GRIMSTON, James Walter, Visct. Grimston (1809-1895).

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



1830 - 1831
12 July 1831 - 1832
1832 - 17 Nov. 1845

Family and Education

b. 22 Feb. 1809, 1st s. of James Walter Grimston†, 2nd Bar. Verulam, and Lady Charlotte Jenkinson, da. of Charles Jenkinson†, 1st earl of Liverpool. educ. Harrow 1823-7; Christ Church, Oxf. 1827. m. 12 Sept. 1844, Elizabeth Joanna, da. of Richard Weyland*, 3s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd earl of Verulam 17 Nov. 1845.

Offices Held

Ld. in waiting Mar. 1852-Jan. 1853, Feb. 1858-June 1859.

Pres. Camden Soc. 1873.

Ld. lt. Herts. 1845-92; capt. cmmdt. Cashio yeomanry 1831; lt.-col. Herts. yeoman cav. 1847-64.


Grimston’s father had sat for St. Albans on the family interest (the borough lay only two miles from the Grimstons’ seat at Gorhambury) from 1802 until 1808, when he succeeded as 2nd Baron Grimston. He also held an Irish viscountcy (Grimston), a Scottish barony (Forrester) and a baronetcy (Luckyn). In 1807 he married the half-sister of Lord Hawkesbury†, who as 2nd earl of Liverpool and prime minister obtained for him the earldom of Verulam in 1815. He successfully applied to Liverpool for the vacant lord lieutenancy of Hertfordshire in 1823, when he acknowledged ‘the most happy connection it has been my good fortune to have engaged in with your family’.1 An anti-Catholic Tory, he had sufficient parts for Lord Ellenborough to suggest him to the duke of Wellington as a possible replacement for Lord Anglesey as viceroy of Ireland in December 1828. Yet Lord Bathurst advised the duke that ‘Lord Verulam has certainly a very large head and the public give him the credit therefore of having a very thick one. I am afraid it would not do’. He was passed over for the duke of Northumberland, to the disappointment of Lord Palmerston*, for one, who considered him to be ‘more a man of the world’.2 Verulam was surprised by the government’s decision to concede Catholic emancipation soon afterwards, and uneasily spoke and voted against the ‘odious bill’ in the Lords, though the affair did not permanently alienate him from Wellington.3

Grimston, his eldest son, was an accomplished sportsman, and was captain of cricket at Harrow in 1827. On his coming of age in February 1830, when he was still at Oxford, his father wrote affectionately, if awkwardly to him:

Many happy returns of this day to you, my dear fellow. You know how well I wish you, and as it is more than I can attempt to express, I will not attempt to do it ... I hope you will find the wine good which I have sent ... and that you will have a merry evening, without incurring a headache tomorrow, or any of the other disagreables attendant on excess.4

At the general election six months later Grimston offered for St. Albans, where support had been mobilized for his long-anticipated candidature. He made much of his local connections and, while admitting that he was a political novice, stated in his first address that ‘the line adopted by my family has met my perfect approbation; I despise a subservient adulation of a minister, as much as I deprecate a restless and systematic opposition’. Both the sitting Members retired, but two other candidates, including one sent down by the Whig opposition, came forward. On the hustings, Grimston said that, like his father, he would ‘support the ministry while they do right, but no further’. He easily topped the poll.5

Ministers of course numbered Grimston as one of their ‘friends’, and he was chosen to move the address at the opening of the new Parliament, 2 Nov. 1830, when, amongst the customary platitudes, he observed:

The awakening spirit of the age, and the keen eye of the politician, looks to improvement ... to that degree of reform which may be necessary not to break in upon (God forbid!), but to keep up the spirit of the ancient constitution under the present aspect of affairs. I am glad ... to perceive, that ministers have felt this, and have acted upon it without fear of what imputations might be cast upon them.

He declared his ‘decided support’ for government on the strength of his ‘deliberate judgement upon public affairs’; but he failed to rally to them for the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented a petition from the householders of St. Albans for the ballot, 26 Feb. 1831, but sent his excuses for non-attendance at the borough reform meeting two days later.6 He voted silently against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He presented a petition from subscribers to the London and Birmingham railway scheme to have their names erased from the contract, 9 Apr. 1831.

Grimston stood again for St. Albans at the 1831 general election, when his father made a written appeal to the electors, which paid lip service to the need for moderate reform, but condemned the ‘revolutionary tendency’ of the government bill, a ‘reckless and sweeping invasion of property and rights’. He was challenged and humiliatingly defeated by two strangers, standing as its uncompromising supporters.7 According to Lady Holland, the marquess of Salisbury was the prime mover behind a late bid to get Grimston returned for the county, where the sitting Members were seeking re-election as reformers; his father was supposed to have acquiesced in it ‘with reluctance and remonstrance’. A canvass proved so discouraging that at the nomination Grimston had to back down, admitting that he ‘had no prospect of success, owing to the general feeling in favour of reform, a measure to which he was conscientiously opposed’. He complained that ‘the appeal was now made to the passions and not to the feelings of the people, many of whom had not seen or read a line of the bill’.8

In June 1831 Grimston’s mother incurred the displeasure of Lord Melbourne, the home secretary and a Hertfordshire neighbour, for introducing politics into the affairs of the yeomanry by expressing the hope, when presenting colours to the Cassio troop at Gorhambury, that they would protect the country from the possible consequences of ‘the restless and innovating spirit of the times’. He asked Wellington to keep his political adherents in check; but the duke, though sharing his concern at Lady Verulam’s indiscretion, thought Melbourne should himself take the matter up with her husband.9 A few weeks later Grimston was returned on a vacancy for Northumberland’s pocket borough of Newport, but he made no mark in this Parliament, which he seems to have attended spasmodically. His only known votes against the reintroduced reform bill were for use of the 1831 census as a basis for disfranchisement, 19 July, and against its passage, 21 Sept. He voted for inquiry into the problems of West Indian sugar producers, 12 Sept. He divided against the revised reform bill on its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. In January 1832 his father and Salisbury got up a county address, described by Greville as ‘a moderate reform manifesto’, against the creation of peers to force the reform bill through the Lords, which they presented to the king at Brighton on the 16th, after travelling overnight.10 (Verulam opposed the bill in the Lords, 13 Apr., 7 May, but on the return of the reform ministry to office he abandoned his resistance, though he declined to comply with the ‘extraordinary’ request of the king, with whom he had another audience on 16 May, to join in a declaration to that effect in the House. After consulting Wellington, he went to Newmarket races, bored ‘to death’ with ‘the state of politics’ and unable to see any ‘way of extricating the country from the disasters which threaten it’.)11 Grimston’s only other known votes in this Parliament were against the vestry bill, 23 Jan., and against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832.

At the general election of 1832 he was returned in third place for Hertfordshire, having declared his opposition to ‘the dictation of political unions’.12 His father was made a lord of the bedchamber in Peel’s first ministry.13 Grimston, whose younger brother Edward Harbottle Grimston (1812-81) sat for St. Albans as a Conservative from 1835 to 1841, when he took holy orders, retained the county seat until he succeeded to the peerage in 1845. In a departure from his usual practice, Peel appointed him lord lieutenant of Hertfordshire in immediate succession to his father.14 He died in July 1895, and was succeeded as 3rd earl of Verulam by his eldest son, James Walter Grimston (1852-1924), Conservative Member for the St. Albans division of Hertfordshire, 1885-92.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Add. 38575, f. 172.
  • 2. Wellington mss WP1/972/29; 973/12; 975/36; Wellington Despatches, v. 357, 377; Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 227.
  • 3. Herts. Archives, Verulam mss D/EV F54, Verulam’s diary, 5, 7, 9, 10 Feb., 3, 4, 14 Apr. 1829.
  • 4. Ibid. F308, Verulam to Grimston, 22 Feb. 1830.
  • 5. Herts Mercury, 3, 10, 31 July, 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 6. County Herald, 5 Mar. 1831.
  • 7. Verulam mss F308, Verulam’s address [Apr.]; County Herald, 30 Apr., 7 May; Bucks Gazette, 7 May; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 8. TNA 30/29, Lady Holland to Granville [5 May]; County Herald, 7, 14 May; Bucks Gazette, 14 May 1831.
  • 9. County Herald, 11 June; The Times, 14 June 1831; Wellington mss WP1/1187/31; 1191/12; Wellington Despatches, vii. 472-3.
  • 10. Greville Mems. ii. 236-7, 257; Verulam mss F55, Verulam’s diary, 11, 14-16 Jan. 1832; Wellington mss WP1/1213/22; Wellington Despatches, viii. 162-4.
  • 11. Verulam mss F55, Verulam’s diary, 16-18 May 1832.
  • 12. County Press, 26 June, 22, 29 Dec. 1832.
  • 13. Add. 40407, ff. 112, 169.
  • 14. Add. 40581, ff. 289, 291.