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Biographies of people from the Stoke-on-Trent & 
Newcastle-under-Lyme Conurbations

John Lewis Ricardo



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John Lewis Ricardo  b.1812 d.1862

Entrepreneur, businessman and Liberal M.P. for Stoke-on-Trent 

  • (John) Lewis Ricardo was born in London in 1812 into an established business family - his father (Jacob) was a financier and his uncle David Ricardo was a political economist, an M.P., a financier and speculator. 

  • An athlete in his youth John Lewis was training for a career in the Army but when his father died he took over the family mercantile firm with his brother Samson.

  • 1841 he became Member of Parliament for Stoke-upon-Trent as a Liberal; a seat he retained until his death.

  • 1841 Ricardo married Katherine Duff, daughter of General Sir A. Duff. He was fortunate to inherit, through his wife’s family, a large estate in Scotland.

  • Ricardo was an active Free Trader, campaigning for the repeal of the Corn Laws and the Navigation Acts that restricted trade.

  • 1845 John Lewis Ricardo recognised the value of Charles Wheatstone and William Fothergill Cooke's invention of the single needle telegraph and bought the patent.

  • 1846 Ricardo took a leading part in the promotion of the electric telegraph. He established the Electric Telegraph Co, and was its chairman for ten years (four of the eight shareholders were Ricardos).

  • 1858 The company introduced franked message papers (the forerunner of the postal service and postage stamp) and the employment of female clerks.

  • As well as being Chairman of the Electric Telegraph Company for over ten years he was a director of the North Staffordshire Railway, the Norwegian Trunk Railway, the Metropolitan Railway and the London & Westminster Bank. 

  • 1861 Left the Electric Telegraph Company and proposed to the Treasury the nationalization of the telegraph system, and its administration by the Post Office.

  • The Electrician magazine was to write in 1862; "There can be no question that it was Mr Ricardo who succeeded in establishing the electric telegraph on a firm and successful footing in this country".





Ricardo Street, Dresden, Longton was named after John Lewis Ricardo.

Ricardo Street, Dresden, Longton was named after John Lewis Ricardo.
Many of the streets on this estate were named after leading liberals.




1845 - Ricardo elected an M.P. for the Borough of Stoke-on-Trent

"Until the Reform Act of 1832 Newcastle had been the only town in the North Staffordshire area sending a Member to Parliament, but under this Act, the Parliamentary Borough of Stoke-on-Trent was permitted to send two members. 

The Wedgwood, Davenport, Heathcote, Copeland, Ricardo and other well known families all played active parts in the political life of the district. 

Josiah Wedgwood and John Davenport were the two first local Members of Parliament, followed in 1835 by Mr. J. E. Heathcote, and on his retirement, in 1836, by a Liberal, Colonel George Anson. In 1837, William Copeland, a member of the distinguished family of pottery manufacturers, was elected along with Mr. John Davenport. 

John Lewis Ricardo, who became a forceful and prominent local Member of Parliament, was elected in 1845 and continued to represent the district until 1862." 

A Sociological History of Stoke-on-Trent - E.J.D. Warrillow






1845 - Ricardo forms the Electric Telegraph Company




The Electric Telegraph Company
The Electric Telegraph Company 
Central Station, Founders’ Court, Lothbury, London



On September 3, 1845 a syndicate led by the Ricardo family of City merchants projected a joint-stock company to purchase all the patents Cooke and Wheatstone had obtained to date and to provide capital for their more effective working, particularly to gain an income from public messages through a national network of telegraph lines. 

This created The Electric Telegraph Company – the first joint-stock concern in the world intended to unite a country with a network of electric communications. It had a short life of just over twenty-five years. In that time it united electrically not just the entire country but also, with its corporate allies, reached the extremes of empire.  

The first Board of Directors of the Electric Telegraph Company comprised John Lewis Ricardo, the chairman, Samson Ricardo, brother and business partner of J L Ricardo, William Fothergill Cooke, George Parker Bidder and Richard Till.

Distant Writing 
A History of the Telegraph Companies in Britain between 1838 and 1868
Steven Roberts




1846 - The North Staffordshire Railway Company was Incorporated

As well as being Chairman of the Electric Telegraph Company for over ten years Ricardo 
was a director of the North Staffordshire Railway, the Norwegian Trunk Railway, 
the Metropolitan Railway and the London & Westminster Bank.



In the late 1830's the railway station serving North Staffordshire was at Whitmore. In 1846 the newly formed North Staffordshire Railway Company  purchased part of the Stoke Church glebe land known as Winton's Wood.

A new station designed in the Elizabethan & Jacobean style by H. A. Hunt of Parliament Street, London was built at a cost of £31,438. Stoke Railway Station and the complex at Winton Square was the most important building work undertaken by the railway company.

Stoke Railway Station 1848
Stoke Railway Station 1848

'The Railway Station at Stoke, Staffordshire.' 
Showing an elaborate building in brick and stone in the Elizabethan style, 
with gables, chimneys, finials and a portico of eight arches. 
Artist: George Buckler.

[Reproduced by permission of the 
Trustees of the William Salt Library, Stafford]  

Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station - Winton Square
Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station - Winton Square
photo: © Noel Walley - November 16th 2004


September 1846 - John Lewis Ricardo - MP for Stoke-on-Trent cutting the first sod at Etruria for the North Staffordshire Railway
September 1846 - John Lewis Ricardo - MP for Stoke-on-Trent cutting the first sod at Etruria for the North Staffordshire Railway 

To start the construction work, there was an official 'cutting of the first sod' ceremony. The site chosen for the ceremony was a field in Etruria. 

There was a roped - off enclosure for directors and the remainder of the field was reserved for invited guests. 

There was a mile long procession headed by John Lewis Ricardo, Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent and chairman of the NSR Company. On his arrival, the crowds broke through the roped off area and Ricardo was pushed and shoved. During the actual cutting he buckled the silver spade and had difficulty removing the sod. Finally, his hat blew away.






1923. 'L' Class Tank Engine. Built at Stoke-on-Trent.

1923. 'L' Class Tank Engine. Built at Stoke-on-Trent.

Grace's Guide

The North Staffordshire Railway of Stoke-on-Trent was a British railway company which had its roots in an early scheme to build a small plateway from the base of the Cauldon Canal up to Cauldon Quarries. 

As well as the canals, other schemes were being promoted. The Staffordshire Potteries Railway promoted a route from Macclesfield to the mainline at Colwich plus a spur to Crewe and The Churnet valley scheme promoted a line from Macclesfield to Derby. After these two companies applied for the necessary powers to build the lines, Parliament suggested a pause of a year 'to afford time for consideration and for maturing some more complete scheme for the accommodation of that important district'.

This was advantageous to the Staffordshire Potteries Railway who formed the North Staffordshire Railway company.

1846-1847 The company was incorporated by Acts of Parliament




1858 - Ricardo discusses the trans-Atlantic cable


1858 letter from J. Lewis Ricardo where he talks about the recent attempts to lay a Trans-Atlantic cable

1858 letter from J. Lewis Ricardo where he talks about the recent attempts to lay a Trans-Atlantic cable


"Ricardo, the nephew of economist David Ricardo, founded the Electric Telegraph Company in 1846 together with William Fothergill Cooke; this was the world's first public telegraph company.

In 1856 the Electric Telegraph Company merged with the International Telegraph Company, becoming the Electric and International Telegraph Company; Latimer Clark worked as an engineer for this company until its annexation by the British government in 1870. Ricardo's letter to Clark mentions the second attempt to lay the first Atlantic cable, which took place in June 1858. He also refers to the first unsuccessful attempt in 1857: 

"I hear that the United States cable has not even yet been tested in the water. I am sorry that I can anticipate no other result this year than the disappointment of the last.""

History of




1862 - Obituary for John Lewis Ricardo



J. L. RICARDO, ESQ., M.P. Aug. 20. [1862] In Lowndes-square, aged 50, 

John Lewis Ricardo, Esq., M.P. for Stoke-upon-Trent.

The deceased was the son of Mr. Jacob Ricardo, the financier, and nephew of David Ricardo, the political economist. He was born in 1812. He entered Parliament in 1841 as member for Stoke, which place he represented until his decease. 

He was one of the earliest advocates of free trade, in connection with Mr. C. P. Villier, and he aided materially in carrying the repeal of the Corn Laws. He made the Navigation Laws his particular study, and in 1847 he moved for a committee on the subject, and warmly supported the repeal of the restrictions on shipping. 

He was the author of a well-known work on that subject, "The History and Anatomy of the Navigation Laws," and devoted much attention to the question of maritime rights in time of war.

But he is more particularly to be noticed for his public services in connection with the electric telegraph, concerning which we borrow the following statement from "The Electrician:"—

"Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to whom is due the practical adaptation of electricity to the purposes of telegraphy, there can be no question that Mr. Ricardo it was who first succeeded in establishing the electric telegraph on a firm and successful footing in this country. As is invariably the case with all undertakings containing any element of scientific novelty, there were difficulties raised, both real and imaginary, and objections made, by the sceptical as well as by the timid, at the outset of the Electric Telegraph Company, enough to discourage any but the most undaunted, far-sighted, and energetic; such a man Mr. Ricardo undoubtedly proved himself to be, by the manner in which he grappled with and overcame all these impediments, and eventually established the Telegraph Company on a firm basis, as an important commercial undertaking of the utmost possible value to the country at large.

That rival companies have since been established, and vast improvements made in every department of telegraphy, does not, in our opinion, detract one iota from the credit of him to whose sagacity and perseverance is due the 'planting,' if we may so term it, of the parent Company in this country, since it is impossible to say for how long a period the general use of this invaluable invention might have been delayed if Mr. Ricardo had been less persevering or less determined in carrying out the enterprise in question. But he not only founded the Electric Telegraph Company, he watched over it, in his capacity of Chairman, with untiring care for upwards of ten years, seizing upon every opportunity of developing its resources, and of rendering it of greater benefit to the civilized world; and we believe we are safe in asserting that no public company ever received from its Chairman more constant and unwearied attention than was bestowed by Mr. Ricardo upon the affairs of the Electric and International Telegraph Company. 

As a commercial undertaking he raised it to considerable eminence; and such was the appreciation, by the shareholders, of his talented administration of their affairs, and such the attachment and respect felt by the officers and employes of the Company, that, on his retirement from the chair, they presented to him the very valuable addition to his library of upwards of 1,000 volumes, the selection of which was, with great delicacy and discretion, left to himself." 

Among the improvements introduced in the system of the Telegraph Company by him, may be mentioned the plan of franks, or franked message papers, by which much time and trouble were saved to the public; and also the employment of female clerks, an innovation of considerable importance in a social point of view.


Mr. Ricardo was connected with many other important and useful undertakings. He was Chairman of the North Staffordshire Railway, from its first construction to the time of his decease; he was also Chairman of the Norwegian Trunk Railway, for the construction of which, for the Norwegian Government, he had contracted jointly with Sir Morton Peto and Mr. Brassey.

He was at one time Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, and had been for many years a Director of the London and Westminster Bank.


"The great administrative powers and general aptitude for business which Mr. Ricardo displayed in his management of these various undertakings, was the more remarkable from the circumstance of his not having been originally educated or trained with a view to his becoming a man of business. 

It is, perhaps, scarcely within our province to enter upon any particulars of his early life, but we may be allowed to remind those of our readers, to whom the deceased gentleman was only known as a man of distinction in the political and commercial world, that Mr. Ricardo was once pre-eminent in every athletic sport and every daring amusement of a period when high spirit shewed itself in ways which would scarcely be appreciated or understood in these more sober times; and some of those with whom he was associated in business of late years will not have failed to perceive in the bold policy which Mr. Ricardo adopted on many trying occasions, a trace of that same dashing courage and fearlessness which prompted him on one occasion to perform the daring feat of riding a spirited horse, bare-backed, up a staircase and into a dining-room at Aylesbury.

No thoughts of business had then been entertained by him. He had chosen the army for his profession, and was, it is said, actually gazetted to a commission in the Life Guards, when the death of his father, Mr. Jacob Ricardo, entirely changed his intended career, and he was induced to take up and carry out several of the large financial operations in which that gentleman had been engaged, amongst which was the Spanish Loan. 

From that time he appears to have become gradually engrossed with political and commercial affairs. It was greatly owing to his exertions that the State Tolls, a vex¬ations duty imposed by Hanover upon shipping ascending the Elbe, were re¬cently abolished; and during the session just closed a notice of motion was given by him in respect to a revision of the Patent LawB, an important matter to which he had, on a former occasion, paid much attention." 


Mr. Ricardo was a man of refined taste and a great lover of the arts. He possessed a particularly fine collection of water-colour drawings, and was himself no mean artist, having a remarkable talent for rapid and vigorous sketching.

"The illness, which has ended so fatally, commenced in February last, but it was only within a week of his decease that any alarming symptoms had manifested themselves. He had for many years been a terrible sufferer from gout, and it was often cause for surprise to those associated with him that ho was able to attend, with so little remission, to the important interests entrusted to his management"

In 1841 Mr. Ricardo married Lady Catherine, daughter of General the Hon. Sir Alexander Duff, of Dalgetty, Morayshire, and sister to the present Earl of Fife. He became possessed of considerable property in Morayshire through his wife, and had been one of the Deputy-lieutenants of that county since 1848.


John Lewis Ricardo Obituary, The Gentleman's Magazine (Oct. 1862) p. 496-7.






next: Jesse Shirley - Flint & Bone Mill Owner
previous: Thomas Godwin - long distance cyclist




Related pages..

Stoke Railway Station

Dresden & the Longton Freehold Land Society - A walk round the Dresden Estate showing how it came into existence in the middle of the 19th C and the development during the Victorian period.

external pages..

David Ricardo on Wikipedia - Uncle of John Lewis Ricardo

The history of The Electric Telegraph Company

North Staffordshire Railway on Wikipedia