BLACKETT, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1657-1705), of Greyfriars House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Wallington Hall, Northumb.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 14 June 1657, 5th but 3rd surv. s. of William Blackett† and bro. of Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt.* m. 27 Jan. 1685 (with £6,000), Julia (d. 1722), da. of Sir Christopher Conyers, 2nd Bt., of Horden, co. Dur., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 8da. cr. Bt. 23 Jan. 1685.1
Freeman, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1678, alderman by 1683–7, Oct. 1688–d., mayor 1683, 1698; member, merchant adventurers’ co. of Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1679, hostmen’s co. 1681, gov. 1684, 1691, 1692; sheriff, Northumb. Nov. 1689.2
Sub-farmer, coal duties 1680–Nov. 1688.3
Inheriting the bulk of his father’s substantial estates and interest in the north-east coal industry, Blackett had become the region’s second largest coal producer by the end of the 17th century. In 1689 his growing wealth allowed him to purchase further lands in Yorkshire and the Northumberland estates of Sir John Fenwick†. The latter cost £4,000 plus an annuity of £2,000 for the life of Fenwick and his wife, but the purchase also added to Blackett’s mining interests. Not only did Blackett acquire further collieries by this transaction but he also found, as the Earl of Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) observed, ‘as much lead on the estate as paid the purchase and more’. Blackett’s good business sense and his burgeoning assets brought him a considerable income, estimated in 1705 at £10,000 p.a., and at his death he was described as one of the nation’s ‘richest commoners’.4
Following his uncontested return for Newcastle in 1695, Blackett was forecast as a likely opponent of the Court on the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 upon the council of trade, and in March he voted against the Court on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He was clearly not a Tory extremist, however, as he promptly signed the Association. A willingness to further both his own business interests and local concerns was twice demonstrated in this session. On 19 Feb. he was the sole Member appointed to draft a bill to settle the rents of coal wharves in Durham, Northumberland and Newcastle, and his promotion of this measure prompted the gratitude of Newcastle’s hostmen’s company, a group intimately connected to the coal trade of the Tyne and of which Blackett was a prominent member. It is clear from the minutes of this company that Blackett’s efforts to facilitate this bill stemmed from his personal interests, as the need to settle these rents arose from increased transport costs for north-east coal owners caused by the exploitation of Northumberland coal deposits further from the banks of the Tyne. The session also saw Blackett nominated, on 9 Apr., to the committee considering the petition of the inhabitants of Hexham, Northumberland, where Blackett owned much of the land, against the quartering of troops upon them. Granted an indefinite leave of absence on 20 Apr., Blackett was called upon to deal with two issues of note during the recess. Sir John Fenwick’s† arrest for his involvement in the Assassination Plot led Blackett to consult with the Treasury whether the annuity he was paying to Fenwick was still due, the treasury lords ordering that the annuity was payable only up to the time when Fenwick was accused of treason. Blackett’s acceptance of this decision gave Fenwick the pretext to request, in July, a delay in his trial ‘for want of money to make his defence’, though the lords justices rejected Fenwick’s petition. Blackett was also involved in quelling the disturbances at Newcastle occasioned by the recoinage, his role being to offer a crowd of 500 colliers, dissatisfied with the offer of ‘papers of credit’, gold in exchange for the ‘old broad money’, though Blackett’s intervention only led to a short lull in the disturbances. At this time Blackett was in contact with the chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Montagu* concerning the latter’s scheme to issue interest-bearing Exchequer bills, and it seems that Blackett had been a leading proponent of the decision to use these bills to satisfy the shortage of specie in Newcastle, the very policy that had prompted the public disturbances. At the beginning of the 1696–7 session Blackett absented himself from the division of 25 Nov. upon the Fenwick attainder, though whether this was on grounds of conscience or a feeling that given his financial involvement with Fenwick it was improper for him to vote on the issue, is unclear. It should be noted that in January 1697 Blackett renewed his agreement to pay an annuity of £2,000 to Fenwick’s widow. Blackett’s main concern during the remainder of the session was to renew attempts to resolve the issue of rents for coal wharves in the north-east, being the first-named Member appointed on 8 Dec. to draft such a bill and presenting it three days later. He was appointed, on 14 Jan. 1697, to draft a bill to explain the recoinage acts of the previous session and to inquire into miscarriages at the Mint. Granted a six-week leave of absence on 20 Feb., Blackett returned to London for the 1697–8 session. February and March saw him guide a bill to improve the supply of fresh water to Newcastle through its Commons stages.5
Blackett was returned unopposed at the 1698 election, and a comparison of the old and new Commons somewhat surprisingly classed him as a Court supporter, though a subsequent list queried this description. The reason for this shift in Blackett’s political loyalties is difficult to discern, but it may be that his friendship with his fellow coal proprietor and north-east Member, Hon. Charles Montagu, drew him into the orbit of Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Montagu. The shift in his political allegiance was clearly demonstrated in the debate of 18 Jan. 1699 on the disbanding bill, Blackett being one of a number of ‘country gentlemen’, including Whigs such as Sir John Mainwaring, 2nd Bt., Richard Norton and (Sir) John Philipps (4th Bt.), who ‘zealously opposed the bill as leaving the nation naked and insecure’. Secretary of State James Vernon I* wrote that this opposition had occurred ‘without any concert’ with the Court and that Blackett had ‘spoke very handsomely and close to the purpose’. He of course voted against the third reading of the disbanding bill. No more of Blackett’s speeches are recorded for this session, but his actions upon the issue of the standing army appear to have been sufficient to bring him to the attention of the Court. With his Tory background and new-found willingness to join the Whigs in defending the Court, Blackett was in many ways an ideal candidate for office, given William III’s inclination to remodel the ministry along less partisan lines, and in May Montagu wrote to Blackett to inform him of the King’s decision to offer him a place on the restructured Treasury board. Montagu wrote of William’s ‘mighty inclination to have you about him’ and assured Blackett that allowances would be made if personal business prevented him from attending London immediately. Blackett nevertheless declined the offer, a refusal which, Montagu reported, ‘mightily concerned’ the King and which William was not inclined to accept. Rather than press Blackett to accept immediately, however, Montagu explained that the King had ‘resolved on this expedient (which may be a secret to other people), that he would keep Sir Stephen Fox* in the commission whom he had designed to put out, that if in the winter, upon discoursing all matters we can incline you to come in, there may be no difficulty in making room for you’. Blackett’s high standing at this time is also indicated by a rumour in the following November that he was to be elevated to the peerage, but Blackett neither received this honour nor took a place on the Treasury commission. Blackett remained a Court supporter in this session. In the debate of 13 Feb. 1700 upon grants of forfeited estates to Whig ministers, for example, he was one of the Members who criticized John Grobham Howe’s censure of these grants, pointing out that Howe himself had made a request for such a grant in 1689, and, after being nominated on 8 Apr. to manage the conference with the Lords upon the forfeitures bill, on 10 Apr. Blackett joined such Whigs as Lord Hartington (William Cavendish) and Richard Norton in opposing the motion of Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., for an address requesting the dismissal of Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*). A parliamentary analysis dating from early 1700 listed Blackett as in the interest of the independent Whig the 2nd Earl of Warrington, a classification which though reflecting Blackett’s political stance at this time may also have been due to the marriage of Blackett’s brother, Sir Edward, to Warrington’s aunt.6
It was reported in December 1700 that Blackett ‘refuses to stand’ for re-election, and he remained resolute in this determination until the 1705 election. Appearing to spend most of his time in Newcastle, Blackett occupied himself in pursuing a claim for a debt owed to his family, in respect of a loan his father had made to the king of Denmark in 1658, and keeping a watchful eye on the Scottish border and the north-east coast for possible Jacobite activity. He also busied himself in charitable activity, helping to establish both a charitable school and the keelmen’s hospital in Newcastle while contributing towards the building of a chapel for colliers at Allenshead, Northumberland. Blackett ended his political retirement in 1705 when his return for Newcastle was again unopposed, but he was absent from the division of 25 Oct. upon the choice of the Speaker. He set off for London the following month, but his health went into a rapid decline and reports of his death were circulating by 4 Dec. His body was returned to Newcastle for burial, which took place on the 29th. He was succeeded by his eldest son, a Tory who sat for Newcastle from 1710 until his death.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison
- 1. New Hist. Northumb. xii. 377; J. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. pt. ii(1), 259–60.
- 2. Reg. of Freemen (Newcastle Rec. Soc. iii), 95; Arch. Ael. ser. 4, xviii. 77, 82; CSP Dom. 1684–5, p. 205; 1687–9, p. 309; 1689–90, p. 116; Newcastle Merchant Adventurers (Surtees Soc. ci), 308; Newcastle Hostmen’s Co. (Surtees Soc. cv), 263, 272.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 230–1, 432.
- 4. R. Welford, Men of Mark ’twixt Tyne and Tweed, i. 302; J. Hatcher, Hist. of British Coal Industry, i. 253; New Hist. Northumb. ii. 62–63; iv. 327, 380; VCH N. Riding Yorks. i. 345, 351; Ailesbury Mems. 390; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 158; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 619.
- 5. Newcastle Hostmen’s Co., 151; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 4, 34, 192; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 260; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1461, Vernon to Portland, 7 July 1696; Bodl. Ballard 18, f. 16; Add. 34355, f. 7; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 28 Jan. 1696–7.
- 6. Hatcher, 532; Cam. Misc. xxix. 376, 386; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 27; Vernon– Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 253, 293; Add. 40773, f. 113; Northumb. RO, Blackett (Matfen) mss, Montagu to Blackett, 11, 27 May 1699; Luttrell, iv. 579; Cocks Diary, 51–52; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 268.
- 7. Add. 70019, f. 285; 28890, f. 303; 28947, f. 252; CSP Dom. 1700–2, pp. 523–4; 1703–4, pp. 225, 242, 489, 499, 504, 517–18, 524; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 450; A Chapter in Eng. Church Hist. ed. McClure, 207–8, 300, 303, 328; Newcastle Hostmen’s Co. 158, 173, 253; New Hist. Northumb. iv. 100; Luttrell, v. 619; Welford, 305.