Thursday, May 31, 2018

Margaret Campion, Business Woman

By Lauren Gilbert

Campion Banking House, originally founded 1800
Historically, women had limited options for their lives, and Georgian England was no exception. As any reader of Jane Austen’s novels knows, this situation resulted in marriage being a primary career objective. Lack of education and property laws restricted the ability of many women to support themselves respectably, or even adequately. However, there were always exceptions. Margaret Holt Campion, known as the first Lady Banker in northern England, was one of them.

Margaret Holt was born to John Holt and his wife Martha Storm Holt in 1748, the fourth of nine children. John Holt was a ship owner and tradesman in Whitby. Margaret’s brothers and sisters married local families involved with shipping, banking and other businesses. Margaret married Nathaniel Campion, a ship owner who was also engaged in trade, sailcloth weaving and flax spinning, and as a general merchant (including wine sales.) Available data indicates Margaret worked with her husband and with her own family on business involving ship building and trade. Margaret and her husband had a son Robert, born about 1773. (There is an indication that they also had daughters, but I found no record identifying them.) Around 1790, Arundel House in Whitby was built and at some point became the home of Margaret and Nathaniel and their family.

In 1792, Margaret partnered in building a ship named The Vigilant with her brothers Thomas and William Holt, and her sister Mary’s husband Christopher Richardson. Accounts for this venture were kept by her brother John Holt. As we can see, this was truly a family affair. The Vigilant’s maiden voyage was from Whitby to St. Petersburg, Russia in May of 1792, and she was engaged in trading runs to Russia, Stockholm and the West Indies until she was lost in 1797. (Records of the ship were sold through Bonham’s in 2007.)

After Nathaniel passed away in 1798, Margaret took control of his ships and various business interests. She paid the required fee and became a freeman of the Russian Company in her own right, authorized to trade in the Baltic. (The Russian Company, also known as the Muscovy Company, was a group of English merchants organized in 1555 by the explorer Sebastian Cabot that was awarded a monopoly on Russian trade. Its privileges were revoked by Tsar Alexis in 1649 and it lost its monopoly on Russian trade in 1698, but the company retained some influence and participated in the revival of British-Russian trade in the 18th century.) The Baltic trade was a risky business as illustrated by an episode that occurred in 1800 when Tsar Paul seized British ships and goods, causing significant losses to the ship owners and investors. Fortunately, neither the Campions nor their family connections sustained losses from this action.

In order to facilitate her many business interests, Margaret formed a bank with her son Robert, which opened January 2, 1800. Whitby was the 7th largest port in the United Kingdom, and home to numerous ship builders and other businesses, so banking offered the potential for significant profit. By all accounts, Margaret was a respected and influential business person in her own right. Robert married Jane Smales, whose father was also a ship owner. (Her father insisted that Jane’s portion be settled on her at the time of the marriage.) Robert and Jane had a son, John, born May 8, 1803 at Whitby. Records indicate Margaret and Robert operated Campion Bank and their other business interests successfully, with the Campions becoming one of the most well-to-do families in Whitby. The bank occupied Campion Bank House on Church Street in Whitby, shown above. Margaret died February 15, 1804.

After Margaret’s death, Robert carried on the bank and business interests as sole partner, adding a wine business and expanding certain of the existing interests, including obtaining a patent in 1813 for an invention to prepare yarn for making sailcloth. His son John joined him as a partner in 1817 with the bank, although there is no indication that John was particularly ambitious or active in the family businesses. The bank and businesses continued to be quite successful as, by 1826, Robert was known as a very wealthy man and had started signing his name Robert Campion, Esq. of Bagdale. Robert and John were known for their philanthropic contributions, particularly to abolitionist causes, and built a monument to Captain Cook in 1827. Unfortunately, Robert and John appeared to be more interested in their gentlemanly pursuits than advancing their business interests after this point.

There are indications the businesses were taking on debt. The bank ultimately failed in 1841, greatly encumbered. The records of the Commission of Bankruptcy in 1842 shows the bank and the Campion ship owners in debt to the tune of almost 40,000 pounds, and that Robert and John were also personally significantly in debt. In spite of their precarious financial state, Robert and John maintained their gentlemen’s lifestyles (perhaps in part because John’s father-in-law required that his daughter’s portion be settled, protecting her interests). Robert died on December 10, 1866. At some point after the business failed, John gave up his business career and became a clergyman. (In the directories, he is described as gentleman.) He became a deacon in 1843 and was ordained in 1845. After resigning his living at St. James’ Church, Doncaster in January of 1890 due to poor health, John died May 19, 1894.

Margaret Holt Campion spent her life as a business woman, as well as a wife and mother. She maintained and advanced the business interests left by her husband, and was the senior partner of the bank she started with her son, which was successful under her care. I don’t think it’s too much to say that she was significantly responsible for building the family wealth that allowed her son and grandson to consider themselves gentlemen. Although they managed to keep things going well for 22 years, neither Robert nor John was willing to sustain the effort; nor did they seem to care enough to find competent managers. Sadly, Margaret’s business legacy did not survive.

Sources include:

Dawes, Margaret and Selwyn, Nesta. Women who made money WOMEN PARTNERS IN BRITISH PRIVATE BANKS 1752-1906. 2010: Trafford Publishing, Bloomington, IN. “Arundel House.” HERE “Lot 706 Shipbuilding.” HERE “Muscovy Company.” HERE “Holts of Whitby, Yorkshire, UK 1700-1850” by user, February 25, 1999. HERE Craig, Beatrice. WOMEN AND BUSINESS SINCE 1500: Invisible Presences in Europe and North America. P. 161. 2016: Palgrave (imprint of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.), London. HERE ; Phillips, Maberly. A HISTORY OF BANKS, BANKERS AND BANKING IN NORTHUMBERLAND, DURHAM AND NORTH YORKSHIRE. PP 219-221. 1894: Effingham, Wilson & Co. London. HERE “A Maritime History of the Port of Whitby, 1700-1914” by Stephanie Karen Jones. Thesis submitted to the University College London 1982. HERE

Image: Wikimedia Commons. Campion Bank House by Mike Kirby. HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives with her husband Ed in Florida, where the roses, gardenias and plumeria are currently blooming in the yard. She is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel, is available, and her second A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is due out soon. Please visit her website HERE.


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