Capitalism in the Lawyers’ World

R. W. Kostal

in Law and English Railway Capitalism 1825–1875

Published in print October 1997 | ISBN: 9780198265672
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191682926 | DOI:
Capitalism in the Lawyers’ World

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The railways were unique among the great industrial enterprises of 19th-century England for having been legislated into existence. Unlike textile mills, deep mines, or iron and steel works, railway projects involved building corridors of track across the private estates of non-investors. For this reason railway companies required special statutory powers, most particularly the power to expropriate estates in land, in order to become viable commercial ventures. This inescapable fact brought railway capitalists into an increasingly deep entanglement with the private bill procedures of Parliament, and with the hierarchy of lawyers that controlled them. An elaborately structured legal community of clerks, agents, solicitors, and barristers stood between every railway venture and every private railway Act. There was no practical way of obtaining the one without first engaging (and richly remunerating) the other. Parliamentary lawyers were not a passive instrument of new industrial capital. They transformed the sudden influx of railway petitions into a distinct and autonomous legal world replete with its own professional customs and etiquette.

Keywords: railway industry; parliamentary lawyers; statutory powers; Parliament; private bills; railway capitalism; legal practice

Chapter.  15411 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Law

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