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Crooked land speculator in Golborne

A property speculator in Golborne was caught out in a scam to inflate prices for a parcel of land needed for a new railway line. It's murky story, and it all happened some 160 years ago. The new rail route was the Hammersmith and City Line which, of course, runs along the southern border of Golborne Ward.

Charles Henry Blake was the dodgy businessman at the centre of this disreputable tale. In 1862 Blake agreed to buy the Portobello Estate, 130 acres of undeveloped farmland. It included all of what is today Golborne Ward and Blake paid £107,500 for it, about £827 per acre. The sellers were two sisters, the Talbots.

When Blake bought the land he concealed his identity by using two solicitors as a front, Benjamin Lake and John Kendall. They were each given a tenth share in the land to keep them sweet. Blake had his own nefarious reasons for this subterfuge.

Although Blake had already been heavily involved in speculative housebuilding on the Ladbroke Estate to the south of Golborne, he had other interests. He was a director of the Hammersmith Railway Company, the developer of a new section of underground railway from Paddington to Hammersmith.

Before Blake bought the Portobello Estate, the Hammersmith Railway Company had already approached the Talbot sisters. The company needed two acres of their land for the Hammersmith and City route as it headed west. As a director of the Hammersmith Railway Company, Blake surely knew this when he secretly bought the Talbots' land.

So now Blake was in the happy position of being the director of a company that needed to buy a couple of acres of land that he himself owned. And the price he put on the two acres the railway needed? £20,000. Remember, he'd paid £827 an acre.

However, one of the Hammersmith Railway Company shareholders smelled a rat, despite Blake's attempt to conceal his identity. Stockbroker Cornelius Surgey revealed Blake's machinations in July 1863. His underhand dealing exposed, Blake had no choice but to relinquish his Railway Company directorship in disgrace.

But things didn't turn out too badly for Blake. Admittedly, he didn't get £10,000 an acre for the land. However, the Hammersmith Railway Company did pay £4,210 for the two acres, still a wallet-bulging profit for Blake of more than £2,500. The navvies who actually built the Hammersmith and City Line would have been paid about 25p a day.

On the bright side, the first Hammersmith and City train ran from Farringdon to Hammersmith on June 13, 1864, passing through Golborne Ward's Westbourne Park Station.