Abstract: Spreading the Net: Distance, Shareholding, and the Geography of Risk in England and Wales, 1870-1935

Dimitris Sotiropoulos


It was in the latter decades of the nineteenth century that Britain became what Robb has termed a ''nation of shareholders''—in the process of which a 'possessive' instinct expanded from a regional and provincial to a national if not international arena. The kinds of shares held by British investors, the kinds of companies in which they invested, and the kinds of individuals involved in such investments are the key elements in understanding the constituent elements of the rise of Britain as a shareholder nation. In this paper we explore these issues through the lens of geography, focusing on the relationships among distance, shareholding, and concepts of risk. We first explore the significance of shareholding in the population at large, concentrating on its relative importance compared to other forms of wealth. Next, we turn our attention to different geographical scales of analysis. Finally, we explore some of the implications that the geography of shareholding raises for understanding the role of trust as a substitute for legal protection for British investors.