MARSHALL, John (1765-1845), of Headingley House, nr. Leeds, Yorks.; Hallsteads, Westmld. and 4 Grosvenor Square, Mdx.

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



1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 27 July 1765, 3rd but o. surv. s. of Jeremiah Marshall, draper, of Leeds and Mary, da. of John Cowper of Crowtrees, Rawdon, Yorks. educ. Hipperholme, Halifax; privately by Mr. Astley, Derbys. m. 5 Aug. 1795, Jane, da. of William Pollard, manufacturer, of Ovendon Hall, Halifax, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 7da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1787. d. 6 June 1845.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Cumb. 1821-2.


Marshall’s family originated from Yeadon, near Leeds, where the earliest known trace is that of another John, a clothier, in around 1600. The family remained there until Marshall’s father married his grandmother’s niece Mary Cowper, who brought him £1,200. He used the money to open a draper’s shop at 1 Briggate, Leeds. They were originally Baptists, but with no chapel in Leeds they joined the Unitarians of Mill Hill. His parents’ only surviving child, Marshall fell seriously ill after a smallpox vaccination when five years old and was sent away to live with his maternal aunt Sarah Booth at Rawdon, near Bradford, where he remained for five years, receiving a rudimentary education from the local minister. When he was eleven, his father decided his future lay as a merchant and sent him to Hipperholme school for 18 months, after which he returned to Leeds for a further year and a half before being dispatched to a Mr. Astley in Derbyshire to continue his education. Once back in Leeds he learnt French and accounting before entering his father’s business aged 17. When his father died in December 1787, he left the 22-year-old Marshall an estate worth £9,000, including £7,500 invested in the business, which produced an annual profit of £500. In the first week of 1788 Marshall visited Darlington where his attention was ‘accidentally turned to spinning of flax by machinery, it being a thing much wished for by the linen manufacturers.’ Reasoning that it would be ‘a new business, where there would be few competitors’, he was inspired to try his hand, motivated, he claimed, not by the lure of financial gain, but by ‘the ambition of distinguishing myself’. Borrowing £3,000 from Sarah Booth and raising more by taking on two partners, that summer he began attempting to spin flax by machine. The first three years were difficult as he struggled to overcome technological problems. In 1790 he risked all by selling the drapery business and investing in a new mill. As the enterprise prospered he bought out his original investors and in 1793 went into partnership with Thomas and Benjamin Benyon*, woollen merchants of Shrewsbury. He later recalled that ‘I set my shoulder to the wheel in good earnest. I was at the mill from six in the morning to nine at night and minutely attended to every part of the manufactory’. In 1796 he started to write an autobiography in order ‘to form a better judgement of my own prospects’. The key, he decided, was ‘perseverance, hard work and judgement’. In 1804, he concluded that his partners were gaining more from the business than he was and, confident of his own abilities, he bought them out. By now he was worth about £40,000. He appointed two of his experienced managers as junior partners, who were later joined by a third, and saw his business dramatically expand. The war with France made his fortune and by the end of it he was worth an estimated £400,000. He had started to diversify his business interests in 1813 by investing in exchequer bills, and he soon moved into American bonds and South American stock: his holding in the United States alone amounted to £212,000 in 1822.

Marshall’s wealth inevitably drew him towards improving his social position. In Leeds, as a Dissenter, he had never been accepted by the town’s elite, and he therefore looked further afield. In 1815 he bought Hallsteads, an estate at the head of Ullswater, for £11,800, where his wife could be near her childhood friend Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of the poet. Marshall’s acceptance was shown by his appointment as sheriff of Cumberland in 1821. By 1826 he owned properties worth £66,000 in the Lake District. In an effort to broaden his own perspective and social acceptance, in 1821 he leased a house in London, where he was drawn to the developing Utilitarian circle. He also pursued an interest in optics and astronomy, but it was the study of geology and political economy that gave him the greatest satisfaction, and he later gave lectures on these topics. In 1828 he produced a booklet, The Economy of Social Life, which attempted to explain political economy in simple terms. Philanthropy and education also played a significant part in his life: he helped to establish the Lancasterian school in Leeds and provided a range of schooling for his employees and their children. He was a generous benefactor of charities in the town and had a part in founding the Leeds Literary and Philosophical Society, where he often spoke, and the Leeds Mechanics’ Institute. From 1825-8 he was one of a group of similarly minded men who provided money for the Parliamentary History and Review, which was established to promote the ideas of Bentham and Mill, and in 1834 he gave money for the foundation of the London Review.1 In 1826, he proposed the establishment of a university at Leeds and the same year was a subscriber to the new University College of London, becoming a member of its first council.

Marshall had long sought a seat in Parliament, for which his ‘chief motive’ was

a wish to see the mechanism by which the affairs of a great nation are conducted and to study the characters of the men who take the lead in public life, and the principles on which they act. I also desire it as being creditable to my family and an introduction to good society ... These measures would be ... obtained by a seat for a close borough, which involves but little of labour or attendance upon business.

An abortive attempt to secure a berth at Rye left him ‘so disgruntled with the manoeuvring and jobbing’ that he ‘determined to give up all thoughts of it’, but in 1825 his Lake District neighbour James Brougham* secured him a deal with Hylton Jolliffe* for a seat at Petersfield for 5,000 guineas. Meanwhile, Marshall had come to the attention of Earl Fitzwilliam’s son Lord Milton*, who in support of Lord Morpeth’s* proposed candidacy for one of the county’s new additional seats, suggested that

with respect to the seconder ... if a proper commercial man could be prevailed upon, I think much advantage would be derived ... There is a Mr. Marshall of Leeds who might perhaps be prevailed upon, a man of great property and the highest character, but I do not suppose you have any knowledge of him.

Following the withdrawal of Morpeth a Whig meeting was held at Wakefield, 13 Jan. 1826, at which Marshall was mooted as a possible candidate.2 Next week the Leeds Mercury, which Marshall had helped to finance, suggested that he would ‘ably maintain the interests of trade and commerce, and support the principles of civil liberty’.3 Milton sought the opinion of Lord Althorp*, who told him, 11 Feb., ‘if Marshall’s standing will do you no harm I have nothing to say against it’.4 Early in May Marshall received a deputation requesting him to stand for Pontefract, which he declined, saying that he wanted to be available to contest the county if asked, and was not afraid of the expense. The Whig York Herald hoped that he ‘could neither be so foolish nor presumptuous as to set up for an honour to which nothing gave him the slightest title, except the acquisition of wealth’; but the leading local Whig Sir Francis Wood of Hemsworth advised Milton, 20 May, that if he did stand, ‘we must all heartily join in his support and fight the battle, however hazardous’.5 The opinion of Thomas Tottie, Fitzwilliam’s agent, that he ‘would bring the support from the trading towns’, persuaded Fitzwilliam to back Marshall, who after some hesitation agreed to offer on the understanding that ‘when in Parliament, I should act upon my own opinion respecting parliamentary reform and the corn laws, which I apprehend are somewhat different from those of the party’.6 On 29 May he formally declared, citing his support for Catholic emancipation ‘as the best means of safeguarding the Church of England and quietening Ireland’, a ‘return to a free trade in grain’, the abolition of slavery and repeal of the game laws. On reform he argued that great changes had taken place ‘in the population, the wealth, and above all, in the intelligence of the country, and the representation ought to be adapted to them’.7 The Tory Leeds Intelligencer condemned his politics, his profession, and his interests, asking, ‘Can the Whig aristocracy themselves bear the humiliation?’.8 On 6 June Sir John Lowther* reported to Lord Lonsdale that ‘Lord Harewood ... and others were furious’ and were ‘moving heaven and earth ... to oust Marshall’.9 The Mercury was of course delighted and the Cloth Halls of Leeds prepared a formal declaration of support.10 Marshall’s committee met with Milton’s in York, 5 June, and they commenced a joint canvass, throughout which Marshall struggled to be heard, being neither a natural public speaker nor the possessor of a powerful voice. At the nomination, 12 June 1826, he dismissed criticism of his status and asserted, ‘I do claim that rank and station for the manufacturers as to them is justly due’.11 Following the late withdrawal of a liberal Tory candidate he was returned unopposed. ‘It is not to the humble exertions of individuals, but the exertions of the manufacturers of the county ... that Mr. Marshall owes his election’, Edward Baines, editor of the Mercury, told the Whig victory dinner, at which Marshall proposed the toast, ‘A free, full, and fair representation of the people ... in Parliament’.12 He gave his Petersfield seat to his eldest son William. On 20 June 1826 Sir John Beckett* warned Peel, the home secretary, that Marshall was ‘an avowed radical and leveller’, but added, ‘he is a great invalid turned 60 and will probably die of it before long’.13

In his maiden speech Marshall seconded Hume’s amendment to the address, 21 Nov. 1826. Speaking in Utilitarian terms, he argued that after a considerable period of peace the people ‘had a right to expect a diminution of the country’s burdens and an increase of general happiness and prosperity’. Instead, there was ‘an equal degree of want and suffering’, from which ‘the higher ranks were relieving themselves ... by a monopoly of the great necessity of life, wheat’. The only solution, he declared, was a revision of the corn laws. He was in the minority of 24 for the amendment. Morpeth reported that the speech was ‘inaudible and asthmatic’, while James Abercromby* observed that ‘all agree [he] will do nothing. His sense and being Member for Yorkshire may sustain him, but his speaking power will not’.14 Marshall presented constituency petitions for repeal of the corn laws, 30 Nov. 1826, 20, 27 Feb., and spoke in the same terms, 21 Feb. 1827.15 He voted against the grant to the duke of Clarence and presented a York petition from distressed persons for financial aid towards emigration, 16 Feb. 1827.16 He was in the minority to reduce the import price of corn to 50s. rather than 60s., 9 Mar., and seconded and voted for Hume’s motion for a gradual reduction to 10s., 27 Mar. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., inquiry into Leicester corporation, 15 Mar., and to withhold the supplies, 30 Mar. Next month he fell seriously ill and convalesced in Brighton, where he decided that at the next dissolution he would not seek re-election. He later wrote of his early impression of Parliamentary business:

It occupies a considerable proportion of a man’s time, but to one accustomed to the management of extensive commercial transactions, is not likely to be either difficult or oppressive, and I should rather wish for the employment than not when I do attend.

He had recovered sufficiently to present Bradford and Halifax petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June.17 Lord Lowther* expressed relief that Marshall and his son were already in the House when the Carlisle by-election occurred that summer. Otherwise, he told Lonsdale, 30 July 1827, ‘they might have been formidable if one offered ... as it was once talked about’.18

Marshall brought up numerous Yorkshire petitions for repeal of the Test Acts in February and early March and voted accordingly, 26 Feb. 1828, when he protested that the Acts were ‘revolting to the spirit of the age’. He secured accounts of the stamp duties on bills of exchange between 1805 and 1826, 21 Feb., and was probably appointed to the select committee on criminal commitments, 5 Mar. He voted against extending the East Retford franchise to the freeholders of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar., 30 June. He moved the second reading of the Leeds and Hunslet road bill, 21 Mar. During the debate on the second reading of the freeholders registration bill, 25 Mar., Sir James Graham alleged that Marshall had spent £120,000 on his election, which Marshall denied, noting that the bill would ‘very materially lessen the expenses of the candidates’. On 28 Apr. he objected to a Yorkshire petition against Catholic relief presented by his colleague William Duncombe, as it gave a ‘very erroneous opinion’ of the opinions of the inhabitants. He brought up a York counter-petition that day and voted accordingly, 12 May. He spoke against the imposition of a duty on imported wool, which would ‘materially affect a numerous body of his constituents’ and ‘enable the foreign manufacturers to compete with ours’, 28 Apr., and voted for a reduction of the corn duties, 29 Apr. He presented a petition from the wool staplers of Leeds against the East London railway bill, 1 May, and from Hartished-cum-Clifton against the friendly societies bill next day. He brought up constituency petitions against the restrictions on the circulation of pound notes, 12 May, 5 June, and for the abolition of slavery, 3, 6, 10 June. He was in the minority of 13 for revision of civil list pensions, 10 June, and divided against the third reading of the archbishop of Canterbury’s bill, 16 June. He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 19 June. He presented a Leeds petition against the practice of suttee, 23 June, and later that day was in the minority condemning the use of public money for renovating Buckingham House. He divided against the additional churches bill, 30 June, and presented a hostile Sheffield petition containing ‘upwards of 10,000’ signatures, 3 July. At a meeting of Leeds Dissenters to discuss the bill, 7 July 1828, he explained that he and several other Members had done their best to filibuster on the second reading and had partly succeeded as Goulburn, the chancellor of the exchequer, had agreed to withdraw the clause in the bill giving the power of assessment to churchwardens. However, he warned that power would still rest with the vestries:

If this law were to pass, then we in Leeds, instead of having one parish church, would have four, and our rates would quadruple ... This obnoxious measure cannot be thrown out without the entire and hearty concurrence of the public of England.

Such parliamentary tactics, he insisted, were the only way to defeat the bill as long as

we have a House of Commons pretending to represent the people of England [when] it is in fact little more than the nomination of the aristocracy ... I hope and trust that the time is not far distant when these great trading towns will consider it their duty, their indispensable duty, to combine together to demand that share of the representation which is unjustly withheld from them.19

After Milton had presented a Sheffield petition for Catholic relief, 27 Feb. 1829, Marshall urged the House to look at the evidence provided by the ‘great commercial towns’, citing his recent attendance at a Leeds meeting of 16-18,000 people, at which the ‘decided majority’ were in favour of emancipation. He was of course expected by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, to side ‘with government’ for their concession of emancipation, and he voted accordingly, 6 and (as a pair) 30 Mar. He brought up a favourable Tadcaster petition, 12 Mar., and questioned the validity of a hostile one from Leeds, 23 Mar. He presented and endorsed petitions from the Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield Gas Light Companies against Crosely’s gas apparatus bill, 7, 10, 28 Apr., and brought up petitions from tenement owners in Leeds and Sheffield against the labourers’ wages bill, 4, 19 May. He seconded and divided for Tennyson’s motion to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May 1829, when he criticized the proposed extension of the franchise to the hundred as simply handing over the borough to the landed interest and again advocated the enfranchisement of the industrial towns of the North. He voted again in the same sense, 11 Feb., 5 Mar. 1830. He divided for Daniel O’Connell to be allowed to take his seat unhindered, 18 May 1829. Next day he was in a minority of 12 for a fixed duty on corn. In December 1829 he was appointed to a subcommittee of the Society for the Propagation of Useful Knowledge which was formed to draw up a report on the state of the country.20

Marshall voted for the amendment to the address, 4 Feb, tax cuts, 15 Feb., and a £500,000 reduction of the army estimates, 22 Feb. 1830. He presented and endorsed a Leeds petition against the renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 16 Feb., and brought up similar Yorkshire petitions, 4, 16, 25 Mar., 1 Apr. He voted for Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., endorsed a Sheffield petition calling for its own representation and voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He chaired a Leeds meeting for retrenchment and reform, 18 Mar., and endorsed the ensuing petition, 11 May. He was in the minority of 13 for O’Connell’s motion for a radical reform bill including universal suffrage, 28 May, but later that day voted for Lord John Russell’s more conventional motion. He voted to refer the Newark petition against the duke of Newcastle to a select committee, 1 Mar. He moved the second reading of the Leeds and Selby railway bill, dismissing objections as ‘slight and frivolous’, 4 Mar., and presented multiple petitions in its favour, 22, 25 Mar. On 23 Mar. he brought up a petition from Sheffield surgeons and physicians for the removal of obstacles to ‘the science of anatomy’, hoping that the ‘subject will be taken up as it ought to be, without any desire to provoke popular excitement’. He successfully moved the second reading of the Dewsbury road and bridge bill, 25 Mar., but presented the earl of Cardigan’s petition against it, 1 Apr. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, when he presented a favourable Leeds petition. He brought up a petition of the inhabitants against the Sheffield waterworks bill, 5 Apr., and a Craven petition for a duty on imported lead, 8 Apr. He was in O’Connell’s minority to alter the law on Irish vestries, 27 Apr. He presented petitions from Bradford and Sheffield publicans against the sale of beer bill, 27 Apr., 4 May, and one from Leeds for the poor law amendment bill that day. He was a majority teller for bringing up the report on the Hull and Hedon road bill, 10 May. He divided for abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy and for inquiry into the state of Newfoundland, 11 May. He seconded Slaney’s motion for a select committee on the condition of the poor, 13 May. He voted for information on privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May. He presented a petition from Leeds Dissenters for the abolition of slavery, 24 May, and divided for abolition of the death penalty for forgery that day, and 7 June. He was in the minorities against the grant for South American missions, 7 June, for a reduction in consular services, 11 June, and for inquiry into the conduct of church commissioners in the St. Luke’s case, 17 June. He was added to the select committee on manufacturing employment, 3 June, and presented a petition from Leeds merchants for compensation for the losses they had suffered after the 1807 sacking of Copenhagen, 1 July 1830.

At the 1830 dissolution Marshall retired from Yorkshire, declining a request from the Whig gentry to reconsider. Dorothy Wordsworth told his wife:

Another Parliament would have been too much to look forward to ... When I consider the variety of his tastes, and multiplicity of his affairs and connections, it seems to me that he will have more than enough of salutary employment to satisfy the craving of any mind ... I can fancy Mr. Marshall the gladdest of the glad on retiring to his beautiful home among the mountains.

In the ensuing election he was instrumental in persuading the county Whigs to support Henry Brougham*, whom he considered to be a ‘man of business’ capable of representing the manufacturing and commercial interests of the West Riding.21 In December 1830, he became the chairman of the newly formed Leeds Association, whose purpose was to promote the return of liberal candidates at the next election, and in February 1831 he chaired the Leeds reform meeting which agreed to petition Parliament.22 He played an active role in choosing the four reform candidates at the 1831 general election, subscribing £5,000 to their election fund.23 He opposed much of the later factory legislation and took an active part in Leeds against Michael Sadler*, but ‘in these respects he did not follow the general bent of the manufacturing interest’.24 At the 1832 election he used his influence to secure a seat at Leeds for his second son John, who with his third son James had assumed control of the family business, although Marshall supervised all their dealings. He continued to place his money into stocks and shares and by 1840 it was estimated that he had over half a million pounds invested in various funds, including £100,000 in railway shares. The capital gains on these amounted to about a million pounds. He was generous with his wealth and in the last 30 years of his life distributed over one million pounds, including gifts to his family worth over £350,000. He divided his time between Hallsteads, Leeds, London and health resorts such as Leamington and Bath. Six or seven weeks before his death he suffered ‘a serious attack of both apoplexy and paralysis’. After another attack in June 1845 ‘he gradually sank and died’. An obituary in the Mercury remarked that ‘Marshall might have had a title when his political friends were in power, had he being willing to accept it’.25 His total wealth was estimated to be between one and a half and two and a half million pounds.26 By his will, dated 19 Oct 1844 and proved under £160,000, he left his wife £60,000, Hallsteads and his London house, in addition to an annuity of £3,000. To his unmarried daughter Ellen he bequeathed £30,000. His eldest daughter Mary, who had married Lord Monteagle, received £20,000, as did his other daughters. His sons with interests in the business received nothing further than the existing stock they held and the houses they lived in. The residue passed to his eldest son.27 Marshalls and Company, flax spinners, closed in 1886.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


Unless otherwise stated this biography is based on W.G. Rimmer, Marshalls of Leeds.

  • 1. Mill Works, xii. p. 202.
  • 2. Fitzwilliam mss 124/4.
  • 3. E. Baines, Life of Edward Baines, 41; Leeds Mercury, 21 Jan. 1826.
  • 4. Fitzwilliam mss 124/8.
  • 5. York Herald, 20 May 1826; Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 6. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F 137; Yorks. Election 1826, p. 78.
  • 7. Yorks. Election 1826, p. 80.
  • 8. Leeds Intelligencer, 1 June 1826.
  • 9. Lonsdale mss.
  • 10. Yorks. Election 1826, p. 83.
  • 11. Ibid. 135.
  • 12. Leeds Mercury, 24 June 1826
  • 13. Add. 40387, f. 207.
  • 14. Castle Howard mss, Morpeth to Lady Carlisle, 25 Nov., Abercromby to same, 22 Nov. 1826.
  • 15. The Times, 1 Dec. 1826, 21, 28 Feb. 1827.
  • 16. Ibid. 17 Feb. 1827.
  • 17. Ibid. 7 June 1827
  • 18. Lonsdale mss.
  • 19. Leeds Intelligencer, 10 July 1828.
  • 20. Add. 38758, f. 52.
  • 21. Leeds Intelligencer, 29 July 1830.
  • 22. Leeds Mercury, 18 Dec. 1830, 12 Feb. 1831.
  • 23. The Times, 3 May 1831.
  • 24. Gent. Mag. (1845), ii. 201.
  • 25. Leeds Mercury, 14 June 1845.
  • 26. Leeds Times, 14 June; Leeds Intelligencer, 14 June 1845.
  • 27. PROB 11/2021/581; IR26/1713/459.