MP of the Month: Edward Lucas and the administration of Ireland, 1841-5

Edward Lucas was already an experienced parliamentarian when in September 1841 he was appointed under-secretary for Ireland, a post which for at least three-quarters of the year made the holder ‘the executive of Ireland’. In practice the political head of the civil service, the under-secretary was responsible for the routine working of the Irish administration and the supervision of almost every public department in Ireland. Indeed, Lucas acted as the Irish administration’s sheet anchor during the height of the Repeal agitation, yet he remains overlooked by both the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Lucas came from a Suffolk family that had migrated to Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century and acquired a large estate in county Monaghan. His family had frequently represented the county in the Irish Parliament and after attending the universities of Edinburgh and Oxford Lucas became involved in parliamentary politics on the independent and anti-Catholic interest from 1807. It was not until July 1834, however, that he was finally returned to the reformed Commons.


Dublin Castle (image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

A consistent supporter of Sir Robert Peel, Lucas spoke frequently against the Whig government’s Irish reforms and in 1838 led the opposition to the introduction of an Irish poor law. Although he retired at the dissolution in 1841 to manage his estate, his talents as an MP had not gone unnoticed by Peel, who regarded him one of the ablest of the Conservative Irish members. Accordingly, that September he was appointed to the demanding post of under-secretary for Ireland, which, since the Whigs had appointed Thomas Drummond to the position in 1835, had been treated as a political appointment. Lucas was therefore charged with the day-to-day supervision of the chief secretary’s office in Dublin Castle during what would be a challenging time for British authority in Ireland.

Wood, John, 1801-1870; Thomas Philip de Grey (1781-1859), 2nd Earl de Grey, KG, PC, FRS

Thomas Philip de Grey (1781-1859), 2nd Earl de Grey. Copyright Ministry of Defence Art Collection.

As Daniel O’Connell’s agitation for the repeal of the Union came to maturity in 1843, it became apparent that Lord de Grey’s administration as viceroy in Dublin was not a happy one. Lucas had the thankless task of mediating between de Grey and the chief secretary, Lord Eliot, and the lord chancellor, Edward Sugden, both of whom the hard-line viceroy had candidly described to Peel as ‘useless’. Lucas also criticised what he regarded as Eliot’s failure to act decisively against the Repealers, and in June 1843 tendered his resignation. Regarding Lucas’s behaviour as ‘very shabby’, Peel nevertheless found it impossible to find an adequate replacement, particularly as the viceroy had informed him that Lucas was the only senior official in Dublin in whom he had any confidence. Lucas again submitted his resignation rather than continue to serve under Eliot in May 1844, but was persuaded to remain and subsequently convinced the new viceroy, Lord Heytesbury, that he was an ‘indefatigable’ and highly efficient public servant, who had proved particularly useful in facilitating communication between the government and the leaders of the Orange party.

In August 1845 Lucas cited ‘a serious affection of the eyes’ as his reason for resigning as under-secretary. He became a member of the Irish privy council. That November he chaired a commission of inquiry into the failure of the Irish potato crop, although political opponents considered him ‘too Orange-tinted’ to provide sympathetic guidance to what they had dubbed the ‘Starvation Commission’. In fact, he proved highly critical of the government’s relief measures and was replaced when the commission was restructured in February 1846.

Convinced that the country’s prospects were unlikely to improve, Lucas left Ireland for the Continent in 1850. On Lord Derby coming to power in February 1852 he was reportedly ‘wandering somewhere about’ southern Europe when the government despatched a special messenger to offer him his old job. In the event the position went to another Irish landowner, Edward Wynne, the member for County Sligo, this being the last time that the Irish under-secretaryship was given to a politician. The post was again made a permanent one in 1854 during the tenure of Wynne’s successor, Sir Thomas Larcom, although later appointments would become politicised for some years after 1886 by virtue of the Home Rule question.

Lucas eventually returned to Ireland and in the 1860s supported fellow Conservative landowners at parliamentary elections for County Monaghan, acting on the principle of maintaining ‘what is old until it is proved to be bad’. Lucas’s death at Castle Shane in November 1871 went largely unremarked, and his time at the fulcrum of the Irish executive during a turbulent period in Irish politics has been largely forgotten.

Further reading:

  • K. Flanagan, ‘The Chief Secretary’s Office, 1853-1914: a bureaucratic enigma’, Irish Historical Studies, xxiv, no. 94 (Nov. 1984), 195-225
  • R. B. McDowell, The Irish Administration 1801-1914 (1964)
  • R. B. O’Brien, Dublin Castle and the Irish People (2nd edn., 1912)
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Petitioning Parliament: two PhD studentships

One of our former colleagues, Dr Henry Miller, has recently secured a major grant to further his work on petitioning, as part of an important new project with Dr Richard Huzzey at the University of Durham. Petitioning has long been overshadowed by elections in the study of British politics, yet before the 1880s many more constituents (including women) often put their names to petitions than actually cast a vote at the polls.

A 'Monster' Petition being carried to Parliament, 1842

A ‘Monster’ Petition being carried to Parliament, 1842

As well as the landmark campaigns that used and refined the art of petitioning – slavery abolition, the agitation for the 1832 Reform Act, corn law repeal and Chartism – petitions also served as a continuous safety valve for airing local gripes and grievances on a vast range of issues, both public and private. Parliament kept records, including a entire series of volumes issued by a special select committee on public petitions. Relating this resource (once digitised) and others to digitised newspaper accounts and Hansard will provide new insights into how petitioning was organised and its long-term impact in helping to shape local and national political culture right across the UK.

This exciting new study is now looking for two PhD researchers – for full details see below or click here. As historical projects go, it could hardly be more topical.

Durham University and Warwick University are pleased to announce that we have two funded PhD studentships available as part of the ‘Re-thinking Petitions, Parliament, and People’ project generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2016-097). This new initiative, led by Dr. Richard Huzzey (Durham) and Dr. Henry Miller (Durham), explores the powerful role of parliamentary petitioning in the development of modern Britain and exploits the under-used records of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Petitions. One student will be based in Durham while the other will work at Warwick with Dr. Sarah Richardson, a member of the project’s advisory board.

For full details, including the process for applying before the 19 August 2016 deadline, please see the webpages for these two studentships:

Petitions from Ireland:

Petitions from women:

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‘The sagacity of the elephant, as well as the form’: MP of the Month, George Ward Hunt (1825-77)

The recent rise of a certain parson’s daughter to the premiership provides a fitting opportunity to consider the unexpected ascent of a parson’s son to one of the great offices of state during the 1860s – George Ward Hunt, Conservative MP for Northamptonshire North between 1857 and his death in 1877, and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Disraeli’s 1868 administration.

Hunt’s name has become synonymous with two moments in Westminster’s popular memory. His inability to locate his dispatch box prior to his only budget speech in 1868 is often bandied about on budget day by journalists seeking historical precedent for the custom of the chancellor holding up their red box outside 11 Downing Street. When he later served as First Lord of the Admiralty in Disraeli’s second ministry from 1874, the practical need to accommodate his gargantuan frame – he was 6ft 4 inches tall and weighed between 21 and 25 stone throughout his adult life – has been used to explain a unique semi-circular recess in the Admiralty’s boardroom table, known as ‘Hunt’s Bay’. Both legends – one that paints a picture of ineptitude, the other of extraordinary obesity – have served to distort the otherwise exemplary parliamentary service of one of the rising stars of the Conservative party in the early 1860s.

Hunt’s political career did not start well. After graduating with a MA from Christ Church, Oxford, and being called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1851, he failed twice to get elected as a Conservative candidate for the borough of Northampton in 1852 and 1857. To make matters worse, in 1857 he suffered the ignominy of being on holiday in Egypt throughout the election, a fact that his local Liberal opponents never let him forget, through heckling about crocodiles, pyramids and mummies at future hustings.

NPG D43474; George Ward Hunt ('Statesmen, No. 77.') by Carlo Pellegrini

‘The fat of the land’, George Ward Hunt by Carlo Pellegrini, Vanity Fair (11 March 1871)

He was finally elected in December 1857 at a by-election for Northamptonshire North, the county division that contained his family’s Wadenhoe estate. Although Hunt’s family could trace their lineage back to Edward III, his lowly status as the son of ‘a well connected country clergymen’ marked him out from the county’s usual stock of aristocratic representatives, and his election bemused Northamptonshire’s established elite. He quickly allayed these fears by throwing himself into the business of the Commons as an active Tory backbencher during his first short Parliament. He made his maiden speech within days of being sworn in (many MPs thought it courteous to wait at least a year before rising to address the Commons, if at all), contributed frequently to debate thereafter and had introduced his first bill within six months of assuming his seat.

After his re-election in 1859 he ramped up his parliamentary activity, taking a particular interest in the fine details of electoral, legal, Church and financial reform. His commitment to debate, committee work and legislative drafting had brought him to the attention of the Conservative leadership by August 1863. In 1865 he confirmed his ambitions within the party by moving a vote of censure on the Liberal Lord Chancellor, and distancing himself from the hard-line Protestant wing of back-bench Conservatives by voting in favour of introducing a Roman Catholic parliamentary oath – a move that prompted jibes of ‘he’s half a Liberal already’ when he was re-elected at that year’s general election.

His dogged campaign to rouse the Liberal government out of its inactivity over a rinderpest outbreak during the latter months of 1865, which had infected almost 75,000 cattle by the start of the 1866 session, confirmed his worthiness for office during the early months of 1866. His farming experience and close connections with England’s agricultural elite made him steadfast in his commitment to much stricter regulations than those proposed by the Liberal government for the movement, quarantine and slaughter of cattle. Hunt’s demands were eventually adopted as national policy leading to a virtual cessation in new cases of cattle plague by November 1866, down from almost 18,000 a week earlier that year.

His excellent parliamentary record was rewarded in 1866 by his appointment as Financial Secretary to the Treasury in Derby’s third Conservative government, where he attended diligently to his official duties in the Commons as well as his daily bureaucratic responsibilities. His command of economic policy and dependable performances in the Commons led many to the realisation that he was the brains behind Disraeli’s third chancellorship, earning his chief’s endorsement as ‘our best man’ by March 1867.

On Disraeli’s ascent to the premiership in 1868, Hunt was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the new prime minister provided the following reference to Queen Victoria ahead of her first meeting with her new chancellor:

he is more than six feet 4 in stature, but does not look so tall from his proportionate breadth – like St Peters, no one is at first aware of his dimensions … he has the sagacity of the elephant, as well as the form … simple, straightforward & truthful … & of a very pleasing & amiable expression of countenance. He has gained golden opinions in the execution of his office as Sec[retary] of the Treasury, & is so popular in the House of Commons that the opposition even intimated recently that if a new Speaker were required, they were not disinclined to consider Mr Ward Hunt’s claims.

[Disraeli to Queen Victoria, 26 Feb. 1868: Benjamin Disraeli letters, 1868, ed. M. G. Wiebe et al. (2013), x. 82]

While Victoria remarked on such a ‘strange description’, she jokingly expressed no doubt that Hunt would ‘add weight to our counsels’. Accordingly, she accepted Disraeli’s recommendation, confirming Hunt’s rise from unknown parson’s son to one of the four great offices of state after only a decade in Parliament.

The full biography of Hunt will soon be available on our 1832-68 preview site.

Further reading:

  • Margaret Main Schoenberg, ‘Hunt, George Ward: A 19th Century Giant’, Northamptonshire Past and Present, 5, 4 (1976)
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MP of the Month: Daniel Gaskell (1782-1875)

Our Victorian Commons project is shedding new light on the increasingly important role played in the behind-the-scenes business of the post-1832 House of Commons, particularly in the committee-rooms, by MPs who came from non-elite backgrounds. While a family inheritance enabled our MP of the Month, Daniel Gaskell, to lead a comfortable life as a country gentleman, his Unitarian faith set him apart from the traditional political class. He was enthusiastically supported in his parliamentary career by his wife, and the often under-valued political role of women is another major theme to emerge in our research.

Described by the novelist Mary Shelley as ‘a plain silentious but intelligent looking man’, Gaskell served as MP for Wakefield from 1832 until his defeat in 1837. He was one of around 40 Unitarians who sat in the Commons during the 1832-68 period. His grandfather, a linen draper, and his father, a merchant, had both worshipped at Manchester’s Cross Street Unitarian Chapel. Gaskell was born in Manchester, but moved to Lupset Hall, near Wakefield, following his marriage in 1806. He and his older brother Benjamin were the major beneficiaries under the will of their cousin, James Milnes, and acquired considerable urban and rural property. Lupset Hall ‘received all the embellishment which taste and art could confer upon it’ and became ‘the seat of the most liberal hospitality’. Gaskell was acquainted with prominent figures such as the philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham, although Mary Shelley considered him and his wife to be ‘country folks in core’.

Wakefield constituency map

Wakefield constituency map

The Radicals in the newly enfranchised borough of Wakefield – which had one MP from 1832 – invited Gaskell to be their candidate. He initially accepted, but subsequently withdrew. He was, however, persuaded to reconsider. In August 1831, his nephew, James Milnes Gaskell, who had begun canvassing Wakefield as a Conservative, recorded that ‘the radicals had so effectually worked upon my uncle’s anxious and sensitive mind that he considered it a point of conscience’ to stand. Milnes Gaskell withdrew in his uncle’s favour in March 1832, finding a safe seat at Wenlock instead. Gaskell was elected unopposed in December 1832, when his political platform included retrenchment in public spending, shorter Parliaments, the secret ballot, the abolition of slavery, revision of the corn laws and reform of the Church.

Alongside local Radical pressure, Gaskell’s formidable wife, Mary, played an important part in encouraging her ‘reluctant spouse’ to stand. As noted in our earlier blogs, although women were debarred from the parliamentary franchise, their political influence in this period should not be overlooked, whether as local voters, petitioners, electoral patrons or, in Mary Gaskell’s case, political wives. ‘Unquestionably a character’, who ‘drew upon herself a great degree of notice from the leading part she took in public matters’, she was described as ‘a sort of zealot in the patronage of ultra-Liberals’. She went to hear sermons from the Unitarian preacher, William Johnson Fox (later Radical MP for Oldham), and ‘was a kind and generous friend’ to the radical journalist and novelist William Godwin and his family, including Mary Shelley, who was his daughter. In April 1831 James Milnes Gaskell told his mother that ‘it is, in fact, my Aunt, that would be member of Parliament’.

Despite his initial reluctance to stand, Gaskell was ‘punctual in his attendance’ at Parliament. Mary Shelley marvelled that

‘he attends the house night after night and dull committees and likes it! – for truly after a country town and country society, the dullest portion of London seems as gay as a masked ball’.

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

Despite her comments about Parliament’s dullness, Shelley took advantage of her friendship with Gaskell to make use of his parliamentary franking privileges, encouraging correspondents to send letters to her via Gaskell, who could receive them without payment.

Although he was assiduous in his attendance, Gaskell seldom spoke in debate. One obituary recorded that ‘the atmosphere of publicity’ was not ‘congenial to his tastes and habits’. He was, however, remembered as ‘an excellent committee-man’, highlighting the fact that contributions in the chamber were only one aspect of parliamentary engagement. While Gaskell gave general support to Whig ministers, he expressed concerns that they ‘did not proceed in the path of Reform so rapidly as was generally expected; indeed some of their early measures seemed to indicate a retrograde movement’. Reflecting his claim that ‘I have attached myself to no party’, Gaskell’s votes in the division lobbies displayed considerable independence. He often divided in the minority with Radical and Irish MPs, on issues ranging from the ballot to the introduction of a moderate fixed duty on corn. His radical leanings prompted joint Whig-Conservative efforts to find an opponent to him at the 1835 election. He survived this contest, but was defeated in 1837. His parliamentary service was rewarded with the presentation of ‘two massive pieces of silver plate’ in 1838: a vase from the ‘ladies’ of Wakefield and a soup tureen from 1,700 male subscribers.

After several years’ absence from the Commons, Gaskell reluctantly agreed in December 1845 that he would stand again for Wakefield to support the cause of free trade. With the general election delayed and the corn laws repealed, he withdrew in April 1847 on grounds of his age and health. Widowed the following year, he subsequently dedicated his energies – and up to half his annual income of £4,000 – to charitable works. He was a particularly generous benefactor to the Unitarian church, donating £1,000 in 1856 to assist poorer congregations in the north of England. He also supported educational causes, contributing £3,000 towards new premises for the Wakefield Mechanics’ Institute in 1855. He died in December 1875.

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‘The first humble beginnings of an agitation’: the women’s suffrage petition of 7 June 1866

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the presentation to Parliament of the first mass women’s suffrage petition on 7 June 1866. Signed by around 1,500 women, it was presented to the Commons by John Stuart Mill, who had been returned as Liberal MP for Westminster at the general election of July 1865. Among the most prominent signatories were Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett (later Anderson) and the mathematician and scientist, Mary Somerville. However, thanks to a new resource released by Parliament’s Vote 100 project, it is now possible to search the names of all of the 1,499 women listed in an 1866 pamphlet as having signed the petition. Only two known copies of this rare document survive.

Petitioning was a well-used method of bringing issues to the attention of parliamentarians, having been deployed by anti-slavery campaigners, the Chartists and, as featured in one of our earlier blogs, the Anti-Corn Law League. The Liberal ministry’s introduction of a reform bill in 1866 had brought the question of the franchise to the fore, but its proposals for widening the electorate applied only to men. The women’s petition – couched in cautious terms, and side-stepping the potentially contentious issue of marital status – asked the Commons to ‘consider the expediency of providing for all householders, without distinction of sex, who possess such property or rental qualification as your Honourable House may determine’.

John Stuart Mill and Helen Taylor

John Stuart Mill and Helen Taylor

For Mill, the petition provided an important weapon against the argument that ‘the ladies themselves see no hardship’ in their exclusion from the suffrage ‘and do not care enough for the franchise to ask for it’. Writing to Caroline Liddell on 6 May 1866, he encouraged her to draft a petition, urging that ‘a woman who is a taxpayer is the most natural and most suitable advocate of the political enfranchisement of women’. In the event, it was Mill’s stepdaughter, Helen Taylor (who urged Bodichon that they should ‘commence the first humble beginnings of an agitation’), who produced the initial draft of the petition presented by Mill, although Liddell was among the signatories. The signatures, reportedly gathered within a fortnight, were collated at the London home of Clementia Taylor, whose husband Peter – a member of the Courtauld business dynasty – was Liberal MP for Leicester, 1862-84. (His biography is among those already completed for our 1832-68 project.)

With discussions on petitions occupying an increasing amount of the time of the Commons, the Liberal and Conservative front benches had agreed informally in 1835 not to allow debates when petitions were presented. Debates on petitions were formally abolished by a standing order in 1843. This meant that there was no substantive discussion when Mill presented the women’s petition on 7 June 1866.

Mill was, however, able to make some remarks on the petition when he moved on 17 July 1866 for the compilation of a return of the number of freeholders, householders and others who fulfilled ‘the conditions of property or rental prescribed by Law as the qualification for the Electoral Franchise’ but were ‘excluded … by reason of their sex’. Informing his fellow MPs that the petition had originated ‘entirely with ladies, without the instigation, and, to the best of my belief, without the participation of any person of the male sex in any stage of the proceedings, except the final one of its presentation to Parliament’, he emphasised ‘the number of signatures obtained in a very short space of time, not to mention the quality of many of those signatures’. Mill himself had been surprised by the petition’s size, having been willing to present a petition containing just 100 signatures. Seeing the ‘large roll’ containing the petition for the first time when he met Davies and Garrett in Westminster Hall, he declared, ‘I can brandish this with effect’.

Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli

Although Mill’s speech was brief – it occupied less than two columns of Hansard – he took the opportunity to note that Benjamin Disraeli, who had since become chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Derby’s newly formed Conservative government, had suggested during the debates on the Liberal ministry’s reform bill that there was ‘no reason why women of independent means should not possess the electoral franchise, in a country where they can preside in manorial courts and fill parish offices’.

Even before the failure of the Liberals’ reform bill had removed the possibility of introducing an amendment on women’s suffrage, Mill, showing his shrewdness as a parliamentary tactician, had decided that it was imprudent to pursue the matter any further that session. He did not wish, as he told a fellow MP, to be accused of ‘taking up the time of the House’; pressing a matter which had no chance of practical success risked being seen as deliberately obstructive. Mill did, however, achieve his aim of laying ‘the foundation of a further movement when advisable’. Outside Parliament, women continued to organise, and further petitions were presented in spring 1867.

Mill’s opportunity for bolder action came when the Conservative ministry introduced its own reform bill in 1867. On 20 May – which was, coincidentally, Mill’s birthday – he moved, in a powerful and eloquent speech, to replace the word ‘man’ in clause 4 of the bill with ‘person’. His amendment for female suffrage was defeated by 196 votes to 73. Petitions continued to be presented to Parliament as part of the women’s suffrage campaign, including a ‘survivors’ petition’ in 1890, signed by 78 of those whose names had been included on the original petition of 1866.

20 May 1867

Mill’s amendment, 20 May 1867

Further reading:

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An ‘upstart from the ranks’: MP of the Month, John Thomas Norris (1808-70)

Norris’s political career illustrates a number of the striking developments being explored in our work on the Victorian Commons, including the ever-expanding number of ‘non-elite’ MPs; the role of town council elections as a stepping stone to Parliament; and the emergence of new types of party activism in even the smallest constituencies. Norris’s experience of getting elected also hints at the ongoing prejudices against many of those who had dared to ‘raise themselves up from the ranks’.

Thomas Norris MPBy the mid-1830s Norris was running a paper mill with his father at Sutton Courtenay, near Abingdon. He had also started a London print works in Aldersgate, which in 1837 secured the contract to supply the ‘county printing’ for Middlesex. The firm published a number of trade journals, such as the weekly Railway Times, which Norris helped to finance and eventually owned. In 1854 he leased another paper mill at Sandford in Oxfordshire, by which time about 80 of his London printers were attending his ‘annual treats’ to a dinner in Abingdon’s town hall.

Alongside business, Norris threw himself into local radical politics. In 1835, at the height of the crisis  over the passage of the Whigs’ municipal reform bill, he published a scathing attack on a City of London Tory councillor for opposing the ‘democratic’ changes being made to the way aldermen were appointed. A supporter of the radical parliamentary candidates for the city at the 1837 general election, and a regular target of Tory ‘objections’ in the voter registration courts, he stood as a ‘reforming’ councillor for Aldersgate ward in 1839, only to have his election overturned on petition by the Tories for alleged ‘non-residence’. Standing again, in an ‘extraordinary’ by-election, he comfortably won the seat and went on to become a key figure in London’s campaign to remove the ‘cruel and filthy’ live cattle market from Smithfield.

In Abingdon, a few miles north of his Sutton Courtenay paper mill, Norris served as one of the Thames navigation commissioners and became part of a local group of reforming tradesmen and businessmen intent on breaking the Tories’ stranglehold over the borough. Along with the local coal and wine merchant Gabriel Davis (1809-89), Norris helped organise a series of by-election challenges to the sitting Tory MP, backing the campaign to elect the Liberal army officer James Caulfield, who finally won the seat in 1852. Norris was an obvious replacement when Caulfield died, but was pushed out by the leading Whig Lord Norreys. In a ‘remarkable’ struggle he was then beaten by a ‘more moderate’ Liberal when Norreys succeeded to the Lords in 1854. Mocked on the hustings, Norris was accused by a former ally of being an ‘upstart’:

In too great haste to get to the top of the ladder, he was not content to climb step by step, but wished to vault at once to the top (laughter).

Norris had the last laugh when he was elected without opposition in 1857. (He also easily defeated a Tory in 1859). An active constituency MP, he campaigned steadily against the proposed closure of Abingdon’s gaol and the transfer of its county sessions to Reading, as well as on local police and railway matters. His most significant contribution, however, was in pressing the case for a repeal of the paper duties, which had been part of Gladstone’s 1860 budget but was controversially rejected by the Lords. Insisting that English paper makers were being forced out of business by tax-free imported paper, and that repeal would benefit the working classes as well as producers of literature, he urged the chancellor to ‘abide manfully by his budget’ and for the ministry to back him, which they duly did in 1861. This incident was crucial in clarifying the Commons’ supremacy over the Lords in all money matters.

Norris then turned his attention to the import duties on the ‘foreign rags’ used to make paper, warning in 1864 that many English paper manufacturers were starting to go bankrupt. By then he was clearly speaking from bitter personal experience. With his business in difficulty, he became far less active in Parliament. Standing again for Abingdon in 1865, he was unfairly accused of being an ‘absentee’ and narrowly defeated by another rival Liberal. Later that year, to ‘much astonishment’, he was declared bankrupt, with debts of £89,000 and assets of £40,000. The Sutton Courtenay paper mill failed to sell, however, and he was still running it in 1869, when a boiler exploded, killing a stoker. He was ‘fully insured’.

Norris died childless the following year. His paper mill struggled on until the 1880s and was demolished in the early 20th century. The associated Mill House later achieved fame as one of the country retreats of the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. More recently it was bought back by Asquith’s great granddaughter, the actress Helena Bonham Carter.

The full biography of Norris will soon be available on our 1832-68 preview site.

Further info about Norris can also be found here.

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The Commons and Cricket: Charles George Lyttelton (1842-1922)

Being that time of the year when, to use Kipling’s less than charitable terms, the ‘muddied oafs at the goals’ begin to make way for ‘the flannelled fools at the wicket’, it seems apt for our MP of the Month to be one of the most accomplished cricketers to take his seat in the reformed Commons.

Charles George Lyttelton, Viscount Cobham (from Vanity Fair, 1904)

Charles George Lyttelton, Viscount Cobham (from Vanity Fair, 1904)

Charles George Lyttelton (1842-1922) was a scion of one of Worcestershire’s leading Whig families, the Lytteltons having held land in the Vale of Evesham since the beginning of the thirteenth century. Among his ancestors were scholarly judges, colonial governors, and a Chancellor of the Exchequer. The family was, however, was not without its black sheep. The libertine 2nd Baron, Thomas Lyttelton (1744-79), known within the family as ‘Naughty Tom’, was – according to Horace Walpole – a ‘detestable character’ whose ‘ingratitude, profligacy, extravagance, and want of honour and decency’ were aimed at nothing but ‘shocking mankind, and disgracing himself’. On the other hand, Lyttelton’s father, George William Lyttelton (1817-76), was among the most brilliant scholars of Victorian England, and in 1846 served his brother-in-law, William Gladstone, as under-secretary for the colonies. He was one of the chief promoters of the colonisation of New Zealand.

A gilded youth, Charles Lyttelton stood well over six foot with ‘auburn hair and fine dark eyes’. A crack shot and ‘superb games player’, he quickly made his name at Eton as a cricketer. A ‘splendid bat, with a free, commanding style’, he subsequently played first-class cricket for Cambridge University, where he topped the batting averages for two years running, with a highest score of 81 at the Oval in 1864. He was not only an outstanding batsman but also an effective medium pace bowler and a good wicket keeper, and took part in 12 matches for Gentlemen against Players between 1861 and 1866.

Alfred Lyttelton

In fact, the Lytteltons were obsessed with cricket, and all seven of Lyttelton’s brothers played cricket for Eton. Like him, three of them captained the team, his brother Edward going on to represent England at football, while the youngest brother, Alfred, became one of the country’s finest tennis players. At their ancestral home, Hagley Hall, the brothers joined their father and two uncles to form a cricket XI, the highlight of the year being their annual game against Bromsgrove School.

Unlike his siblings, Lyttleton was deeply reserved and ‘had no natural social gifts’. He was nevertheless the only member of his family to sit in Parliament between 1820 and 1895, being elected as a Liberal for East Worcestershire at a by-election in June 1868. He sat until he was defeated at the 1874 general election, during which time he proved a loyal Gladstonian, although much to his uncle’s disgust he would break with the Liberals over the question of Irish Home Rule in 1886. Once in the Lords he served on royal commissions on agriculture and metropolitan traffic, and was a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery.

Lyttelton’s achievements as a commissioner for land, 1881-9, and for railways, 1891-1905, and as deputy chairman of the Great Western Railway, 1890-1, were in some ways overshadowed by the more illustrious careers of his brothers. Neville Gerard (1845-1931) became chief of the army general staff; George William Spencer (1847-1913) was a private secretary to Lord Granville, and to Gladstone when prime minister in 1880-5 and 1892-4; Arthur Temple (1852-1903) was Bishop of Southampton; Edward (1855-1942) was headmaster first of Haileybury College, then Eton; while Alfred (1857-1913) was a long-serving MP and secretary of state for the colonies, 1903-5.

Hagley Hall, home of the Lyttelton family, in the 1820s

Hagley Hall, home of the Lyttelton family, in the 1820s

Although Lyttelton’s gifts were ‘of a less shining order’ than those of his brothers, he was well suited to the role of a patrician. After succeeding as 5th Baron Lyttelton following his father’s suicide in 1876, he inherited the title of 8th Viscount Cobham from a distant relative in 1889. As ‘the quietest and most modest of men’, his role as ‘the old-fashioned patriarchal head’ of his family was fulfilled ‘in everything except the desire to exercise authority’. His grandson, the jazz trumpeter and legendary broadcaster, Humphrey Lyttelton, remembered him only as ‘a disembodied head’ from a family portrait in which all the darker tints had turned pitch black.

Further reading:

  • B. Askwith, The Lyttletons. A Family Chronicle of the Nineteenth Century (1975)
  • S. Fletcher, Victorian Girls. Lord Lyttleton’s Daughters (2004)

For another cricket-themed blog from us, see

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