RICHARDS, Richard (1752-1823), of 41 Great Ormond Street, Mdx. and Caerynwch, Merion.
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Family and Education
b. 5 Nov. 1752, s. and h. of Thomas Richards of Coed, Dolgellau, Merion. by Catherine, da. of Griffith Parry of Cae Ceirch, Dolgellau. educ. Ruthin sch., where his uncle Rev. William Parry was warden; Jesus, Oxf. 1771, Wadham 1773, Queen’s 1774, fellow 1776; I. Temple 1775, called 1780. m. 30 Sept. 1785,1 Catherine, da. and h. of Robert Vaughan Humphreys of Caerynwch, 8s. 2da. Kntd. 11 May 1814.
Registrar PCC 1788-1800, counsel to Queen Anne’s bounty Feb. 1789; collector and receiver of clergy tenths 1790-d.; solicitor-gen. to the Queen 1794-1814; patent of precedence 21 Feb. 1799; bencher, I. Temple 1799, reader 1804, treasurer 1806; c.j. Chester circuit May 1813-Feb. 1814; serjt.-at-law Feb. 1814; puisne baron of Exchequer Feb. 1814, ld. chief baron Apr. 1817-d.; PC 26 Apr. 1817; Speaker of House of Lords (during Lord Eldon’s illness) Jan. 1819.
‘Stumpy Dick’ Richards, an ambitious Welsh barrister, practised chiefly in the court of Chancery. He most probably entered Parliament to improve his professional standing, for he made no mark there. He was returned for Helston in 1796 on the interest of the Duke of Leeds, to whom he was ‘a perfect stranger (except by character)’. It was understood that he should resign his seat when the duke’s younger son came of age. He owed his introduction to the duke in the previous year to his friend and colleague Charles Abbot, who advised him how to behave in Parliament and not to feel bound by the politics of his patron (now in opposition). He proposed to attend ‘as well as I can and in the way that other working lawyers do. I don’t know that I shall ever speak; but I am not afraid of speaking, though I can never speak well.’2 He supported government and made one speech, against the Quaker relief bill, 24 Feb. 1797, which he regarded as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘inconvenient’. He voted with the majority for the assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798. On 21 Feb. 1799 he was awarded the patent of precedence as amende honorable when he gave up his seat to make way for his patron’s brother. Lady Williams Wynn instructed her son, 3 May 1799:
Mr Richards ... has ... put on the silk gown; that is, been admitted to the rank of King’s Council [sic] by which his fees are doubled and his business (which naturally might have lessened) has even already increased.
(In April 1797 Sir Watkin Williams Wynn had applied through Lord Grenville for a Welsh judgeship for Richards.) He was thought of by Abbot as a possible locum tenens at Heytesbury on the vacancy there in February 1802 which Abbot could not take up.3
In 1805 and 1806, as Lord Eldon’s candidate, he aspired to a seat for Oxford University. Until he declined in 1806, it caused a rift in his friendship with Abbot. He remained in the running until 1814, but got nowhere. He sat for Helston again briefly in 1807, without leaving evidence of parliamentary activity and apparently as a stopgap until the Duke of Leeds negotiated a substitute. Before the election he had declined to be a judge in the court of Exchequer. In April 1812 Romilly tried unsuccessfully to have Richards, as senior counsel in the Chancery court not in Parliament, allowed to give evidence to the committee on reform of that court.
Legal preferment was what he coveted and he was very disappointed when in April 1813 Sir Thomas Plumer was preferred to him for the new office of vice-chancellor. Romilly said Richards was ‘the best qualified for it of anyone now in the profession, and whose politics could raise no objection to his promotion ... [He] has always been considered as the chancellor’s [Lord Eldon’s] most intimate friend.’4 Richards became estranged from Eldon and it was only when Eldon admitted that he had behaved ill and secured as a consolation for him the chief justiceship of Chester (worth £730 p.a.) that Richards relented and resumed amicable relations.5 He proved far more capable as a judge than as a barrister, though he gave up business worth £7,000 a year. In November 1813 there was a rumour of his becoming solicitor-general, but it was supposed that he would not make a good orator in the House. In 1814 Eldon was alleged to have tossed him a note in the Chancery court, ‘Dear Taffy, what do you say to a puisne baron?’. ‘Taffy’ said yes, apparently with the promise of succeeding to the presidency of the court on the death of Chief Baron Thomson. This he achieved in 1817. In December 1817 he was reported to have refused the Rolls. Sydney Smith wrote in January 1819, ‘If Lord Eldon does give up, Baron Richards is thought to be his most probable successor’.6
Richards, who sought to resign through ill health in the summer of 1823, but was refused by Eldon (who had not given up), died 11 Nov. 1823. He was reputed to have twice refused a baronetcy. Popular among his brother lawyers and a convivial man, Richards was a founder member and president of ‘Nobody’s Friends’ Club: ‘his whole time was spent, when free from the cares of his judicial duties, in the exercise of philanthropy and the offices of social life’.7
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Not 7 Oct. as stated in DNB. See the more recent accounts of him in Y Cymmrodor (1927) xxxviii. 38; Trans. Cymmrod. (1938), 238 and Merion. Hist. Soc. Jnl. (1961), iv. 37.
- 2. Add. 28067, f. 188; Colchester, i. p. xviii; PRO 30/9/12/2, Richards to Abbot, 10 Aug. 1795.
- 3. I. Temple Recs. iv. 639; Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 50; PRO 30/8/199, f. 100; 30/9/1, pt. 3/4, Abbot to Marlborough, 5 Feb. 1802 (draft erasure).
- 4. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3447; Romilly, Mems. iii. 31, 102.
- 5. ‘A Calendar of the Eldon-Richards Corresp.’ from the Caerynwch mss in Merion. Hist. Soc. Jnl. v. 39; Twiss, Eldon, ii. 242.
- 6. Add. 34458, f. 609; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 24 Nov.; Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 20 Nov. 1813, 23 Jan. ; PRO 30/9/16, Hatsell to Abbot, 21 Nov. ; W. Ballantine, Some Experiences of a Barrister’s Life (1881), ii. 112; Colchester, iii. 29; Sydney Smith Letters ed. N. C. Smith, i. 313.
- 7. Gent. Mag. (1824), i. 82.