I found these Chairman's Reports on "The Times", "The Glasgow Herald" and other paper's archive sites. They partly fill in a gap in the GSSR archives at Kew. They provided a few surprises and also gave corroboration of some of the dates in my book. My personal comments to the Chairman's Reports are shown in italics. Before the reports, however, I also found some copies of the GSSR's prospectus'.

1886 prospectus

THE GREAT SOUTHERN OF SPAIN RAILWAY COMPANY LIMITED

Incorporated under the Companies Acts, 1852 to 1883

Issue of £2,500 Shares of £10 each, of which 10,000 Shares may be reserved for Subscribers in Spain, and 15,000 Shares have been already subscribed, payable as Follows: - £1 per Share on Application, £1.10s per Share on Allotment. The balance will be called up from time to time at intervals of not less than two months. Interest at 7 per cent per annum will commence on each amount called up from date of payment, payable out of the Government subvention.

Directors

  • The Right Hon. Sir James Fergusson, Bart., M.P., G.C.H.L., K.C.M.G., 24 Grosvenor Gardens, S.W. (Chairman).
  • Sir George Russell, Bart., M.P., Swallowfield Park, Reading. Director of the South-Eastern Railway company.
  • David Davis, Esq., M.P., Llandinam, Montgomeryshire. Deputy Chairman of the Barry dock and Railway Company.
  • Edward K Hett Esq., Eltham, Kent. Director of the Great Western of Brazil Railway Company (Limited).
  • W. Goodwin Barnes, Esq., Beaufort Lodge, Cambridge Park, Twickenham. Shipowner.
  • Percy F. Nursery, Esq., 161, Fleet Street, London, E.C. President of the Society of Engineers.
  • F. Yarrow, Esq., Isle of Dogs, Poplar, London, E. Engineer

Officials

  • Bankers in London - National Provincial Bank of England (Limited), 112 Bishopsgate Street, E. C.
  • Bankers in Madrid - Union Bank of Spain and England,(Limited).
  • Solicitors - Messrs Phelps, Sidgwick & Biddle, 16, Gresham Street. E.C.
  • Brokers -Messrs John M. Douglas & Co., 1 Threadneedle Street, E.C.
  • Engineer in Chief - George Higgin, Esq., M.I.C.E., Broadway Chambers, Westminster, S.W.
  • Auditors - Messrs James Fraser & Sons, 2 Tokenhouse Buildings, King's Arms Yard, E.C.
  • Secretary - Mr Alfred F. Judd.
  • Registered Offices - 9 New Broad Street, London, E.C.

The above box shows the heading, this was followed by the actual prospectus. It is too long to repeat verbatim but here is a precis of the significant points.

I suppose that what today would be called "spin" is part and parcel of a prospectus. However, some of the figures and "facts" quoted are either naive or hopelessly optimistic. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but even so...

The line was, of course, planned to go from Murcia to Granada, but only ended up going from Lorca to Baza, about half of the quoted 350km. The number of shares to be issued tallies with my original sources, although I don't think I knew that 10,000 of them were reserved for Spanish investors. What was new to me was the list of directors, shown above, which differs from both the list of original signatories to the incorporation of the company in 1885 and the list of directors given at an early company report. As you will see, the list changes again when a second prospectus was issued a year later.

To me, the first line of the prospectus text, confirms what I have always suspected, that the original concept of the line was to "link northern and southern Spain", that is Europe with the Mediterranean. It was only later, when the much curtailed line was constructed, that iron ore became the most important product. It goes on later to talk about access to the north of the agricultural products of Andalucia and to the south for the industrial products of Catalonia, adding to my argument. One aspect I hadn't considered was that military access up and down the peninsula would be enhanced. This could well have improved their case.

It talks about travelling down the "rich and populous" Almanzora Valley. The valley is quite rich and certainly populous now, but then is was just some small villages with subsistence farming providing the main income. In fact, passenger traffic and farming produce seldom formed more than a small percentage of the GSSR's income. Also, as the GSSR was to find out, the valley was very susceptible to drought and flash floods.

The prospectus then continues, quite correctly, to talk about the poor infrastucture in Spain, with few railways and even fewer decent roads and how the railway would improve things - as it did until the roads caught up. It continues for the next three paragraphs essentially saying the same thing and waxing lyrical about the crops and potential of the areas linked. It does mention the mineral wealth but not as the main potential for trade.

The next bit seems to me to delve into fantasy land. It compares the cost of other Spanish railway construction per mile with that proposed for the GSSR. The costs of the four lines quoted vary between 17 and 26 thousand pounds per mile, whereas the estimation for the GSSR was "under 14 thousand". Come on! Surely they had seen the terrain and the bridges, cuttings and embankments needed. If they really believed this figure, no wonder they soon ran out of money. Again, the claim that half of the Spanish Government subvention (grant) would probably be left over proved to be nonsense. As to the expectation that 10% return on shares would be achieved, nothing need be said!

The final set of paragraphs describe the operation of the company and are much in line with that shown on page 50 of the book.

1887 prospectus

The prospectus was presumably reissued because the Murcia to Lorca section of the line had been removed from the concession (Chapter 4). Some of the main protaganists have changed.

Much of the advertising text is the same, but this new version makes rather more of the mineral wealth. There are two significant changes.

1. The Company's engineer is said to have made a complete survey of the route and effected changes that will "result in a significant saving in cost". I wonder what these were.

2. The contractors (Hett - Maylor) would pay the 7% interest on the issued preference shares until the line was completed and in return could "use the line for their own benefit". I wonder what use they could have made of it. Whatever it was these payments must have added to the problems that bankrupted Hett - Maylor.

The table below compares the differing board member during the first few years of the GSSR {(C)= Chairman}.

SIGNITARIES TO THE INCORPORATION 1885PROSPECTUS 1886PROSPECTUS 1887DIRECTOR'S LIST 1900(?)
David DaviesDavid DaviesDavid Davies
Thomas Webb
Edward K HettEdward K Hett
W Goodwin BarnesW Goodwin Barnes
Robert Mercer
Percy NurseyPercy Nursey
Alfred F YarrowAlfred F Yarrow
Sir James Ferguson (C)
Sir George Russell
A J Mundella (C)
W Rierson ArbuthnotW Rierson Arbuthnot
Hanbury Barclay
Chas. J C Scott
Edward Woods
M Servyson
W McKerrow
Gerard Phillip Torrens (C)
F Praed



The Seville Tramway

Seville Tramway Seville Tramway Seville Tramway

The prospectus above appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette in January 1887. The first and most obvious thing to note is the familiarity of the names, nearly all of whom appear in the GSSR documentation. Also, the South American connections are strongly reinforced. I note that one of the lines is named the Buenos Ayres and Belgrano Tramway - shades of the Falklands conflict.

One interesting thought. The Hett, Maylor Company took on this contract at essentially the same time as the GSSR. I wonder if they overstretched themselves which exacerbated their later financial problems? Also, did H-M's demise affect the building of this tramway?

Hett, Maylor

A sad notice appeared in the Birmingham Daily Post in December 1890, giving a deadline for creditors of Hett, Maylor to make claims. Ironically the Solicitors for this were Batten, Proffit and Scott, who undertook the formation of the GSSR.

There is a postscript. Although this was four years later, the legal proceedings I describe refer to the bankruptcy of H-M so I have included them here.

It seemes that H-M were also working in Luxan in the Phillipines because in August 1894 there was a report in The Times of a case where the liquidators of H-M were attempting to sieze the assets of one Mr. Liddle. He was acting as an agent for H-M because, it appears, Phillipine law at that time did not allow limited companies. Liddle had some assets remaining (about £31,000) but owed the Chartered Bank branch in Manila more than this. Both the liquidator and the bank claimed this money. After deliberation and quoting from various legal precedents, Mr Justice Chitty ruled that the bank had the prior claim and the liquidator lost the case. In my book, I ponder on the long time taken for the liquidation to finally take place (1906). I wonder if there were other strange legal cases to resolve.

Blessing at Aguilas

Blessing the train

This report appeared in a newspaper in 1890. It contains a number of errors. It wasn't an English Company it was Anglo-Scottish. The port did not belong to the company and the Bobadilla to Algeciras line was not British.

BLESSING A SPANISH RAILWAY

In Roman Catholic countries the opening of a new railway is a more solemn affair than it is with us, and always requires the benison of an ecclesiastical functionary of some sort. The line to which our picture refers has an additional interest for us, inasmuch as it has been made by an English company and with English money. It is a branch of the main line from Murcia to Granada, now being constructed by the Great Southern of Spain Railway Company and runs from Lorca, one of the principal towns on the route, to Águilas, a newly-constructed port on the Mediterranean. This port belongs to the company, and is likely to become a point of some importance, as it will be the natural exit for all the products of at least one-half of the line, including the famous marble-quarries of Macael, and the steatite mines of Somotin. The new railway will eventually connect, moreover, with the line now being constructed by another English company from Bobadilla to Algeciras, and thus a continuous route from Gibraltar to Marseilles, through Granada, Murcia, Alicante, Valencia, and Cataluña, will eventually be formed. Altogether, the prospects of the line seem exceedingly favourable. - Our engraving is from a photograph.

Debenture Holders Meeting 1890

In 1890, the Daily News published a notice of a meeting of Debenture holders. At first I thought this was a meeting prior to the second restructuring (Appendix 3 in the book). However, careful reading shows that it was a meeting held between the first (1894) and second (1904) restructuring. I summarise the agenda of the meeting below, together with comments relating to the two restructurings. I do not know if all the points were passed, but suspect that they were. It was certainly passed that coupons for debenture interest had to be sent to the GSSR's office for conversion to scrip, as this was in a Daily News notice a couple of weeks later.

  1. The company create and issue Prior Lien Bonds not exceeding £600,000. Interest not to exceed 6% (might be 8%, it's not clear). The company could buy back the bonds at face value plus 10%. It isn't clear how many were actually issued because the numbers issued after the first restructuring (R1) do not seem to be significantly different to those at the beginning of the second restructuring (R2). After R2 it didn't matter because they were all turned into 5% income debenture stock.
  2. Interest on debentures be suspended for three years. This does agree with R2. The debentures and interest scrip were both turned into ordinary shares ad 50% of face value - oops!
  3. Those debenture holders who held existing scrip certificates could exchange them at the rate of £18 per £100 for the new Prior Lien Bonds. Whether anyone did or not but at R1 there was £72,223 worth of scrip on the books so either this was not passed, or no-one bought any.
  4. A member of the Mortgage debenture holders should be on the board of the GSSR. Seeing the list at the bottom of this notice, I think that this clause was automatically met anyway, at least in the early days.
  5. That no dividend be paid on Preference shares for 3 years.

The notice then goes on to give the conditions for voting, numbers for a quorum, proxy votes etc. Finally there are the names of three trustees, A J Mundella, W R Arbuthnot and Adolf Von Andre. The first two were on the GSSR's board. Adolf was a Baron and there is a magnificent picture of him in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Picture of the Baron

6th General Meeting 1891

Notice of the sixth general meeting of the GSSR on 21st April 1891 was given in the Belfast Newsletter earlier that month. It noted that the failure of Hett, Maylor in November 1890 had caused considerable delays but about half of the line (to Baza, not Granada) was completed. They hoped to meet the completion deadline of 19th May 1893 (in fact it was Dec 1894).

The Union Bank of Spain and England

This bank had an advert in about 1894 for a 5% interest deposit account, but it wasn't that which caught my eye, it was the names of the directors. Hanbury Barclay was specified as a director of the GSSR. Chas J C Scott was also mentioned. He was a director at the same time as Barclay, although he is given as a director of the London and St Katherines docks. There is also a Maurice Levysohn, who I'm sure I have come across but I can't remember where.

Opposition to the restructuring

There is a report in the Glasgow Herald for mid 1894, which states that a Mr Alex Young of the Industrial and General Trust, which held £80,000 in bonds is trying to raise opposition to the restructuring proposals. If I am right regarding the date, this must refer to the first (1894) restructuring. If I am correct, the attempt failed.

Completion of the railway

In December 1894, the GSSR reported that the Seron to Baza section was opened, finishing the railway.

Death of A J Mundella

Mundella

In December 1897, the death on 21 July 1897 and will of the Right Hon Mr Anthony John Mundella (Chairman of the GSSR at the time, see above) was reported.He had been an MP for many years. He was very much concerened with the rights of workers and promoted many bills to that effect. He had been director of many companies other than the GSSR, most of them financial. Earlier, however, he had been a partner in Hine, Mundella and Co, hosiery manufacturers of Nottingham.



14th General Meeting 1900

The meeting was held at Winchester House. Gerard Torrens was Chairman. He reported that the company had made a loss of £4,100 in 1897, a profit of £2,000 in 1898 and a profit of £5,100 last year (1899), suggesting that things were improving (Well, they were, but not for long). Both passenger and good receipts were up but gross receipts were only £40,000, not allowing for much leeway. Costs were 83.4% of income and gross revenue per mile per week was only £6 6s 8d (£6.33).

As an addition to page x, the £/Peseta rate in 1899 was quoted at 31.4.

As is mentioned in various parts of the book, water was a problem and this is confirmed with the report mentioning £5000 for new boilers.

"All litigation against the company is at an end", says the report. I imagine that was the Marquise de Loring fracas.

Torrens talked at length about the prospects for the company, particularly the then new developments in iron ore at Bacares. An agreement had been reached for a 10-year minimum of 150,000 tons per annum at a fixed rate. As the book shows, this fixed rate was to give rise to problems after WW1. The tone of the report also, to my mind, gives some support to my theory that the original idea for the line was to link north and south Spain, not be a local mining line.

As we know, Gillman was the Manager who provided impetus for both the Bacares mines and the Hornillo pier, although Hett had originally obtained the concession. The report fleshes out some (But adds confusion) of the agreement details regarding the setting up of the Hornillo Company. The GSSR would pay Hornillo £16,800 per year for 10 years. As a result of the agreement the GSSR would receive assets to the tune of £70,000 from engines and carriages. This is very strange. The single Hornillo set of accounts that I have during this 10 year period, for 1908, make no mention of such a payment. Also where did these engines and carriages come from? Were they the new "Yanquis" and extra engines needed that were actually paid out of the set-up money for Hornillo and used by the GSSR? It seems unlikely, but if not, what were these assets?

Coltness Iron Works

A report of the 1900 AGM appeared in an April edition of the Birmingham Daily Post. It seems that unlike the GSSR, things were looking good for Coltness. After paying a 20% dividend on shares, plus all expenses and debenture payments, they still showed a profit of nearly £35,000. However, the interesting part was that they had invested £25,000 in the Bacares mines see above. They also invested £300,000 in the Alquife mines. These were in Granada Province and were huge, delivering ore to Almeria for shipment using the Almeria to Linares line.

26th General Meeting 1912

The meeting was held at Winchester House, Old Broad Street*. Thomas Harrison was Chairman (Torrens had died in 1904). The key point of his report was that they had achieved a "clean" balance sheet. The gross profit of some forty three thousand pounds was reduced by payments to the Hornillo company, debt clearance, debenture stock interest and taxes to just £282. This was a small amount but it was on the right side of the balance sheet. Ore receipts were down but passenger traffic had increased, particularly now that agreement had been reached for through carriages from Lorca to Granada. A journey from Cartagena to Granada was now possible in a day. This journey today by car would take about 5 hours, but by road then would probably take two-three days.

In various parts of his report the Chairman made remarks that time showed to be over-optimistic, although it was not really his fault. He could not be expected to have forseen WW1, nor that that year's drought would last for 4 years, devastating crops. Because of the drought, the hope that apricot traffic would improve did not happen. More seriously however, the new pipeline (page 71) from Tijola to Zurgena suffered a loss in water quality and amount.

Economies and better working practice had resulted in a continuing improvement to the ratio of income to expenditure. Kilometre 98 (Los Canos, page 107) had started to operate and would boost production.

A considerable part of the report was dedicated to El Hornillo. This went some way to explaining the anomalies mentioned in the 1900 report, although not the engines and carriages bit. £19,800 was to be paid (£16,800 was the minimum as mentioned above). This was to pay off interest and to reduce the £120,000 6% debentures used to set up the Hornillo Company over a 10 year period. This period was to end this year and the report goes into some detail regarding the new payment process. This had been agreed by the Hornillo board (since these were essentially the same people as the GSSR board, I don't think that agreement was difficult!).

I am not going into the details of the new agreement because in fact the Hornillo Company was wound up in 1913 (page 187).

There then followed the first report I have seen of the debenture stockholders. Not that it was particularly riveting since it dealt with the technicalities of Hornillo payments. However a little tailnote to the proceedings is interesting and a little sad. A Mr Hanke, in seconding one of the motions, said the he was about one of the oldest shareholders and looked forward to receiving some return for his money. Ah well!

*In 1887, Winchester House was the location for a demonstration of the first automatic telephone system. This is of personal interest as I maintained this type of system in my early days (1960s). It was brought over from America but was not considered a practical system. Sadly, although there is still a Winchester House in Broad Street, it is a new building. The old one was knocked down in 1975, and I am not sure that even that was the original.

27th General Meeting 1913

Unfortunately I only have part of this report. It was a fairly upbeat introduction from the chairman because they had made a payment on the debentures. Fortunately for him, and the debenture holders, they did not know that this would be the last ever paid (page 76). Another small item from the same year, not the Times but I don't know where from, also mentions the debenture payment but adds that things could only be considered good when the ordinary shareholders got some money. As we know, they never did.

The only other bit I have confirms the take-over of El Hornillo, see above.

28th General Meeting 1914

The meeting was held at Winchester House with Thomas Harrison as Chairman. Although this was the year that WW1 started, the report was for the previous year. I do not know the date of the meeting but since no mention at all about the war is made in the report, I feel that it had not yet started (WW1 started in August 1914).

There is a definite correction to the book, page 146. Fitzpatrick Praed died in 1913 or 14, he did not resign.

Financially there was nothing significant to add to the book. Similarly, engines, boilers and water problems and solutions confirm the book (page 70 et al). A comment in the report at this point about the previous month refreshing the springs with melted snow suggests a spring meeting.

The continuing drought is mentioned, fruit and vegetable crops being affected although esparto and grain did well. Iron ore had had fluctuations but the future looked sound (it wasn't).

The promotion of George Boag from assistant general manager to general manager in July 1913 was confirmed as was the retirement of Jones for personal reasons (page 148).

An interesting snippet was that H Micklem (page 146) whom I have down as a Colonel, replacing Praed is given as a Major. He is shown later as "on active service". In fact he served with distinction in WW1 where he received his promotion, see the Micklem page.

29th General Meeting 1915

The meeting was held at Winchester House with Thomas Harrison as Chairman. This is the first report since WW1 started. It doesn't say a lot that is new, as might be expected, trade was down consequently so were profits. The Chairman paid tribute to the ships and their escorts who still managed to get cargo through. At this stage the "all be over by Christmas" feeling had not yet disappeared in the trenches, so the Chairman was still talking optimistically about trade picking up after the war.

30th General Meeting 1916

Very little to say about this report. They had now realised that it was not going to be a short war and that they were just going to have to do the best they could.

31st General Meeting 1917

The horrendous increase in the price of coal, mentioned several times in the book, is referred to here for the first time. The coal bill had doubled from 20K to 40K. (High fuel bills are still with us!).

British Investment Trust Feb 1918

The Chairman, reporting an the AGM of this company, spoke of problems in investment returns due to the war. One of the examples quoted was the GSSR where the cost of coal was 65 shillings per ton in 1914 but was now 440 shillings per ton. The result was that the company could not pay interest on its bonds (of which we must assume that the BIT held a considerable amount).

32nd General Meeting 1918

This report asks more questions than it answers. As we have seen earlier, it appears that the GSSR General Meetings took place around springtime. This being the case, WW1 still had some months to go. Certainly there is no suggestion of peace in the report. E Forbes (the water expert, page 71) took the chair because Harrison was in Spain trying to solve the "Suspension of long distance iron ore traffic last November." This was news to me. Careful reading of the report does not help much. Earlier meetings had given thanks to the admiralty for the use of "empty freighters" carrying ore which suggests that it was a British Government decree, presumably because of the loss of shipping. However, if this was the case, why was Harrison in Spain? It's a mystery. Irritatingly, the report says that Forbes "detailed the events leading to the suspension." Fat lot of help that is!

The death of McKerrow is recorded but not why (page 146) as is the election of Popkiss. Oddly, the retirement of Gillman (who went to South America) gets no mention. As the chap who turned the GSSR's fortunes around, this is very odd. Did they fall out?

33rd General Meeting 1919

This report is in the book, page 78. Meetings were now being held at 2 Broad Street.

34th General Meeting 1920

The question of 1918, namely the "Suspension of long distance iron ore traffic last November" may be resolved because in this report the Chairman refers to an "Almerian miner's strike" which affected revenues for the earlier part of 1919. However he was optimistic that things would soon improve. They had turned last year's loss into a small profit. They were still being hampered by the Cortes' havering over tariff increases.

35th General Meeting 1921

The Cortes continued to prevaricate on tariffs, instead they came up with a new idea: the state would partially take over the railways by means of a council made up of government and railway company representatives. There would be a complex arrangement of valuations and debenture holder agreements.

36th General Meeting 1922

The problems relating to the fall in iron ore demand, as highlighted in the book (page 80), occupy much of this years report. The Chairman also referred to an increase of 50% in shipping charges which had reluctantly been agreed but was almost immediately negated by the cessation of a shipping bonus started in 1916, reducing the increase to 20%. The take-over mentioned last year had got no further in the Cortes and was now up to its third proposal.

37th General Meeting 1923

The Chair was taken by E B Forbes as Harrison was ill (he died before the next meeting). He reported that in 1922 they had at last made a profit (app 12K). The take-over proposals had made no further progress. The arguments regarding tariffs and subsidies discussed on pages 81 and 82 were gathering pace. A new government had been formed. This was the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera.

38th General Meeting 1924

R Popkiss took the Chair. He reported an increased profit of approx 20K. A payment of 2% on the debenture stock was proposed. This was news to me, I had always believed that 1913 saw the last payment (page 76). The Rivera regime had once again taken up the idea of some sort of take-over. The GSSR board were viewing this with some alarm. However, they were monitoring the situation very closely and would continue to act in the best interests of the company.

39th General Meeting 1925

The Chairman reported a profit of approx 12K. Another payment of 4% on the debenture stock was proposed. Passenger traffic was very light and there seemed little prospect of an improvement, particularly as road transport was increasing. Regarding ore transport costs, not only were the mining companies refusing to continue to pay an agreed increase in tariffs, they were threatening to sue for the return of that already paid (The result of this action is probably in the missing report next year, so I don't know what happened). The Chairman (Popkiss) had paid a visit to Spain last year. He found the railway in good condition but warned that maintenance charges could be expected to rise. A new Railway Law had now come into effect but it was too early to say what effect it would have on the company.

40th General Meeting 1926

This is missing There was a profit of approx 29K. Passenger traffic was up to more than 200,000 (page 80). Probably there was a debenture payment, I suggest 4%.

41st General Meeting 1927

(This was the first meeting after the 1926 general strike in England, however, no mention of this is made.) The Chairman reported a profit of approx 15K. Another payment of 2% on the debenture stock was proposed. Ore traffic was down by 50% due to the Spanish coal strike. The 1924 Railway Law had imposed an 8 hour working day and this was creating problems. Night transport of freight might have to be imposed meaning that stations would have to provide a 24 hour service. Subsidy payment would be altered - see page 82 in the book.

42nd General Meeting 1928

A profit of approx 29K was reported and a payment of 4% on the debenture stock recommended. Passenger traffic had dropped but freight was up considerably. The chairman referred to an "settlement on mutual terms" with the mine owners - see 39th meeting. The compulsory use of Spanish coal instead of British was unreasonable and they were making strong representations to the government.

I already have the reports from here to the end of the GSSR and they appear in the book

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