Background to the partnership
In 1834, Peto and his cousin Thomas Grissell went into partnership as railway contractors. However, Grissell became increasingly nervous of the risks taken by Peto, and in 1846 dissolved the partnership.
Betts' father, William Betts, was a successful contractor's agent and railway contractor. On William's retirement, Betts assumed full responsibility for the business.
In 1848, they established a formal partnership and together they were to work on a large number of railway contracts.
Between 1846 and 1855 the partnership carried out many large railway contracts both at home and abroad, including the South Eastern Line.
Either on their own account, or in partnership with Thomas Crampton, they carried out most of the construction of the London, Chatham and Dover lines.
Other railways were built by the Partnership in Denmark, Russia, Algeria, South America and Australia.
- the Grand Trunk Railway in Canada, possibly the greatest enterprise of this trio. Betts undertook the actual management of the venture which included the Victoria bridge across the Saint Lawrence River at Montreal.
- the London, Tilbury and Southend line.
- the Grand Crimean Central Railway between Balaklava and Sevastopol
Peto and Betts themselves were amenable to major risky speculation; for example, to expedite the building of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, the partnership undertook to lease it as operators for twenty-one years from the opening in 1854, a speculation said in 1863 to be losing £24,000 a year (equivalent to £2,260,000 in 2018).
In the 1860s, the partnership agreed to build a line between London Bridge and Victoria for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) and to be paid entirely in the company's shares and debentures. To raise the funding for the construction they became involved in complicated finance-raising schemes, and with their overseas operations hindered by war, they overstretched themselves.
Overend, Gurney and Company
The partnership's principal bank was Overend, Gurney and Company. As a consequence of a run on the bank caused by persistent rumours and speculation in the London financial markets, the bank closed its doors and ceased trading at 3pm, 10 May 1866.
Effect on the partnership
The collapse of Overend, Gurney and Company was disastrous for the partnership and the next day the partnership suspended trading. Indeed, the partnership was probably the most prominent casualty of the collapse of the bank and the ensuing banking crisis. At the time the partnership was suspended there were 20,000 men in their employment.
In a public statement Peto and Betts declared, "We much regret to find ourselves under the painful necessity of allowing our acceptances to be returned, owing wholly to the disappointment of the arrangements we have made for their provision, which have been defeated by the unexpected turn which has taken place in the money market within the last few days." The statement when on to say that Peto and Betts thought the cash shortfall of the partnership was temporary and given a little time they would be able to liquidate sufficient assets and be able to pay off their debts.
Initially, the cash shortfall was thought to be "not above half a million"
London, Chatham and Dover Railway
Peto and Betts optimism was misplaced. In the ensuing crisis, railway stocks were particularly badly affected and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) became insolvent Consequently, the shares that the partnership had been paid in became worthless. Furthermore, the illegal loan schemes that they had been involved in at the LCDR ruined their reputations. The new management of the resurrected LCDR resolved to pursue the partnership and Peto and Betts personally, eventually making a claim against them for a "staggering" £6,661,941 19s 1d. (equivalent to £606,210,000 in 2018). The LCDR later reduced their claim, their solicitor declaring, “Whether my clients had a proof upon the proceedings of £360,000 or for £6,600,000, the result would, unfortunately be the same – in neither case would there be any dividend."
The partnership was unable to pay their creditors and became insolvent in the following year.
Neither Peto nor Betts' reputations for financial propriety recovered from the LCDR debacle. Both died in obscurity, Betts in 1872 and Peto in 1889. The partnership insolvency rumbled on with the final dividend meeting, making payments to their creditors being held on 6 June 1898, over 30 years after the insolvency commenced.
- Faith, pp. 103-104.
- Sir Bart Henry Peto (1893). Sir Morton Peto: A Memorial Sketch. London: Stock. pp. 18–19. OCLC 42693089.
- Port, M. H. (2004), "Betts, Edward Ladd (1815-1872)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, retrieved 30 March 2013 ((subscription or UK public library membership required))
- Faith, p. 105.
- Helps. p. 109.
- UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
- The Stirling Observer, 17 May 1866.
- Birmingham Journal, 12 May 1866.
- The Worcester Chronicle, 16 October 1867.
- The Times, 21 December 1866, p. 8; Issue 25687; col E.
- Worcester Chronicle, 16 October 1867
- The Pall Mall Gazette, 17 July 1868, page 203.
- London Standard, 4 May 1898.