edgar speyer



In 1902 Edgar Speyer, merchant-banker and chairman of Speyer Bros, and American tycoon Charles Yerkes, founded the Underground Electric Railways Co of London (UERL). It was the UERL which financed and managed the construction of the three main deep `tube’ lines which later became known as the Northern, Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines.


Speyer, who became chairman of the UERL on Yerkes’ death in 1905, was confronted with a huge financial shortfall and bailed out the UERL with funds from Speyer Bros which averted bankruptcy. By 1912 he had taken over the remaining underground lines and the bus and tramway companies to become `King of the Underground’ and head of London’s public transport system.


Baker Street Station

150th anniversary London underground

Baker Street Station on the Baker Street-Waterloo (Bakerloo) Line                      

Edgar as `King of the Underground’, 1912

150th anniversary of the London Underground




 In 1902, when the Proms manager Robert Newman went bankrupt, Edgar intervened to save the Proms from extinction. He formed a syndicate under himself as chairman to run the Queen’s Hall orchestra and he personally financed  the Proms from his own pocket. He claimed to have done so `to please my wife’, the American-born concert violinist, Leonora von Stosch, a Proms soloist. Passionate about music, Edgar professionalised the orchestra, encouraged the broadening of its repertoire, offering the best of classical and modern music to large popular audiences at modest prices. He befriended and hosted Grieg, Elgar, Debussy, Enesco, Grainger, Richard Strauss and others at his London mansion, and invited them to conduct at the Proms where major works received their first English performance.


Henry Wood Richard Strauss Edward Elgar
Sir Henry Wood said that Edgar was 'delightful to work with' Richard Strauss: 'My friend Sir Edgar Speyer' Sir Edward Elgar wrote to Edgar of 'the indebtedness of the English people to you'




As Honorary Treasurer of the British Antarctic Expedition, and a friend of Robert Falcon Scott, Speyer organised the fund-raising for Scott’s two expeditions from1901-4 and 1910-12, as well as relief for the explorers’ dependents, and publia memorials to Scott, and the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, which is dedicated to his expeditions.


Scott Polar Institute Scott of the Antarctic Note from Scott

The Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, founded 1920                   

Scott names a peak in Antarctica 'Mount Speyer'

Farewell letter to Sir Edgar, 16 March 1912


The poignant farewell letter to Sir Edgar Speyer from Captain Scott, 16 March 1912, was found on Scott’s body:


'To Sir Edgar Speyer. My dear Sir Edgar, I hope this may reach you. I fear we must go and that it leaves the Expedition in a bad muddle. But we have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentlemen. I regret only for the women we leave behind.'


The letter was auctioned at Bonhams in 2012 for £163,000.




Speyer was a founder member of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, President of Poplar Hospital and a board member of King Edward VII hospital, to which he donated £25,000, the equivalent of £2 million in today’s values.


Speyer, a Liberal in politics, was made a baronet in 1906 and in 1909 a Privy Councillor `in recognition of his public services and philanthropic munificence’, in the words of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, In 1914 Edgar and Leonora were at the height of their social celebrity.