Best Investor: Nathan Rothschild or the Rimington Weaver?

In 1816, the relativity poor people of Martin Top spent £5, 8s and 3d to buy the land upon which our chapel now stands. They were said to be “as anxious to get a new chapel as bread for their families”. The estimated cost to construct the chapel was a huge £500. 20 people lent £20 without interest, and the rest was contributions given by people ranging from labourers, stonemasons and weavers to a grocer, a surgeon, a banker and a calico printer. For most of these people, paying for the building which we now enjoy was sacrificial and generous. 

At the same time, down in London, a wealthy man was about to get even richer. One Mr Nathan Rothschild, who had helped finance Wellington’s war effort against Napoleon, was sitting on piles of gold bullion which the war’s early conclusion in 1815 rendered unnecessary. It was therefore depreciating in value, so he cleverly reinvested it in the bond market, buying up British government debt. This he sold in 1817, the year our chapel was erected, making a profit of 40%, which is about £600 million in today’s money. This audacious speculation made him one of the world’s richest men, with people calling him the Bonaparte of finance. Heinrich Heine said in 1841: “Money is the god of our time and Rothschild is his prophet”. Sadly, Rothschild’s amassing so great a fortune fed the antisemitic feeling in Europe for the next century and a half. 

Who, though, made the better investment? Mr Rothschild, or the likes of John Nutter, labourer of Howgill? Or John Holgate, weaver of Gills, Rimington? Or Samuel Holgate, from Long Preston? They got their £20 back without interest, or they gave a lesser sum and got back nothing at all. Yet their money was used for God’s work here on Earth and their Saviour was well able to recompense.

One of the few surviving letters written by Rothschild to his brother includes the following line: 

“After dinner I usually have nothing to do. I do not read books, I do not play cards, I do not go to the theatre. The only pleasure is my business”.

(Rothschild Archive, London, January 1816)

Rather sad, don’t you think? The common folk of Martin Top received little earthly return for their meagre investments, but I cannot but think they are now far better off that Mr Rothchild:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:19-21