RIDLEY, Matthew White (1778-1836), of Blagdon, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b. 18 Apr. 1778, 1st s. of Sir Matthew White Ridley, 2nd Bt.*, by Sarah, da. and event. h. of Benjamin Colborne; bro. of Nicholas William Ridley Colborne*. educ. Westminster; Christ Church, Oxf. 1795. m. 13 Aug. 1803, Laura, da. of George Hawkins, 6s. 6da. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 9 Apr. 1813.
Capt. Northumb. supp. militia 1798; lt.-col. Loyal Newcastle vol. inf. 1803.
On his father’s retirement in 1812 Ridley succeeded him unopposed as Member for Newcastle. A few months later he came into his inheritance, which combined extensive landed property with coal mining, industrial and banking interests. He became senior partner in the bank of Ridley, Bigge & Co. of Newcastle. He was a committed Whig and unlike his father became a keen debater, who after 1815 rarely missed a division. He joined Brooks’s Club on 10 Mar. 1813. That session and subsequently he supported Catholic relief. In his maiden speech he gratified his constituents by opposing any alteration to the Corn Laws, 5 May 1814:
Corn was the regulator of the price of all articles and commerce: if the price of corn was raised, the price of labour would be raised also, and then the advance in the price of our manufactures might ensue: this might have the effect of driving them from those markets where they had hitherto been unrivalled. It would destroy a means of national wealth; and if it should induce any of our manufacturers to emigrate to other countries, the number of consumers would be diminished, and the landed interest would essentially suffer.
Privately he was of opinion that some degree of protection would not be so injurious as his constituents supposed. He proceeded to modify his views and on 23 Feb. and 8 Mar. 1815 his only objection against protection was that the duty proposed on imported corn was too high: but he withdrew his amendment to that effect. On 8 Mar. he justified his views and on the 10th voted with the minority, on the same principle. There was some dissatisfaction in his constituency, although he had warned the stewards of the incorporated companies of Newcastle of his stance, and he had to rebut charges that he was consulting his own interest only.1
On other subjects Ridley was not equivocal: on 20 June 1814 he acted with Whitbread in what the Speaker described as ‘a violent and angry debate on the alleged rupture of the treaty of marriage between the Princess Charlotte of Wales and the hereditary Prince of Orange’.2 Next session he opposed ministers’ tax proposals, particularly the continuation of the property tax, 19 Apr. 1815, which he regarded as a war tax merely to restore the Bourbons in France. On 24 Apr. he opposed the naval estimates. He seconded Whitbread’s motion of 28 Apr. against resumption of war with France and supported the London petition for peace and economy, 1 May. On 5 May he took the sense of the House against the property tax, mustering 29 votes against 160. He frequently acted as opposition teller henceforward, particularly on questions of retrenchment. He was more interested in halting the property tax, 4, 13 Mar., than in curbing indirect taxes, a step that did not guarantee any benefit to the consumer, 4 Apr. 1816. He was consumers’ spokesman against the cheese duties, 5 Apr., but the manufacturers’ champion against the soap excise, 24 May 1816. He criticized the army and navy estimates and other departmental spending and opposed the civil list and the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage grant, 28 June 1815, though not in the divisions on that question. On 25 Feb. 1817 he attempted to secure the abolition of the junior lordships of the Admiralty. His motion was defeated by 208 to 152. His attack on the naval estimates, 16 Mar. 1818, failed by 85 votes to 58. On 29 Apr. 1817 he supported Tierney’s attack on the third secretaryship of state. He was an opponent of the suspension of habeas corpus, but failed by 44 votes to 179 to amend the preamble to the seditious meetings bill, 14 Mar. 1817. His fears that the clause preventing the use of rooms for the reading of books and newspapers would be abused by the magistrates, 3 Mar. 1817, were in his view confirmed when the Academical Society was refused a licence by them, 28 Apr. He subscribed £200 to the Whig press fund at that time. On 2 June 1817 he seconded the opposition candidate for the Speakership. In the debate on the indemnity bill, 9 Mar. 1818, jumping up after Lambton had spoken against it, he claimed ministers were reduced to silence. He then sat down to give them an opening, but their silence was redoubled.3 He supported Burdett’s motion for reform in 1817, having expressed his support for a ‘rational and deliberate reform’ (14 Feb.). He eschewed annual parliaments as ‘absurd and visionary’, but supported the repeal of the Septennial Act, 19 May 1818. He opposed public lotteries, 18 May 1818. He opposed the Game Law of the previous session, describing it as an instance of ‘over legislation’, 12 Feb. 1817. On 29 Apr. 1818—as appears from his speech in the House next day—he was one of the country bankers who conferred with Lord Liverpool to oppose current legislation on country bank-notes. He was a member of the committee on public breweries and exonerated the leading brewers from the charges made against them, 3 June 1818.
At his re-election in 1818, which was unopposed although he rushed to Newcastle in anticipation of a contest, Ridley defended his record as a champion of ‘the privileges of the people ... a rigid economy in public expenditure ... friendly to moderate reform’. His agricultural protectionism still rankled and he admitted that Newcastle had not benefited from the opening up of the East Indian trade; but he claimed credit for his efforts to prevent the establishment of a customs house at Shields, which was resented at Newcastle.4
Ridley was respected by his fellow opposition Members, particularly by the northern Whigs, and even spoken of as leader of the opposition after Ponsonby’s death, but only after the reported refusal of three others.5 He signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the party and was as active as ever in their support in the Parliament of 1818. The clamour for an equalization of the coal duty embarrassed him in March 1819, when he opposed it on behalf of coal traders. He denied (2 Mar.) that he had refused at a public meeting to agree to a tax on coal at the pit’s mouth to safeguard his own business interests. He supported Holme Sumner’s bid to secure the repeal of the duty on certain seaborne coals, 20 May, and denied, on behalf of the coal producers, that it would lead to an increase in the price of coal at the pit’s mouth, which had scarcely varied for 20 years and had lately actually diminished.
On 18 Mar. 1819 Ridley revived his attack on the junior lordships of Admiralty in which he promised to persevere, after being defeated by 245 votes to 164. On 2 June he proposed that that board should have one secretary instead of two. He continued to advocate retrenchment in other respects. On 2 June his attack on the naval estimates was repelled by 164 votes to 97, and on 8 June, when he protested against the proposed indirect taxes ‘on articles of the most general consumption’ in a time of popular distress, his amendment was defeated by 186 votes to 76. After giving a pre-sessional dinner to the northern Whigs, he supported Althorp’s motion for a committee on the state of the country, 30 Nov. 1819, claiming that ‘the country now looked up to the opposition, with the utmost confidence, on account of the resistance which they had given to the late and the present most mischievous acts of government’. He had not been sanguine about a county meeting of protest in Northumberland, and Lambton, writing to Lord Grey, hinted that he was lacking in zeal on the subject. He nevertheless spoke cautiously against repressive legislation. He opposed the newspaper stamp duties bill, 1 Dec. He deprecated alarmism about public meetings in his constituency, 3, 9 Dec. The bill against seditious meetings ‘should be strictly confined to the necessity of the case’, both as to duration and application, 8 Dec. The seizure of arms bill was necessary, but he could not accept the clause empowering search by night, 14 Dec. He voted against it again next day, but seems to have been absent thereafter. In January 1820 he supported a Newcastle reformers’ meeting. He died 14 July 1836, ‘a sincere and practical reformer’.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: Lawrence Taylor
- 1. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 217; Northumb. RO, Ridley mss, ZR1 25/25, 28.
- 2. Colchester, ii. 503.
- 3. Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, Fri. [?21 Mar. 1817]; Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 10 Mar. .
- 4. BL, Collection of Newcastle election pprs. 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 232; Ridley mss 25/24/2; 25/30; 25/35, Ridley’s memo.
- 5. Add. 40217, f. 322; Brougham mss, Brougham to Lambton, Sat. [Feb. 1818].
- 6. Creevey Pprs. i. 326; Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, Fri. [19 Oct.], Fri. [5 Nov. 1819]; HMC Fortescue, x. 453; Gent. Mag. (1836), ii. 322.