John Eldred

 

  • Richest of the Rich position: 182
  • Birth/Death: 1552-1632
  • Origin of wealth: Merchant
  • Wealth: £100,000
  • Net National Income: £30m
  • Net National Income Percent: 0.33%
  • In Today’s Money: £3.662 billion

While still a young lad, John Eldred left his native Norfolk to move to London, where he prospered in business. But his real fortune came as a result of his four-year stint in the Middle East. He left London in 1583, at the age of 31. Travelling to Baghdad and further south to what is now Basra, he seems to have efficiently gathered together up to seventy barges of merchandise, mainly spices. He took them up the Tigris to Baghdad and then with a huge caravan of camels, took the goods to Aleppo in what is now Syria. For four years he made Aleppo the headquarters of his trading operation and made two more trips to Baghdad.

He left Arabia in 1587 for England and arrived in London three months later in the ship Hercules, which he later wrote was ‘the richest ship of English merchants’ goods that ever was known to come into this realm’. Eldred was set up for life and by taking these risks, was clearly one of Britain’s earliest entrepreneurs. He then proceeded to gentrify himself, buying the manor of Great Saxham in 1597, where he built a large manor house, popularly known as ‘Nutmeg Hall’. He became a major shareholder in the East India Company when it was formed and served on its board.

The change of regime which came with the death of Elizabeth I did nothing to hurt Eldred’s wealth. Under James I, he was a contractor and commissioner for the sale of lands, a farmer of customs and the holder of a patent for tin making. No doubt all these activities further enhanced his fortune.

He died peacefully in 1632, so avoiding the turmoil of the Civil War. His fortune by then would have been around £100,000 – about £3.6bn in today’s money.

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