BELL, Ralph (d. 1733), of Sowerby, nr. Thirsk, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1710 - 12 July 1717

Family and Education

1st s. of Robert Bell, of Sowerby by his w. Elizabeth.  m. 3 Mar. 1697, Rachel, da. of Richard Windlow of Yarm, Yorks., 2s. d.v.p. 2da.  suc. fa. 1711.1

Offices Held

Customer, Kingston-upon-Hull 1717–d.


Bell’s family had been settled in Thirsk since the 16th century, and his father, who had a mansion house at Kirkgate, owned 22 of the borough’s burgages. Bell himself, ‘a mercer in Thirsk’, was politically active in Yorkshire for many years before entering Parliament. His family’s electoral interest was significant enough to place him in a position to nominate to one of the Thirsk seats. From 1695 onwards Bell supported the candidature of Sir Godfrey Copley, 2nd Bt., who represented the borough continuously until his death in 1709. Bell also took an interest in the county constituency, and on different occasions in 1701 and 1702 he advised the election agents of the Whig Lord Irwin (Arthur Ingram*), on the best strategy for winning the election. Bell himself was described in May 1702 as the ‘agent’ of the 9th Earl of Derby, whose family also had an interest in Thirsk.2

Following the death of Copley in 1709, Bell agreed to the return of Leonard Smelt, a nephew of Sir Thomas Frankland I*, at the ensuing by-election, on the understanding that the Franklands would ‘agree to whom Mr Bell had a mind’ to put forward at the next general election. In September 1710 it became apparent that Bell was considering standing for himself, Henry Frankland writing that Bell had ‘in a manner resolved to stand . . . and I verily believe [he] will at last’. He was returned unopposed for the borough in 1710, and was classified as ‘doubtful’ in the ‘Hanover list’. A Yorkshire correspondent of Robert Harley* reported in December 1710 that Bell

was . . . brought up a Churchman in his youth; but his father taking some distaste to a former minister of Thirsk set up a Dissenting congregation there, and has ever since adhered solely to it, but the son goes to church in the morning, and, (to humour his father) to the meeting in the afternoon. But since his election (or rather since Sir Thomas Frankland and he chose each other, for these two have much the greatest number of borough houses, and nobody can come in at Thirsk without their joint consent) he has stuck wholly to the Church, though some of his neighbours say he has been at the meeting . . . his capacity for a legislator will soon discover itself, if he offers to [speak] in the House, but I believe he will yet awhile be too modest to do that.

Harley’s correspondent guessed that Bell would adhere to the Whigs. He voted on 18 June 1713 against the French commerce bill, on which occasion he was classed as a Whig. In the next Parliament he voted on 18 Mar. 1714 against the expulsion of Richard Steele. Bell was subsequently described as a Whig in the Worsley list.3

Re-elected in 1715, Bell was described as a Whig in two comparative analyses of the new Parliament with its predecessor. However, he agreed to leave Parliament in 1717 in return for a customs place. In 1722–3 he purchased the manor of Thirsk for £6,300 from the 10th Earl of Derby (Hon. James Stanley*), thereby adding to his stock of burgages. In 1726 Bell sold the manor to Frankland. However, he remained an important figure in the borough, being described by Browne Willis* as the ‘lord of the town’, who lived in ‘a handsome new-built house’ beside the church. He died on 3 Nov. 1733, and was buried in the churchyard at Thirsk. By his will he left his house in Sowerby to his wife for her life, along with the household goods and £100. His brother, John, was to receive an annuity of £50. However, his principal heir was his nephew Ralph Consett, who assumed the name of Bell. A descendant, John Bell, represented Thirsk from 1841 to 1851.4

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. W. Grainge, Vale of Mowbray, 72–73; LG (1937).
  • 2. HMC Portland, iv. 640; Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD473, ff. 7–9, 11, 16; N. Yorks. RO, Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, John Warcupp to Sir Abstrupus Danby*, 18 Aug. 1699; W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Temple Newsam mss TN/C9/93, 243, Thomas Lumley to John Roades, 8 Sept. 1701, 2 May 1702.
  • 3. N. Yorks. RO, Worsley mss ZON 13/1/310, Henry Frankland to Thomas Worsley I*, 20 Sept. 1710; Grainge, 72; HMC Portland, 640; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 17.
  • 4. Bodl. Willis 15, ff. 123, 126; Borthwick Inst. York, wills, Prerog. Court. Dec. 1735; Grainge, 71.