George Marten

George Marten was born on 4 Nov 1801 the third and youngest son of Robert Humphrey Marten, a wealthy businessman and dissenter. Whilst the two eldest sons went into the family ship broking business, largely established by their father, George Marten became a lawyer.

George Marten was articled to Anthony Brown of Mincing Lane from about 1818 and went on to become a partner in Brown, Marten and Thomas, a forerunner of the current firm of Clifford Chance. Anthony Brown was born in about 1781 and was doubtless employed by Robert Humphrey Marten, eighteen years his senior, on many of his numerous business ventures. It is possible that the relationship goes back to Anthony Brown’s father Charles Brown, a fishmonger. Whilst the Martens had been established in the Cooks company the Browns were in the Fishmongers Company for a number of generations. Robert Humphrey Marten in his autobiography states the following

“in 1809 {I was] chosen a Director of the Kent Water Works Company & thereby became acquainted with my worthy friend the present Alderman Brown and by his friendship have enjoyed many a happy hour in improving society & by which acquaintance Providence opened a way for the settlement with him in 1807 of my youngest son George”

The move of George Marten into a career as a dedicated professional in the legal sphere marked a departure from the polymath approach of his father. Both Robert Humphrey Marten and his brother in law William Alers Hankey engaged in engineering, religious ministry and multiple company directorships simultaneously and later thus oversaw their children and grandchildren taking up these strands in a dedicated professional capacity by the middle of the 19th century.

The Browns do not seem to have been part of the non conformism that bound together and motivated Robert Humphrey Marten and William Alers. The firm Brown, Marten and Thomas was always listed as the Honorary Solicitors for the British and Foreign Bible Society, but it is clearly George Marten who is behind this as demonstrated by the fact that it is he who is created as a ‘Life Governor’ of the society. William Alers and Robert Humphrey Marten had been leading lights in the foundation of the society in about 1804. Moreover whilst Robert Humphrey Marten refused honorary offices in the City of London as a dissenter and someone not having taken the sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England, Anthony Brown faced no such impediment.

It is interesting to note that the postal addresses used by the Martens and the Browns indicate that the two parties were in close business alliance. Robert Humphrey Marten often give his business address as 9 Finch Lane but also frequently the Commercial Sale Rooms at Mincing Lane. The latter was the address from where Anthony Brown operated. It was the very heart of the burgeoning commodity markets all of which were undergoing the same growth of professionalism that is reflected in he careers of Robert Humphrey Marten’s own descendants.

Anthony Brown remained a close family friend and it is recorded that at a dinner held on 4 Nov 1822 at Plaistow to celebrate the coming of age of the youngest son George, it fell to Anthony Brown, who attended this intimate Marten family occasion, to read out a valedictory letter from the five children to their father.

George Marten was accepted a partner of Anthony Brown in about 1825 and the legal practice clearly grew substantially. Anthony Brown himself became Lord Mayor of London in the year 1826.

Although little direct evidence can be found it would seem that the firm would have had a steady stream of business from George Marten’s father. Robert Humphrey Marten was a director of both the Thames Tunnel company, several Docks companies and several Water Companies – all vast engineering projects that needed particular legal backing especially when it came to the commercialization of the return on the investments. Documents survive that show that Brown, Marten and Thomas worked extensively for the Kent Water Works Company. Robert Humphrey Marten was a director of both this company and the East London Water Works company. It seems very likely that the father would be an advocate of employing his son’s firm on a lot of these ventures, 1825-1839.

Many of these projects were backed by public subscription, sometimes with additional parliamentary grants and the legal underpinning of these ‘infrastructure’ companies must have been as innovative as the engineering. It is said that Anthony Brown’s own son, articled to his own firm and recently elevated to a partnership died in the savage outbreaks of cholera in London in 1833. The threat of Cholera was perhaps the biggest single motivation behind the heavy investment in these Water companies, and was present in most peoples mind as a pressing social issue – not least therefore that of Anthony Brown.

Robert Humphrey Marten died in 1839 and Anthony Brown effectively retired from the legal practice in 1844. Anthony Brown was named as one of the executors in Robert Humphrey Marten’s will.

George Marten had married Ann Bridget of Derby on 8 Apr 1830. They had two daughters born thirteen years apart. They moved to Parkfield House in Upper Clapton in about 1840, having lived in West Ham after their marriage, whilst George’s father was alive. The elder daughter married the widower Rev John Mee from Derby, and twelve years later the younger married her brother-in-laws son from the first marriage Rev John Henry Mee, both father and son were clergymen. The family must have been a very unusual unit, perhaps suggestive that George did not play a big role in the upbringing of his daughters. This would have been a stark contrast to his own upbringing.

As senior partner, we know that the practice continued to enjoy the patronage of the Marten family. Alfred George Marten, nephew and barrister was frequently instructed. Alfred George’s brother Hanry John Marten did increasing work for the Severn Commisioners that brought him to London with echoes of his grandfathers great public projects of the early years of the century.

George Marten became a JP in about 1865

His wife, Anne, died in 1867 and in her memory the RNLI lifeboat at Brooke Station on the Isle of Wight was named ‘George and Anne’ (plaque)

George Marten died on 10 Nov 1872 and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery. His estate was valued at probate at £120,000.

Selected Sources:

  • The autobiography of Robert Humphrey Marten
  • The autobiography of Charles Marten
  • Clifford Chance: Its origins and Development, by Judy Slinn 1993
  • RNLI
Last updated on 28 September 2017 by JJ Morgan