WILBRAHAM, George (1779-1852), of Delamere Lodge, nr. Northwich, Cheshire and Upper Seymour Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 8 Mar. 1779, 1st surv. s. of George Wilbraham† of Delamere and Maria, da of William Harvey† of Chigwell, Essex. educ. Rugby 1787; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1796. m. 3 Sept. 1814, Lady Anne Fortescue, da. of Hugh Fortescue†, 1st Earl Fortescue, 5s. suc. fa. 1813. d. 24 Jan. 1852.
Sheriff, Cheshire 1844-5.1
In 1784 Wilbraham’s father, who could trace his Cheshire roots back to the thirteenth century, had moved the family from Townsend, Nantwich, their seat for the last 200 years, to Delamere Lodge, newly built to James Wyatt’s design.2 Wilbraham inherited it with the residue of his father’s personal estate and took possession of the family’s London house in Marylebone following his mother’s death in a coaching accident in September 1822.3 His father had made no impression in the House, but his uncle Roger Wilbraham† was a well-known Foxite and friend of Thomas Coke I*, and in 1821 Wilbraham recalled that ‘from his earliest infancy, he had been taught to look to the example of Lord Crewe’, Whig Member for Cheshire, 1768-1802, ‘as a model for imitation’.4 He or his father joined Brooks’s, 12 June 1804.5 His marriage to Lord Ebrington’s* sister strengthened his ties with the Whig moderates and the Grenvillite Williams Wynns of Wynnstay, Denbighshire, although, as Lady Williams Wynn observed, the latter generally excluded the Wilbrahams and James Hamlyn Williams*, with whom they were similarly connected, from their guest lists, after the Grenvillites adhered to the Liverpool ministry in 1822.6 Wilbraham had established himself among Cheshire’s Whig coterie at the county meeting of 28 Feb. 1817, vainly attempted to include a condemnation of the proceedings against Queen Caroline in the Cheshire loyal address, 11 Jan. 1821, signed the ensuing protest at the conduct of the Tory sheriff, and became, in his own words, ‘particularly active and zealous’ in the foundation of the Cheshire Whig Club.7 As vice-president at the inaugural dinner, 9 Oct. 1821, he condemned the ‘harsh, unconstitutional and pernicious’ tendency of recent government policy and urged continued pressure for parliamentary reform.8 Addressing them in 1824, he maintained that the advance of Whig principles in government, through liberal Toryism, owed much to the mobilization of public opinion through organizations such as theirs, and called for a ‘more conciliatory policy towards Ireland’.9 In 1826 he contested Stockbridge successfully on the interest of the wealthy Cheshire Whig, the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, whom he had briefed on manoeuvring there by the former patron Joseph Foster Barham*.10
Wilbraham presided at the Cheshire Whig Club in October 1826.11 He divided with opposition against the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Feb. 1827. His attendance lapsed during the ministerial uncertainty created by Lord Liverpool’s stroke and Canning’s succession as premier, but he signalled his opposition to the duke of Wellington’s ministry with a vote against the navy estimates, 11 Feb. 1828, he presented a petition from the Dissenters of Nantwich for repeal of the Test Acts, 19 Feb., and prefaced his vote for it, 26 Feb., with what the Whig George Agar Ellis* termed a ‘good maiden speech’ arguing that the union of church and state was an ‘imagined necessity’.12 He commended the abolition of flogging in the Indian army, and regretted that elsewhere ‘the British soldier is still treated like a dog’, 10 Mar. He voted against sluicing the franchise at East Retford, 21 Mar. Criticism of Cheshire’s palatine jurisdiction and its association with the Welsh courts of great session revived with the appointment of an investigative commission that month, and Wilbraham asked its instigator, the Whig lawyer Henry Brougham and the Cheshire bench to endorse the superfluous inquiry motion by which he had the county’s courts added to its remit, 22 Apr.13 He voted for a reduction from 64s. to 60s. in the corn pivot price, 22 Apr., divided for inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr., and on the 28th presented and had an unfavourable Stockbridge petition referred to the select committee on the friendly societies bill, to which he had been appointed, 25 Mar. He divided for Catholic relief, 12 May, against the Canning family’s pension, 13 May, for information on civil list pensions, 20 May, and against the proposed expenditure on the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 6 June, the barracks, 20 June, and Buckingham House, 23 June 1828. He denied that Cheshire’s petition against Catholic emancipation represented general opinion in the county, 24 Feb., praised ministers for conceding the measure, and divided for it, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. Presenting a Nantwich petition for the removal of disabilities affecting Catholics, Quakers and Jews, 20 Mar., he cited the size of the force required to pacify Ireland as proof of the necessity of emancipation. He later implied (5 May) that he had deliberately refrained from voting against narrowing the Irish county franchise as a paving measure, 19 Mar., to safeguard the relief bill. He spoke of the distressed Macclesfield silk trade, 26 Feb., and opposed the Cheshire constabulary bill as unnecessary, 13 Apr. Before voting to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., he urged ministers to seize such ready opportunities to enfranchise ‘the middling, but now enlightened and valuable portion of the community’, recalled his own consistent support for ‘that now almost forgotten and ill starred cause of reform’, blamed the concept of virtual representation for the loss of the American colonies, and praised the Canadian legislature’s practice of granting representation to communities when they reached a certain size. According to The Times, he was shut out of the division on Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 2 June.14 On 9 Oct. 1829, in his absence as chairman, the Cheshire Whig Club put itself into abeyance.15
Wilbraham declared that ‘he could not approve of sending flattering messages to the duke of Wellington and his colleagues’ and was appointed to the committee that drafted a compromise petition at the Cheshire distress meeting, 25 Jan. 1830. He presented a similar one from Stockbridge, 17 Mar.16 He voted for tax concessions, 15 Feb., and ordered returns that day of public funds held by savings banks. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar., and seconded the motion for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, as ‘one step in the right road of practical reform’ and a just extension of the influence of the manufacturing interest, 23 Feb. He voted for inquiry into Newark’s petition of complaint against the duke of Newcastle’s electoral interference, 1 Mar., and Lord John Russell’s general reform proposals, 28 May, and divided steadily with the revived Whig opposition until 11 June, including for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., reform of the divorce laws, 3 June, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He presented petitions against the Macclesfield water bill, 5 Apr., and criticizing proceedings in Chester’s ecclesiastical court, 11, 30 June. As requested by the county magistrates, he spoke against the proposed abolition of Chester’s exchequer court under the administration of justice bill, 27 May;17 but he nevertheless endorsed the wider measure, which had Grosvenor’s approval, after this concession was refused, 18 June. At the general election in July, he supported Grosvenor’s heir Lord Belgrave* in Cheshire, where his own candidature had been broached, and retained his seat at Stockbridge after an ill-tempered contest.18 Afterwards, he publicly disavowed an inflammatory victory address issued under his name by his opponent John Foster Barham*, and subscribed £10 to a relief fund for victims of the July revolution in Paris.19
The Wellington ministry naturally listed Wilbraham among their ‘foes’ and he divided against them on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented a Nantwich petition in favour of election by ballot, 28 Feb. 1831, and announced his support for the Grey ministry’s reform bill as a ‘great healing and constitutional measure’ in a letter read to the Cheshire meeting, 17 Mar.20 He divided for the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar. Opposing Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., he observed that the gradualist approach to reform he had previously advocated had failed, denied that the bill was revolutionary, and asserted that the reduction in Members it proposed would ‘cast out 160 drones and take in 115 working bees’. The pro-reform Chester Chronicle praised his speech, which with his vote that day (19 Apr. 1831) was deliberately misreported, as ‘one of the best and most convincing’.21 Announcing his candidature for Cheshire at the dissolution that month, he proclaimed his connection ‘by birth and habit’ with the county’s landed interest and promised to ‘foster and protect’ the growing manufacturing sector.22 The sitting Tory Wilbraham Egerton declined a contest and the anti-reformers Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton* and Lord Henry Cholmondeley* eventually desisted, leaving Wilbraham, whom the Lancashire and Cheshire reformers had resolved to return free of charge, to come in unopposed with Belgrave. On the hustings he expressed concurrence with the ‘leading principles’ of the reform bill, cited the enfranchisement of tenant farmers as a desirable amendment to it, and declared against slavery, ‘whether it be exercised over black men or over white’.23
He divided for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, against adjournment, 12 July, and fairly steadily throughout August for its details, but despite his remarks on the hustings, he did not apparently vote on Lord Chandos’s clause to enfranchise £50 tenants, 18 Aug. 1831. He cast a wayward vote for the complete disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept., and divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. At the county reform meeting at Nantwich, where he was well received, 25 Oct., he announced that he would not allow his hostility to the proposed division of the county to compromise his support for the reform bill as a whole, and opposed Edward Davies Davenport’s* abortive proposal urging that supplies be withheld pending its enactment.24 He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and, except for a wayward vote against the division of counties, which he believed would ‘overthrow old associations’ and increase the likelihood of county representation falling entirely under urban or oligarchic influence, 27 Jan. 1832, he divided consistently for its details. He maintained that Cheshire’s anti-reform petition was a ‘hole in corner’ affair unrepresentative of majority opinion in the county, 19 Mar., and commended the bill that day as a ‘charter of the middle classes’ as great as that granted by King John to the barons. He divided for its third reading, 22 Mar., and the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He presented a petition from Hyde for withholding supplies pending its passage, 23 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June 1832. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, and the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 20 July 1832, but against them on the civil list grants, 18 July, to halve that to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies, 25 July 1831, and the appointment of a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May 1832.
Attending to constituency business, Wilbraham presented petitions from Macclesfield for legislative control of child labour, 29 June, from Stockport against importing flour, 13 July, one hostile to the Warrington-Newton railway bill, 4 Aug., and several for amendment of the Sale of Beer Act, 4, 25 Aug., 19 Sept. 1831. He cautioned against giving credence to petitions against the imprisonment of the radicals Taylor, Carlile and Carpenter, 22 Sept. Drawing on statistics and a petition from the Macclesfield silk manufacturers, he illustrated the damaging effects of free trade in the Cheshire silk towns, 16 Dec. 1831, 1 Mar. 1832. He presented petitions on 5 Mar. against the general register bill, for amendment of the Lighting and Watching Act, and for and against the factories regulation bill, for which he expressed qualified support, 16 Mar., and he was named to the select committee on the measure that day at his own request.25 On 2 July he revealed that some manufacturers, of whose good faith he had been certain, had compelled employees to sign petitions opposing the measure. He presented the Cheshire petition complaining of the maladministration of the Cheshire Constabulary Act and wanton expenditure of the magistracy, to which he added his own criticisms of the measure, 10 July 1832. This led to a spat with his colleague Lord Grosvenor (as Belgrave had become), who, irritated by Wilbraham’s ‘pompous manner’, queried the legitimacy of the meeting at which the petition had been adopted. The Grosvenors had come to regard Wilbraham as an irksome upstart, whom they were pleased to upstage at the opening of the Dee Bridge in Chester in October 1832.26
When in December 1832 Wilbraham’s candidature as a Liberal for the new Cheshire South constituency hazarded her husband’s return, Lady Elizabeth Grosvenor observed that he had ‘a great number of the people with him, but hardly six gentlemen, which, as he is very touchy, makes him extremely irascible and discontented’.27 He declared for the existing corn laws, refused to discuss church establishment, and topped the poll.28 He retained the seat until defeated by a Conservative in 1841, because, it was said, of his conversion to corn law reform.29 He had long expressed concern at the effect on the Cheshire trade of the East India Company’s salt monopoly and advocated its abolition in an 1847 pamphlet, Thoughts on the Salt Monopoly in India. He died in January 1852, recalled as ‘a man of great firmness and sincerity, earnest in his convictions, and decided in their expression’.30 His widow (d. 1866) retained a life interest in his London house in Lower Brook Street, Mayfair, and Delamere Lodge passed successively to his eldest son George Fortescue Wilbraham (1815-85) and second son Roger William Wilbraham (1817-97).31
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Howard Spencer / Margaret Escott
- 1. Cheshire and Chester RO QDA/12/13.
- 2. J. Hall, Hist. Nantwich, 424-5; Bagshaw’s Cheshire Dir. (1850), 647.
- 3. PROB 11/1554/192; IR26/628/155; The Times, 21 Sept. 1822.
- 4. HP Commons, 1754-90, iii. 637-8; HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 576; The Times, 13 Oct. 1821.
- 5. The admission is misattributed to his father.
- 6. Williams Wynn Corresp., 317.
- 7. The Times, 5 Mar. 1817, 10, 13, 18 Jan.; NLW ms 2793 D, Mrs. H. to H. Williams Wynn, 17 Apr. 1821.
- 8. Chester Chron. 12 Oct.; The Times, 13 Oct. 1821.
- 9. The Times, 13 Oct. 1824.
- 10. Ibid. 15 May 1824; Grosvenor mss 9/13/53. See STOCKBRIDGE.
- 11. Chester Chron. 13 Oct. 1826.
- 12. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 26 Feb. 1828.
- 13. Brougham mss, Wilbraham to Brougham, 12 Mar.; The Times, 26, 29 Mar.; Chester Chron. 2, 9 May 1828.
- 14. The Times, 4 June 1829.
- 15. Chester Chron. 16 Oct. 1829.
- 16. Ibid. 29 Jan. 1830.
- 17. Cheshire and Chester RO QCX1/2.
- 18. Grosvenor mss 12/1,2,4; Macclesfield Courier, 3 July; The Times, 27 July, 6 Aug. 1830.
- 19. Salisbury Jnl. 9 Aug.; Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 6; Brougham mss, Barham to J. Brougham [Aug. 1830].
- 20. Chester Chron. 18 Mar.; Chester Courant, 5 Apr. 1831.
- 21. The Times, 25 Apr.; Chester Courant, 22 Apr. 1831.
- 22. Ibid. 29 Apr. 1831.
- 23. The Times, 29 Apr., 5 May; Macclesfield Courier, 30 Apr., 21 May; Manchester Times, 7 May 1831.
- 24. Chester Chron. 28 Oct. 1831, The Times, 27 Oct. 1831.
- 25. The Times, 19 Mar. 1832.
- 26. G. Huxley, Lady Elizabeth and the Grosvenors, 42.
- 27. Ibid. 102-5; The Times, 26 Sept. 1832.
- 28. Chester Chron. 14 Dec., Chester Courant, 25 Dec. 1832.
- 29. Huxley, 107-8, The Times, 3 June, 1, 19 July 1841.
- 30. Chester Chron. 31 Jan. 1852.
- 31. PROB 11/2155/534; IR26/1950/329.