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 a