The Railway Moon. Some Aspects of the Life of Richard Moon 1814-1899, Chairman of the London & North Western Railway 1861-1891

Article excerpt

Peter Braine, The Railway Moon. Some Aspects of the Life of Richard Moon 1814-1899, Chairman of the London & North Western Railway 1861-1891. pmb publishing, Taunton (2010), 516 pp., £19.95.

This is a marvellous biography of a man who once chaired one of the biggest railway companies of the world. Up to now, Richard Moon-or the 'Railway Moon' as Braine named him-was known as the archetypal hard man of Victorian business. Braine draws a much more subtle painting of a prominent railway man who started his career without any experience of railways. He came from a family of big cotton importers in Liverpool which was active in overseas shipping and not engaged in the modernisation of land transport, despite the fact that the first railway line in the world had been opened in Liverpool. Moon had a professional training as a merchant but made no attempt to engage in the flourishing railway business of his hometown. On the contrary, he and his family escaped from the dynamic centre of industry and moved to a village in rural Worcestershire, far from the vibrant economic centre where the railway industry made its first successful breakthrough.

But the escape from city life and the flight to the calm and modesty of the countryside did not prevent him coming into contact with this key infrastructure of modernisation. The London & North Western Railway (L&NW), which ran nearby the idyllic landscape of Moon's new residence, went into trouble after its unification with several railway lines in 1848. Moon made use of a network of friends and offered his economic experience. He became one of the directors of the company. Aged 36, he successfully helped to manage the crisis. Three years later he was elected member of several committees and was responsible for the development of the network in the West Midlands as far as Swansea. This involved competing with several other companies. Moon worked hard to master the details of the business and soon became a senior director and member of the board in 1858-ten years after he had joined the company.

His next test was the L&NW crisis of 1859. In this context he had to negotiate unification with other companies, control the quality of wagon manufacture, and solve the problem of increasing costs. He also had to manage complaints about service, and the expansion of the business, including details of ship construction. because of the company's engagement in the uncertainties of the Irish mail. At this time Moon prepared the alliance with Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire and the Great Northern Railways against the Midland Great Western and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway companies. Last but not least, he fought a hard struggle over the longterm strategy of the company. Moon succeeded in all these fields and advanced to the position of company chairman in 1861.

At this time he had to confront the financial misery of the company and public opinion, which was none too friendly about the L&NW and Moon's policy. Under his chairmanship the company expanded to Ireland; Moon had to manage the crisis of 1866. …