Charles Bage: Business and Local Affairs

Image: St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury, built in 1792. The building was designed by the architect George Steuart, who built Attingham hall, near Shrewsbury. Charles Bage was buried in the churchyard.

Photograph: Nabi Heydari (April 2003)

Charles Bage was interested in science, culture and local politics. Like his father Robert, he commanded a great deal of respect, but lacked a commitment to the business ethic. When Marshall wrote about the end of the partnership in 1804 with Bage and the Benyon Brothers in the Ditherington Mill, he described him as follows: “Mr Bage was possessed of talent, and had a cultivated understanding, but he was not a man of business and perseverance, sufficient knowledge of commercial transactions to form a correct judgement of the mode of conducting them; and he was completely under the control of Mr B. Benyon.” Marshall offered Bage a share in the new concern “more from a wish to act honourably towards him, than on account of his value as a partner…” Bage, though, got a better offer from the Benyons to enter a new partnership to build the Castlefields Mill. The Benyons probably recognised Bage’s capacity as a builder and insight as an inventor. The new business enabled him to increase his capital, but on the dissolution of this partnership in 1815-16, Bage established his own mill at Kingsland which, in Marshall’s words “has not been profitable.”

A letter written by Bage to William Strutt from the Buxton Centre Hotel provides an insight into his mind: “So here I am, enjoying idleness and perfect vacuity of mind. I hardly understand the satisfaction you take in continual labour of mind, and since you are ambitious of continuing in this world as long as you can, you should not work on the machine too hard, but give it occasionally a little relaxation oil.”

Bage’s correspondence with Strutt shows that he held radical views. Writing in 1818 during the period of Lord Liverpool’s “repressive” Tory administration, he was concerned “that Government is becoming everyday more and more absolute, and in the end Parliament will be either discontinued or merely complying and adulatory like the old Roman Senate.”   One letter shows that he did not lean as far as the Unitarians, Strutt, Marshall and the Benyons in supporting the amelioration of working-class conditions. Bage believed that stimulating working-class improvement would encourage unrest and lead to more repressive legislation.  Like his father, Robert, the “Jacobin novelist”, Charles Bage was a political radical. He was not a social paternalist like several nonconformist industrialists of the early nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Bage was involved in establishing a Lancasterian school for local poor children in Shrewsbury.

Bage was active in other local enterprises. He established the first gas company in Shrewsbury and served as mayor of the town. He died in 1822 and was buried in the graveyard of St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury.


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4923-0Charles Bage, the Flax Industry and Shrewsbury’s Iron-Framed Mills 1311-0Shrewsbury’s Industrial Context 1308-0The Location of Ditherington Mill 5123-0Bill for the supply of liquor from Charles Bage to Lord Clive 1792 1328-0Charles Bage and Iron Construction 4664-0Charles Bage: Business and Local Affairs 521-0Thomas and Benjamin Benyon 2431-0John Marshall 2432-0Growing and Preparing Flax 2440-0Processing and Spinning Flax 1316-0Ditherington Flax Mill 2230-0Ditherington Mill: Steam Power 2231-0Ditherington Mill: Steam Power 1341-0Castlefields Mill: Origins 2238-1Castlefields Mill: Steam Power 1312-0Castlefields Mill: the Flax Warehouse 2247-0Castlefields Mill: Gas Lighting 2251-0Castlefields Mill: Gas Lighting 5124-0Castlefields Mill: Sale and Demolition 5125-0Kingsland Mill