Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Estimated number qualified to vote:

over 5,000


13 May 1831RICHARD GROSVENOR, Visct. Belgrave

Main Article

A county palatine of seven hundreds, separated from North Wales by the River Dee and from Lancashire by the Mersey, Cheshire’s fertile plains were bounded to the south and east by Shropshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. It had industrialized early, and between 1821 and 1831 its population increased from 270,098 to 332,391. The incorporated city of Chester, the county and election town, returned two Members, but the salt towns of Nantwich and Northwich, the silk towns of Congleton and Macclesfield and the burgeoning textile town of Stockport, famous for its calicoes, remained unrepresented. The freeholders had last polled in 1734 and the representation was generally settled by the gentry ‘among themselves’ at a pre-nomination meeting in the three-cornered room at the centrally situated Crown in Northwich, after preliminary canvassing in London, at race meetings, the assizes and in the towns. In 1820 the sitting Members were the resolutely independent Davies Davenport of Capesthorne, first returned in May 1806, and his colleague since 1812 Wilbraham Egerton of Tatton Park, a wealthy Tory whose support for Lord Liverpool’s administration was tempered by his readiness to represent local interests.1 There was no shortage of alternative candidates among the county families. Hitherto, the richest of them, the Whig Grosvenors of Eaton Hall, Chester, had confined their attentions to that troublesome constituency, but in 1830 the 2nd earl’s heir Lord Belgrave exchanged his city for a county seat. His success, which proved costly and short-lived, owed much to Grosvenor’s ability to provide seats elsewhere for his allies and potential rivals among the Cheshire Whigs: Edward John Stanley of Alderley at Hindon; Abraham Moore, Davenport’s son Edward Davies Davenport, Ralph Leycester of Toft and his brother Edward Penrhyn at Shaftesbury; the 12th earl of Derby’s grandson Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley and George Wilbraham of Delamere Lodge at Stockbridge. Among the Tories, the Egertons of Oulton remained heavily committed in Chester until 1831; the 2nd marquess of Cholmondeley’s brother Lord William Henry Hugh Cholmondeley* and the lord lieutenant, the 6th earl of Stamford’s heir Lord Grey of Groby both offered, and George John Legh of High Legh, his kinsman Thomas Legh* of Lyme and Sir Gibbs Crawfurd Antrobus* of Eaton Hall, Congleton also canvassed.

The towns marked the death of George III in 1820 with the customary proclamations and addresses and the ensuing general election took place in the uneasy atmosphere generated by divisions between the Tories and Grosvenor over the deployment of the militia at Peterloo and its subsequent enlargement by subscription.2 Egerton announced that he sought re-election, 26 Feb., but two days later, anticipating a contest, the 62-year-old Davenport announced his retirement, pleading ‘increased infirmities of age’. Notices from Thomas Legh, who stood from ‘feelings of honest ambition’ and indicated that he would withdraw if opposed, appeared on the 29th, and George John Legh, who claimed to be ‘unshackled by any party connection whatever’, declared on 1 Mar. Canvassing was well advanced when the county met at Northwich to adopt the customary addresses of condolence and congratulation, 3 Mar.3 At the meeting, the Whig reformer Sir John Stanley of Alderley, with the Tory Sir Harry Mainwaring of Peover Hall as his seconder, procured a requisition of support for Davenport headed by the outgoing sheriff, John Smith Barry of Marbury Hall, and signed by ‘almost all the first people of rank, fortune and respectability in the county’, including George John Legh and the Macclesfield attorney Thomas Grimsditch, agent to the absent Thomas Legh. Both made way for Davenport, but not before Thomas Legh was requisitioned ‘from several of the principal towns’ who were ‘determined to have him and No Davenport’. At Northwich on 11 Mar. he was nominated in absentia by Grimsditch and Joseph Wilde of Lymm. Davenport was proposed by Stanley and the Rev. Roger Jacson, rector of Bebbington, and Egerton by Egerton Leigh of High Legh and the chairman of the sessions Trafford Trafford.4 Legh, who was in any case too ill with rheumatism and a severe cold to canvass personally, declined ‘on a point of honour and of prudence’ to proceed to a contest, 12 Mar.; but two days later his committee chairman J.H. Beswick tried to revive his campaign, claiming, in a notice issued from their headquarters at the Angel, Knutsford, that the requisition to Davenport had been obtained by subterfuge and in the guise of a compliment to the retiring Member. A joint subscription fund for the sitting Members was opened on the 16th and Legh pointedly distanced himself from the fray, leaving his supporters to vent their spleen against Sir John Stanley, who met the ‘gentlemen from the towns of Macclesfield, Stockport, Congleton, Northwich, Middlewich and Sandbach deputed on behalf of the freeholders in the interest of ... Legh of Lyme’, 18 Mar., and persuaded them to withdraw their opposition to Davenport and back Legh at a later date. Davenport and Egerton were proposed as previously and returned unopposed at Chester, where they dined 1,000 supporters, 20 Mar.5 The distressed manufacturers of Stockport petitioned the Commons for government action to assist commerce, 14 June 1820.6

Grosvenor was among Queen Caroline’s partisans, but although Congleton and Stockport addressed her and illuminations were widespread, reaction to her prosecution and its abandonment remained uncoordinated until 4 Jan. 1821, when, at the Tories’ request, the county was summoned to meet at Northwich, 11 Jan., to adopt a loyal address.7 On 6 Jan. the Whig veteran and former Member Lord Crewe, Grosvenor, Wilbraham, Willoughby Crewe of Warmingham, Edward Davenport, James Tomkinson of Kelsall and George Tollett and Charles Wickstead of Betley Hall circulated an advertisement, which The Times endorsed, stating that

such vague declarations of loyalty unaccompanied by any notice of the late proceedings against Her Majesty ... of the abrupt and hasty prorogation of Parliament, at a season which particularly called for its counsel and advice, or of the present distressed state of the country, appear to us necessarily to imply approbation of the conduct of ministers ... [which] we feel it impossible for us not to disapprove ... Believing it to be of the utmost consequence to the country, and to the kingdom at large, that the opinions of its inhabitants should be fully and manfully expressed, we feel it incumbent upon us to attend the proposed meeting and we trust that every freeholder will, notwithstanding the shortness of the notice, come forward upon this most urgent call of public duty.8

The sheriff, James France France of Bostock Hall, a Tory who had commanded a militia troop at Peterloo, chaired the crowded meeting. Egerton attended and Davenport, who pleaded a prior engagement, promised to represent its views. The former Tory Member Thomas Cholmondeley proposed and Mainwaring seconded the address. Grosvenor’s attempt to introduce as an amendment an address criticizing ministers similar to that adopted at Chester, 9 Jan., was shouted down (apparently in response to a prearranged signal from Cholmondeley), and Lords Crewe and Combermere, the Revs. Henry Broughton, James Browne and Edward Stanley, Captain Salusbury Humphreys of Bramhull, Colonel Dod of Edge Hall and Wilbraham vainly struggled to endorse it before the sheriff declared the original address ‘adopted’. Fifteen Whigs signed a protest accusing him of acting arbitrarily, failing to control the meeting and demonstrating partiality by declaring the amendment ‘irrelevant’ and refusing a division. Leycester, who had a good vantage point, submitted a declaration that ‘upon a show of hands ... the non-addressers had it ... the question against the address was not put in a distinct, audible and intelligent manner’.9 Presenting a petition of complaint to the Commons signed by over 300 freeholders present, 9 Feb., Belgrave praised the alternative address, accused the Cholmondeleys of enticing trouble and emphasized the danger of a corrupt sheriff, but he did not press for the parliamentary inquiry the petitioners sought. Its referral to a select committee was rejected, 14 Feb., and Egerton and his kinsman Edward Bootle Wilbraham rallied to the sheriff’s defence when the matter became the subject of an unsuccessful opposition censure motion on the 20th. So did Davenport, and no Member connected with the county voted for it.10 Davenport criticized the omission of the queen’s name from the liturgy, without seeking its reinstatement, 26 Jan., and did not divide on the opposition censure motion, which Egerton voted against, 6 Feb. 1821. Both voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. Their Commons presenter Davenport endorsed the distressed agriculturists’ relief petitions, 20 Feb., 6 Mar. 1821, and protested vigorously on their behalf before voting against the ‘particularly oppressive’ taxes on agricultural horses, malt and salt, which Egerton also opposed.11

The Tory clubs, the Macclesfield King and Constitution Club, the Manchester Pitt Club, and the Wellington Birthday Club of Stockport, whose membership topped 500 in 1823, supported the agriculturists’ petitions and held their customary celebrations in May 1821.12 On 9 Oct. the Cheshire Whig Club, whose formation, ‘a delicate undertaking’, had engaged Wilbraham and Edward Davenport since April, if not before, held its inaugural meeting at a private dinner at Chester’s Royal Hotel. Sir Henry Bunbury*, Lord Crewe and Sir John Stanley were present, together with ‘ten or twelve of the Chester Whigs of principle ... some of all the parties in Chester ... an accession of many county gentlemen from Wales’ and Grosvenor, whose allegiance had remained uncertain to the last. Much was made of the Club’s dependence on out-county support and the Chester bankers.13 Edward Davenport, who was anxious to maintain close ties with leading Whigs and current policy, later informed Lord John Russell*:

The way we took was to fix upon two or three distinct propositions intelligible to everybody and sufficiently drastic to rescue us from the contempt of any ultra reformer and yet not so violent as to scare the many timid and vacillating individuals whom we had to propitiate. To this end we formed a club upon principles claiming a restitution of all those rights already recorded as part of the constitution between the accession of William III and the Act of Settlement inclusive. If triennial parliaments and a place bill fail in purifying the House of Commons we may go further. But this was thought enough for a beginning. The consequence has been the collecting in a very short time of 160 individuals from the highest down to the upper end of the middle class in a district where a few years ago a magistrate (the chairman of the quarter sessions) was nearly torn in pieces for saying, ‘I will not touch upon the subject of reform in Parliament’.14

Nantwich King and Constitution Club and the Association for the Protection and Encouragement of Agriculture petitioned both Houses in February 1822 for government action to alleviate distress, including reductions in the taxes on malt and salt, which the Members advocated, 20 Feb., 18 Mar., 23 May.15 They also backed the silk manufacturers, corporations and inhabitants of Congleton, Macclesfield, Middlewich and Sandbach in their sustained but unsuccessful petitioning campaign against the warehousing bill and the relaxation of the navigation laws that session, and Macclesfield now petitioned the Lords for better means of effecting debt recoveries, 10 Mar. 1823.16 Petitioning revived when the tariffs were reduced in 1824, and there were also protests against the unpopular duties on beer and excise licenses. In March the weavers of Stockport and Macclesfield, where the militia were called out, petitioned for repeal of the combination laws and changes in the poor laws.17 Petitions against slavery were forthcoming from the textile towns in 1824, and Macclesfield also petitioned against the indictment of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May 1824, but Lyme and Nantwich also sent up anti-slavery petitions in 1826.18

A declaration of principles proposed by Edward Davenport at the 1823 Whig Club dinner was deemed too radical and held over; and Belgrave’s well-publicized decision to ‘resign rather than sign’ signalled an unwelcome breach with Grosvenor, who with his sons, George Anson and Lord Stanley stayed away from the October 1824 dinner, when Crewe and Sir John Stanley were the only Cheshire magnates present, and William Hughes, Leycester, John and William Alexander Madocks and John Williams were the only Members at what the Chester Courant dubbed ‘the great Whig confederacy of nine counties’.19 Lord Holland commented: ‘How far a Cheshire Whig has to complain of his writing any, or he [Belgrave] has to complain of the Cheshire Whigs for exacting tests and printing creeds unnecessarily, must depend on what has passed in that sapient district’.20 Grosvenor resumed attendance at the 1825 dinner, where the toasts were distinctly Foxite.21 Congleton, Stockport and Thelwall had petitioned against Catholic relief that session and Stockport also petitioned the Lords in favour of the beleaguered Equitable Loan Company bill, 26 Apr. 1825.22 Public meetings were held and advertisements issued to bolster the Nantwich and Congleton banks during the 1825-6 crisis, and branches of the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank were subsequently opened in Lyme, Macclesfield, Nantwich and Northwich.23 Almost 15,000 silk workers were said to be unemployed or laid off in Congleton and Macclesfield in January 1826, the employers and operatives petitioned strongly that session against the importation of foreign silks and both Members advocated the appointment of an investigative committee, which ministers refused, 24 Feb.24 A charity ball in Chester raised over £500 for the operatives of Congleton and Macclesfield and on 8 May the ‘mayor, burgesses, clergy, gentry and other inhabitants of Congleton’ resolved to petition requesting that ‘a certain portion of foreign corn now in bond ... be let out duty free to the committees for the relief of the distressed districts’.25 A canal bill sponsored by the Congleton and Macclesfield mill owners and opposed by Thomas Legh received royal assent, 11 Apr., and the Stockport improvement bill was enacted, 26 May 1826.26 A notice, dated 28 May, from an undeclared candidate in Birkenhead, asked the freeholders to reserve their votes until after the nomination. Despite its wide circulation and speculation that Antrobus, who was without a seat, was behind it, it was correctly treated as an exploratory ‘ruse de guerre’. The third man remained ‘in nubibus’ and the sitting Members were quietly returned. Davenport’s proposer, Mainwaring, and seconder, the Rev. Edward Stanley, testified to his unstinting opposition to the usury bill, the corn bill and Catholic relief, his defence of mercantile interests and promotion of the Macclesfield canal bill. Egerton’s proposer Egerton Leigh stressed his candidate’s ‘No Popery’ credentials and generosity to the distressed silk workers. His seconder Trafford Trafford maintained that candidates should be chosen on merit and delivered a highly acclaimed resume of his own Tory principles before extending his tribute to the Members.27 Grosvenor, whose sons secured the narrowest of victories in Chester, where Belgrave hinted they might relinquish one seat, hosted a bow meeting with a grand ball and supper at Eaton Hall in October 1826, and notices urged landowners to petition against the importation of foreign corn.28

The silk weavers petitioned for, 21 Feb., 1 Mar., and farmers at Chester market against amending the corn laws, 27 Feb. 1827, and in April the Macclesfield weavers resolved to support the national campaign for regulating labour costs in their trade.29 The Dissenters and Nonconformists mounted a vigorous petitioning campaign for repeal of the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828, but the Members voted against it, 26 Feb. 1828.30 Anti-Catholic meetings and petitioning increased following the appointment of the pro-Catholic Canning as prime minister in May 1827. Sixty attended the Warrington Pitt Club anniversary dinner presided over by the Rev. Peter Legh of Golborne Park, 28 May, and over 100 ‘gentlemen’ celebrated the anniversary of Waterloo with anti-Catholic speeches in Stockport.31 The Whig Club, whose activities were the subject of a critical editorial in The Times, 12 Oct. 1827, mourned Canning’s death and declared for emancipation, and Grosvenor reiterated this at their 1828 dinner chaired by Edward Davenport. Grosvenor warned that the Club had not been formed to support a party and it failed to deliver to Edward Davenport the backing he sought for a pro-Catholic petition, which, in deference to his father, he refrained from instigating himself, but pro-Catholic petitions were forthcoming from Duckinfield and Middlewich.32 Stamford, Egerton and Trafford initially ‘held aloof’ from the Brunswickers, who, being denied a county meeting, were summoned by its chairman Mainwaring to one of the Protestant Ascendancy at Knutsford, where at least 500 assembled (accounts differ) on 30 Dec. 1828, among them delegations from Macclesfield, where the mayor Henry Wardle was an ardent Brunswicker, and the Loyal Stockport Wellington Club. Grosvenor and the Whigs stayed away, as did Stamford and Davenport, but Egerton and Thomas Legh were present and Lord Kilmorey sent a letter of support. The main speakers were Mainwaring, the Rev. Sir Philip Grey Egerton of Oulton, Trafford, Henry Calveley Cotton of Combermere, Townshend Ince of Christleton, the Rev. Charles Ethelston of Manchester, who had read the Riot Act at Peterloo, and William Harwood Folliott, ‘an eccentric gentleman of fortune residing in Chester’. Their anti-emancipation petition was carried unanimously and circulated for signature by local committees in the market towns (which also petitioned independently), before being forwarded to Stamford, Lord Skelmersdale, the county Members and Legh.33 Egerton, its Commons presenter, 24 Feb. 1829, and Davenport remained diehard opponents of emancipation, and tried to deny Wilbraham’s suggestion that the petition was unrepresentative of the prevailing opinion in the county. There were complaints that the Brereton petition had been ‘snugly got up’, and riots accompanied the adoption of late anti-Catholic petitions in Middlewich, Nantwich, Sandbach and the depressed textile towns, whose corporations were staunchly anti-Catholic. The Unitarians and Catholics of Stockport petitioned for emancipation, 6 Feb., and Bishop Sumner encouraged the diocesan clergy to back it.34 The Members continued to present and endorse the silk manufacturers, throwsters and dyers’ protectionist petitions but, in the Lords Grosvenor dissented from their prayer.35 Opinion was divided on the Cheshire constabulary bill which received royal assent, 1 June 1829. It had been promoted by Trafford at the January sessions as a means of combating the increasing cost of crime in towns like Stockport. Wilbraham and Leycester condemned it at as an attack on the ‘unpaid and independent magistracy’ and tried to kill it by adjournment, 13 Apr., but they desisted when it became clear it had the support of the home secretary Peel and Belgrave. The pro-Grosvenor Chester Chronicle welcomed the measure and the Courant and Macclesfield and Stockport papers opposed it.36 Edward Davenport, Leycester and Wilbraham declined to attend the Whig Club dinner in October 1829, when with Lord Crewe’s son-in-law Foster Cunliffe Offley* as president elect it put itself into abeyance.37

Edward Davenport’s name headed the requisition for the well-attended county meeting at Northwich, 25 Jan. 1830, convened ‘with perfect unity of purpose between Whig and Tory’ to petition for relief from distress. Lord Delamere, who advocated rent reductions as the only solution, protested at Davenport’s 11-point plan, which Mainwaring seconded, ‘as not being sufficiently respectful, and as calculated to cast aspersions upon ... ministers’. Davenport in turn objected to the alternative proposed by Charles Cholmondeley and Sir John Stanley; and Parker of Astle, the two seconders and Wilbraham drafted a compromise petition and secured its unanimous adoption. It called on Parliament to attend immediately to the universal distress in agriculture and commerce, which it attributed ‘in great measure to the late alterations in the currency’, advocated the appointment of a select committee and suggested tax reductions and retrenchment. Signatures were collected in Stockport, Macclesfield, Knutsford, Altrincham, Northwich, Middlewich, Congleton, Sandbach and Nantwich, before both Houses received it, 15 Feb. Its Commons presenter, Egerton, disputed its tenet on the currency.38 Congleton and the salt manufacturers petitioned both Houses in February and March against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, and before the dissolution in July, precipitated by George IV’s death, petitions were also forthcoming for criminal law revision, against the truck bill and the beer bill, which the magistrates resolutely opposed, and against overworking children in factories; and the calico printers sought restrictions on the number of apprentices taken on in their trade.39 The Congleton road bill received royal assent, 8 Apr., and the Macclesfield waterworks bill, 17 June 1830.40

Criticism of Cheshire’s palatine jurisdiction administered through Chester’s assize and exchequer courts revived with the appointment of an investigative commission in February 1828, and Wilbraham ensured it was added to the commission’s remit, 22 Apr.41 Inquiry revealed support for the introduction of English circuit judges without abolishing the court and its perceived advantages of greater speed and lower charges for debt and eviction cases. When the 1830 administration of justice bill proposed its abolition, a committee of peers, Members and magistrates connected with Cheshire was established by the clerk of the peace Henry Potts, at the direction of the magistrates, who issued a statement claiming that the ‘principle and practice of the palatine courts have not been understood by the parties recommending their abolition, but have been confounded with the judicature of Wales, from which they are and always have been totally distinct’, 24 Apr., and at their request the Cheshire towns and the attorneys of Liverpool and Manchester forwarded hostile petitions to both Houses.42 The committee engaged the Member for Ripon George Spence to draft amendments, publicized their campaign in a 12-point plan and directed the county Members Wilbraham and Belgrave to oppose the bill’s details; but notwithstanding Spence and Edward Davenport’s late efforts, they gained little except a concession on evictions, secured by Belgrave, and a verbal assurance that no Welsh county would be joined to Cheshire.43

Davenport, whose health and attendance had deteriorated, announced his retirement, 27 June, and Lord Grey of Groby commenced canvassing immediately, but at a meeting in London, 30 June 1830, he deferred to Belgrave (who with his father, made a privy councillor by Wellington, was expected to go over to administration), bringing with him the Cholmondeleys and other leading Tories. The chairman of the Weaver Navigation trustees, William Tomkinson, noted that there was a general concern that ‘he [Grey] with Mr. Egerton would be inadequate to the business of the county, it being well known that Mr. Davenport has been the efficient Member’. Egerton sought re-election and Edward Davenport, Wilbraham, the Leghs and Sir Edmund Antrobus were also expected to stand. Belgrave’s notices stipulated that he wished ‘to succeed, not to replace’ Davenport and would retire ‘if I should not receive the general countenance and support of the county on the day of nomination’. Edward Davenport hoped to be returned and, without his father’s acquiescence, had already enlisted the support of the political union established in Macclesfield in March, and of the Stockport operatives and radicals. He directed his appeal to the traders and expressed dissatisfaction with the unreformed House, some misgivings about succeeding his father and more about representation by a peer’s heir. He cautioned against pledging votes before the nomination and promised to withdraw ‘so long as any competent person of liberal principles and whose conduct has shown a due solicitude for the welfare of the community and the reform of public abuses should be forthcoming’.44 The Leghs relinquished their pretensions by 4 July and deferred to Belgrave, bringing Leycester with them. William Fox of Statham had informed Lady Belgrave on the 3rd that ‘the voters of Macclesfield and Stockport are numerous and Mr. Legh has an interest in both places, but I am inclined to think the inhabitants do not consider him of sufficient activity’. When Belgrave arrived on the 10th, in time to attend the Knutsford sessions with Leycester, a contest was considered unlikely, but he was opposed by the anti-Catholic clergy, nothing had been heard from Antrobus and the intentions of Wilbraham and Edward Davenport, who remained in London, remained unclear. On 21 and 23 July Belgrave and Egerton canvassed separately in Macclesfield, Stockport and Congleton, which between them accounted for approximately half the electorate. Afterwards Egerton informed Belgrave:

Neither you nor I shall have any loss in the party that supports ... [Davenport]. I have little doubt but that on the day of nomination he will cause a great disturbance; it will therefore be necessary that we should have a very good attendance of friends. Of this poor Mr. Davenport was so convinced in London that he strongly urged me to do so and stated the same to you.

Knowing he was too late, on the 24th Wilbraham declined ‘for the moment’, thanked his supporters and left to contest Stockbridge, promising ‘as always’ to attend to Cheshire interests in Parliament.45 At Northwich on 4 Aug. Egerton was proposed by Lord Grey and seconded by Edward Venables Townshend of Wincham, the defeated Tory second man in Chester in 1812, 1820 and 1826. Nominating Belgrave, Sir John Stanley and George John Legh cited his ‘zeal’ in seeking modifications to the administration of justice bill as proof of his suitability. The Stockport surgeon G.B. Cheetham and Thomas Marriott of High Lane, described by the Chester Chronicle as ‘a venerable octogenarian worth half a plum’, sponsored Edward Davenport. Egerton spoke of his defence of the silk trade and support for the gradual abolition of slavery but was heckled with cries of ‘Self! Self!’ for voting against the 1827 corn bill, furthering his own interests in railway legislation and opposing the Sale Moor canal bill. Belgrave’s canvass indicated that he could draw on a broad consensus of cross-party support, and he proclaimed his political ‘independence’ and praised the late Member. Edward Davenport appealed to his parliamentary record and took issue with Legh for crediting Belgrave with the concessions on the administration of justice bill which he had himself gained by remaining in London until the last day of the session. He praised Belgrave’s recent pro-reform vote, questioned the principle of representation by a peer’s heir and complained at the Grosvenor and Egerton monopoly of the Cheshire and Chester seats and Egerton’s ministerialist votes.46 Certain of defeat, Davenport desisted, and reports that his supporters would poll to the last man proved false. A joint procession of Belgrave and Egerton supporters went to Chester, 9 Aug. 1830, and they were proposed as previously. When Sir John Stanley insisted that they state their views on parliamentary reform before being returned, Egerton said that he was prepared to see boroughs disfranchised for corruption but had ‘misgivings’ about enfranchising large towns and would treat any new proposal with an open mind, and Belgrave stated that he was anxious not to be misunderstood on reform as his priority was to represent agriculture, commerce and manufacturing as one. He added that he would support franchise transfers to large towns ‘by some fair and equitable plan’, but not ‘root and branch reform’ or universal suffrage.47

The Wellington ministry counted Egerton among their ‘friends’ but were ‘very doubtful’ of Belgrave, who stayed away when Egerton voted in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. On 22 Nov. Stockport petitioned the Commons for abolition of the civil list and lower taxes.48 The Members claimed to support a gradual abolition of slavery and that Parliament both Houses received anti-slavery petitions from Dissenters’ and Nonconformists’ chapels countywide, many of them forwarded for presentation to the Commons by Lord Stanley or John Wood.49 The merchants and operatives of Stockport petitioned the Lords urging free settlement in India and against renewing the East India Company’s charter, 15 Dec., and the Commons for repeal of the calico duties, 18 Dec. 1830, 10 Feb. 1831.50 Depression prevailed in all sectors of the economy and the militia were deployed and troops held in reserve during Henry Hunt’s tour of the district following his by-election victory in Preston, but plans for a new cavalry regiment were abandoned.51 At Macclesfield, 21 Feb., the silk weavers and radicals among the crowd of 1,500 voiced dissatisfaction with the petition for additional representation proposed by Grimsditch and adopted another advocating reform, the secret ballot and universal suffrage, which they forwarded for presentation to the Commons by Hunt, with two similar ones from Stockport.52 The Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed giving Macclesfield, whose population (excluding townships) was 17,746 in 1821, and Stockport (21,726) a Member each and increasing the county representation to four by dividing the constituency, and thus far won widespread support.53 Two-thousand attended a meeting at Macclesfield to petition in its favour, 16 Mar., and an estimated 1,200 were at Northwich for the county meeting the following day. Leycester, whose name had headed the requisition, was too ill to attend. The sheriff, Thomas Stanley Massey Stanley of Hooton, a Catholic, read out an endorsement of the bill from Wilbraham, and the resolutions for a petition in its favour were proposed by Sir John Stanley and supported by Egerton Leigh, John Jervis Tollemache, Townshend, the Rev. James Tomkinson, Tollett and Egerton Leigh. That calling for the bill’s passage ‘without any alteration derogatory to its ruling principle’ was strongly opposed by Charles Cholmondeley, who carefully praised the proposed increase in the representation of Cheshire, condemned bribery and corruption and defended ‘rotten or close boroughs’ as a means of returning such Members as Leycester, Wilbraham and Edward Davenport. He read out letters denouncing the bill but advocating ‘moderate reform’ from Lord Delamere and Lord Cholmondeley and his brother. Grosvenor expressed outright support for the bill, referred to his willingness to sacrifice of four borough seats to see it passed, and defended his use of Shaftesbury. He also voiced support for reform of the game laws and the abolition of sinecures, slavery and the East India Company’s monopoly. The ‘unanimously adopted’ petition was signed by the sheriff on the county’s behalf, but the ensuing protest claimed that the ‘sense of the county could not be taken at a meeting so thinly attended’. The Times ridiculed the protesters, who included France France, Lyon, Mainwaring and Parker, as ‘about 15 old applewomen with Mr. Cholmondeley, who is a government pensioner, at their head’.54 Petitions favourable to the bill were received by both houses from Macclesfield, Stockport and the county, 15 Mar.-21 Apr.55 Egerton, who had been ‘wavering’, voted against the second reading, 22 Mar., when Belgrave and Wilbraham divided for it, and issued an explanatory address on the 26th signifying his intention of retiring at the next dissolution.56 Wilbraham declared his candidature, 27 Mar., and on 2 Apr. George John Legh deferred his until ‘after the reform bill has passed’. Cheetham and his friends objected to the adoption of an address of thanks to Egerton at Stockport lest it became a ploy to secure his re-election, 4 Apr.57 Meanwhile a Congleton meeting on 30 Mar. 1831 petitioned for the bill and enfranchisement ‘as the next town in point of importance to Macclesfield and Stockport’.58 The Chester and Tranmere and both Chester-Liverpool railway bills became casualties of the dissolution, but the Wallasey chapel bill and Hyde waterworks bill were hurriedly enacted.59

The Tories rallied in vain behind the sitting anti-reformer Sir Philip Egerton in Chester, and on 12 Apr. 1831 Cholmondeley, Kilmorey, Combermere, Kenyon, Delamere and De Tabely topped the list of 69 Cheshire landowners ready to use ‘every means in our power to prevent a bill founded upon such unconstitutional grounds passing into a law’.60 Belgrave and Wilbraham voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., and canvassed directly Parliament was dissolved. A meeting at Macclesfield on the 27th resolved to back only ‘out and outers’, and similar declarations for Wilbraham and Belgrave were carried and committees established at Chester, Congleton, Manchester, Middlewich, Northwich and Stockport.61 The Lancashire reformers offered to pay £1,000 towards Wilbraham’s costs.62 Edward Davenport, who on the 28th issued notices advocating shorter parliaments and the ballot, was hors de combat in Rome.63 Lord Henry Cholmondeley, with a reputed £5,000 from the Tories’ Charles Street committee, arrived to canvass on the 29th and the anti-reformers endorsed his candidature at Northwich on 2 May. William Tatton Egerton* chaired Cholmondeley’s committee with Sir Philip Egerton, his likely replacement as Member for Castle Rising, where he had been returned, 30 Apr. The Times reported that the reformers had the services of their attorneys free and Wilbraham could rely on 3-4,000 votes in the hundred of Macclesfield alone, where an estimated 7,000 attended a meeting addressed by Belgrave on the 4th.64 According to the Macclesfield Courier:

Were the voice of the manufacturing district to be considered as speaking the sentiments of the whole county we could have no hesitation in affirming the chance of Lord Henry Cholmondeley’s election to be only in the proportion of one to a hundred ... but we are aware that a great deal of exertion in his favour, to counteract which will be a task of some difficulty, has been used in the more internal portion of the county, by the landed proprietors and others who signed the declaration; and that the expense is considered by them a matter of no moment whatever.65

At Northwich on 9 May Sir John Stanley and his sons, Townshend, Tollemache, J.H. Leche, Tomkinson, Grimsditch, Birkenhead Glegg, Joseph Hayes Lyon of Ashfield and the mayors of Chester, Macclesfield and Stockport established a joint committee, with an estimated £27,000 fund, to secure the election of Belgrave and Wilbraham. The Chester Courant rejoiced that the ‘proud landowners ... were taught the unwelcome secret that their influence and interest had disappeared with the old fashioned English practice of granting leases for lives to their tenantry’ and warned that ‘had Lord Belgrave stood aloof from the cause of the people (Mr. Wilbraham’s triumphant return being beyond question) another candidate would have been nominated that day’.66 Belgrave meanwhile found Cholmondeley and Egerton’s allegations of collusion ever harder to deny and he lost the support of Randle Wilbraham of Rode, the banker Thomas Lyon of Appleton and other Tories.67 When the anti-reformers met at Northwich on the 11th, Cholmondeley announced his retirement, and thereafter they kept a low profile.68 A crowd of 10,000 attended the uncontested election at Chester on the 13th, when Belgrave, who denied any coalition and staked his claim to the future representation of the Southern division, was nominated as previously. His seconder George John Legh pressed for the separate enfranchisment of Northwich and Winsford. In the absence of Egerton Leigh and Tollemache, Wilbraham was proposed by Townshend and seconded by Edward John Stanley, the Grosvenor Member for Hindon.69 Much of the cost of the election was born by private local committees, and the finance committee split the £600 bill for the Chester dinners between the Members, who also paid postage and private costs. William Stanley commented: ‘I cannot find who or if anybody pays for Lord Henry. The printer from Stockport went to Charles Cholmondeley to ask who was to pay him and was near kicked out of the house. So far good for us another time’.70 To dispel the notion of a split between the commercial and landed interest, on 21 May 1831 the Macclesfield Courier named 75 Cheshire landowners, designating 46, headed by Lords Derby, Grosvenor, Vernon and Crewe, as reformers, and 29, headed by Lords Stamford Cholmondeley, Harrington and Combermere, as anti-reformers.

Both Members supported the reintroduced reform bill. Belgrave, who, unlike Wilbraham, seldom voted for its details, presented a petition for enfranchisement ‘at the same rate of qualification as the occupiers of houses’ from the graziers and occupiers of Wrenbury, 15 July, and another for separate representation from Congleton, 28 July 1831, and similar petitions were received that month by the Lords. The clauses enfranchising Macclesfield and Stockport were carried unopposed, 5 Aug. Macclesfield throwsters and operatives connected with political unions, Hunt and Lord Radnor had recently petitioned for a taxpayer franchise and the ballot.71 The towns petitioned the Lords urging the bill’s passage and inflammatory placards from Manchester were exhibited at Macclesfield, 11 Oct., when the corporation and inhabitants resolved to address the king following its defeat.72 The county meeting at Northwich, 25 Oct., adopted a moderate address moved by Sir John Stanley and Townshend, who, backed by Grosvenor (as Belgrave had become), persuaded Edward Davenport to drop his resolution calling for the withdrawal of supplies until the bill was passed. A declaration of support for the Members was carried unanimously.73 The revised reform bill announced in December awarded Macclesfield and Stockport second seats but left Congleton and the salt towns unrepresented.74 The Cheshire anti-reform petition presented to the Commons by the Ultra Sir Richard Vyvyan, 19 Mar., and the Lords by Lord Delamere, 6 Apr. 1832, was dismissed in the Lower House by Wilbraham, Edward John Stanley and Robert Grosvenor as a ‘hole-and-corner’ one, but Grosvenor, whose misgivings about the bill’s details persisted, conceded that it was respectably signed. In-fighting among the political unionists of Macclesfield, who distanced themselves increasingly from the silk masters, lessened the impact of their agitation for universal suffrage and inquiry into Peterloo.75 When the king’s overture to Wellington in May briefly hazarded the reform bill, mass meetings at Macclesfield and the ‘intended borough of Stockport’ petitioned backing Lord Grey and urging that supplies be withheld pending the bill’s passage. The Commons received the Stockport petition, 4 June 1832, and the bill’s enactment that month was widely celebrated.76

Stockport had petitioned consistently for restrictions on truck, the employment of juveniles and criminal law reform, and contributed with Northwich, Wallasey and others to the county magistrates’ 1830-2 campaigns for better regulation of flour distribution under the corn laws and of on-consumption under the 1830 Sale of Beer Act.77 Macclesfield, backed by Congleton and Sandbach, instigated a vigorous petitioning campaign for the restoration of protection for silk, which all Members connected with the county supported. Grosvenor secured the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the trade, 5 Mar., but failed in his attempt to influence its outcome by vetting its membership.78 Edward Davenport sought lord chancellor Brougham’s advice that month concerning the administration of the Cheshire Constabulary Act, and following his defeat at the May 1832 Chester by-election he encouraged his supporters to petition urging the Lords to legislate to ‘abolish in this county the practice of allowing magistrates to transact business in private rooms, a practice fraught with every oppressive abuse, and put an end to in the better administered counties of York, Devon, Essex, etc. ... and [pass] a general Police Act’.79 Petitions were also received between May and August 1832 against slavery and for and against the government’s proposals for Irish education.80 These issues served the Liberals well at the first post-reform election and exposed further differences between Grosvenor, who spoke out in support of the magistracy, and Wilbraham.81

As the boundary commissioners had recommended, at the general election in December 1832 Birkenhead, Chester, Nantwich, Northwich and Sandbach became the polling towns for the new Cheshire South constituency, which had a population of 144,990 and registered electorate of 5,139, and Cheshire North, which had a registered electorate of 5,105 and population of 189,420, polled in Macclesfield, Runcorn and Stockport.82 Grosvenor and Wilbraham defeated the Conservative Sir Philip Egerton in Cheshire South, which returned him with a Liberal from 1835 until the constituencies were reorganized in 1868. In 1832 the Liberal Edward John Stanley and the Conservative Tatton Egerton defeated the second Liberal Tollemache in Cheshire North, where, as in Macclesfield, 1832-68, and 1832-41 and 1847-52 in Stockport, divided representation persisted.83

Author: Margaret Escott


Access to the Grosvenor mss, privately held at Eaton Hall, is gratefully acknowledged.

  • 1. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), i. 418-22; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 36-37.
  • 2. The Times, 30 Oct. 1819; Chester Chron. 3, 11 Feb. 1820.
  • 3. Chester Courant, 29 Feb.; Chester Chron. 3 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Chester Courant, 4, 11 Mar.; Chester Chron. 10, 17 Mar.; Macclesfield Courier, 11, 18 Mar. 1820; Essex RO, Gunnis mss D/DGu C/6/2/9.
  • 5. JRL, Bromley Davenport mss, bdle. ‘Cheshire election, 1820’; Chester Chron. 24, 31 Mar.; Macclesfield Courier, 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. CJ, lxxv. 311.
  • 7. The Times, 13 Sept., 1, 20 Dec. 1820, 6 Jan. 1821; Chester Chron. 24 Nov. 1820.
  • 8. Chester Courant, 9 Jan.; The Times, 10 Jan. 1821.
  • 9. Chester Chron. 12, 19 Jan.; The Times, 13, 15, 16, 18 Jan.; Chester Courant, 16, 30 Jan. 1821.
  • 10. CJ, lxxvi. 60, 72, 92; The Times, 10, 15, 21 Feb. 1821.
  • 11. CJ, lxxvi. 41, 143; The Times, 7 Mar., 6 Apr., 15 June 1821.
  • 12. Wellington mss WP1/625/8; 685/11; Chester Chron. 1 June 1821.
  • 13. NLW ms 2793 D, Lady H. to H. Williams Wynn, 17 Apr.; Chester Chron. 12 Oct; Chester Courant, 16 Oct. 1821. Cheshire and Chester Archives, Stanley of Alderley mss DSA/12d.
  • 14. Bromley Davenport mss, Davenport to Russell, 20 Mar. 1822.
  • 15. Chester Chron. 1, 15, 22 Feb.; The Times, 1, 19 Mar., 24 May 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 41, 289.
  • 16. The Times, 21, 31 May, 18 June 1822; LJ, lv. 560.
  • 17. The Times, 26 Feb., 6, 9, 16, 26 Mar. 1824; R. Verdun, Cheshire Yeomanry, 548; CJ, lxxix. 161, 211, 303.
  • 18. CJ, lxxix. 168, 177, 252, 303, 417; lxxxi. 75, 130, 263, 337; The Times, 27 May 1824.
  • 19. Chester Courant, 14 Oct. 1823, 15 Oct. 1824; Chester Chron, 17 Oct. 1823; The Times, 13, 25 Oct. 1824.
  • 20. Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland, 31 Oct.; 51668, to Lady Holland, 24, 26 Oct.; Lansdowne mss, Holland to Lansdowne, 29 Oct. 1824.
  • 21. Chester Courant, 14 Oct. 1825.
  • 22. LJ, lvii. 469, 643, 749; The Times, 27 Apr., 6, 12 May 1825.
  • 23. Chester Chron. 23, 30 Dec. 1825; The Times, 22 Dec. 1829.
  • 24. The Times, 28 Jan., 4, 7, 15, 16, 25 Feb. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 12, 49.
  • 25. The Times, 9 May; Chester Chron. 12 May 1826.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxi. 17, 45, 127, 227, 306, 378.
  • 27. Chester Chron. 26 May, 2, 9, 16, 30 June; Macclesfield Courier, 17, 24 June; Chester Courant 20 June 1826.
  • 28. Chester Chron. 13, 20 Oct. 1826.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxii. 208, 245; The Times, 28 Feb., 16 Apr. 1827.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxii. 427, 449, 482, 487, 504, 520, 527; lxxxiii. 56, 83, 90, 95-96, 100-1, 105; LJ, lix. 332; lx. 73, 74, 250; The Times, 1, 8 June 1827, 27 Feb. 1828.
  • 31. Chester Chron. 1, 29 June 1827.
  • 32. Add 51834, Davenport to Holland, 18 Oct., 18 Nov. 1828, 4 Jan. [1829]; Bromley Davenport mss, Holland to Davenport, 21 Dec. 1828; The Times, 8 May 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 427, 528; LJ, lx. 520.
  • 33. Chester Courant, 2, 16 Dec. 1828, 6 Jan. 1829; The Times, 18 Dec. 1828, 1, 16 Jan. 1829; Stockport Advertiser, 2 Jan. 1829; Add. 51562, Brougham to Holland [Jan. 1829]; 51834, E.D. Davenport to same [n.d.].
  • 34. CJ, lxxxiv. 8, 81, 115, 165, 182; Chester Chron. 13 Feb.; The Times, 1, 14, 17, 27, 31 Mar.; Stockport Advertiser, 12 Mar.; Chester Courant, 24 Mar. 1829; VCH Cheshire, ii. 111.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxiii. 372, 383, 413; lxxxiv. 118, 243, 251 303, 328; LJ, lxi. 383; The Times, 24 July 1828, 26, 31 Mar., 3, 29 Apr., 2, 4, 18 May 1829.
  • 36. Chester Courant, 20 Jan., 14 July; Chester Chron. 23 Jan., 30 June 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 64, 132, 223, 303, 354.
  • 37. Chester Chron. 9, 16, 23 Oct.; The Times, 13 Oct. 1829.
  • 38. Chester Chron. 22, 29 Jan.; Chester Courant, 26 Jan.; The Times, 28 Jan. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 38; LJ, lxxi. 21.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxv. 83, 103, 179, 347, 352, 364; LJ, lxii. 129, 191, 628-9, 709, 753, 759, 770, 808; The Times, 27 Feb., 23 June, 7 July 1830.
  • 40. LJ, lxii. 209, 734.
  • 41. Chester Chron. 19 Oct. 1827, 2, 9 May 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 210.
  • 42. Chester Chron. 16 Jan., 24 Apr. 1829, 12, 19 Mar., 1, 23 Apr. 1830; Chester Courant, 28 Apr., 11 Aug. 1829, 23 Feb., 23, 30 Mar., 27 Apr. 1830; Cheshire and Chester Archives QCX/1/2; CJ, lxxxv. 359, 380, 395, 409, 432, 441, 446, 480, 512, 534; LJ, lxii. 480, 869, 870.
  • 43. Chester Courant, 22 June; The Times, 23 July 1830; LJ, lxii. 911, 913, 917; Cheshire and Chester Archives QCX/1/2 (report by Henry Potts).
  • 44. Chester Chron. 2 July; Stockport Advertiser, 2 July; Macclesfield Courier, 3 July 1830; Grosvenor mss 12/19.
  • 45. Chester Courant, 6 July; Macclesfield Courier, 10, 17, 24 July 1830.
  • 46. Stockport Advertiser, 5 Aug.; Chester Chron. 6 Aug.; Macclesfield Courier, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 47. Chester Chron. 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 48. CJ, lxxxvi. 128.
  • 49. Macclesfield Courier, 7, 14 Aug.; The Times, 19 Nov., 11 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 61, 130, 157, 175, 421, 444; LJ, lxiii. 31, 38, 42, 60, 69, 70, 110, 140, 142, 144, 268, 340, 484, 584, 491.
  • 50. LJ, lxiii. 175; CJ, lxxxvi. 190, 230.
  • 51. The Times, 21, 25 Dec. 1830; Macclesfield Courier, 8, 15 Jan.; Chester Courant, 18 Jan. 1831.
  • 52. Chester Courant, 15 Feb., 1 Mar.; Macclesfield Courier, 19, 26 Feb.; The Times, 1, 10 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 226, 324.
  • 53. Chester Courant, 8 Mar. 1831.
  • 54. Chester Chron. 18 Mar.; The Times, 21 Mar.; Chester Courant, 22, 29 Mar. 1831.
  • 55. CJ, lxxxvi. 381, 419, 423; LJ, lxiii. 500.
  • 56. Kenyon mss, Lloyd Kenyon to Kenyon, 19 Mar., Egerton to same, 27 Mar., Kenyon to wife, 31 Mar. 1831.
  • 57. Stockport Advertiser, 1, 8, 15 Apr.; Chester Courant, 5 Apr.; The Times, 5 Apr.; Macclesfield Courier, 9 Apr. 1831.
  • 58. Macclesfield Courier, 2 Apr. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 498; CJ, lxxxvi. 494.
  • 59. CJ, lxxxvi. 206, 317, 330, 350-1, 385, 399, 411-12, 425, 435, 450, 476, 481; LJ, lxiii. 511.
  • 60. Grosvenor mss 12/11.
  • 61. The Times, 29 Apr.; Chester Chron. 29 Apr.; Macclesfield Courier, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 62. Manchester Times, 7 May 1831.
  • 63. Grosvenor mss 12/19.
  • 64. The Times, 5 May; Macclesfield Courier, 7 May; Chester Courant, 10 May 1831; Grosvenor mss 12/1.
  • 65. Macclesfield Courier, 7 May 1831.
  • 66. Chester Courant, 10, 17 May 1831.
  • 67. Grosvenor mss 12/13.
  • 68. UCNW, Penrhos mss VIII/168; Macclesfield Courier, 14 May 1831.
  • 69. Chester Courant, 17 May; The Times, 18 May; Chester Chron. 20 1831; Mems. of Edward and Catherine Stanley (1880), 284-5.
  • 70. Penrhos mss VIII/169.
  • 71. CJ, lxxxvi. 650, 707; LJ, lxiii. 830; The Times, 1, 19 July, 6 Aug. 1831.
  • 72. LJ, lxiii. 1008, 1039, 1048, 1067; The Times, 23 Sept., 19 Oct.; Macclesfield Courier, 1, 15 Oct. 1831.
  • 73. Chester Courant, 18 Oct.; 1 Nov.; Macclesfield Courier, 22, 29 Oct. 1831.
  • 74. The Times, 13 Dec. 1831, 20 Feb. 1832
  • 75. Macclesfield Courier, 3 Dec. 1831; CJ, lxxxvii. 139, 448; LJ, lxiv. 152, 292, 321, 344, 422, 433, 471; The Times, 24 Feb. 7 Apr. 1832.
  • 76. CJ, lxxxvii. 371; Chester Courant, 20, 27 June 1832.
  • 77. LJ, lxiii. 256, 391-2, 976, 805, 820, 847, 890, 900, 963 1003, 1047; lxiv. 252.
  • 78. Macclesfield Courier, 3 Dec. 1831; The Times, 2 Mar. 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 29, 72, 146, 165; LJ, lxiv. 42.
  • 79. Brougham mss, Davenport to Brougham, 8 Mar.; Chester Chron. 4, 11 May; Chester Courant, 22 May 1832; LJ, lxiv. 297.
  • 80. CJ, lxxxvii. 471; LJ, lxiv. 433.
  • 81. LJ, lxiv. 252, 297; CJ, lxxxvii. 479.
  • 82. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 53-58; The Times, 6 Nov. 1832; Grosvenor mss 12/6.
  • 83. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 53; The Times, 23 July, 26 Sept., 9, 18 Oct. 4, 18, 21, 26 Dec; Guardian, 23 Dec. 1832.