Edward Pease (1767-1858) was a wool merchant married to Rachel Whitwell and is often referred to as “the father of the railways”. In fact, he was retired when he became active in the development of the railway and it soon became a family venture with his sons Joseph and Henry being actively involved in some of the more important decisions.
Although the railway company was funded through shares and run by a Committee, Edward, who had built up a vast personal fortune by 1818, was its main financial backer and as such held considerable influence over its development.[i] He, together with his Quaker banking friends and family, had the capital to take forward the vision of a permanent transport infrastructure capable of being extended across the country. He was innovative and a risk taker – prepared to change his mind on the method of traction from a horse drawn system to a locomotive drawn railway with a passenger service. Once the S&DR was up and running he remained a committee member but took a less active role in favour of his son Joseph.
His Quaker beliefs impacted on the nature of the railway. He believed that his wealth should be used for the good of others and the company motto “Periculum privatum utilitas publica” Latin for ‘at private risk for public good’, reflects this.[ii] His religion was opposed to outward displays of wealth so his house in Darlington was relatively modest, although his garden spreading down to the River Skerne millrace was renowned for its fruit trees and the largest acacia tree in town.[iii] He shunned outward displays of celebration:
‘….the drinking of healths and toasts which is followed often by unmeaning speeches and those maddening huzzas which better become the Lunatick than the man of sober sense, …’
was his response to the younger generation participating in such events.[iv] It is often suggested that he didn’t attend the opening day celebrations of the S&DR because of the death of his son Isaac, but it is unlikely that he or any other of the leading Quakers would have attended anyway.[v] He continued to wear Quaker dress and use the traditional Quaker way of speaking even when the younger generation had modernised. He was renowned for his integrity and generosity to the family’s employees and to schools. When he was ninety, some Darlington citizens led by his old friend Francis Mewburn who had been the railway company’s solicitor, started a campaign to recognise Edward’s contribution to the start of the railways by creating a memorial, possibly a statue. Edward vetoed this and only permitted a modest congratulatory address outside his house.[vi]
“In times less enlightened and more prejudiced than these, with amazing foresight, you penetrated the necessity of unbroken communication by railways, and in 1818 predicted the extension of that system which now spreads a net-work over the civilised world, binding nations together for the interchange of mutual interests.”
(Part of the address given at Edward Pease’s House in Northgate, Darlington on the 23rd October 1857 as a public thank you from the people of Darlington and the pioneers of the S&DR to Edward Pease).
We have started an Edward Pease collection which we hope to build up soon, concentrating on his love of gardening. Our collection kicks off with Peaceful Valley Orchards hand made soap, named after his extensive gardens and orchards that linked his house with his son John’s across the valley in Darlington. It became known as Peaceful Valley – a play on the family name. We also have lovely little fridge magnets, one of which features Edward himself.
[i] Orde 2000, 2
[ii] Although the motto was in fact suggested by Rev. Daniel Peacock, presumably a Church of England vicar. (Homes 1975, 5)
[iii] Orde 2000, 92
[iv] Orde 2000, 93
[v] Boyle 2018, 13
[vi] Orde 2000, 94