HE was born to a family of builders in Shelley and went on to transform Mexico.
Now a book commemorating the life of Huddersfield man Lord Cowdray has been launched.
Born in July 1856 at Woodfield House, Shelley, Weetman Pearson – later Lord Cowdray – forged links between Yorkshire and Mexico at the turn of the 20th Century.
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.
A celebrated entrepreneur and politician, he was once one of 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.
A pioneer of the global oil industry, Lord Cowdray helped modernise Mexico through a series of ambitious construction projects.
Now Paul Garner, Cowdray Professor of Spanish at the University of Leeds, has written a new study of Cowdray’s business activities in Mexico entitled British Lions and Mexican Eagles: Business, Politics and Empire in the Career of Weetman Pearson in Mexico 1889-1919.
It launched at Leeds University this week along with an exhibition entitled Yorkshire in Mexico: The Pearson/Cowdray Legacy, which runs until Friday 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.”
He was the eldest son of eight children to George Pearson and his wife Sarah, daughter of Weetman Dickson of High Hoyland.
He started off as an apprentice to the family firm of builders and expanded it from 1880, moved to London and was involved in major construction works.
In 1889, he was invited by Mexican President Porfirio Díaz to build the canal to drain the flood waters from Mexico City into Lake Texcoco.
This was the first of many public construction works secured by Pearson.
His projects laid the foundations for 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.
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.