Daniel George Bingham
1830 – 1913
Who was Daniel Bingham?
Daniel Bingham was born in Black Jack Street in Cirencester in 1830.
On leaving school he started work in the town as a junior clerk at the new GWR railway station. The line from Kemble to Cheltenham was yet to be built and so Bingham was working at the terminus of the line from Paddington.
He was offered this job by James Forbes, the Area Manager for the GWR, who had spotted the teenage Bingham’s potential when lodging with the Bingham family. When Forbes was later promoted to Chief Goods Manager at Paddington Station, Bingham was effectively headhunted, and joined Forbes’ team in London in 1855.
Two years later, in 1857, Forbes became head of the Dutch-Rhine Railway Company based in Utrecht; a company then on the brink of bankruptcy. Forbes built up a team of capable managers and this included Daniel Bingham who became Chief Goods Manager in 1858. Three years later, when Forbes returned to England, Bingham succeeded him as General Manager at the age of only 31 years.
Two years after taking charge of the railway Bingham married his cousin, Jane Brain, and the couple settled in Utrecht where there was a large English-speaking community. Through the railway Bingham had many Dutch contacts and his wife’s sister married a Dutch businessman. Thus he developed many family and social contacts in the city.
Bingham made frequent trips to Cirencester – but always just as a visitor. He bought a property in Box in Wiltshire near members of his wife’s family and probably intended to retire there. In the end it was only used for Summer visits. He bought property in and around Utrecht including a ruined castle at Schonauwen, then in marshy farmland a few miles outside Utrecht but now swallowed up by a modern suburb. This he restored as another Summer home.
For 30 years Bingham managed the railway system. The nearly worthless shares he had acquired when he started in Utrecht had multiplied many times in value thanks to his good management. In 1890, when Bingham was 60 years-old, the Dutch government nationalised the country’s railway system. They took on from Bingham a well run and efficient business, paying 25% over the then-value of the shares to do so.
After his retirement he continued to use his railway contacts to trade in coal and minerals, shipped in by barge from Germany and shipped out by rail and boat to other countries, including Britain. Employing several hundred people, he needed to be on hand to manage the business. It was this, together with family and social connections, that meant he remained in Utrecht rather than retiring to Cirencester.
The Bingham Library
In 1903 Bingham purchased a property in Dyer Street with the intention of building a new library for the town. It was, he said, ‘to establish a place for study, for recreation and for reasonable amusement – a permanent resource for the student desirous of supplementing his education’ and ‘a pleasant refuge for the ordinary reader.’
The Bingham Library opened at 1 Dyer Street in September 1905, in what is now called Bingham House. The building offered, over three floors, lending and reference libraries, a lecture room, a reading room, a smoking room and a gymnasium. Accommodation for a librarian and caretaker was also provided.
The Bingham Library remained in Dyer Street until 1975 when it moved to new buildings in The Waterloo. Bingham House still belongs to the Trustees and today provides offices for Cirencester Town Council.
The lecture room at the Bingham library proved too small to meet the demand and this provided one of the triggers for Bingham’s next project.
The Bingham Hall
Again, Bingham purchased land for a new building, this time on King Street. The foundation stone was laid by the Countess Bathurst in March 1908 and the new ‘Bingham Hall and Rifle Range’ opened in October of that year.
As well as being able to hold lectures for large audiences, the Hall and Rifle Range provided facilities for exercise and drill, for concerts and drama, for meetings, for dances and, of course, for rifle shooting.
Bingham later funded an extension and refurbishment at the hospital to provide seven additional beds and improved facilities. When ‘Cirencester Hospital’ reopened in 1913 it had a fully equipped operating room, 17 beds and outpatient and emergency care facilities.
The hospital that Bingham extended was the ‘Cottage Hospital’ built a little over 40 years earlier by the 6th Earl Bathurst in memory of his wife, Lady Meriel. The hospital was later extended again and the name ‘Memorial Hospital’ adopted in 1922 in honour of those Cirencester residents who lost their lives in the Great War. The name reverted back to ‘Cirencester Hospital’ when it moved to the Querns site in the 1990s.
It was not only Cirencester that benefited from Daniel Bingham’s generosity.
In Box in 1905 Bingham bought land for, and paid for the construction of, a new village hall. The wooden hall lasted for over 60 years, being replaced by a new hall in 1969. The old hall was demolished and the land sold. There are still Bingham Trustees in Box who administer the interest from the proceeds of the sale to the continuing benefit of the local population.
In Utrecht Bingham, together with his wife Jane, gave half the cost of a new church to serve the English-speaking population of the city. (Mr and Mrs Twiss, another English couple resident in Utrecht, gave the other half.) Building work began in November 1911 and the first service was held a year later. Several Cirencester organisations contributed to the furnishing of this Church. The first resident Chaplain was appointed in 1913 but unfortunately Daniel Bingham died on 1 March 1913, just one month before the Church was consecrated on the 2 June.
After Daniel’s death Jane continued to raise money to support the Church until her own death in 1922. Both Daniel and Jane were buried in Utrecht.
Daniel Bingham’s death was not just local news; as well as extensive coverage in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard a detailed obituary was published in The Times.
Bingham showed more foresight than many benefactors in that he realised it was not enough to just provide a new building; someone had to meet the running costs.
In the case of the Library, only part of the gift was used for the building; the remainder was invested to provide an income that could pay salaries, replenish stock and cover running expenses. In the case of the Bingham Hall, 12 houses and 6 villas were built on the same plot of land and the rent from these provided an income to defray the running costs of the Hall.
Today, one hundred years after the death of Daniel Bingham, the Bingham Library Trustees and The Bingham Hall Trustees continue to manage their respective buildings and endowments for the benefit of the residents of Cirencester – just as Bingham had always intended.