But my school life was not all happiness. In the school there was an almost brutal element of roughness, and fights were frequent; not only in our own, but between ours and neighbouring schools. Regular pitched battles were fought with sticks and staves and stones. I shrunk from fighting but could not escape it. Twice in our own playground I was forced to fight. Every new boy had to do it, sooner or later. Fortunately on the second occasion I came off victor, much to my surprise. How I managed to beat my opponent I never could understand. Anyhow the victory gave me a better standing in the school, though it did not lessen in the least my hatred of the battles that raged periodically with other schools. I never had to fight again except as an unwilling participant in our foreign warfare.
In the year 1851 the Midland Railway was 521 miles long; it is now 2,063. Then its capital was 15,800,000, against 130,000,000 pounds to-day. Then the gross revenue was 1,186,000 and now it has reached 15,960,000 pounds. When I say now, I refer to 1913, the year prior to the war, as since then, owing to Government control, non-division of through traffic and curtailment of accounts, the actual receipts earned by individual companies are not published, and, indeed, are not known.
Eighteen hundred and fifty-one was a period of anxiety to the Midland and to railway companies generally. Financial depression had succeeded a time of wild excitement, and the Midland dividend had fallen from seven to two per cent.! It was the year of the great Exhibition, which Lord Cholmondeley considered the event of modern times and many over-sanguine people expected it to inaugurate a universal peace. On the other hand Carlyle uttered fierce denunciations against it. It certainly excited far more interest than has any exhibition since. Then, nothing of the kind had ever before been seen. Railway expectations ran high; immense traffic receipts, sorely needed, ought to have swelled the coffers of the companies. But no! vast numbers of people certainly travelled to London, but a mad competition, as foolish almost as the preceding mania, set in, and passenger fares were again and again reduced, till expected profits disappeared and loss and disappointment were the only result. The policy of Parliament in encouraging the construction of rival railway routes and in fostering competition in the supposed interest of the public was, even in those early days, bearing fruit—dead sea fruit, as many a luckless holder of railway stock learned to his cost.
Railway shareholders throughout the kingdom were growing angry. In the case of the Midland—they appointed a committee of inquiry, and the directors assented to the appointment. This committee was to examine and report upon the general and financial conditions of the company, and was invested with large powers.