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British Industrial History

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Benjamin Flounders

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Benjamin Flounders (c1768-1846), One of the promoters of the Stockton and Darlington Railway

Benjamin Flounders was a prominent Quaker with business interests in key new industries and developments at the time of the Mid-Industrial Revolution, such as the Stockton and Darlington Railway (of which he was a founding Director) and new canals in his native North-East; he operated his own family businesses very successfully with large interests in timber for shipbuilding (at the time of the War with France), also owning two linen mills and large estates in places as diverse as Egham, Surrey and Glasgow.

His is known for building of a folly tower, the eponymous Flounder's Folly in South Shropshire near Craven Arms and prominent on the skyline on Callow Hill, the highest point of famous Wenlock Edge. It was built to celebrate his attaining 70 years, and to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of his daughter Mary and the coming of age of his neighbour and associate in Shropshire, Lord Clive.

Flounder's first wife Mary Walker (daughter of a Quaker shipbuilder) died while giving birth to a premature baby in 1801. They had married two years previously. Benjamin was 34.

Mary, his wife, had produced a daughter early in their marriage, also called Mary, who survived to adulthood and to whom Flounders was very close.

In 1812 Flounders married for the second time, to Hannah Chapman, another Quaker, and in 1813 a son was born but as a result of TB, both mother and infant son died in 1813.

In 1814 Benjamin Flounders received a Church of England baptism. He also became a magistrate. He then became a Trustee of a new turnpike Toll road, invested £10,000 in French water stocks, with further investment subsequently - attaining massive returns for the time without massive risk.

After the death of his mother in 1829 he embarked on the fashionable Grand Tour of Europe with his daughter Mary (now 29), visiting the major cities and sights and spending some time in Rome.

Benjamin had inherited the Culmington estate just north of Ludlow, Shropshire, from his wealthy uncle, one Gideon Bickerdike, another very influential Quaker.

At around this time Flounders daughter Mary was engaged to marry a Major Arthur Lowe in London. Flounders did not wholeheartedly approve of the Major as Mary - his closest relative and family member - was to be 'taken from him' by this marriage.

The couple were married but Mary, Flounders' sole heir died in 1844, before a home which Flounders was to have funded and given to Mary and Lowe at Culmington was even built. Flounders and Lowe now fell out - Major Lowe wanted Mary buried in a place of his choosing, Flounders wanted his dear daughter buried in a churchyard at Yarm in his native North-East, in the plot set out for himself and his family. Lowe had Mary buried there - but right against the church wall - so her father could never be laid next to her.

Flounders, ever resourceful, tenacious and more than one step ahead simply bought the land on the other side of the church wall, gave the land to the Yarm church and had the wall diverted and extended to thwart Lowe's scheme. Flounders also moved to disinherit Lowe - now his son-in-law and heir. Lowe would have inherited extensive business interests, land and property - instead he was left with just an annuity.

The stress of what he saw as an unsuitable marriage on his daughter's part, then her tragic (and still childless) death, and the feud with Lowe had taken its toll on aged Benjamin Flounders - after 1844/5 he focused on setting his affairs in order, making sure his by now vast wealth and estate was divided according to his wishes, re-writing his will and taking pains to ensure his faithful estate servants were provided for through bequests of money, that Quaker founded schools all over the North-East were bequeathed huge funds, benefitting over 20 schools such as Barnard Castle School and the famous Quaker school, Ackworth School, and even small bequests of coal and blankets were made to the poor of Yarm. His house contents went to his Housekeeper.

Flounders died in 1846, aged 78 - without any surviving family, and just two years after his beloved daughter Mary.

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