A life less ordinary: Lord Cowdray and the making of modern Mexico


The amazing life of Lord Cowdray and the links he forged between Yorkshire and Mexico at the turn of the 20th Century will be celebrated at an exhibition and book launch at the university.

Born in Yorkshire in 1856, Weetman Pearson (later Lord Cowdray) was a celebrated entrepreneur and politician who at one point was one of the Britain's richest men.

His family business, S. Pearson & Son, grew from a modest contracting and manufacturing firm in Bradford into a multi-national conglomerate with interests spanning engineering, oil, construction and publishing under his leadership. By 1919, the income of the Pearson Group was considerably higher than that of any other of Britain's leading industrial firms.

Cowdray was a pioneer of the global oil industry and helped modernise Mexico through a series of ambitious construction projects. Pearson Group has since become one of the world's leading media organisations, owner of the Financial Times, the Economist and Penguin Books, and still bears his name.

Paul Garner, Cowdray Professor of Spanish at the University of Leeds, has written a new study of Cowdray's business activities in Mexico; 'British Lions and Mexican Eagles: Business, Politics and Empire in the Career of Weetman Pearson in Mexico 1889-1919.'

The book will be launched on 11 October at a special event at the University's Parkinson Court, and an exhibition, 'Yorkshire in Mexico: The Pearson/Cowdray Legacy at the University of Leeds' will run from 10 to 14 October in the Parkinson Court.

Professor Garner said: "Lord Cowdray's contribution to British business and the promotion of Hispanic studies in the UK has been somewhat forgotten now, but he was a remarkable man who did remarkable things.

"Whilst some might see him as a dictator-supporting imperialist, his public construction works in Mexico helped to build a modern nation and to transform the lives of ordinary Mexican people. I've tried to separate the facts from the fiction in my book and the exhibition will allow visitors to witness his impact through photo and film."

Pearson was born in Shelley Woodhouse near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, and took over the family construction firm in 1880. In 1889, he was invited by Mexican President Porfirio Díaz to build a canal to drain the flood waters from Mexico City into Lake Texcoco. This was the first of many public construction works secured by Pearson because of his reliability and the relationships he forged with Mexico's political elite.

His projects became the foundations of the industrialisation and development of modern Mexico. In 1917 he was made The Viscount Cowdray and at the request of David Lloyd George became President of the Air Board, the precursor to the RAF.

He reinvested his wealth in philanthropic endeavours including the building of hospitals. In 1916, Lord Cowdray bequeathed the equivalent of £500,000 to the University of Leeds to continue developing links between Mexico and Yorkshire by bestowing a professorship in Spanish.

Guests invited to the book launch include the Mexican Ambassador to the UK Eduardo Medina Mora (himself born in Cowdray Hospital, Mexico City), Richard Maudsley CBE, the Chairman of the British Mexican Society and Charles Pearson, great grandson of Lord Cowdray and chairman of the Cowdray Trust.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, Professor Michael Arthur, will also attend along with the Director of the Cervantes Institute in Manchester, Iñaki Abad Leguina.

Notes to editors:

· Professor Garner's new book 'British Lions and Mexican Eagles: Business, Politics and Empire in the Career of Weetman Pearson in Mexico 1889-1919' is published by Stanford Press.

· The book will be launched at a special event at 5:30pm on Tuesday 11th October in the University's Parkinson Court.

· 'Yorkshire in Mexico: The Pearson/Cowdray Legacy at the University of Leeds' exhibit will run from 12pm Monday 10th until 12pm Friday 14th October, also in the Parkinson Court.

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk