WOLLASTON, Richard (c.1669-1728), of Wormley, Herts. and Whitchurch, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1699, 1st s. of John Wollaston of Wormley by Hannah Horton. m. 22 Sept. 1685, Faith, da. of George Browne, 23ch. inc. 3s. 2da. (14 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1692.1
Receiver-gen. taxes, Herts. 1697–1701; steward and bailiff, Salford Hundred, duchy of Lancaster 1699–1702; surveyor of lands and woods, South, duchy of Lancaster 1708–12.2
Purse bearer to ld. keeper 1705–10; commr. collection of charity for relief of Palatines 1709, bankruptcies by 1715.3
Wollaston was descended from a junior branch of a family which came originally from Staffordshire and of which the senior line settled at Shenton Hall, Leicestershire. His grandfather bought a moiety of the manor of Wormley in Hertfordshire, obtained a lease of some lead mines in Derbyshire, and shortly after the Revolution lent £10,000 to William III. Wollaston himself inherited Wormley, but from his father’s personal estate he received an income of only £400 p.a. He dissipated much of his fortune in fighting election campaigns in Whitchurch where he owned at least one house. His first, unsuccessful, attempt was in 1695. He petitioned on 30 Nov., only to withdraw on 13 Mar. 1696. Early in 1697 he was appointed a receiver of taxes.4
Returned unopposed for Whitchurch at a by-election in March 1698 and again at the general election of the same year, Wollaston was classed as a placeman and Court supporter. In the first session of the new Parliament he complained, on 16 Dec. 1698, of a breach of privilege, in that in the previous July he had been dispossessed of Woodhall Park, Hertfordshire, the house in which he had been living as a tenant since October 1697. The case was heard by the committee of privileges, who reported on 13 Jan. 1699 that Wollaston had been allowed the liberty of the house and park by the actual leaseholder, Robert Thompson, who had the right to repossess, and therefore that no breach of privilege had occurred, to which the House agreed. On 18 Jan. 1699 Wollaston voted for a standing army. However, on 11 Feb. James Vernon I* informed the Duke of Shrewsbury that ‘a new game is started’ in the House ‘to throw out some disagreeable Members’, of whom Wollaston was one. Vernon’s report proved correct, and on the 20th Wollaston was expelled from the Commons by 184 votes to 133 for ‘having . . . been concerned, and acted, as a receiver’ of taxes both before and after his election. Although still holding this office, he nevertheless stood and was returned at the subsequent by-election in March. On 16 Jan. 1700 he was granted leave of absence for 10 days. The compiler of an analysis of the House at this time noted him as an adherent of the Junto, though as a businessman Wollaston also had close connections with the New East India Company, and was one of six MPs in this Parliament who were merchant stockholders in the company. He continued to represent Whitchurch in the two 1701 Parliaments, in the second of which he was classed by Robert Harley* as a Whig. Wollaston acted as a teller on three occasions in this brief Parliament: on 29 Jan. 1702 against a motion to adjourn the hearing of the Malmesbury election case; on 3 Mar. for a motion to consider in committee, in relation to the land tax bill, the relief of areas which had borne a double charge since 1693; and on the 17th against a motion to proceed with the selection of new commissioners of public accounts.5
At the start of the new reign Wollaston, whose receivership had already ended, also lost his office in the duchy of Lancaster. However, he successfully contested Whitchurch in 1702, and on 28 Nov. acted as a teller against the motion that non-residents could not be made freemen by redemption in East Retford. He voted on 13 Feb. 1703 for agreeing to the Lords’ amendments to the bill for extending the time permitted for taking the oath of abjuration. At the beginning of the 1704–5 session he was forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. 1704. Successful in another contested election in Whitchurch in 1705, at which time he was classed as ‘Low Church’, Wollaston had also acted as one of the electoral managers for the Whig candidates, Sir George Byng* and Nicholas Pollexfen*, at Great Bedwyn. A correspondent of Lord Bruce (Charles*), one of the Tory candidates, described Wollaston as a merchant who had been ‘randying a long time at Whitchurch’. Wollaston’s own fortunes took a turn for the better at this time. On 13 Oct. it was reported in a newsletter that William Cowper*, the new Whig lord keeper, had appointed Wollaston as ‘the bearer of the great seal’. However, the actual appointment was as purse bearer to the lord keeper. In Parliament Wollaston voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate as Speaker, while on 23 Nov. at a meeting of the committee of elections he acted as a teller against declaring a Tory, Richard Goulston*, duly elected for Hertford. He presented a private estate bill on 21 Dec. 1705. On 12 Jan. 1706 he spoke in the debate on the regency bill, and on 18 Feb. supported the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the bill. During February he managed a bill for the better collecting of charity money, while on the 25th he twice acted as a teller: first, against giving a third reading to the bill on wine duties, and secondly, against adding to a private bill for the naturalization of a large number of foreigners a clause to prevent their voting in parliamentary elections. On 18 Mar. he acted as a teller in connexion with a detail in a bill for the better administration of justice. Early in 1707, he managed a bill for the better preservation of game, acting as a teller on 27 Feb. against a set of amendments to it. On 6 Mar. he reported on a private petition, and over the next few weeks managed two private estate bills through the House. He acted as a teller on 11 Dec. 1707 for a motion to amend the wording of a committee resolution in relation to the Queen’s Speech concerning the union with Scotland. On 6 Feb. 1708 he reported from the committee on expiring laws, while on the 17th, in proceedings on the disputed by-election in his own borough of Whitchurch, he acted as a teller in a motion against the Tory candidate.6
In 1708 Wollaston was granted a new office in the duchy of Lancaster. In the same year he was classed as a Whig in two analyses of Parliament before and after the general election, at which Wollaston was defeated at Whitchurch. He petitioned, and was seated on 21 Dec. by a Whig majority in the House. He acted as a teller on 16 Apr. 1709 in relation to a detail in the Middlesex land registry bill. In the same session he voted for the naturalization of the Palatines, and in the next, for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.7
Wollaston was defeated once again at Whitchurch in the 1710 election, and although he petitioned on 1 Dec., he saw fit to withdraw before any hearing could take place. He lost his post in the lord chancellor’s office in 1710, and was removed from the commission of the peace for Westminster and Middlesex in 1711 and from his duchy of Lancaster in 1712. A further misfortune befell him in 1713. Just before the change of ministry in 1710 he had obtained a lease for 291/2 years in reversion of the abbey of Furness from the duchy of Lancaster. But the existing leaseholder, Elizabeth Preston (widow of Thomas Preston*), had meanwhile secured a renewal of her lease from the crown for a further 15 years. At a hearing in the Exchequer court in June 1713 it was ruled that as the lands in question were held in right of the crown and not as parcel of the duchy of Lancaster, Mrs Preston’s title was considered to be the valid one. This ruling was upheld in the Lords in 1715. It still left Wollaston with a reversion for 14 years, but after the accession of George I, Mrs Preston paid £1,000 to exchange her existing 15-year lease for a 31-year lease, thereby covering the whole period of Wollaston’s grant. He petitioned in 1716 for the 31-year lease to be revoked. He attached a paper extolling his grandfather’s loyalty to the Protestant succession and claiming that he had been the first to lend money to William of Orange in 1688. He also cited his own efforts and expense in maintaining himself at Whitchurch over many years, for which services he had received only the office of purse bearer. The case was heard in April 1717 by the Treasury lords, who decided that ‘whatever sense they have of Mr Wollaston’s services and sufferings’, the matter lay with the lord chancellor. Wollaston was by now in great financial difficulty and could not afford to pursue the case any further. In June 1717 he petitioned for some allowance for his period as tax-receiver in Hertfordshire, ‘he having passed his accounts and received his quietus’. He was granted £225 on account of the losses he had sustained through the recoinage going on at that time. However, he received a further setback that year when Cowper sacked him as his secretary, a post he had held since the Hanoverian succession. In 1726 Wollaston’s interest in the Furness lease was revived due to the activities of Mrs Preston’s grandson, Sir Thomas Lowther, 2nd Bt.†, for whom she had secured the original leases. Lowther procured an Act of Parliament enabling the King to grant him the inheritance of the estate, in order to pre-empt any attempt by Wollaston to prove that, on the expiry of Preston’s first lease in 1726, Wollaston’s own lease should take precedence over the further extension of her lease granted in 1717. In the previous year Wollaston had presented a memorial to the Treasury, stating that he had been
chosen a Member of Parliament for the borough of Whitchurch, in Hampshire, in 1696; and served the borough till Lord Oxford [Robert Harley*] dissolved the ministry, and the Queen the Parliament. [He] acted also for the following Parliament, when Mr Tylney and Mr [Thomas] Vernon* spent about £7,000 to turn Mr Wollaston out, who had for above 14 years kept up the honest interest there, at an incredible expense. He always brought in a friend, and particularly General [John] Shrimpton*, when he was abroad in the army at the usual times of elections; and was not only at expense there but at several boroughs and counties at every new election, to bring in honest gentlemen: and though he did not stand himself this Parliament he spared for no money, nor pains, to get those chosen that were attached to his Majesty’s interest in several counties and boroughs. [He] has never once swerved from the interest of his country, but has not received the least consideration except a lease of the abbey of Furness, in the county of Lancaster, for 291/2 years . . . [which] cost him £1,500 to maintain the right of the crown.
He then recounted the history of his attempts to gain the lease and concluded by stating that ‘these misfortunes and expenses for the public service have extremely impaired [Mr Wollaston’s] fortunes. He has besides had a family of 23 children, and neither he, nor any of them has ha