Lady Charlotte Guest: a pioneering woman
Lady Charlotte Guest is no eminent Victorian, but she should be. In an age when the business world was completely dominated by men and when women were not allowed to own property or vote, her achievement was extraordinary.
In 1852, Lady Charlotte’s husband Sir John Guest died at the age of 67. He had been crucial to the development of Dowlais as a business – expanding production not just at the original Dowlais site, but also at plants such as Cyfartha, Plymouth and Penydarren.
Despite the expansion and success there was a range of problems facing Dowlais on Sir John Guest’s death. The business was becoming increasingly complex, working conditions in the growing plants were becoming an issue and the complications over the lease had caused problems.
At this crucial point, Lady Charlotte took the reins and led the business through three critical years. She was 40 years old when she became chairwoman of Dowlais – and the mother of 10 children. The advantage Lady Charlotte had was that she knew the business inside out, having immersed herself in it to support and advise her husband. She had drawn up the monthly accounts, been involved in planning and learned the principles of iron production.
She set about assembling a strong management team to support her son and heir, Lord Wimborne, and oversaw a programme of renovations. Under her management, Dowlais became the world’s largest manufacturing company and laid down plans for further expansion, including the sinking of coalmines to supply the works.
Lady Charlotte’s other claim to fame was as a translator. In order that she could speak with the workers, she had learned Welsh and in 1838 published a translation of the Mabinogion – a collection of ancient Welsh folk tales.