Benjamin Flounders

Benjamin Flounders

Benjamin Flounders (1768 – 1846) was born on 17 June 1768 to a Quaker family from Yarm in Yorkshire.

His father had extensive bleach fields at Crathorne and shops in Darlington. His mother was a Bickerdike of Leyburn and for some reason that has not yet been discovered, he was adopted by two Bickerdike uncles, both Glasgow merchants. In 1800, aged 32, he married Mary, the daughter of John Walker of North Shields, a ship owner and the proprietor of Wallsend Colliery. She was also a Quaker and the marriage took place at the Quaker Meeting House in North Shields. They had a daughter, Mary, born the following year. His first wife died and Benjamin was married again, to Hannah Chapman of Whitby, but she also died in 1814 after giving birth to a child who did not survive.

Flounders inherited the Culmington estate from Gideon Bickerdike, who had intended leaving it to endow the Quaker Ackworth School near Pontefract, but changed his mind and left it to Benjamin Flounders with £200,000 in 1807. Flounders himself was baptised into the Church of England in 1817, his love of field sports and port apparently having upset the Quakers. Flounders was an interesting man.

As a leading promoter of anything to do with transport improvements he participated in many projects in this area. He was a trustee of the Thirsk to Yarm turnpike road which more or less followed route of present A19. In the early 1800s he was heavily involved in the development of Teeside. He was prominent in championing the scheme for improving the navigable channel of the Tees which opened in September 1810 and was a prosperous timber importer in Yarm. He was also involved with investigation into the development of either a canal or railway for transport of lead and coal between Stockton and Darlington becoming involved in the building of the Railway and as a member of the management committee. He is featured, with a photograph of a portrait of him, in a book called The History of the First Railway, written by M. Heavisides in 1912. He also invested in the Clarence Railway from Haverton Hill.

His daughter Mary had become his close companion after the death of his second wife and remained so until her marriage in 1841, at the age of 40, to Major Arthur Charles Lowe of Court of Hill, near Ludlow. She died after only three years of marriage in 1844 and her husband had her buried by the churchyard wall in Yarm, to frustrate her father’s wish to be buried beside her. Benjamin got round this by buying the neighbouring field and extending the churchyard.

He sold his estates at Culmington in 1845 for £40,000 and moved back to Yarm where he died on the 19th April 1846. He carried out his uncle’s wishes and endowed the Flounders Institute at Ackworth School. He left other funds which were used for founding the North Eastern County School at Barnard Castle and for Yarm Grammar School and for infants 3-8 years, resident in Yarm. He is commemorated on a plaque on Yarm Town Hall.