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Law and English Railway Capitalism 1825–1875$
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R. W. Kostal

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780198265672

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198265672.001.0001

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Localism and Capitalism

Localism and Capitalism

Law and the Parochial Taxation of Railways, 1825–1862

(p.222) 6 Localism and Capitalism
Law and English Railway Capitalism 1825–1875

R. W. Kostal

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on the first three decades of a protracted struggle between rural authorities and railway companies over the rightful division of a new form of industrial wealth. The principal argument is that the invasion of rural England by urban railway capitalism in the mid-19th century did not displace the fiscal and political prerogatives of the gentry over their local governments; on the contrary, country elites had both the will and the means to impose extremely heavy taxes on railway operations. The second theme of the chapter is that English courts of law were the pivotal intermediaries and decision-makers in the conflict between urban railway capitalists and rural elites over local taxation. Millions of pounds sterling came to hinge on the legal meaning of a few obscure statutory phrases. The decisive interpretation of these phrases was left exclusively in the hands of judges. English judges, not elected politicians, made the crucial determinations concerning the extent of railway liability to local rates and, indirectly, concerning the general profitability of a key industry. Once again the courts were at the centre of an acrimonious struggle between railway capitalism and vested interests mobilized against it.

Keywords:   rural authorities, railway companies, railway capitalism gentry, English courts, local taxation

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