The firm of Rowley Son & Royce is the direct successor of the business founded by William Thomas Nash in the early 1840s. The amount of professional work available in a small county town like Royston must have been very small, being limited to the fees derived from property sales, rent collecting and valuations. When therefore, the Great Northern Railway Company obtained its Act in 1846 to construct a line of railway from Maiden Lane, London, via Lincoln and Gainsborough to York, people like W.T.Nash saw a wonderful opportunity to expand their business.
The records show that Nash wrote to I.R.Mowatt, the Secretary of the Great Northern Railway Company at the beginning of January 1847 to obtain the position of negotiator on their behalf with the 78 landowners through whose territory the line of railway would run. In addition, there would be the tenants to deal with in nearly every case. At first he was unsuccessful, as others had acted more quickly, and he was informed that the territory between Hitchin and Lincoln was in the hands of J.S.Woolley and that lying south of Hitchin as far as the northern outskirts of London had been allocated to W.T.Heard. Importunity was one of Nash's dominant characteristics and he repeatedly applied to the Great Northern. Various letters demonstrate the slow progress towards success. Baxter Rose and Norton, the principal solicitors acting for the Railway Company, whose offices were in Westminster, summoned Nash to attend on them in London (21st January 1847) and he seems to have made a favourable impression, as on 18th March he was duly appointed. This was because J.S.Woolley found that his district was too large, and he agreed to yield the portion Sandy-Hitchin to Nash.
It is interesting to note that as soon as he was sure of himself Nash objected to the scale of remuneration offered by the Company, and presumably (although there is no written evidence on the point) he was given improved terms. Nash's eagerness knew no bounds and professional etiquette seems to have been jettisoned. He took over clients already being dealt with by J.S.Woolley, which is clearly demonstrated in a letter from Woolley to him dated 23rd March 1847 - "I am mortified and vexed at your interfering". For the next ten years Nash appears to have been able to satisfy his masters as cheques for his fees arrived regularly from T.Reynolds, the chief accountant of the Railway Company. It is not surprising to find that the bulk of the documents consists of correspondence, mostly letters to Nash - 1,003 in all. This is Section 8, and Section 9 consists of his outgoing letters. Unfortunately these were copied by the customary process of the time, i.e. they were written in copying ink and placed against moistened tissue paper in a press. The passage of time has made them practically indecipherable. Actually this is not so serious a defect as might be imagined because the inward letters are replies to those outgoing, and they give a reliable indication of what was said - rather as a telephone conversation may be understood although one can listen to only one of the speakers.
The documents as a whole give a detailed and intimate knowledge of one of the great upheavals in the 19th century - the building of the railways. The dismay expressed by the land-owning public corresponds with that shown today (1970) when a new trunk road or an airport is to be built. The difference is, of course, that the powers enjoyed by the road or airport authorities are much greater than those obtained by a Railway Company under its Act, and the potential damage to life and property is much greater. (A railway requires 9 acres of land per mile to carry the same traffic as a motorway requiring 35 acres.) Moreover, although the Railway Company was given compulsory powers of purchase these were seldon used arbitrarily, as the Company had no wish to offend those who were likely to develop into useful customers. In perusing these papers it transpires that only eleven cases went to arbitration, and only two (Raynsford and Stanley) went to a jury. In the cases of Rev. Roger Smith and W.Rudd, the Company paid money into Court to avoid litigation.
When Nash could not agree terms with a landowner the normal practice was adopted of appointing two arbitrators, and if these failed to agree, an umpire was chosen. It was only when cases involved large sums or were of unusual complexity that either side went to the expense of briefing counsel to argue their case before a jury. One case only dragged on for the full period under review. This was Raynsford, who died during negotiations and the struggle was carried on by his trustees.
The more complicated issues arising out of Common Land such as at Arlesey and Biggleswade, and the ownership of copyhold land tended to occupy a great deal of time but were settled at last. The Commoners always appointed a Committee to safeguard their rights and interests; the principal landowners of copyhold land demanded something to compensate them for the "disenfranchisement", i.e. the loss of manorial rights, quit rents, minerals, interest and the like.
It will be obvious therefore that the R.R. collection will richly reward a student of railway history no less than a student of sociology.
Naturally, as one reads through the papers the character of the man himself emerges. Nash was astute despite nearly having missed his appointment to the Railway Company, and he must have proved his ability seeing that he continued to enjoy the confidence of his employers. His plan seems to have been to offer a small sum in each case and then to "sit tight". A small proportion of the vendors and claimants would sicken of the delay and agree the offer. Later a slight increase would be offered with the agreement of Baxter Rose and Norton, and ultimately all but a small number would be settled.
The letters show that human nature does not change. Not the least interesting fact which transpires is the slow and cumbersome method of travel available before the railway era.
The following is a list of the principal valuers who were acting for the vendors and other claimants, and therefore against Nash:
J.Bailey Denton Graveley, Herts; and London.
T.B.Mallam Harrow Road, London, W.
T.Hine Bedford and Stotfold.
The principal Arbitrators were:
Charles F.Bidwell Ely
Thomas Bloodworth Kimbolton.
J.Clutton Whitehall, London.
W.Tite St. Helen's Place, London. E.C.
Thomas Chapman - Higgins Spring Gardens, London, S.W.
Of the above, J.Bailey Denton writes easily the best letters. Of the landowners, J. Adams provides great interest as he lived near Towcester although most of his land was at Ippollitts. The letters from these two alone are most revealing of the business methods of the mid-19th century. Extracts from the most interesting letters are given in the catalogue. Nash gives the impression of having a mixture of shrewdness and ruthlessness as his chief characteristics. He trimmed his sails when dealing with Baxter Rose and Norton and with Francis Pym of Hasells Hall, Sandy, who was a director of the Great Northern Railway. He receives an occasional reproof from the solicitors and from the Secretary of the Railway Company, but he obviously gave satisfaction. When the Shepreth extension of the Royston & Hitchin Railway was made in 1851, Nash also represented this company.
By 1881 Nash had taken his son into the business which continued as Nash & Son until about 1906 when the name was altered to Nash Son & Rowley. After 1920, Nash, father and son, disappear and the firm was known as Rowley & Royce. The name today is Rowley Son & Royce.