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Henry William Schneider biography

A short biography of Henry William Schneider

Henry William Schneider was descended from an ancient Swiss family, an ancestor of which settled in England around 1750. He is related to the Schneiders of Schneider Cup fame. Henry succeeded his father and grandfather in the merchants business founded by his grandfather in London. The firm was extensively concerned in Mexican affairs and was for many years financial agent of the Mexican government under which it held large contracts for the coinage of silver.

A well-to-do albeit unexciting future as a London merchant beckoned. The lucky break which changed everything came on 1838 on a touring holiday in the Lake District. He was introduced to a minerals agent who took him to see some ancient workings at Kirkby. Schneider made the decision on the spot that he would look for iron ore. In 1840 took a lease on the land and acquired surrounding properties which he explored with very limited success. On the point of failure he hit the massive Burlington iron ore mine near Askam in 1851 which made Barrow "the Chicago of the North East". The size of the deposit can be gauged by the fact that they were raising 250,000 tons a year for nearly 40 years. Investments in iron smelting were followed by the development of railways and shipping to feed the new industry. He and other investors including James Ramsden founded the Furness Railway, the first section of which opened in 1846. He decided to build furnaces in the town, in partnership with John Hannay. In 1847 when the new furnaces at Barrow commenced smelting the quantity of ore exported from Barrow was around 500,000 tons a year. Schneider's iron company later merged with one founded by Ramsden to form the Barrow Haematite Iron and Steel Company and the two magnates oversaw the construction in 1859 of what was then the largest Bessemer process steelworks in the world, employing more than 5000 workers.

While chairman of the Barrow Steelworks he lived at Belsfield House on the shore of Windermere. Every morning he left home and travelled on his steam yacht SL Esperance across the lake to Lakeside, eating breakfast which the butler had carried down to the boat on a silver tray. From there he would travel by train in his private carriage to his office in Barrow. The Esperance is preserved in the Windermere Steamboat Museum. He had other homes in the area at Roa Island, next to the lifeboat station, later used as a fisheries centre and at Oak Lea, near Sowerby Woods, which burnt down in mysterious circumstances in 1903.

Henry William Schneider became a pillar of the community and was elected MP for Norwich in 1857 and 1859, His death in 1887 was the occasion of a public bereavement for the town of Barrow. A statue of Schneider, erected in 1891, stands on Schneider Square, Barrow-in-Furness near the town hall.

sources: Wikipedia 

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