January 2014: The East India Company – Janet Bateson

Many of our ancestors worked in India and their lives would have been touched by the East India Company which started in 1639 and became one of the most powerful companies in the world. It not only engaged in trade; it even had its own Army and actually governed parts of India. Much of its prosperity came from enlightened enterprise, but there was also a darker side, particularly in the opium trade and war with China, a shameful episode in our history.

Jane surprised us with the Company’s connections with our area. It owned a gunpowder mill at Chilworth, created its own school to train boys for the company’s service and an early master was Thomas Malthus, the economist who was born in Westcott. Arthur Brook of Brook Bond Tea, who later lived in Westcott, obtained his tea in India. Finally Mr Denison of Dorking, MP for Surrey, brought in the Bill that eventually ended the Company’s monopoly!