Aberdeen Newspaper Article

The Banking Pioneer - The Father of Maberly Street

Less than justice has hitherto been done to the memory of a notable man who is only remembered in Aberdeen by a street name. Dr. J. Ma1colm Bulloch gives a new perspective to that man's figure and this article on John Maberly is a valuable contribution to local biography.

John Maberly, in whose honour Maberly Street was named, was a remarkable man if only because he put Aberdeen on the map as a great producer of linen and introduced English banking to Scotland. In the former enterprise he succeeded; in the latter he failed and it is his failure which is most remembered. William Robbie in his 'Aberdeen - its Traditions and History" - by the way what a good book it is - remarked that his memory is "not much honoured amongst us" yet, as he added, Maberly got his bad reputation "quite undeserved" for, as an expert writing about his bank in the "North British Economist" just thirty years ago remarked, Maberly "undoubtedly did good in reducing the absurd forty days currency charged by the old banks to twenty days", though in reducing it to ten days he was premature. That is always the worst of pioneering.

I have long been interested in Maberly - hereditarily so -because my father toiled and moiled up and down Maberly Street for half a century to Broadford Works which used to depress me because, during the long spell of his faithful service, it was in one of its spells of the doldrums. I myself traipsed that same street for eight laborious years on my way to the Aulton, first to the Old Barn, which linked the past and the present as no school in Aberdeen does today and then to the university, which still holds my heart.

The unusual name of Maberly attracted me, but local histories are very meagre about him and most of them adopt a curiously patronising air though, if they only but knew it, Maberly was a man of great if venturesome ability. That feeling has been increased for me the more I have gone into his rather obscure history, as I have been prompted to do by a recent query from Mr James Laing, Banchony, in a London newspaper.

The Maberlys were a clever family but it is their eccentricities which have mostly been most remembered. That is really the reason why the Dictionary of National Biography deals at length with John's queer brother, the Rev. Frederick Herbert Maberly (1781-1860) who was such an avid Protestant that he wanted to impeach Wellington for his share in Roman Catholic Emancipation - and also invented a mechanical street scavenger. Again Maberly's son, William Leader Maberly, MP (1798-1885) is chiefly remembered because his intensely reactionary spirit, which made him fight the Penny Post, cost this country millions. The D.N.B also deals with Apsley Pillat, MP (1791-1869) the glass manufacturer, whose firm still flourishes, whilst Maberly's brother-in-law, John Temple Leader, MP (1810-1903) once a partner in Broadford autobiographed himself in a little book published in Florence, where he long resided. But John Maberly himself, though the most able of the lot, is so forgotten that a question in "London Notes and Queries" of 1885 about the date of his death was never answered; whilst a querist who asked twenty years earlier about his distant kinsman Joseph Maberly (1782-1860), author of The Print Collector, was drubbed with the curt remark "The details of his life were too insignificant for public review"

John Maberly was anything but insignificant, though it is extraordinarily difficult to get many facts about his career, was the son and partner of Stephen Maberly (1745-1831) who died in Reading. There is considerable doubt about the exact character of the business. Two sets of facts confront and confuse us. In the year 1780 a John Maberly had a coach painting business in Little Queen Street [London], which has been widened to form the north end of Kingsway. At the same time the firm of Stephen and John Maberly had a curriers business at 26, Little Queen Street but whether they were the same family and in the same building I do not know. On June 5th, 1780 the coach painters premises were demolished by the Gordon Rioters, apparently because Mr Maberly had, on June 2nd, stayed an incendiary at the Sardinian Chapel. In 1801 John Maberly, cousin of John of the Broadford Works, bought a Coachbuilder's business in Welbeck Street - well-known in our day as Thrupp and Maberly - which is rather ironic as Lord George Gordon, the arch rioter, lived in Welbeck Street. After the fire, the curriers business seems to have been moved to Castle Street which runs almost parallel to Long Acre.

Twenty-eight years after the Gordon Riots the premises in Castle Street were destroyed (September 30th, 1808) by a disastrous fire which also gutted eight adjoining houses and a tavern known as the "Two Angels and Crown". The Gentleman’s Magazine of the period calls Maberly an "Ordnance Stores Contractor" but the Morning Chronicle, then edited by the brilliant Aberdeen journalist James Perry, calls him "an eminent currier". As the building contained, according to the former, "a quantity of combustible material -tallow, oil, powder, hides" it must have been more than a currier's place.

Certain it is that John Maberly had an army contractors business in St Pauls Wharf for we find him writing to the War Office in 1809 about the pattern of soldiers' greatcoats and in November, l810 he put before Sir J.Willoughby Gordon a cheap method of waterproofing soldier's greatcoats. Gordon was a member of the Knockespock family and I think it quite possible that it was he who put Maberly up to buying Broadford though I doubt if he knew that the notorious Mary Anne Clark, with whose case Gordon had had a great deal to do as Secretary to the Duke of York, was the London-born daughter of an Aberdeen "comp" named Thompson. The waterproofing scheme led to an elaborate report by the Board of General Offices which reported on it in April, 1813 to the extent of nearly 200 folio pages. In the previous January Maberly tackled Lord Liverpool on the subject telling him he had printed but not published 5000 copies of a statement he had written on the case. No copy of this pamphlet seems to be in existence either in the British Museum or the Public Record Office.

It was probably in connection with his contracting business that Maberly bought Broadford Works from Scott, Brown and Company about the year 1811 and also started a soapworks in the town. He must have made money for, like many "Captains of Industry", he acquired in addition to a town house "a place" purchased from the son of John Claxton who had built it, Shirley Manor, in Croydon. And in quite the Cowdray manner he diverted a main road, enlarged the canal and planted a barren heath in order to beautify his property.

Broadford Works, Aberdeen

Maberly's next move was to enter Parliament, which he did as Member for Rye on May l0th, 1816. He was then returned for Abingdon on June 17th, 1818 and again in 1820, 1826, 1830 and 1831. He spoke constantly in the House, as you will find from Hansard, making his maiden speech on April 20th, 1818 and usually speaking on finance. For instance on February 27th, 1824 he proposes the sale of the Land Tax, the suspension of the Sinking Fund and the remission of assessed taxes, seeking support for his ideas by citing Pitt. His motion was rejected by 157 votes to 72. Perhaps his interest in Parliament had been first aroused by the fact that he had married in 1791 a daughter of William Leader of Bedford Row, MP for Camelford and then for Winchelsea.

His interest in banking, which proved his ruin, was probably awaked by the fact that his eldest [actually his second eldest] daughter, Jane, married in May, 1818 George Robert Smith of Selsdon, Croydon (1793-l863) - a descendant of the famous Nottingham banker Abel Smith represented in our day by the Marquis of Lincolnshire - whom Maberly tried to get Aberdeen to make its member of Parliament.

At any rate in 1818 he started his Exchange and Deposit Bank in a building on the North Bridge, Edinburgh opposite the General Post Office. After that he opened branches of his bank in Glasgow, Dundee, Montrose and Aberdeen. His success at Broadford, his election to Abingdon in 1818 and the start of his bank were possibly the reasons for his receiving the Freedom of Aberdeen on November 23rd,1818.

The idea of his bank was to reduce the time in which a draft on London could be cashed from forty or forty-five days to twenty and ultimately to ten. The Scots banks resented this very much and Maberly raised an action in the Court of Session in 1819 against the Bank of Scotland which he won but the House of Lords referred the case hack to the Court of Session. Then the dour Scots banks broke Maberly by a trick, "insisting on his taking gold instead of London paper for their notes that had passed through his bank and this put him to the expense of a long and tedious journey to London with the gold". It was a hopeless fight and his bank suspended payment on January 5th, 1832 though, as the "Aberdeen Chronicle" of the day said; "the spinning wheels at Broadford perform their usual revolutions and the beam of the steam engine vibrates as before", for Maberly had handed on the factory to the firm of Richards and Company. Were they a firm of London dyers ?

Maberly would seem to have done more in his bank business than fight the Scots banks for a correspondent in the Times of January 25th, 1832, whilst denying that he had offered a loan to the French and Belgian governments said he had "suggested to both governments a plan which was to he carried into execution entirely at the risk and for the benefit of these governments on commission". It was also stated at the first meeting of his creditors in London Bankruptcy Court on January l0th, 1832 - at which he did not appear - that he had made a loan to Pedro IV, Emperor of Brazil, who resigned in 1831

Aberdeen was the heaviest sufferer in the bankruptcy, putting forth claims for 62,000, whereas Edinburgh claimed only 18,000, Glasgow 16,000, Dundee 2,700 and Montrose 2000. One of the two assignees in the Bankruptcy Court was Harry George Gordon (1801-1883) - son of the Rev. Abercrombie Gordon of Banff - who himself crashed in the Overend,Gurney disaster of 1856 and who was the father of the flamboyant Panmure Gordon, the stockbroker, who once rented Invercauld. The bankruptcy proceedings lingered on until March, 1835 when it was found that the debts were 146,082 and the assets 76,669 from which a dividend of 4s.2d in the pound was paid, followed in 1850 by a second and final 3d in the 1. From his bankruptcy onwards Maberly disappeared from view. Like his friend Harry George Gordon, at a later period he went abroad and is believed to have died in France in 1845.

The family connection with Broadford however did not cease for Maberly's nephew, Stephen Pillat (1793-1839), remained as manager and was so popular in the town that his friends erected a stone to his memory in St Nicholas Churchyard between the Hamilton monument and Back Wynd Wall.

It is clear that the father of Maberly Street must have been a remarkable fellow.