WOLSTENHOLME, Sir John, 3rd Bt. (1649-1709), of Forty Hall, Enfield, and Denmark Street, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 19 Oct. 1649, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Wolstenholme, 2nd Bt., of Minchendon, Edmonton, Mdx. by Elizabeth, da. of Phineas Andrews of St. Olave’s, Hart Street, London. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1665, I. Temple 1668. m. (1) 27 May 1675, aged 25, Mary (d. 1691), da. and h. of Nicholas Raynton† of Forty Hall, Enfield, 4s. 4da.; (2) 7 Feb. 1700, Temperance, da. and coh. of Thomas Crew†, Baron Crew of Stene and wid. of Sir Rowland Alston, 2nd Bt., s.p. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. Nov. 1691.1
During the 17th century the Wolstenholmes had risen to the forefront of Middlesex society, amassing considerable wealth from service in the customs office. Sir John’s great-grandfather had farmed the customs for Charles I, and had been the first of his family to settle in the county at Great Stanmore. His heir, Sir John, 1st Bt.†, suffered greatly for the Royalist cause during the Civil Wars, but after the Restoration was able to re-establish himself as collector for the port of London. In recognition of his loyalty he became the first of the Wolstenholme baronets, and by 1672 the family fortune had recovered sufficiently for his successor, Sir Thomas, 2nd Bt., to have acquired an estate at Edmonton. Further proof of local standing came in 1675, when the future Member for Middlesex married into the influential Raynton household, a match upon which his father settled some £2,000 p.a. in lands. However, financial difficulties evidently persisted, for in the spring of 1690 Wolstenholme had to petition Parliament for a bill to sell several properties to pay the debts of his father, who was said to be close to ruin. This objective was quickly achieved, giving John greater security shortly before succeeding to the baronetcy.2
When Wolstenholme was put up at the Middlesex election of 1695, he was described as ‘a very honest man, who is recommended by my Lord Keeper [Sir John Somers*]’. Standing alongside Admiral Edward Russell*, he also received the backing of other Whig grandees such as Charles Montagu*, whose endorsement helped him top the poll in his first electoral contest. Given such distinguished support, it was no surprise that he proved a staunch supporter of the Court at Westminster, being forecast as one of its allies on 31 Jan. 1696 in a division on the proposed council of trade, promptly signing the Association, and voting in March to fix the price of guineas at 22s. In the first and second sessions he appeared eager to advance local legislation, presenting a bill to erect a court of conscience in Holborn, and telling in favour of a motion to commit a bill to repair highways in Islington and St. Pancras. On 4 Jan. 1697 he was permitted to take four days’ leave to attend to personal matters in the country, possibly in connexion with his inheritance of the Forty Hall estate, which had passed to him on the death of Nicholas Raynton the preceding November. Thereafter, he made little impact in the House.3
Wolstenholme managed to retain his seat at the Middlesex election of August 1698, although local Tory rivals reclaimed the other place. Shortly afterwards a parliamentary list classed him as a Court supporter, but his activity in that Parliament gives little clue concerning his political interests, for his sole contribution of any significance lay with a report in May 1698 on a bill to improve river and harbour navigation. In early 1700 the compiler of a list of parliamentary ‘interests’ tentatively bracketed Wolstenholme with the Junto, but there was little doubt about his Whig stance at the general election of January 1701, when he was touted as a Member who had ‘honourably and faithfully served his country and the government’ in the two preceding Parliaments. However, such praise did not procure him re-election. In the ensuing months he was actively engaged in a campaign to recover nearly £10,000 in arrears from the crown, a debt resulting from a patent granted to his father by Charles II. He petitioned both the Treasury and Parliament to expedite payment, and this preoccupation may have influenced his decision not to contest the election of December 1701. His eldest son, Nicholas, aged 25, was put forward as a Whig candidate, but narrowly failed to be returned.4
Nicholas Wolstenholme stood again at the first general election of Anne’s reign, and was beaten into third place by only 32 votes. Controversy may have hindered his chances, for in May 1702 he had been reported to authorities in Whitehall for having uttered words disrespectful to the new Queen. At the next election Sir John put himself forward, and helped the Middlesex Whigs achieve a clear victory over the Tories, with Sir John finishing second in the poll. Several observers confirmed his politics: the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) regarded his return as a ‘gain’ for the Whigs, and a parliamentary list of the new Parliament cited him as a ‘Low Churchman’. He actively supported the Court, voting for John Smith I in the contest for Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705, and backing the ministry on 18 Feb. 1706 over its proceedings on the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill. Once again he was generally inconspicuous in the House, although he did report on two private estate bills in the first session. In 1708 two more parliamentary lists confirmed his Whiggish principles.5
At the general election of May 1708 Wolstenholme benefited from the prevailing strength of the Middlesex Whigs, gaining an unopposed return. In the new Parliament he had personal concerns uppermost in mind, adversaries having appealed to the Upper House to overturn an Exchequer verdict on the settlement of a debt owed to his great-grandfather. The dispute was the climax to a 70-year battle in the courts, said to have cost his family ‘above £10,000’, but such perseverance had its reward on 4 Feb. 1709 when the Lords ruled in his favour. Only seven days later he was dead, having suffered from ‘a lingering disposition’. He was succeeded by his son Nicholas, who was in such straitened circumstances by the time of his father’s death that his estates were already in the hands of trustees. In 1712 he was actually incarcerated in the Fleet by his creditors, and petitioned the Lords unsuccessfully for a bill to sell lands to meet his debts. None of Sir John’s sons attempted to enter Parliament, although one of his daughters married Michael Harvey† of Combe, Surrey. Dynastic failure also helped to reduce the local influence of the Wolstenholmes, and the baronetcy became extinct in 1762.