SLANEY, Robert Aglionby (1791-1862), of Walford, Salop and 16 Tavistock 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 - 1834
1837 - 1841
1847 - 1852
1857 - 19 May 1862

Family and Education

b. 9 June 1791, 1st s. of Robert Slaney of Hatton Grange, Salop and Mary, da. of Thomas Mason of Shrewsbury. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1809; I. Temple 1810, called 1817. m. (1) 7 Feb. 1812, his cos. Elizabeth (d. 20 July 1847), da. of Dr. William Hawkins Muckleston, 3da.; (2) 4 Apr. 1854, Catherine Anne, da. of Rev. George Buckston of Bradborn Hall, rect. of Shirland, Derbys., wid. of Graves Archer of Mount John, co. Wicklow, s.p. suc. fa. to Hatton Grange 1834. d. 19 May 1862.

Offices Held

Commr. health of towns 1843-8.

Sheriff, Salop 1854-5.


The Slaneys of Hatton Grange, near Shifnal, were reputed to have come over from Bohemia in the twelfth century ‘in the train of the Empress Maud’. By the sixteenth century they were established in Shropshire, where, as lords of the manor of Dawley, they supplemented the income from their 3,000-acre estate and the Kemberton and Lizard forges by leasing the mineral rights of Horsehay to the Darbys of Coalbrookdale and other entrepreneurs.1 Slaney, the eldest of three sons and two daughters, was named after his father and the Warwickshire family of Aglionby with whom his forbears had intermarried. He and his next brother Thomas (d. 1819) shared a private tutor and went up to Cambridge together, but Slaney, who was also entered for the bar, left after two terms for an extended tour of Europe. He returned in 1811 and shortly afterwards married his cousin Eliza, on whom the Mucklestons’ Walford estate, a London town house in Tavistock Square and £10,000 were settled.2 On 18 Apr. 1815 he began to keep a journal, of which some 13 volumes survive.3 His intention was ‘not to chronicle events insignificant in themselves; but to spur me to exertion. I am of sanguine mind, but indolent indisposition, though from lassitude or want of reflection I have frequently wasted time’.4 His sporting skills, a great asset in a Shropshire politician, already commanded attention, for he was a fine shot, excelled at cricket, which he played for the Marylebone and Shropshire teams, rode his own horses at Shrewsbury races, hunted regularly and supported the Baschurch coursing meetings.5 He advocated the cause of the distressed colliers in 1816 and qualified as a barrister the following year, taking chambers in Hare Court, Inner Temple and practising on the Oxford circuit, where he sought briefs at Shrewsbury and Stafford. Drawing on local knowledge, his reading of Malthus and the strong sense of Whig philanthropy instilled in him by his father, in 1819 he published his first pamphlet, An Essay on the Employment of the Poor. It detailed living and labour costs and attributed the current level of unemployment to the national debt, the late wars and maladministration of the poor laws, his bête noire. He surmised that peacetime employment could be increased by ‘profitable direction of national capital’, but considered most job creation schemes to be ‘fallacious’ and argued that the employment prospects of ‘the peasantry’ had been reduced by ‘several impolitic checks for investment of capital in agriculture’. Of his own prospects as the year closed, he noted:

If London agrees with me I intend to visit it towards the end of January and remain there till summer, thus dividing our time: to attend sessions, Westminster Hall, etc., and keep up my law acquaintance; and, if not employed in gaining addition to fortune, I hope to be usefully occupied in laying up store for future use and in turning my attention with greater steadiness to political economy, not neglecting sessions law, agriculture, and perhaps a knowledge of mechanics [which] will fill up vacant time, and the education of my dear little girls will be an additional source of amusement to me. On every account, I shall try to keep up Italian and French.6

His first major public speech, a call for ‘uniformity’ and declaration for the moderate loyal address adopted at the Shropshire county meeting, 10 Jan. 1821, was well received.7 Adhering to his plan, and with a parliamentary career in mind, he became a frequent observer of debates and election committee proceedings, fraternizing regularly in Shropshire and in London, notwithstanding their political differences, with Panton Corbett* and William Lacon Childe*, who made ministerial pamphlets and select committee reports available to him. The works of Godwin, Malthus, David Ricardo*, Smith, Robert Torrens* and Whately reinforced his confidence in political economy, capital investment and free trade, and his belief that Parliament and the poor laws should be reformed; and in 1821 he revised and republished his essay on employment as a pamphlet supporting James Scarlett’s ill-fated poor bill, so securing introductions to the Whigs Henry Brougham*, John Calcraft*, and Sir James Mackintosh*. He canvassed Shropshire voters for Scarlett at the November 1822 Cambridge University by-election, attributed the Shropshire freeholders’ rejection of the ‘excellent individual’ Childe that month to his pro-government votes on taxation and was relieved to see the coalition of grandees who supported him frustrated.8 In July 1824, after many delays and revisions, he published his Essay on the Beneficial Direction of Rural Expenditure. A ‘major defence’ of ‘an expanding industrial capitalism based on free trade’, it advocated educating the poor and demonstrated the ‘near impossibility’ at current wage levels of agricultural labourers setting money aside to offset sickness or unemployment.9 It met with his father’s ‘entire’ approval, so serving as a means of restoring Slaney to his confidence after a difficult seven-year period; he remarked that ‘if so, it has repaid me the time it cost a thousand times’.10 He welcomed what he perceived as the conversion of Corbett and Childe ‘to the liberal side’ on the Catholic question in 1825;11 and at the November hunt commenced his canvass for Shrewsbury, where he hoped to replace the disgraced radical Whig Grey Bennet at the next election.12 Announcing his candidature in April 1826, he claimed that he stood ‘upon independent or moderate principles, unfettered by party engagements’, and stressed his 12 years of devotion ‘to the study of those subjects connected with the extension and improvement of trade and manufactures and with the welfare and happiness of the middle and poorer classes’.13 His hopes of an unopposed return were dashed by the late candidature of the Ultra, Thomas Boycott of Rudge, on whose retirement after a four-day poll he came in with Corbett.14 On the hustings he criticized his adversaries for misrepresenting him as indifferent to the Protestant religion, blamed the Catholic church for refusing ‘to let the people read the scriptures for themselves’, alluded to his work for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels and spoke of the ‘Bible as the best guide in this life and the only foundation of our hope in the life to come’. His pamphlets were ridiculed, but he confirmed his commitment to the poor and insisted that his principles were moderate and that he ‘would support good measures’ from both sides of the House.15

In his first Parliament Slaney gave the Whigs ‘uniform independent support’, broadened his acquaintance, lobbied hard, often with scant success, on matters affecting the poor and the maltsters and divided sporadically with the Whig opposition. His maiden speech, 22 Nov. 1826, reiterated and endorsed the agriculturists’ complaints against the duties on malt and beer, but failed in its objective of securing returns on account of a prior request by the Breconshire Member, Thomas Wood. Slaney resumed his campaign to little apparent purpose, 28 Nov. 1826, but was pleased to hear ‘from authority I cannot doubt’ that his speech ‘attracted Mr. Canning’s attention, who noticed me in consequence’.16 He apparently abstained on Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and having served on the Coventry election committee, he was granted a month’s leave, 19 Mar. 1827.17 He seconded the political economist Wolryche Whitmore’s abortive motion for inquiry into the India trade, 15 May. Learning that the Canning ministry had no plans to implement ‘suggestions’ in the 1817 and 1819 reports on the employment of the aged poor, he announced, 25 May, and introduced his own measures, 12 June, drawing heavily on the 1817, 1819 and 1825 committee reports and stressing the need to stem the recent rise in poor rates and pauperism, which was ‘destructive to the independence and character of agricultural labourers and eventually to the whole capital and interests of agriculture’. He praised the Scottish relief system and vented his spleen against the prevailing practice in southern and south-western counties of topping up wages from rate revenues. The bill passed its first reading, 18 June, but, after being hastily considered and amended, it was ordered to be printed and was timed out, 22 June.18 He presented petitions from Shrewsbury and its hinterland against corn law revision, 27 Feb., and for repeal of the Test Acts, 6, 7 June. He voted to disfranchise Penryn and for Lord Althorp’s election expenses bill, 28 May, and for the Canadian waterways grant, 12 June 1827.

Slaney left his family in Shropshire for the 1828 session ‘with natural regret’. He considered Brougham’s six-hour speech advocating law reform, 29 Feb. 1828, ‘most eloquent and laborious’, and its conclusion

a noble specimen of stern and manly English eloquence worthy of the enlightened and independent man who (in spite of his failings, for he is but a man) has done more to clear away bigotry, to support rational freedom and to spread the cause of education and intelligence than any other person living.19

According to his journal, he attended the House ‘pretty assiduously’, devoting his time ‘chiefly to two subjects’, poor law reform and repeal and improvement of the laws affecting malt. He postponed his labourers’ wages bill, 8, 27 Feb., 14 Mar., while he gathered ‘information by abstracts, returns, etc.’, and attended the select committee on parochial settlement, to which he was appointed, 21 Feb. He pointed to the close correlation between emigration, low agricultural wages, crime and poor law abuse when Irish migrant labour was considered, 19 Feb., and legislation on emigration proposed, 4 Mar., and obtained leave to bring in his bill based on the 1817 and 1819 reports, 17 Apr., when, though ‘dismayed by poor attendance’, he spoke for two hours as his speech ‘could hardly be compressed from the facts and returns quoted’. He declared that he had no intention of ‘meddling’ with those parts of the law governing rating, settlement or relief to ‘the lame, the impotent and the blind’, advocated inquiry into fluctuating demands for labour, and suggested treating corn law and poor law reform conjointly, raising agricultural wages and ending systematic doles to able-bodied ‘artisans, mechanics and agricultural labourers’, who were suffering because of the misapplication of legislation originally intended for vagrants. He spoke of the increased burden that relief costs, which doubled every 20 years and associated litigation expenses, which did so in 12, placed on landed wealth, praised the Scottish system and voiced his customary criticism of poor law administration in the 16 counties south of a line from Gloucester to Stamford. He commended the Buckinghamshire petition, suggested a credit system linking parish employment to savings accounts and called for the appointment of a select committee. The bill was read a second time, 29 Apr., and its recommendations incorporated in the widely circulated report Slaney drafted as chairman of the 1828 select committee on the poor laws, which he hoped would ‘lead to a practical measure next session for which I shall prepare!’20 He publicized his study of brewing practices and the maltsters’ plight when endorsing Shrewsbury’s petition against the malt duties, 27 Feb. Bringing up similar petitions from Newport and Shifnal later that day, he riled the president of the board of trade Charles Grant by complaining that the system ‘shackled the progress of that free and fair trade which, in other instances [he, Grant, had] advocated’. He repeated his call for concessions and an ad valorem duty on presenting the Sheffield maltsters’ petition, 23 May, drawing criticism from the chancellor of the exchequer Goulburn, whom he had recently lobbied as spokesman for the Shropshire maltsters’ delegation. He opposed the alehouse licensing bill, 21 May, 25 June 1828, when, as subsequently, he voiced support for Sunday opening.

He presented petitions, 25 Feb., and voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb, but abstained on Catholic relief, 12 May, for which he presented Shrewsbury’s petition, 6 May 1828. He thought East Retford deserved disfranchisement, 25 Feb., and explained before voting against recommitting the disqualification bill, 27 June, that although he usually supported the landed interest, in this case he thought the franchise should be transferred ‘to a great town’ like Birmingham. He also criticized the agriculturists for seeking high corn prices when commerce was depressed, and infuriated Nicolson Calvert by offering to support any plan that left East Retford disfranchised. He also divided against the ministry to lower the corn pivot price from 64s. to 60s., 22 Apr., and on the small notes bill, 5 June, the Buckingham House expenditure, 23 June, and the ordnance estimates, 4 July. He presented a petition against the friendly societies bill, 6 May, briefly endorsed the Shrewsbury anti-slavery petition, 19 June, and, alluding to its unpopularity in Shropshire, suggested withdrawing the additional churches bill for redrafting, 3 July. He voiced local concerns over the security of the Chester mail, 6 July 1828. Assessing his progress that session, he observed: ‘I have become acquainted with more Members ... and have been kindly noticed by Lord Althorp and others of real weight, but feel greatly the want of an introduction-perseverance’.21

Reacting to the establishment of a Brunswick Club in Shropshire, Slaney knowingly placed his political future at risk by informing his constituents in an open letter that he was ‘in favour of concessions to the Catholics under securities, i.e. denying them any vote in Parliament on questions connected with religion’, 24 Nov. 1828. He stressed the difference between petitioning meetings, of which he approved, and clubs, which tended to perpetuate political divisions, and wrote to George Dawson*, the secretary to the treasury ‘offering to support government in any conciliatory proposition’.22 In his journal he expressed concern at the possible loss of his seat, fears (generated by Joseph Muckleston’s illness) lest he mismanage Eliza’s likely inheritance, and pride that Lord John Russell*, William Ward* and Althorp*, who with Lord Tavistock* proposed his admission to Brooks’s, 21 Feb. 1829, had approved his conduct.23 Slaney felt exonerated by the 1829 king’s speech, interpreting it as ‘a death blow to the power of the Ultras in England’ and ‘likely to remove a great obstacle to my return at Shrewsbury’.24 He attended the Commons and Lords debates, and, as the patronage secretary Planta anticipated, divided with government for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar.25 ‘Being well acquainted with the neighbourhood’, he testified briefly to the ‘respectability’ of the clergy and other signatories to the Wolverhampton anti-Catholic petition, 11 Mar., and presented a favourable one from Cheswardine, 20 Mar. He predicted that Shrewsbury’s fury at its Members’ pro-emancipation votes ‘will pass away, but at all events, if necessary I can resign the seat with content, well satisfied to have aided in passing two such liberal and excellent measures as the Catholic bill and the repeal of the Corporation and Test Laws’. He ‘received no incivility on account of my vote’ when he visited Shrewsbury in May 1829.26

Slaney aired his views on poverty whenever the topic was broached, and hearing from Peel that he, as committee chairman, should introduce changes based on his 1828 report, he did so, 24 Feb. 1829, with a warning that Beaufroy’s 1740 prediction, that by 1840 poor rate expenditure would exceed £9,000,000 and one person in seven would be a pauper, had almost been realised. His detailed criticism of the administration of the 1603 Act apportioned particular blame to decisions made in 1795 and the way in which the word ‘impotent’ had been misconstrued to include children, so facilitating the introduction of rent and wage subsidies, bread scales and a minimum wage and contributing to depressed wages, population increases and a rise in crime. He asserted that the merit of his bill lay in its being a ‘gradual remedy’ calculated to end abuse of the Elizabethan poor law, not to supersede it, and claimed that it could not ‘be considered impracticable, because it is the universal practice in the north of England, where ... the labourers are the most independent, happy and moral’. He aimed to reduce relief dependency by abolishing money payments to the able-bodied in employment, so drawing ‘a line between the industrious and the idle, between the working man of good and the working man of bad character’. Allowances would continue during ‘temporary illness’, to widows and deserted wives unable to ‘wholly maintain’ their families, to those incapable of maintaining themselves through old age or infirmity and as a temporary expedient ‘in case of urgent distress from fire or flood’. The first reading was carried, 26 Feb., but, after consultation with Althorp and Wellington, the second reading was deferred until 4 May. Favourable petitions were received from Gloucestershire, Somerset and Bristol, 25 Mar., and Westhoe, 21 May, but Leeds and Birmingham petitioned against it, 4 May, and the Tories Sturges Bourne and Sadler and the radical Hume condemned it as unworkable. On 22 May, after it had been thrice recommitted and reprinted, Slaney abandoned it, having carried the clause prohibiting overseers from paying wage supplements to labourers by 39-11, 15 May.27 He wrote that McCulloch, whom he met for the first time, 25 Mar., ‘greatly approved of my bill, but thinks eventually no able-bodied man ought to be relieved except by labour in a workhouse, his family being out. However, this appears to me impracticable at present’.28 Defending it when the extension of the poor laws to Ireland was proposed, 7 May, he claimed that he had been misunderstood:

It is supposed that I mean to take away by that bill all relief from every able-bodied man in this country who would not be able to procure employment. I mean no such thing. All that the bill states is, that relief shall be afforded to such persons in the form of work, and not in the form of money.

He brought in an abortive bill to regulate poor rate assessment in certain Scottish parishes, 1 June. Heeding Lord Milton’s* advice, and with government clearly against him, he withdrew his proposed malt bill, which he claimed was ‘no party question’ and vital to the poor and the prosperity of the landed interest, 12 May 1829. His ‘speech on the supply of malt liquor to the middle and poorer classes’ discussed regional variations in malting practices by soil type and the prevalence of the tied houses he abhorred, and was ‘printed voluntarily by Mr. Howell of Shrewsbury’.29 In June he visited Brighton, Rotterdam and the principal towns of Holland, and joined the Society for the Dissemination of Useful Knowledge, anticipating that they would publish his Considerations on the Wages of Labour and Welfare of the Working Classes, with a view to educating them to be ‘more provident and less clamorous’, and An Introductory View of the British Song Birds, intended for the use of ladies and young persons. Both were issued in 1832.30 He spent August 1829 at Barmouth on the Merionethshire coast with his family, and, returning to Shropshire, he dealt with complaints concerning the contentious route of the Holyhead road and prepared to ‘persevere in the amendment of the poor laws, and laws affecting malt liquor’, and to study

the causes which depress and degrade the artisans and manufacturers, and endeavour to devise a remedy and call the public attention to it. The alternations and fluctuations of wages demand the serious investigation of those who desire well to their fellows. 31

Unsure how to react to the prospect of ‘moderate liberals’ among Canning’s former supporters joining the Wellington ministry in January 1830, he consulted Althorp, whose reply, ‘as we were end last session’, seems to have done little to reassure him.32 Returning to London he observed that

parties are oddly divided, ministers about 120, Whigs about 90, Ultra Tories inveterate against government now 30. Huskisson and C. Grant, clever free trade men, also now strong in opposition, about 15, and the plot thickens as others come to town. I am rather desolate by myself and very inconveniently placed, but am, I trust, usefully occupied.33

He did not divide on the address, from which distress was omitted, 4 Feb., but he presented and endorsed petitions incorporating requests for government action to alleviate it, 16 Mar. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and paired for this when out of town for his uncle Richard Slaney’s funeral, 5 Mar.34 He voted for Lord Blandford’s reform proposals, 18 Feb., to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., for inquiry into the duke of Newcastle’s abuse of his electoral influence, 1 Mar., and for parliamentary reform, 28 May. From 12 Mar. until 7 June he divided steadily with the revived opposition, whom he described as ‘a body of independent Members who occasionally assemble at ... [Althorp’s] rooms to consider public measures - Lord Milton, Lord Euston, Lord Nugent, Mr. Stanley, and about 35 of the best Whigs’.35 He did not apparently vote on Jewish emancipation, but he informed Isaac Goldsmid, who sent him a copy of his pamphlet, that he ‘was convinced before I received it of the necessity of giving fair equality of political privileges to those professing the Jewish religion, believing that the more support you have to your building the firmer it will stand’.36 He voted to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June 1830.

As announced, 11 Feb., Slaney’s poor law bill, a revision of his 1829 measure incorporating legislation on rating low rental tenements, was read for the first time, 22 Feb. 1830.37 Supported by Althorp, he secured its second reading, 15 Mar.; but he failed to draft a labour rate clause acceptable to the country gentlemen, and the measure was strongly opposed in committee, where its provisions for separating pauper children from their parents were severely criticized from all sides of the House.38 Before the clause authorizing parishes to maintain them was rejected (by 91-9), 26 Apr., he tried to explain that what he intended was little different to apprenticeship, and added:

If I succeed this year in inclining Parliament to sanction the principle of the bill, it will give me great pleasure; but I shall not be disappointed if it be rejected, nor shall it prevent me again and again from urging it on the attention of Parliament, for so convinced am I of the importance of having some change in the present system of our poor laws, that as long as I have a seat in this House I shall not cease to press the matter on public attention.

The measure was recommitted, 3, 4 May, when it was split into two: a bill to prevent poor law abuse and one making landlords liable for payments on properties rated under £10.39 He ‘attended night after night till two o’clock’ to promote it, ‘the pressure of business always defeating me’.40 He quipped when it was deferred from 24 to 27 May that ‘the gentlemen who attend the Derby are not likely to care much about the matter’, and demanded on the 27th that ‘government should positively turn its attention to making some arrangement by which important bills like this may be properly debated’. Goulburn replied that Slaney ‘makes his appeal to me nightly, but I cannot make another day’. Deferrals, hostile exchanges and petitions, notably from Merthyr Tydfil and Newcastle-under-Lyme, thwarted the progress of both bills, and directly George IV’s death was announced he declared that he would hold them over until the next Parliament, 29, 30,41 when, as agreed by the Whigs in April, he would also seek inquiry into the provision of open spaces in large towns.42 He endorsed schemes to provide employment by capital investment in Ireland and declared against introducing the poor laws there, 9, 11 Mar., 3 June, and approved ‘in principle’ the bill for removing Irish and Scottish paupers, 26 May. He presented petitions against the truck system from Oldbury, 11 Mar., and Shifnal, 18 May, and despite reservations, 18 Mar., after sitting on the select committee on the labourers’ wages bill, he gave it his support, 23 June. On 13 May 1830 he secured the appointment of a committee on employment fluctuations in manufacturing districts, which approved his scheme for ‘combining savings banks and benefit societies in one club ... from which each member should have a right to draw during want of work in proportion to the amount of his contribution and the sum of his deposits’.43

He said that he intended seeking a select committee on the malt duties, 12 Feb., and presented petitions criticizing their effects on the poor, 22, 26 Feb., 1, 3, 4 Mar., but deferred to the successful ministerial measure, for which he voiced ‘general support’, 26 Apr 1830. He thought that ‘the malt and beer question ... has aided me in the opinion of the House and at Brooks’s’ and that he ‘ranked third’ on the select committee on the sale of beer bill, which he considered to be ‘one of the most important measures as regards the poorer classes that has been introduced to the attention of the legislature for some time past’, 21 May. He praised it as a deregulatory measure, 21 May, 3, 6 June, but acknowledged that additional restrictions on on-consumption were desirable, 3, 4 May, and voted accordingly, 1 July. Voicing local concerns, he expressed support for the Birmingham Junction canal bill, criticized the attack on its solicitor Thomas Eyre Lee, 20 May, and promised to oppose any plan which omitted Shrewsbury from the route of the Holyhead road, 3 June 1830. By starting earlier, superior organization and his father’s financial backing he defeated Corbett to come in for Shrewsbury with the local Tory nabob Richard Jenkins at the general election in August 1830. On the hustings, he gave a resumé of his parliamentary career to date and warned that, as in France, unrest might lead to revolution.44 Reports circulated that he ‘spent £8,000, and there is to be a petition against him for bribery’.45 None was forthcoming, but he was so disgusted by the voters’ venality that he contemplated retiring ‘at the next election’.46

The Wellington ministry counted him among their ‘foes’, but although present to propose his own bills, to urge ministers to legislate for the poor and to criticize them for dissuading the king from attending the City dinner, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12 Nov., he was absent from the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830, having been summoned to Shropshire following the death of Muckleston on the 11th.47 He was depressed by the incendiarism he found there, and busy as sole executor of Muckleston’s will, which confirmed his life interest in the Shropshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire estates and London properties devised to his wife and daughters, and was proved under £180,000, 18 Dec. 1830.48 In the House, 13 Dec., he declared that ‘while the new government act in accordance with their professed principles of peace, retrenchment and reform, they shall have my most cordial support’. He welcomed the postponement during the unrest of the bill for the employment of the labouring poor, 17 Dec., and when a Sussex petition complaining of high taxes and tithes was presented that day, he annoyed the county Member Curteis by emphasizing the prevalence there of poor law abuse and low wages. He was convinced that ‘despite some inflammatory publications’, Ireland would remain quiet provided ‘gentlemen would go down each to his own estate, and exert themselves in such a manner as the condition of the peasantry requires’, 20 Dec. 1830. Backed by the wealthy merchant and political economist James Morrison, he expounded the merits of free trade when the barilla duties were considered, 7 Feb., disputed allegations made by Hunt that day that four-fifths of Staffordshire magistrates had a vested interest in the truck system, and presented petitions from Manchester for repeal of the duty on printed calicoes, and Shrewsbury protesting at the parish ballot, 10 Feb. 1831. He called for extracts to be read from the report of the select committee on the vestries’ bill, criticized in the St. Martin-in-the-Fields’s petition, 17 Feb. On Canada and the emigration bill, 18, 22 Feb. 1831, he repeated his call for capital investment and higher wages, attributed the current distress to poor law abuse and an excess of labour, and voiced support for subsidised passages, solely as a means of offering opportunity to the poor.

His much-deferred liability of landlords bill was committed, amended and reprinted, 23 Feb. 1831. Manchester petitioned in its favour, 28 Feb.; Newcastle, 7 Mar., and Merthyr Tydfil, 28 Mar., against it; and with his proposals to end poor law abuse and his motion for a select committee on open spaces it became a casualty of the dissolution.49 Copies of his proposed bills and abstract returns were appended to his testimony to the Lords committee, 18 Feb., and therefore printed;50 but when he sought to interest the S.D.U.K. in publishing them, he was peeved to find little enthusiasm for the project even after it had been endorsed by lord chancellor Brougham.51 He was named as a defaulter, 16, 17 Mar., when he went to Shrewsbury for the reform meeting, and he presented and endorsed their petition for the ministerial measure with another from Ellesmere on the 21st.52 Before doing so he protested at the tactics deployed to delay it and praised it on demographic grounds and as a response to the ‘grand demand of the people’, restoring them ‘to the rights which their improved habits, their peaceable demeanour, and their increased intelligence prove that they deserve’. Refusing to be shouted down, he insisted that a vote against the second reading was ‘against reform altogether’ and divided for it, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the general election that month ‘white apronned flax dressers’ rallied his supporters in Shrewsbury, and he defended his measures for the working classes, his votes for retrenchment and reform and the principles of the bill, adding that he was ready to ‘go further’ should ministers advocate it, and that those who now called for ‘moderate reform’ had always opposed it. He came in again with the anti-reformer Jenkins after Boycott and the Manchester reformer Richard Potter† retired early during the poll.53 He deliberately distanced himself from the contest for the county, where the sitting anti-reformers were re-elected; and, though present, he rarely spoke at reform dinners.54

He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, against using the 1831 census to determine English borough representation, 19 July 1831, and steadily for its details. When the enfranchisement of Manchester was considered, 2 Aug., he testified to the growth of the coalfields and manufacturing districts, and contrasted the annual average of £100 paid in assessed taxes by 38 schedule A boroughs with the £26,000 paid by 38 new boroughs. The reactionary Shropshire Member John Cressett Pelham commented caustically that ‘to hear him one would imagine that manufactures are the road to population and wealth, and that agriculture is only the road to ruin’. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., and informed the Shrewsbury reformers that he lamented its loss in the Lords.55 Writing from Walford to the Grey ministry’s postmaster-general the 5th duke of Richmond, 15 Oct., as a self-appointed spokesman for steady supporters of the bill, he said that they hoped the next one would be ‘somewhat less sweeping than the last’:

It appears to me ... that some curtailment and alteration might take place which would render it safer and more palatable to a very large and respectable minority who would be glad (now they see reform must be carried) to meet us (as they ought) much more than half way! I know several Members ... who voted against the bill, who are desirous to support it, and settle the question, if some modification could be introduced. The same must be felt by many peers anxious to settle the question safely; I do not presume to say what alterations should be made, but think that if it were practicable to leave out great part of schedule B, to alter the uniformity of franchise, to make the £10 qualification (if such remain) bona fide, by introducing quarterly letting reservations of rent instead of mere weekly payments it would be a great improvement. Ten pounds reserved weekly and stopped out of wages on Saturday is not ten pounds per annum, but really the credit and class indicated hereby is not more than renters of six pounds per annum in quantity rent. I ... earnestly wish some approximation could take place in settling this great question, between honest and conscientious men belonging to the two great parties, as there are those who watch their contentions, and would rejoice to destroy them both when exhausted by the contest. The opinion of most persons in [Shropshire] ... is that the measure would be safe, if less extensive, and they are anxious for a quiet settlement.56

Before voting for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, he expressed regret ‘that anything like a spirit of party should have manifested itself in the course of these debates’ and called for calmness, moderation, and concessions on both sides ‘without damaging the principle or the efficiency of the measure’. He contrasted the population, wealth and intelligence of rural and urban areas, rejected the notion that the latter enjoyed ‘virtual representation’ through such places as Gatton, and thanked Lord Clive for his conciliatory speech. Referring to the Whitchurch incendiaries, he concluded with a warning that ‘to delay reform will make property insecure’. He voted against enfranchising all £10 poor rate payers, 3 Feb., called for ‘prejudices be laid aside’, as ‘by this bill the representation of the country will be placed in the hands of the most intelligent and most deeply interested classes of the community’, 19 Mar., and added:

I do not think that the new constituent body will return a gentleman to this House, solely in consequence of his abilities as an orator, or in consequence of his usefulness to his party as a Whig or a Tory. These have too long been the qualifications to a seat in this House, while the most important one - namely a man’s habits of business, and his capability to attend to the interests of his constituents - have been neglected. I think that, in a reformed Parliament, the political parties which now exist will have little weight, and men will not be sent here because they are gifted with great eloquence which they may occasionally be called upon to exert on grand occasions for the interest of their party. Those persons will be sent here who will sedulously devote their time and attention to the important business of the House, and who will anxiously watch over the interests of their constituents. You will not have men who only occasionally attend in their places, but those who are constant in their attendance, and who will be desirous to promote the well-being of the great communities who send them here.

He divided for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., paired for the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, and voted against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June. He questioned the decision to make Church Stretton rather than Much Wenlock the principal polling town for Shropshire South, 7 June. Nothing came of a suggestion that he should stand for the Northern Division following its passage.57 He mistrusted and consequently opposed the anti-reformer Burge’s advocacy of legislative colonial assemblies, 28 June, and engaged in several brief altercations with Hunt and Hume. He introduced the Irish boundaries bill, 5 June. He endorsed ministers’ decision to postpone corn law reform, 1 June, and divided with them on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16 July 1832.

Initially Slaney proceeded with his liability of landlords bill, 28 June, 8 July, and proposals for ‘parks in populous towns’, 22 June 1831, and he persisted in publicizing his views on poor law reform whenever the issue was raised. However, he conceded that reform ‘must come from government’, that ‘individual good intentions ... will not do to correct an evil which has its roots in a general and most mischievous system’, 28 June 1831. Blaming poor law abuse, rather than the laws themselves, he refuted Sadler’s criticism of the political economists, and although, like Althorp, he offered ‘general support’ for the labourers’ employment bill, 11 Oct., he criticized its sponsor Sadler’s failure to appreciate the lack of uniformity and pockets of deprivation within the north-south divide, and by 1 June 1832 he was openly hostile to the measure. He also opposed Sadler’s proposals for extending the poor laws to Ireland, 19 June, and pointed to possible abuses of the bill to remove Irish and Scottish vagrants, 28 June 1832. Writing to Brougham that day, after consulting Nassau Senior, he suggested that the new poor law commission should have no more than six members in London, who in turn would report on the findings of ‘a like number of persons (or rather more) ... appointed as perambulatory or country commissioners’. He offered to serve in London with Senior, the Benthamite Walter Coulson, Bishop Blomfield of London and ‘possibly [Lord] Sandon*, Sir Thomas Fremantle* and Thomas Grimston Estcourt*’, and recommended two clergymen, John Thomas Becher and Charles David Brereton, the retired barrister Ward and Sir John Wrottesley* as country commissioners.58 Although excluded from the commission, he submitted his opinions as the respondent to the ‘rural queries’ for the parish of Walford.

Slaney studied the 1832 cholera epidemic closely, and despite being much lampooned for this and his plans to educate the poor, he polled in second place at Shrewsbury, which returned him as a Liberal at the general election in December.59 He maintained a high profile in the county and at municipal elections, and remained the Shrewsbury Conservatives’ ‘most dangerous foe, not only because of his readiness to spend, but also because of his ability to garner non-Whig votes’. Except for interruptions occasioned by defeat in 1835, his retirement for a single Parliament when Benjamin Disraeli† became a candidate in 1841, and when the local party favoured the Liberal-Tory George Tomline† in 1852, he kept his seat for life.60 His overriding commitment was to improving conditions for the lower classes, especially in the industrial towns;61 but he also found time for travel and to write poetry and other works.62 On the recommendation of the prime minister Peel, to whom he offered his services ‘independent of party’, he became an unpaid commissioner on the health of towns, 1843-8.63 The Times criticized Slaney in 1850 as ‘a political hypochondriac’, watching for the symptoms of disease instead of observing the general health, but his philanthropic exertions were universally commended, and his death at his London home in Bolton Row, Piccadilly, in May 1862, from complications following a minor fall at the opening of the International Exhibition, was widely mourned.64 His will, proved 5 Sept. 1862, confirmed a number of family settlements and provided for his second wife Catherine (d. 10 Apr. 1883), to whom he entrusted his portrait by Pickersgill and journals drafted since 1854. His lands in Baschurch passed to his daughter Elizabeth Frances Eyton of Ryton, Shropshire; Hatton Grange, in which his brother William (d. 26 Dec. 1862) had a life interest, to his daughter Frances Catherine, wife of William Kenyon† of Walford, who took the name of Slaney, and his Leicestershire and Derbyshire estates and her mother’s effects to his daughter Mary, wife of William Edward Wynne of Peniarth.65

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. VCH Salop, i. 463; B. Trinder, Industrial Revolution in Salop (1981), 11, 15-16, 21-22; P. Richards, ‘R.A. Slaney, the industrial town and early Victorian social policy’, Social Hist. iv (1979), 88.
  • 2. H.T. Weyman, ‘MPs for Shrewsbury’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), xii (1929-30), 251; IR26/5110/342-56.
  • 3. Birmingham Univ. Lib. Slaney mss 1-4, of which 1-3 are a record of his views and activities, Apr. 1815-Nov. 1817, Apr. 1825-Jan. 1826, and 4 is an undated travel jnl.; Salop Archives, Morris-Eyton mss 6003/1-9 cover 1818-Mar. 1825 and Feb. 1828-1849.
  • 4. Slaney mss 1, 18 Apr. 1815.
  • 5. VCH Salop, ii. 182, 184, 194; iii. 325; Salop Archives 6003/4, 28 May 1824.
  • 6. Salop Archives 6003/1, 30 Dec. 1819.
  • 7. Shrewsbury Chron. 12 Jan.; Salopian Jnl. 17 Jan. 1821.
  • 8. Salop Archives 6003/1-4, passim; Birmingham Univ. Lib. Eyton mss 179-84; Shrewsbury Chron. 8, 15, 29 Mar. 1822.
  • 9. Salop Archives 6003/1, 16 June, 15 Sept. 1820; 6003/2, 5 June, 29 July, 7, 15 Oct., 12-18 Nov., 22 Dec. 1821, 21 Mar. 1822; 6003/4, July 1824; Richards, passim.
  • 10. Salop Archives 6003/2, 29-30 Sept. 1821, 13 Feb., 9, 25 Mar., 14 Apr. 1822; 6004/4, Oct. 1824.
  • 11. Slaney mss 3, 12 May 1825.
  • 12. NLW, Coedymaen mss 954; Salopian Jnl. 9, 16 Nov. 1825, 8 Mar. 1826. See J.A. Phillips and C. Wetherell, ‘Great Reform Bill of 1832 and Rise of Partisanship’, JMH, lxiii (1991), 633-4, 636.
  • 13. Shrewsbury Chron. 21 Apr.; The Globe, 22 Apr.; Salopian Jnl. 26 Apr., 3 May; The Times, 1 May; Salop Archives 1066/136, diary of Katherine Plymley, 4 May 1826.
  • 14. Eyton mss 185-6; Salopian Jnl. 3, 10, 17, 31 May, 7, 14, 21, 28 June; The Times, 12 June; Plymley diary, 12 June 1826; E. Edwards, Parl. Elections of Shrewsbury, 23-24.
  • 15. Salop Archives 6001/3056, pp. 14, 18-22; Edwards, 24.
  • 16. The Times, 23, 29 Nov. 1826; Salop Archives 6001/5, memo. Aug. 1828.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxii. 199.
  • 18. The Times, 19, 20, 23 June 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 575, 596.
  • 19. Salop Archives 6003/5, 1-6 Feb. 1828.
  • 20. PP (1828), iv. 137-99; Quarterly Rev. xliii (1830), 251; Salop Archives 6003/5, memo. Aug. 1828.
  • 21. Salop Archives 6003/5, memo. Aug. 1828.
  • 22. Ibid. Nov.-8 Dec.; Shrewsbury Chron. 14, 21, 28 Nov., 5 Dec. 1828.
  • 23. Salop Archives 6003/5, 3 Dec. 1828-26 Jan. 1829.
  • 24. Ibid. 6 Feb. 1829.
  • 25. Ibid. 23 Feb. 1829.
  • 26. Ibid. 25 Mar. [May] 1829.
  • 27. Ibid. 30 Mar. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 82, 86, 100, 110, 117, 171, 243, 277, 307, 330, 350.
  • 28. Salop Archives 6003/5, 25 Mar. 1829.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxiv. 289; Salop Archives 6003/5, May, 14 July 1829.
  • 30. Salop Archives 6003/5, June 1829; UCL, SDUK mss, Slaney 26-29.
  • 31. Salop Archives 6003/5, June-Sept.; 6003/6, 30 Oct., 31 Dec. 1829.
  • 32. Ibid. 6003/6, 23 Jan. 1830.
  • 33. Ibid. 6 Feb. 1830.
  • 34. Ibid. 6 Mar. 1830.
  • 35. Salop Archives 6003/6, 15 Apr. 1830.
  • 36. UCL, Goldsmid mss, letterbk. i. f. 211.
  • 37. Salop Archives 6003/6, 20 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 70, 90.
  • 38. Salop Archives 6003/6, Mar. 1830.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxv. 361, 375.
  • 40. Ibid. lxxxv. 333; Salop Archives 6003/6, May-June 1830.
  • 41. CJ, lxxxv. 399, 380, 385, 395, 399, 401, 403, 411, 416, 434, 436, 444, 459, 469, 490, 516, 524, 544, 548, 566, 574, 582.
  • 42. Salop Archives 6003/6, 15 Apr. 1830.
  • 43. Ibid. 15 June 1830.
  • 44. Ibid. 30 June-2 Aug.; Salop Archives 840/159/441-3; Shrewsbury Chron. 6 Aug. 1830; Edwards, 25-26.
  • 45. Life of Campbell, i. 475.
  • 46. Salop Archives 6003/6, 25 July 1830.
  • 47. Ibid. 5, 11 Nov.; Shrewsbury Chron. 12 Nov. 1830.
  • 48. PROB 11/1779/715; IR26/1234/695.
  • 49. CJ, lxxxv. 58, 18, 131, 134, 138, 142, 150, 155, 158, 171, 185, 198, 203, 235, 270, 326, 348, 451.
  • 50. LJ, lxiii. 578-85.
  • 51. SDUK mss, Slaney 27-29.
  • 52. Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Mar. 1831.
  • 53. Wolverhampton Chron. 4, 11 May; Shrewsbury Chron. 6, 13 May 1831; Edwards, 27; Trinder, 235; Phillips and Wetherell, 634-5.
  • 54. NLW, Aston Hall mss C.235; Shrewsbury Chron. 27 May, 3 June 1831.
  • 55. Shrewsbury Chron. 14 Oct. 1831.
  • 56. W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 636, f. 84.
  • 57. Aston Hall mss C.1018.
  • 58. Salop Archives 6003/6, 16 July 1831-July 1832; Brougham mss, Slaney to Brougham, 28 June 1832.
  • 59. Shrewsbury Chron. 28 Sept., 2 Nov., 14 Dec. 1832.
  • 60. VCH Salop, iii. 323-8; Phillips and Wetherell, 636-9; Edwards, 41-43.
  • 61. Richards, 85.
  • 62. Slaney, A Few Verses from Shropshire (1846); A Few More Verses from Shropshire (1855); Our Sources of Happiness (1857); Short Jnl. of a Visit to Canada and the States of America in 1860 (1861).
  • 63. Oxford DNB; Slaney, Reports ... on the Education and Health of the Poorer Classes in Large Towns (1841); Report on the State of Birmingham and Other Large Towns (1845); Add. 40310, f. 287; 40580, ff. 350-4.
  • 64. The Times, 7 Mar. 1850; Slaney, A Plea to Power and Parliament for the Working Classes (1847); Gent. Mag. (1862), i. 794; Men of the Time (1862), 705; Shrewsbury Chron. 23 May 1862.
  • 65. PROB 11/1829/176; 2062/743; IR26/1367/127; 1787/883; 2307/1007; 5110/342-56.