry Kelsall (age 57 born Mottram, Cheshire), Magistrate, Merchant and Manufacturer of Flannels and Woollens employing 798 in partnership with son. With his wife Lydia Kelsall (age 58 born Rochdale) and daughter Ellen Kelsall (age 20 born Rochdale); daughter Ann Ainsworth Kelsall (age 18 born Rochdale); son-in-law Samuel Morton Peto (age 41 born Woking), M.P. for Norwich, Deputy Lieut., Magistrate County of Suffolk, Contractor for Public Works; daughter Sarah Ainsworth Peto (age 29 born Rochdale); grand-son Morton Kelsall Peto (age 5 born London); grand-daughter Sarah Maude Peto (age 3 born London); grand-son William Herbert Peto (age 2 born London); grand-daughter Emily Lydia (age 6 Months born London); and daughter Emily Kemp (age 23 born Rochdale). Nine servants.[2]

1852 Birth of son Samuel Arthur Peto (1852-1942)

1853-63 Living at 12 Kensington Palace Gardens

1854 Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854–1933), landscape architect.

Included Thomas Brassey in the partnership and the company became Peto, Brassey and Betts

1855 February. The British government recognized Peto for his wartime services; he was made Baronet of Somerleyton Hall in the County of Suffolk.

King Frederick VII of Denmark honoured Peto for establishing the Flensburg–Husum–Tönning Railway Company and its construction of railways in the Duchy of Schleswig, which led to a growing export/import trade with the port of Lowestoft.

1857 Birth of daughter Ellen Edith (1857-1920). Married William Roland Mitchell

1858 Birth of son Frank Kelsall Peto (1858-1935)

1861 Birth of daughter Helen Agnes. (1861-1920) Married Lawrence Ingham Baker, son of the former Liberal MP for Frome; he was a magistrate of Somerset. They lived at Wayford Manor House at Wayford, near Crewkerne, Somerset.

1861 Living at 12 Palace Gardens, Kensington: Samuel M. Peto (age 51 born Woking), Baronet. With his wife Sarah A. Peto (age 39 born Rochdale) and their children Henry Peto (age 20 born London), Morton K. Peto (age 15 born London), Sarah Maude Peto (age 13 born London), Emily Lydia Peto (age 10 born London), Samuel A. Peto (age 8 born London), Harold A. Peto (age 6 born London), Ellen Edith Peto (age 4 born London), Frank K. Peto (age 3 born London), and Helen A. Peto (age 7 Months born Somerleyton). Also cousin Sarah A. Barkemore (age 21 born Rochdale). Sixteen servants.[3]

1862 Birth of Basil Edward Peto (1862–1945), who was later (1927) created a baronet in his own right. His grandson Christopher Peto, 3rd Bt., was a Conservative politician.

1866 Peto and Betts had agreed to build a line between London Bridge and Victoria for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, to be paid entirely in the company's shares and debentures. To raise funds for the construction they became involved in complicated finance-raising schemes but overstretched themselves. Consequently, they were probably the most prominent casualties of the collapse of the bank Overend, Gurney and Co and the ensuing banking crisis when railway stocks were particularly badly affected. They were unable to pay their creditors and became insolvent in the following year.

1868 Because of financial problems, he had to give up his seat in Parliament, despite having the support of both Benjamin Disraeli and William Ewart Gladstone.

He went to Budapest and tried to promote railways in Russia and Hungary.

When he returned from Hungary, he tried to launch a small mineral railway in Cornwall. This failed.

1873-75 Resident at Cowley House, Exeter

1881 Living at Eastcote Road, Ruislip: Samuel M. Peto (age 71 born Woking), Baronet and Justice of Peace. With his wife Sarah A. Peto (age 59 born Rochdale) and their children Morton K. Peto (age 35 born London), Artist (Painting); Emily L. Peto (age 30 born London); Frank K. Peto (age 23 born London); Helen A. Peto (age 20 born Somerleyton); and Basil E. Peto (age 18 born London). One visitor. Seven servants.[4]

1889 November 13th. Peto died at Blackhurst, Tunbridge Wells and was buried in Pembury churchyard, Kent


1890 Obituary [5]

SIR SAMUEL MORTON PETO, Bart., was born on the 4th of August, 1809, at Whitmoor House, Sutton, in the parish of Woking.

At school he early showed a talent for drawing, and while apprenticed to his uncle, Mr. Henry Peto, the builder, at the conclusion of his day’s work in the joiner’s shop, he attended a technical school, and later received lessons from a clever draughtsman, Mr. Maddox, at Furnival’s Inn, and from another architect, Mr. Beazley, when he became acquainted with the late Charles Mathews, the actor, who was articled there. Mathews’ heart was by no means in this profession, and Sir Morton earned his gratitude by taking home his drawings and finishing them for him, thus early showing the kindly thoughtfulness for others, a leading feature in his character.

After three years in the carpenter’s shop, Sir Morton went through the routine of bricklayers’ work, and prided himself on being a first-rate performer, and able to lay his eight hundred bricks per diem. He was later entrusted with the supervision of buildings undertaken by Mr. Peto, among others a house for Horace Twiss, in Carlton Gardens, and Raymond‘s Buildings, in Gray’s Inn.

His articles expired in 1830, and in that year Mr. Peto died, and left the business to his two nephews, Thomas Grissell (afterwards of Norbury Park), and Sir Morton Peto. The firm of Grissell and Peto, during their partnership, executed many buildings of importance. The first was the Hungerford Market, obtained in public competition ; afterwards they built the Reform, Conservative, and Oxford and Cambridge Club-houses, the Lyceum, St. James’s, and Olympic Theatres (the first two were completed in sixteen and ten weeks respectively), the Nelson Column, all the Great Western Railway works between Hanwell and Langley (including the Hanwell Viaduct, but excluding the embankment), a large part of the South-Eastern Railway, and the Woolwich Graving Dock.

It was during the construction of the railway works above mentioned that Mr. Grissell and Sir M. Peto severed partnership, the former retaining the building contracts, including the contract for the Houses of Parliament, which had been commenced by the firm, and Sir Morton retaining the railway contracts.

Differences arose concerning the payment for the Hanwell Viaduct :- the contract provided for arbitration or reference to the Engineer-in-Chief. Sir Morton chose the latter course; he met Mr. Brunel evening after evening after dinner, and all the accounts were gone through together, and after a twelve month the latter certified the sum claimed, £162,000, to be correct, but the firm had had to borrow £100,000 to carry on the works.

Among the works taken over single-handed by Sir Morton was a large portion of the South- Eastern Railway, that between Folkestone and Hythe, including the viaduct and tunnel, and the Martello Towers; the late E. L. Betts, Sir Morton’s subsequent partner, had undertaken the construction of the railway between Reigate and Folkestone. Sir Morton also alone constructed large portions of the then Eastern Counties Railway between Wymondham and Dereham, Ely and Peterborough, Chatteris and St. Ives, Norwich and Brandon ; also the sections between London and Cambridge, Cambridge and Ely, the Dorsetshire portion of the London and South-Western Railway, and the works in connection with the improvement of the Severn navigation, under Sir William Cubitt.

The memoir of Mr. E. L. Betts, published in 1872-3, enumerates the works undertaken by the firm Peto and Betts. They embraced the loop-line of the Great Northern Railway, from Peterborough through Lincolnshire to Doncaster ; the East Lincolnshire line, connecting Boston with Louth; the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway; the first section of the Buenos Ayres Great Southern Railway, the Dunaberg and Witepsk Railway; the line between Blidah and Algiers, and the boulevards with warehouses underneath at the latter place ; the Oxford and Birmingham Railway (including the Harbury cutting) ; the Hereford, Ross, and Gloucester Railway ; the South London and Crystal Palace Railway ; the East Suffolk section of the Great Eastern Railway the Victoria Docks (London) ; the Norwegian Grand Trunk Railway (between Christiania and Eidsvold), and the Thames Graving Docks.

In connection with Mr. Brassey and Mr. Betts were executed lines of railway in Australia, the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (including the Victoria Bridge), the Canada Works (Birkenhead), the Jutland and Schleswig lines (under Mr. Bidder, Past President Inst. C.E.),the railway between Lyons and Avignon,and the Tilbury and Southend Railway.

Sir Morton Peto, Mr. Betts, and Mr. Crampton were in partnership in carrying out the contracts of the Rustchuk and Varna Railway and the Metropolitan extensions of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway; Messrs. Peto and Betts constructed the portion between Strood and the Elephant and Castle.

Sir M. Peto subsequently negotiated, without success, for works in connection with the improvement of the Danube navigation, and for railway works in Portugal.

His last railway contract was one for the construction of the Cornwall Mineral Railways.

From 1847 to 1853 Sir Morton sat in Parliament for Norwich; from 1859 to 1863 for Finsbury, and from 1865 to 1868 for Bristol. During the first period he aided in starting the Great Exhibition of 1851, by offering a guarantee of £50,000 in its support, and was subsequently one of Her Majesty’s Commissioners.

During the Crimean War, the difficulty experienced in providing the troops with food and clothing led him to suggest to Lord Palmerston the construction of a railway between Balaclava and the entrenchments. The Duke of Newcastle, the then Secretary for War, adopted the proposal, and a line of 39 miles in length was laid down, which proved of much service to the expedition. The little army of navvies was admirably provided for, and the death-rate among them was less than the death-rate in London for the same period.

The firm of Peto and Betts presented vouchers for every item of expenditure, and received payment without commission. The contract being under Government, though without profit, obliged Sir Morton to resign his seat in Parliament, and he subsequently had the baronetcy conferred for the services thus rendered by his firm.

After Sir Morton’s retirement from Parliament, he lived principally at Eastcote House, Pinner, and subsequently at Blackhurst, Tunbridge Wells, where he died on the 13th of November, 1889. Sir Morton’s career is interesting, not only from the vast amount of work achieved by one man, but as recalling the leading civil engineers of the first half of this century, and most of whom had been, or subsequently became, Presidents of the Institution. His genial manners procured him their friendship, and won for him the affectionate regard of his agents. He was wont to speak with pleasure of the confidence Mr. George Stephenson gave him. An incident in the construction of the Eastern Counties Railway led to the trust Stephenson implicitly put in the contractor.

Stephenson had expressed his dissatisfaction at a wooden bridge which had been erected. The contracts did not then minutely specify the works as they now do. Sir Morton, on his own authority, adopted a drawing from the office, and an iron bridge was substituted. Stephenson expressed his surprise, and said he had not ordered it ; but on the contractor’s reminding him that he was bound to execute the work to the satisfaction of his chief, and that he had had his previous dissatisfaction in mind, Stephenson expressed his pleasure, and thus commenced a friendship which lasted till the great engineer’s death.

Sir Morton Peto was a member of the Baptist denomination, and benefited the same by providing the funds for the erection of Bloomsbury and Regent’s Park Chapels ; but his was no narrow mind, and his catholicity was shown when he restored the parish church on his estate at Somerleyton, and his liberal creed was acknowledged by a Clergyman and Nonconformist minister joining in performing the burial service at his grave - a not unfitting testimony to the spirit of the author of the Burials Bill. Sir Morton’s large nature was exhibited in the manner he bore his misfortunes, which disappointed his hopes of retiring from business and continuing his parliamentary career. He was never known to brood over the past; but to the last was employed in charitable work in connection with his denomination and as one of the trustees of Lady Hewley’s Charity, and nothing gave him more pleasure than being instrumental in starting young men in their career, especially when in connection with engineering works. Just before his retirement, Lord Beaconsfield (then Mr. Disraeli) paid a tribute to his character, saying he had recognized with admiration his enterprise and energy, and added 'the House must also sympathise with an Hon. Member who has sat among us for so many years, and who has shown so many high qualities which entitle him to our respect.' Mr. Gladstone echoed the tribute paid to the Hon. Member for Bristol : 'A man who has attained a high position in this country, by the exercise of rare talents, and who has adorned that position by his great virtues.'

Sir Morton Peto was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 26th of February, 1839.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1839 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. 1851 Census
  3. 1861 Census
  4. 1881 Census
  5. 1890 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries