Daniel George Bingham | Adam Limb

Most of the Rogues have earned their place among the gallery through their unorthodox nature or their extreme bravery. We’ve heard stories of spies, of writers, and of generals – but this entry earns his place not through their outstanding bravery or their unique mode of expression, but instead through a particularly Victorian sense of duty and drive. In a sense, he is a rogue not through defiance of norms or human limits, but in exceptionally embodying the values of his epoch; patronage, loyalty, duty, and indefatigability.

Daniel George Bingham was born on the 16th of March 1830 on Blackjack Street in Cirencester. Growing up in Cirencester, he was the son of a craftsman. Upon leaving school at the age of 14, he found work as a Junior Clerk for Great Western Railway (GWR) after a family friend, James Forbes, an area manager for GWR, saw potential in him during his stay with the Bingham family. He would first be promoted to divisional superintendent at Cheltenham, but when Forbes found himself promoted to Chief Goods Manager at Paddington station, Bingham would be offered a place at the head office in Paddington Station. Despite his relative youth of 25 years, Bingham joined him and quickly amassed an understanding of railway operation.

Only two years later, in 1857, Forbes would take over the Dutch-Rhine Railway Company in Utrecht. Bingham followed with him, and they took a railway company on the cusp of bankruptcy and created an incredibly successful railway company. In 1858, Bingham would find himself stepping into the role that Forbes had occupied only three years prior – becoming the General Goods Manager for the Dutch-Rhine Railway Company at the young age of 28, and then becoming the General Manager at age 32 when Forbes returned to England.

Bingham was not simply content to follow in Forbes footsteps however, making connections of his own when he met Hendrik Adriaan van Beuningen at the Rotterdam office at age 16. Bingham would become a mentor to Hendrink, who described him as a ‘one-in-a-million-teacher’. Hendrik would later become a politician as a municipal councillor in Utrecht and later a member for the States of Utrecht. Bingham would later be known as ‘Cirencester’s Most Famous Son’, and fittingly, Hendrik would follow in his mentors legacy – being named ‘one of Utrecht’s finest citizens’.

After continuing to work on the railways for 30 years, the government of the Netherlands would nationalise the railways in the 1890s, and he would be compensated with 125% of the value of his shares, enhancing his personal wealth greatly. A reporter in 1900 described Bingham as follows:

‘[a man who] greatly contributed to the development of the railway system in our country when it was in utter chaos, and he had to bring order to it while being thwarted from all sides… It is to him we have to thank for those big black hooded carts still to be seen in the streets collecting or delivering goods with their splendid signs: D.G. Bingham, General Goods Agent’

After the railway nationalisation, Bingham would expand his business ventures into natural resources – eventually becoming a part of the Steenkolen Handelsvereeniging, (SHV – Coal Trading Association). This association had sole rights to import German coal by rail, importing it across the river Rhine, which enabled the Netherlands to ship German coal around the world and reap the economic benefits.

Despite his greatly increased wealth and decades spent in Utrecht, Bingham never forgot Cirencester, visiting often and eventually commissioning designs for the Bingham Public Library in 1903. Opening in 1905 and endowed to the town, the Earl Bathurst would lay the foundation stone with Bingham returning to Cirencester for its opening. Part of the funding would be raised by issuing shares, as the library also included the building of many of the surrounding homes in the hopes that their rent and sale would offset the running costs as well as pay dividends to investors. In his endowment, he left enough to fund the full-time employment of a librarian and caretaker for the building which contained three floors, a lecture room, a reading room, a smoking room, gymnasium as well as lending and reference libraries.

Such a generous donation to the town would soon see demand outstrip supply. As between 1905-1915 there were 37,000 books issued. In 1916-1925 there were 53,000 books issued. In 1926-1935 there were 47,000 books issued, then 100,000 for 1936-1945. Finally, for 1946-1955, there were 131,000 books issued.

Seeing the success of the library, Bingham decided to open the Bingham Hall only three years later. The foundation stone was laid by the Countess Bathurst and completed in only seven months. The facility would hold lectures for large audiences – easing the strain on the Bingham Library, and also offer a rifle range – as well as hosting many concerts and dramas. The hall is still used today by the nearby schools to host school plays, as well as by many businesses.

Less than a decade later, Bingham would also donate a large sum to Cirencester Hospital to fund an extension and refurbishment of the Cottage Hospital, initially built by the 6th Earl Bathurst – adding an operating room, 17 beds as well as outpatient and emergency care facilities. 

What distinguishes Bingham is that he is of a certain type, a character which was unique in its day but even more unique when considered from our modern position. His philanthropy, his work ethic, his sense of duty and love to what he referred to as his ‘Dear Old Native Town’ is the height of not only a personal greatness that marks him as a rogue in his own time, but a greatness that is necessarily only emergent in a society that values and elevates such qualities to the position they deserve. What renders Bingham a rogue in a modern context is simply how alien these qualities appear from our modern perspective. Despite the great ability to travel in order to gain many points of reference as to what makes our homes worth loving – there are no more Binghams in the modern world. Despite the vast amounts of wealth at the hands of ordinary citizens, few rise to the occasion as those of Cirencester did in assisting the funding of the Bingham Library. Despite all our technological ability, few buildings are as beautiful as the Bingham Hall. Where many of the rogues we have learned about so far emerge in times of crises, Bingham is unique in that he is a rogue not among the chaos of war, but among the mundanity of peacetime – a fierce, fastidious, and constant effort towards the greater heights of civilisation.

This essay is an entry to the Mallard’s Rogues’ Gallery competition. You can find more information here.

Photo Credit.

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