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George Hennet

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George Hennet (1799-1857), railway contractor and Civil Engineer

1831 George Hennet of Guilford Street, Russell Square, a Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1836 Surveying the Worcester and Oxford Railway [2]

c.1845 Established a foundry in Bridgwater. See Hennet, Spink and Else

1847 Joined Inst of Mech Engineers - member no. 19. Of 24 Duke Street, Westminster.

1849 Listed as George Hennet, Great Western Engine Works, Wapping. Ship and Boat Builders - Iron and Wood [3]

1850 Listed as George Hennet, Great Western Engine Works: Steam engine boiler makers [4]

1851 George Hennet 51, Rosamund Hennet, 51, Folletts Hennet 17, Rosamond Hennet 18, lived in Newton Abbott[5]

1851 George Hennet, engineer, joined the Freemasons

1852 Listed as George Hennet, Ironfounder, Great Western Engine Works, Cumberland Road; Engineers, Somerset Place, New Cut; Steam Saw Mills, Cumberland Yard, Hotwells [6]

1854 'Bankruptcy Court—A Large Contractor - Mr Commissioner Fane gave judgment Saturday, in the case of George Hennet, railway contractor, who failed some months ago for a very large sum. His business transactions had been enormous. Mr Hennet owed to secured creditors about £96,000, and the property held against this was about £86,000; he owed to unsecured creditors £343,000; and the general assets were about £146,000; so that there would be a considerable dividend. Mr Fane explained, that Hennet had become a bankrupt partly on account of great losses by railway and other shares and the failure of a country bank; but chiefly by " having recourse to those money-lending knaves who are the pest of society." Had he not struggled on so long, it would have been better for himself and his creditors. Mr Fane awarded a first-class certificate.' [7]

1857 'Death of Mr. Hennet.— It is with regret we record the demise of George Hennet, Esq., whose family residence was at Shaldon, near this town. He died at London, on Monday morning, the 20th instant, from an attack of spasms at the heart. Mr. Hennet has been suffering for the past month from severe indisposition, so much so as to be incapable of following his usual routine of business. He was man of almost untiring energy and perseverance, which were greatly brought into action by his calling as a contractor ; and one who had warmly at heart the interest of our town. In the death of Mr. Hennet, Teignmouth has lost one of her warmest and best friends and his memory will be gratefully recorded in the hearts all who are well-wishers to this port.'[8]

1857 Advertisement: 'LIME KILNS AND WHARF. TO BE LET, with Immediate Possession, all that QUAY and WHARF, with THREE LIME KILNS, Four- Stalled Stable, Store Houses, &c, the North Devon Dock, lately occupied by Mr. George Hennet, deceased. These Premises have a Frontage to the River Taw of about 700 feet, adjoin to and have a siding from the North Railway, and are situated at Fremington Pill, 3 Miles from Barnstaple, and 6 from Bideford. Apply to Mr. Thorne, Square, or Mr. Gammon, Builder, Barnstaple.' [9]

1858 Obituary [10]

ME. GEORGE HENNET was born at York, on the 24th May, 1799.

He was entirely indebted to his mother, for his education, until his fourteenth year, when he was placed at the Grammar School, at Boston, where, under the tuition of the Reverend John Banks, he made such rapid progress in his studies, that he was, at the age of sixteen, appointed Assistant Master in Mathematics and Arithmetic in the school.

From Boston he was transferred to Stamford, where he remained for a year and a half, in a similar position, and then removed to London, where, with very limited means, and only his own exertions to rely upon, he sought employment, and gained his livelihood in various ways, gradually developing his talents, and acquiring that fertility of invention and self-reliance which marked his subsequent career.

He laboured hard in the acquisition of knowledge; and after his ordinary daily task was over, he did not hesitate to place himself in a position to learn the trade of a carpenter, and then to acquire a knowledge of other crafts; subsequently he became a proficient in surveying, with a very competent knowledge of Civil Engineering.

About the year 1825, or 1826, he was engaged at Addiscombe, as one of the occasional Mathematical Masters, and was employed there upon some architectural works.

In 1827, he entered into an engagement with Teesdale and Co, to make a survey and compile a Map of the County of Lancaster, which was much approved, and this actually determined his future career, as his natural talent for surveying became so generally known and appreciated, that his services were sought on all sides.

He was engaged by George Stephenson on several surveys, then by Robert Stephenson on the (now) London and North-Western Railway; then by Mr. I. K. Brunel on the Great Western Main-Line, and on numerous branches; and all that time he had deservedly acquired the reputation of being one of the best and rapidest surveyors of the day.

With such an enterprising temperament, this employment, almost naturally, induced a desire to become the contractor for the construction of the works; and he soon obtained from Mr. Brunel, who had great confidence in him, some small contracts, which gradually expanded into the gigantic concerns which he ultimately carried on, almost single-handed, and by his own indomitable energy and perseverance.

He thus became one of the principal Contractors under the Great Western Railway Company, was largely engaged upon the Bristol and Exeter, the South Devon, the Bristol and Gloucester, the Cheltenham and Great Western Union, the Berks and Hants, the Oxford and Rugby, the Birmingham and Oxford, and the South Wales Railways, &c.

These numerous contracts induced him to enter into several other speculations; such as a large iron foundry at Bridgwater, the timber trade between Quebec and Bristol, and the improvement of the Town and Port of Teignmouth, which place in a great degree owes its present state of prosperity to his untiring energy and exertions.

In fact, at one period it appeared as if he could never accumulate too many engagements; and though his days and nights were equally spent on the railways, taking up his foremen and assistants at one station, transacting business with them in the carriage, and dismissing them at the next station, only snatching rest at short intervals, he never appeared to feel mental, or bodily weariness.

His overtaxed constitution, however, at length began to succumb, and in 1851, he first felt that he had, like too many others, attempted too much; when, in 1853, commercial adversity overtook him, although he bore up bravely against his misfortunes, it was evident, that the prior hard work had made serious inroads upon his constitution; he struggled to recover his original position, but the times were against him; his former friends did not rally round him as he had hoped, and at length he was taken suddenly ill on the 17th of March, and expired on the 20th April 1857, leaving a large family entirely unprovided for.

His sanguine temperament and habits of self-reliance may have led him into error, and have induced him to do that which more prudent and cautious men would have avoided; but great allowances are to be made for a man who has to carve out his own career, and who with few friends, and little or no capital, contrives to arrive nearly at the head of his peculiar class.

His errors are to be regretted, and he should only be remembered as a man of considerable talent, of untiring energy, with a kind and affectionate disposition, always ready to do a service to those around him, and as one of the race of men whose mission it was to aid in the creation of the great and peculiar works of the nineteenth century.

He joined the Institution as an Associate in May 1831, frequently attending the meetings, and taking part in the proceedings


Many column inches were devoted in the newspapers to Mr Hennet's bankruptcy, The following example illustrates the spread of his interests:-

'BANKRUPTCY COURT —IN RE GEORGE HENNET, THE CONTRACTOR. This was the last examination meeting in the case of George Hennett, of Duke-street, Westminster, Bridgewater, Bristol, and other places, railway contractor, ship-owner, and timber merchant. The case is the largest that has passed through the court for several years. The accounts, prepared by Messrs. Quilter and Ball, comprise 64 folios, and show liabilities to upwards of half a million.

'The list of creditors occupies 24 folios of the accounts; they are about 500 in number, the largest one being Mr. George Hudson for £27.939 18s. 7d., on 32 of the acceptances of the bankrupt's of various amounts from £500 to £2500 which were chiefly due in March. April, and May last. Next to him is Mr. A. G. Pooley of Nicholas-lane, who is a creditor for £23,143, on 25 acceptances. Mr. George Withers, of is creditor for £16,470, and Colonel Woolridge £15,390. There are only two other creditors for above £10,000. There is an item of £42,077 due to holders of acceptances who are unknown, all of which were issued between October, 1852, and February last. In the list of liabilities the largest item is the following:—Acceptances given to Lewis, being part of £50,000 now held by A. G. Pooley, £10,000.

'The property is very extensive. That on which mortgages are held by the secured creditors consists of a freehold mansion, house, and land, near Teignmouth ; freehold houses and land in Devonshire, Clifton (near Bristol), and other places; ships, policies of insurance, &c. Of the unincumbered property, estimated at £80,786, there is in stores, stock, manufactured goods, and materials of various kinds, £36,400; plant and machinery at Bridgewater and Bristol, £9854; vessels, £5850, contract with the Great Junction of France Railway Company, sold to Josiah Wilkinson and others for £16,000, household furniture, live and dead farming stock, carriages and horses, £2456, cash, £2371; shares in the York and North Midland Railway Company, a French coal-mine, nine mining companies, the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art, and several local companies in the west England, £2978; adventure, per Harriett, to Sydney, consisting of corrugated iron, wines, spirits, &c.

'Amongst the good debtors to the estate appear the Emigration Commissioners for a balance of £3000 and the Great Western Railway Company for £3547. The works in progress on the South Wales, the Oxford and Rugby, the Bristol and Exeter, and the Vale of Neath Railways, are put down at £46,750. The largest bad debt is “David Leopold Lewis, £42,000”. It is not stated how this debt arose.

'The list of losses contains, amongst others, the following items: —" Original £50 South Devon Railway Shares, fully paid (1050 shares sold for £5), £47,250; Bartlett, loss of mining shares bought of him, £45,000; discounts and bills (two years), £30,000; plant, cost about £38,600; present value £9854, loss, £28,716; Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire. Banking Company, cost of 200 shares, about £2000 since paid by me on account of liabilities prior to order for wounding up £15,000, -total, £17,000; Holmes, loss on properties purchased of him, £17,000; loss on transactions with Swift, £16,300; iron contracts, £23,600; Langley Field iron-works, mortgage, £15,000; sold for £3000, -loss £12,000; loss on mining shares. £17,057 ; law expenses, £3147; loss 223 South Wales Railway shares, at 18s. per share, £4014; Great Western ordinary stock, taken in payment for ordinary stock, sold at a loss of £4180; Clifton property, £2500; shares bought of Swayne and Bovill, £4000; Forest of Dean coal mine, £3000; mosaic picture, £1000; premiums paid on life insurances, £1588; Gorway House, £2000 ; loss on three ships, £5300; by W. Richardson, a bankrupt, £1500.
Mr. Lawrence, for the bankrupt, said he believed there was no opposition to his passing his last examination. ; for the assignees, and Mr. Linklater represented certain creditors concurred.
Mr. Lawrence stated that the process of realisation was going most satisfactorily with the assistance of Mr. Hennett, and the exertions of Mr. Cannan, the official assignee.
The bankrupt then passed.
There has already been dividend of 2s. 6d. on the estate, and another dividend about the same amount is shortly to be declared.'

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1831 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. Worcester Journal, 7th April 1836
  3. Hunt & Co's Directory of Gloucester & Bristol, 1849
  4. Hunt & Co.'s Directory of Bristol and South Wales, 1850
  5. 1851 census summary
  6. Scammell & Co.'s City of Bristol and South Wales Directory, 1852
  7. Inverness Courier, 9 February 1854
  8. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 May 1857
  9. North Devon Journal, 16 July 1857
  10. 1858 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  11. Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 29th December 1853