The Victorian myth of the self-made millionaire

<span>Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA</span>
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Just as the majority of today’s billionaires inherited their wealth, so the majority of Victorian millionaires were not self-made (Next generation of billionaires collect more wealth from inheritance than work, says UBS, 30 November).

Only 20% of Lancashire mill owners came from a poor background, and the social historian Harold Perkin described the Victorian myth of the self-made millionaire as “one of the most powerful instruments of propaganda ever developed by any class to justify itself and seduce others to its own ideal”.

Again, as today, many of the wealthy Victorians portrayed themselves as generous philanthropists while in reality they were cruel mill masters. Samuel Lister, who inherited a fortune from his father, did indeed pay for Bradford’s art gallery, but in the weeks before Christmas in 1890, he cut the workers’ wages, driving them to a strike that eventually led to the foundation of the Independent Labour party.
David Kennedy
Menston, West Yorkshire

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