LEYCESTER, Ralph (1763-1835), of Toft Hall, Cheshire and 65 Portland Place, Mdx.

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



12 Sept. 1821 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 17 Dec. 1763, in Calcutta,1 1st s. of Ralph Leycester, E. I. Co. service (Bengal), and Charlotte, da. of Rev. Henry Lushington, vicar of Eastbourne, Suss. educ. Eton 1775; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1781; L. Inn 1786, called 1791. m. 28 Sept. 1797,2 his 1st cos. Susanna, da. of Ven. Egerton Leigh, archdeacon of Salop, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. (3 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1822. d. 29 May 1835.

Offices Held

Capt. earl of Chester’s vol. cav. 1803.


The Leycesters, many called Ralph or Rafe, had been settled at Toft since the twelfth century.3 This Member’s father, who was born on 4 Sept. and baptized on 29 Sept. 1737 at Nether Knutsford, was the second son and namesake of Ralph Leycester of Toft (1699-1777) and brother of the Welsh judge Hugh Leycester, Member for Milborne Port, 1802-12. He was appointed a writer in the East India Company in 1753, and married in Calcutta, 20 Nov. 1762, the sister of one of his colleagues, Henry Lushington.4 Soon after the birth of Ralph junior, the family returned to England and later took up residence at Hall Grove, near Bagshot, Surrey. As well as three daughters, there were three other sons: Henry (d. 1796),5 a captain in the navy, George (d. 1827), a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and William (d. 1831), another Bengal civil servant. This Member, who was a scholar at Cambridge and was awarded the chancellor’s medal in 1786, qualified and probably practised as a barrister. In 1797 he married into a related Cheshire gentry family, and in 1809 his father succeeded to Toft on the death of his unmarried elder brother George. He played a minor role in Cheshire politics; for instance, he signed the requisition to the sitting independent Member Davies Davenport at the general election of 1820.6 He attended the turbulent county meeting at Northwich, 11 Jan. 1821, and added his personal statement to the Whig address complaining of the sheriff’s refusal to put the question on Lord Grosvenor’s amendment in favour of Queen Caroline.7 On a vacancy later that year, Grosvenor had him returned unopposed as a Whig for Shaftesbury, one of his pocket boroughs.8

He voted in condemnation of the Whig Sir Robert Wilson’s* removal from the army, 13 Feb., and for more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 21 Feb. 1822; thereafter he divided regularly for opposition motions, notably for lower expenditure and taxation. He called for an increase in the number of gaol deliveries, 27 Mar., in order to shorten the time that prisoners had to await trial. He voted for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr., and to condemn the present influence of the crown, 24 June. He criticized ministerial proposals for relieving agricultural distress as futile, 6 May, and divided with the agriculturists for a permanent 18s. bounty on wheat exports, 9 May. He presented and endorsed the Manchester and Salford petition for reform of the criminal laws, 4 June, when he voted in this sense. He spoke in praise of his friend Western’s motion for a select committee on the resumption of cash payments, 12 June, and paired in its favour.9 On the death of his father, 31 Dec. 1822, he inherited Toft and the bulk of his personal wealth, which was sworn under £7,000.10 He again voted for parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 24 Apr. 1823. He urged reduction in taxes, 24, 26 Feb., and objected to the chancellor’s financial resolutions, 3 Mar.11 He criticized ministers for failing to warn France against invading Spain, 30 Apr., when he voted for the abolition of punishment by whipping. He condemned the ‘moral pestilence’ of the lottery, 23 June. It was probably he, not Lester, who seconded the motion for leave for the jurors’ qualification bill, 19 June. On 14 July he was elected to Brooks’s, and on 9 Oct. 1823 he joined the Cheshire Whig Club, at whose meetings he was an habitual attender.12

In what Hudson Gurney* described as a ‘heavy’ speech, he seconded Western’s motion for leave for the jurors’ qualification bill, 11 Feb. 1824, when he also called for the introduction of a third assize.13 He seconded motions for information on the grant for building new churches, 14 Apr., and against the ensuing bill’s report stage, 4 June.14 Again objecting to payments to the sinking fund, he spoke and voted for repeal of the assessed and leather taxes, 10, 18 May. He presented a Shaftesbury petition against colonial slavery, 25 May, and voted in condemnation of the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824.15 He voted against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 18, 21, 25 Feb., when he defended the Catholic Association, and for Catholic relief (which he advocated on 19 Apr.), 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He spoke and voted to repeal the assessed taxes, 3 Mar., and the window tax, 17 May, and seconded Wodehouse’s motion for information on the prices of foreign corn, 2 June 1825.16 Blaming the recent financial crisis on excessive speculation, he praised ministers for reducing the scope of country banks to issue notes, 13 Feb., but criticized the introduction of joint-stock status, as he did again, 14 Apr. 1826. He expressed his doubts about the chancellor’s proposals on promissory notes, 27 Feb., when he voted to maintain their convertibility into gold. As he had on 26 Feb. 1824, he voted to reform the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., and he sided with opposition for parliamentary reform, 27 Apr. 1826. He divided for revising the corn laws, 18 Apr., and made interventions on the level of the corn duty, 27 Apr., 4, 5, 8 May.17 As expected, he was returned unopposed for Shaftesbury at the general election of 1826.18

Leycester seconded Western’s amendment to the address on distress, 22 Nov. 1826, speaking at length for revising the corn laws, reduced taxation and relief for the agricultural interest. He divided against the grant for the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb., and spoke against it, 16 Mar. 1827, but sided that day with the majority for the committal of the annuity bill. He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He urged the abolition of the ‘barbarous practice’ of corporal punishment in the army, 12 Mar., and criticized the corn bill, 9, 12 Apr. On 15 May, when he called for repeal of the sugar duties, he declared himself ‘favourable to the present administration’, under Canning’s leadership, because he hoped that it would introduce Catholic emancipation. He voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, and the grant for improved water communications in Canada, 12 June. He seconded his colleague Davenport’s motion for inquiry into the distress of the commercial classes, 14 June, but the fact that his call for further restrictions on the issue of banknotes conflicted with Davenport’s views was adversely noticed in the debate. He chaired the annual meeting of the Cheshire Whig Club, 9 Oct., when he advocated Catholic relief.19 His name was included on George Tierney’s* list of the proposed finance committee in November 1827.20

Leycester attacked the newly appointed ministry of the duke of Wellington, 6 Feb. 1828, especially as its head opposed the Catholic cause. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May. He opposed plans to promote emigration, 4, 27 Mar., and again called for reduced taxation and the abolition of the sinking fund, 11 Mar. He voted against extending East Retford into the hundred of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar. He seconded Wilbraham’s motion for inquiry into the administration of justice in Cheshire (to which he later submitted written evidence),21 22 Apr., and Davenport’s motion for greater uniformity of prison discipline, 14 May. He approved of the corn law resolutions, 25 Apr., but then and on the 28th he objected to the scale of duties. He spoke and voted against the additional churches bill, 30 June, stating that it was ‘impossible to force and cram religion down the throats of the people in this way’. He welcomed government’s decision to repeal the Military and Naval Pensions Act, 10 July, and to abolish the sinking fund, ‘that inglorious piece of nonsense and humbug’, 11 July, but he condemned the national debt reduction bill, 17 July, on the ground that it would still require borrowing to meet the interest payments. He voted for Fyler’s amendment about silk duties in the committee on the customs bill, 14 July, and advocated free trade in silk, 15, 16 July 1828. He opposed alteration of the game laws, 17 Feb. 1829. He praised ministers for their change of policy in favour of Catholic emancipation, 19 Feb., and called it ‘the best, the purest and the most beneficent measure since the revolution’. He rebutted the claims of hostile petitions, 24 Feb., 12 Mar., and voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. He seconded Warburton’s motion for leave to introduce the anatomy bill, 12 Mar., and moved, but then withdrew, a wrecking amendment against the Cheshire constabulary bill, 13 Apr. He argued that agricultural distress could best be dealt with not by alteration of the currency but by scrapping the sinking fund, 4 June 1829. This effectively marked the end of his parliamentary career because early in 1830 he suffered a paralytic stroke.22 He was granted six weeks’ leave on this account, 3 Mar., and on 26 Apr. John Whishaw informed Lady Holland that Leycester, ‘a reasonable and liberal man’, had ‘lately fallen into very bad health’; he added that ‘his wife and daughter, I am sorry to say, are very Evangelical and intolerant, and much given to conversion’.23 He probably never attended again, but he paired in favour of Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and parliamentary reform, 28 May 1830.

In an address dated 16 July 1830, he informed his constituents that ‘the heavy blow that fell upon me last winter has rendered me quite unequal to give such attendance in Parliament as would be satisfactory to my feelings’. He therefore withdrew from Shaftesbury at the dissolution, recommending his first cousin Edward Penrhyn* as his successor.24 In the expected contest in Cheshire, he offered his support to George Legh and Grosvenor’s eldest son Lord Belgrave*.25 His name headed the requisition for the Cheshire county meeting in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, but he was prevented by sickness from attending it on 17 Mar. 1831. He was a member of Wilbraham’s committee in the county contest at the general election of 1831, and signed the requisition for another county meeting following the defeat of the reform bill in the Lords later that year. He proposed the Liberal Edward John Stanley* for Cheshire North at the general elections of 1832 and 1834.26 He died at Toft in May 1835. By his will, dated 23 Jan. 1834, he left an annuity of £1,000 to his wife (who died, aged 61, 10 Mar. 1837), and £25,000 each, in three per cent stocks, to his daughters Charlotte and Emma Theodosia. The residue of his estate, which included personal wealth sworn under £70,000 in the province of Canterbury and under £10,000 in that of York, was inherited by his only surviving son, Ralph Gerard (1817-51).27

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. His birth year is usually given as 1764, but if 17 Dec. is correct, it must have been 1763 as he was baptized in Calcutta, 4 Feb. 1764 (BL OIOC N/1/2, f. 53).
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1797), 980.
  • 3. For peds. see Burke Commoners (1833), i. 73-75; G. Ormerod, Cheshire, i. 507; iii. 893.
  • 4. BL OIOC J/1/2, f. 112.
  • 5. The Times, 30 Mar. 1796.
  • 6. Macclesfield Courier, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. The Times, 18 Jan. 1821. See CHESHIRE.
  • 8. His parliamentary speeches were sometimes confused with those of Benjamin Lester Lester, Member for Poole.
  • 9. The Times, 5, 13 June 1822.
  • 10. PROB 11/1668/154; IR26/964/316.
  • 11. The Times, 25 Feb. 1823.
  • 12. Chester Chron. 17 Oct. 1823.
  • 13. Gurney diary.
  • 14. The Times, 15 Apr. 1824.
  • 15. Ibid. 26 May 1824.
  • 16. Ibid. 3 June 1825.
  • 17. Ibid. 28 Apr., 5, 6 May 1826.
  • 18. Dorset Co. Chron. 8, 15 June 1826.
  • 19. The Times, 12 Oct. 1827.
  • 20. Add. 38761, f. 269.
  • 21. PP (1829), ix. 369-70.
  • 22. Smith Letters, ii. 518.
  • 23. Add. 51659.
  • 24. Hist. Shaftesbury Election 1830, p. 12; Dorset Co. Chron. 22 July 1830.
  • 25. Grosvenor mss 12/4, Leycester to Belgrave, n.d. [1830].
  • 26. Chester Courant, 15, 22 Mar., 3 May, 18 Oct. 1831, 25 Dec. 1832, 20 Jan. 1835.
  • 27. Ibid. 2 June 1835; Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 554; PROB 11/1849/437; IR26/1393/363.