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William Cawkwell

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William Cawkwell (1807-1897)

1897 Obituary [1]

WILLIAM CAWKWELL, joint Deputy-Chairman and formerly General Manager of the London and North Western Railway Company, died at his residence, Fernacre, Maresfield Gardens, South Hampstead, on the 24th June, 1897, in his ninetieth year.

Mr. Cawkwell came of a Lancashire family, and was born on the 17th November, 1807. His father was a stage-coach proprietor at Manchester, and owned some of the conveyances which ran between that city and certain towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire, so that the subject of this notice may be said to have been born and bred amid the surroundings of the carrying trade before the advent of railways.

It was not till the year 1840, however, that Mr. Cawkwell entered upon active railway work as clerk in charge at Brighouse Station, on the opening of that portion of the Manchester and Leeds (now the Lancashire and Yorkshire) system which extends from Hebden Bridge to Normanton. The previous year had seen the opening of the first section of the undertaking, namely, from Manchester to Littleboro, a distance of about 13 miles, but between the latter town and Hebden Bridge communication was kept up by coaches. No less than twenty-six were running at the time between Manchester and Leeds daily, and the Company had to piece their disjointed railway together by a free use of vehicles of this kind.

Mr. Cawkwell remained about seven years at Brighouse, by which time the Manchester and Leeds Railway had grown into a line 343 miles long. Promotion was rapid in those days, and he quickly rose to distinction.

He was appointed goods manager of the Yorkshire section of the line towards the end of 1847, and was transferred to Oldham Road, Manchester, in 1848, whilst in January, 1850, the superintendence of the goods department of the Lancashire section of the line was added to his other duties.

In 1853 Captain Laws, the first general manager of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, retired and Mr. Cawkwell was made traffic manager. Four years later, the Lancashire and Yorkshire and the East Lancashire Railway Companies entered into such close relationship as practically to amount to amalgamation, and Mr. Cawkwell and the late Mr. Smithells were made traffic managers of the combined undertaking, each being assigned a separate district.

In September, 1858, Mr. Cawkwell was offered and accepted the more important and lucrative office of general manager of the London and North Western Railway, leaving to his coadjutor the entire management of the Lancashire and Yorkshire system. In the short space of eighteen years Mr. Cawkwell had climbed from the bottom to the top of the service.

Mr. Cawkwell held the position of general manager of the London and North-Western Railway between fifteen and sixteen years. These constituted a stirring epoch in British railway history and witnessed many a conflict between companies old and new, both inside and outside the walls of Parliament.

Additional lines were promoted one after another in quick succession, amalgamations were projected, fresh combinations formed, and extensions sought in every direction. It required a cool head and sound judgment, combined with physical stamina, to withstand the strain of the work which had to be performed.

The former Mr. Cawkwell possessed in an eminent degree. His robust common sense never forsook him, but his health was far from good, although by extraordinary care and a self-restraint which amounted almost to asceticism, he managed to keep going and to outlive many of his younger and apparently stronger contemporaries.

His position during the period of his management of the North-Western Railway obliged him to take an active part in much of the Parliamentary warfare of the time, and for many years his face and figure were familiar in the lobbies and committee rooms at Westminster. He had qualities of head and heart which stood him in good stead there. Of reserved disposition and unimpassioned nature, he was invariably quiet and self-possessed in the witness-box, and whilst not fluent of speech, was at all times concise and guarded in reply. Rarely did counsel succeed in extracting from him more than it was politic to disclose.

Except when intermittent attacks laid him up at intervals, he continued almost to the last to attend at his office at Euston. There his many good qualities endeared him to his colleagues, and his presence was always welcome, for he gave the Company of his best, and gave without stint. His intellect was not, perhaps, of a quick, incisive, penetrating character. It was rather of a judicial order, fitted for patient investigation and quiet, mature deliberation.

In the closing years of his life he seemed to lose much of the reserve, amounting almost to austerity, which characterised him in earlier days, and became cheerful, kindly, and genial. At the relation of some unusual incident in his younger days, his face would light up with a smile at once humorous and expressive, and he would laugh in a manner infectious to those around. In his remarkable evenness of temper, cheerfulness of disposition and relish for employment, Mr. Cawkwell may be said to have remained young to the last. His letters were models of conciseness, full of pith and force, but he would not allow himself to be hurried into hasty answers. 'Second thoughts are best' was the principle which commended itself to his mind, and whether he was preparing to give evidence, negotiating agreements, or replying to correspondents, deliberation was the cardinal principle he observed throughout life.

His diplomatic ability was of a high order and was frequently called into play. Many important contracts were entered into by the London and North- Western Company during his tenure of office, and he acquired a reputation for driving good bargains when the interests of the Company were at stake.

In 1874, when Mr. Cawkwell joined the board, his brother officers, headed by Sir George Findlay, entertained him at dinner, and presented him with an oil painting of himself. More recently the directors invited him to sit to Mr. Herkomer for a three-quarter length portrait, which has a place in one of the committee-rooms at Euston Station. He was the recipient of a gold watch and chain from the Queen, presented to him in 1862 in recognition of the care and attention he had for many years devoted to carrying out the arrangements for Her Majesty’s Scotch journeys.

Mr. Cawkwell was elected an Associate on the 23rd May, 1865.

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