Paul Frecker
Fine Photographs

Sir Morton Peto
13 April 1861

Samuel Morton Peto, usually known as Morton Peto, was a civil engineer, railway developer and contractor for public works. He served as a Member of Parliament (Liberal) for Norwich from 1847 to 1854, for Finsbury from 1859 to 1865, and for Bristol from 1865 to 1868. In 1855 he was made a baronet. During his career he accumulated a vast fortune but lost nearly all of it when a series of his business ventures failed. His reputation never fully recovered.

His first partnership was Grissell and Peto (1830-1847); the firm built many well-known London buildings, including the Reform Club, the Lyceum, the St James’s Theatre, and Hungerford Market at Charing Cross. In 1843 he was responsible for the construction of Nelson's Column. His firm's most celebrated work was the superstructure of Charles Barry’s new Houses of Parliament. Another business Peto and his cousin founded operated as independent railway contractors. He subsequently formed another partnership, Peto and Betts, with his brother-in-law Edward Betts. During the Crimean War they constructed the Grand Crimean Central Railway between Balaklava and Sevastopol, which transported supplies to the troops at the front line.

The Peto and Betts partnership failed in 1866 and Peto was forced to declare bankruptcy, due in part to the collapse of Overend, Gurney and Company. Their involvement in the failure of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway was another contributing factor. A subsequent venture, this time as the main contractor for the Cornwall Minerals Railway, failed in the 1870s when traffic on the line did not live up to expectations.

He married, firstly, in May 1831, Mary Grissell, one of the sisters of his later partner, Thomas Grissell. The marriage produced four children before Mary's death in 1842. He married, secondly, on 12 July 1843 at Rochdale, Sarah Ainsworth Kelsall, eldest daughter of Henry Kelsall of The Butts, Lancashire. This marriage produced eleven children.

Sir Morton Peto died, aged 80, on 13 November 1889. Even though his heyday was long since past, such had once been his fame that his death was widely reported and numerous newspapers ran an obituary.

code: cs1636
Samuel Morton Peto, Morton Peto, Sir Morton Peto, Sir Samuel Morton Peto, Camille Silvy, Silvy