Landowner and Businessman
Benjamin Flounders was born in Yarm, Yorkshire, in 1768. His father owned land around Crathrone which was used as ‘bleach fields’ to lay out and expose to the sun products produced by the local textile factories. Benjamin was sent to Glasgow in 1800 to live with his uncle Gideon Bickerdike (d.1807). Gideon was a wealthy Glaswegian merchant who took to Benjamin immediately. When Gideon died he left his estate to Benjamin, including Sireton, Comitone, Seifton forest and Medley Park in Shropshire, as well as £200,000.
Flounders amassed great wealth not simply as a result of the inheritance, but also because of high-return investments he made in post-Napoleonic Europe. These include an array of infrastructure projects and the world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives, the Stockton and Darlington Railway. He also maintained his father’s traditional businesses and invested in linen mills, agriculture and timber.
Whereas Flounders had the ‘Midas touch’ in business, he was deeply unfortunate in his personal life. In 1799 he married Mary Walker who died just two years later in 1801. In 1811 he married for a second time, this time to Hannah Chapman. Unfortunately, Hannah died a year later from tuberculosis along with their infant son. His only surviving family was a daughter from his first marriage. The daughter, also called Mary (1800-1844), was cherished by Benjamin. Sadly, Mary predeceased him. He passed away two years later in 1846. After Mary died, he bought the field where they could be buried alongside one another.
Following the death of his sole heir, the final years of Benjamin’s life were spent rewriting his will in order to endow philanthropic causes in the North East. His principal interest was the endowment of schools for all ages. This was perhaps in part influenced by his uncle Gideon who had been of two minds whether to leave his estate to Benjamin or found a Quaker school. Benjamin founded or endowed over 20 schools including the North Eastern County School at Barnard Castle (£31,495), Yarm Grammar School, Ackworth School, a number of National Schools, and, in 1848, the Flounder’s Trust’s crowning achievement; the Flounders Institute. The Institute operated until 1909 with the aim of training Quaker schoolmasters and providing degrees from University College London.
Ackworth School. Available here (Accessed: 12/07/2018)
Barnard Castle School History. Available here (Accessed: 12/07/2018).
Darlington and Stockton Times. (2008). Darlington and Stockton Times: A Man of Considerable Wealth, Expensive Tastes and Great Generosity. Available here (Accessed: 12/07/2018).
Grace’s Guide. (2018). Benjamin Flounders. Available here (Accessed: 12/07/2018).
Shanks, R. (1957). The Flounders Institute: A Quaker Experiment in Teacher Training, Education Review, 9, 3, pp. 221-227.
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council. (2018). Benjamin Flounders. Available here (Accessed: 12/07/2018).