WILLIAMSON, Sir Hedworth, 7th bt. (1797-1861), of Whitburn Hall, nr. Sunderland, co. Dur.

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



1831 - 1832
1832 - 1837
22 Dec. 1847 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 1 Nov. 1797, 2nd. but 1st. surv. s. of Sir Hedworth Williamson, 6th bt., of Whitburn and Maria, da. of Sir James Hamilton of co. Monaghan. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1815. m. 18 Apr. 1826, Hon. Anne Elizabeth Liddell, da. of Thomas Henry Liddell†, 1st Bar. Ravensworth, 4s. suc. fa. as 7th bt. 14 Mar. 1810. d. 24 Apr. 1861.

Offices Held

Sheriff, co. Dur. 1840-1; mayor, Sunderland 1841-2, 1847-8.


Williamson was a direct descendant of the Nottinghamshire Royalist baronet, Sir Thomas Williamson (1609-57), of East Markham, whose namesake son had acquired the Monkwearmouth estate on the Durham (north) bank of the River Wear through his marriage with the Northumberland heiress Dorothy Fenwick of Brinkburne. They intermarried afterwards with the Durham families of Hedworth, Hopper, Huddleston, Lambton and Liddell, settled at Whitburn and held the shrievalty without interruption from 1723 until the death of Williamson’s father in 1810. His subsequent upbringing was entrusted to his mother and her co-trustees Ralph Lambton†, the recorder of Newcastle Robert Hopper (Williamson), and the Durham attorney Richard Scruton. Williamson took control of the heavily encumbered Whitburn estate in 1819 and declined the shrievalty on financial grounds that year. As his father had directed, he provided £9,000 settlements for his sisters, Maria, wife of the banker David Barclay*, and Sophia, who in 1823 married the Whig Thomas Dundas* Following his own marriage in 1826 to his neighbour Lord Ravensworth’s daughter, he economized by spending two years on the continent.1 He had joined Brooks’s, 11 May 1823, seconded the Whig John George Lambton’s* nomination for the county in 1826 and headed the requisition for the county meeting of 7 May 1831, ostensibly called on 28 Apr. to thank the king for dissolving Parliament following the defeat of the Grey ministry’s reform bill.2 Lord Cleveland’s son had been obliged (as an anti-reformer) to stand down, and a meeting of the ‘select few’ (all reformers) chaired by Lambton’s (now Lord Durham’s) brother Hedworth Lambton†, 28 Apr., had resolved to put forward Williamson, who at the meeting declared for the reform bill, economy and retrenchment. He was returned unopposed, professing the same principles, with the sitting Whig William Russell at a cost of £1,000.3

Williamson voted for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and steadily for its details, casting wayward votes only for the total disfranchisement of Russell’s borough of Saltash, which ministers no longer pressed, 26 July, and the transfer of Aldborough to schedule A, 14 Sept. 1831. He contradicted the anti-reformers’ arguments against the separate enfranchisement of Gateshead, 5 Aug. 1831, 5 Mar. 1832. He divided for the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831. When Sunderland (27 Oct.) and the county (31 Oct.) met to protest at the bill’s defeat in the Lords, he defended the ministry and the bill, praised Durham as one of its authors and was thanked for supporting it.4 He divided for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, and, excluding his vote against enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb. 1832, voted consistently for its details. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., and the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, and presented and endorsed petitions from Gateshead, Darlington and Malton for the withdrawal of supplies pending its enactment, 23 May. He voted for the Irish reform bill at its second reading, 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, the Russian-Dutch loan 12, 16, 20 July (as a pair), Portugal, 9 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. 1832.

Testifying to its local unpopularity, he presented petitions against the general register bill, 18 Oct. 1831, 31 Jan., and was added to the select committee on the measure, 27 Mar. 1832. He spoke in favour of amending the anatomy bill, 11 Apr. Williamson hoped to make his estate profitable by mining coal and building a railway and harbour at Sunderland, for which Brunel was the engineer, and he conducted constituency business along commercial rather than party lines. Backed by petitions from Sunderland and north Durham, he opposed the rival South Shields and Monkwearmouth railway bill, 14, 16 Feb., 6 Mar., and having failed to kill it (by 9-55), 14 Feb., he secured its referral to a committee of appeal (by 37-22), 26 Mar. Assisted by his Dundas relations, he led the opposition to the associated Sunderland (South Side) docks bill, backed by the corporation and the Durham Member William Chaytor, 27 Feb., and engineered its defeat in committee (by 10-7), 2 Apr. The publication of the division list by the Durham Chronicle became the subject of breach of privilege proceedings, 16 Apr., 7 May.5 The supporters of the South Side bill defeated Williamson’s Sunderland (North Side) docks bill (by 12-2) in the Lords, where it was entrusted to Ravensworth, 17 July 1832, and mounted a vigorous campaign to ‘floor’ him ‘out of the county, or rather his seat in the county’, where they ‘erroneously’ advertised his retirement.6 He carried the Bishopwearmouth roads and the Clarence railway bills without incident. On 27 Sept. 1832 he fought a bloodless duel with his Conservative opponent Edward Braddyll over allegations of ‘dock-jobbing’ and collusion with Lord Durham to ‘impose his brother-in-law Barclay’ on the new Sunderland constituency. A bitter and acrimonious contest, during which he advocated freedom of voting and ‘moderate protection’, preceded his return for Durham North as a Liberal with Hedworth Lambton at the general election in December.7 Williamson’s precipitate retirement in 1837, ostensibly on health and financial grounds, left little time to find a Liberal replacement and enabled his brother-in-law Thomas Henry Liddell* to take the seat for the Conservatives. After living for a time in Bruges, when his North Dock proved unprofitable, he returned to take Barclay’s place as Liberal Member for Sunderland in 1847. He retired at the next dissolution.8 Williamson died at Whitburn in April 1861, survived by his wife and four sons, the eldest of whom, Hedworth Williamson (1827-1900), Liberal Member for Durham North, 1864-74, succeeded to the baronetcy and estates. His younger sons were the principal beneficiaries of his will proved at Durham, 14 Feb. 1862.9

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. PROB 11/1511/285; IR26/159/430; T. Nossiter, Influence, Opinion and Political Idioms in Reformed England, 117; W.W. Bean, Parl. Rep. Six Northern Counties, 102.
  • 2. Durham Chron. 17 June 1826, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 3. Durham CRO, Londonderry mss D/Lo/C86/17; Durham Advertiser, 29 Apr., 6, 13 May 1831; Pprs. of Sir William Chaytor, 1771-1847 ed. M.Y. Ashcroft (N. Yorks. Co. RO Publications, l (1993 edn.)) [hereafter Chaytor Pprs.] 157.
  • 4. Tyne Mercury, 1 Nov.; Durham Advertiser, 4 Nov. 1831; J. Sykes, Local Recs. ii. 333-4.
  • 5. Durham Chron. 16, 30 Mar., 6, 13, 20 Apr. 1832.
  • 6. Chaytor Pprs. 172-7; John Bull, 24 June 1832.
  • 7. Derbys. RO, Gresley of Drakelow mss D77/36/8 (iii), Trevor to Gresley [undated]; Diaries and Corresp. of James Losh ed. E. Hughes (Surtees Soc. clxxiv), ii. 217-18; Durham Chron. 21 Dec.; Durham Co. Advertiser, 28 Dec. 1832.
  • 8. Nossiter, 71-74, 108, 117.
  • 9. Gent. Mag. (1861), i. 697, 706; Durham Chron. 26 Apr. 1861; Durham Univ. Lib. Durham Wills DPR 1862.