LEGH KECK, George Anthony (1774-1860), of Stoughton Grange, nr. Leicester.
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Family and Education
b. 15 July 1774, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Anthony James Keck† of Stoughton Grange by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Peter Legh† of Lyme, Cheshire. educ. ?Eton 1785-90; Christ Church, Oxf. 1791. m. 18 May 1802, his cos. Elizabeth, da. of Robert Vernon Atherton of Atherton, Lancs., s.p. Took surname of Legh before Keck under will of maternal gdfa. by royal lic. 31 July 1792; suc. bro. Peers Anthony 1797.
Cornet Loyal Leicester yeomanry 1798, lt. 1801, commdt. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. 1803.
Keck’s grandfather, a successful barrister, married the heiress to the Beaumont estates and sired an ‘opulent and respectable’ county family.1 Within months of inheriting from his elder brother, for whom the same honour had seemed certain, Keck was the choice of the independent interest for the county on a vacancy. He supported Pitt’s ministry, though on 12 Jan. 1798 he presented the Leicester petition against the tax on clocks and watches and was in the minority on 18 May for Buxton’s clause against a new land tax. In October that year he was reported ‘in a very bad state of health’ and his seat already coveted, but he recovered.2 Even so, he was inactive in the House. A dispute over Lancashire property after his marriage to his cousin in 18023 and his command of the yeomanry which he raised in 1803 may account for this. He was listed ‘Pitt’ (with a query) in September 1804 and ‘doubtful Pitt’ in July 1805.
Keck surfaced in opposition to the Grenville ministry. He was in the minorities on India and against the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 21 and 30 Apr. 1806, and on 6 May spoke against the repeal, pointing out that his county had met its quota. He was listed ‘adverse’ to the abolition of the slave trade. On 21 and 22 Apr. 1807 he spoke, as a member of the Penryn election committee, in favour of proceedings against (Sir) Christopher Hawkins*. He spoke on the militia bill, 18 May 1808. Regarded as a supporter of the Portland administration,4 he nevertheless voted against the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb. 1809, and on 20 and 21 Mar. spoke and voted against Perceval on the Duke of York’s conduct, which he wished to see recorded in the journals of the House. After voting with ministers on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, he proceeded to vote against them on the Scheldt questions of 26 Jan., 5 and 30 Mar., seeming to confirm his listing by the Whigs as ‘hopeful’. He also voted against Burdett’s committal to the Tower, 5 Apr. 1810. After that there was no sign of him until the session of 1812: he took two weeks’ sick leave on 31 Dec. 1810. He voted for a civil list committee, 10 Feb., against McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb., and for sinecure regulation, 4 May 1812. But it was the Luddite activities in the midlands that seem to have prompted his reappearance. He defended and was a teller for the framework and Nottingham peace bills, 14 and 18 Feb. 1812, as an ‘immediate necessity’ and asked for the legislation to be extended to Leicestershire.
Keck was on the Treasury list of supporters after his re-election in 1812. On 7 Dec. he presented the county clergy’s petition against Catholic relief, which he opposed throughout that session and again in 1817. He voted for the abolition of one of the paymasterships-general, 8 Mar., and for the sinecure regulation bill, 29 Mar. 1813. On 16 June 1814 he objected to the imperfections of Samuel Egerton Brydges’s poor settlement bill, but let it proceed when some clauses were withdrawn. He was in the minority on the civil list, 8 May 1815, but in the majority on the Regent’s expenditure, 31 May. He opposed the army estimates and the property tax, 6-18 Mar. 1816, but vindicated the conduct of the mayor of Leicester in declining an unsatisfactory requisition for a town meeting against the tax, 11 Mar., and rebuked opposition for seeking to make political capital out of it. On 24 Apr. 1816 he took a month’s sick leave.
Keck’s concern about the activities of the Hampden clubs, whose members he dubbed ‘Luddites’, was indicated in his letters to the Home secretary in the autumn of 1816: unless government checked them, he wrote, ‘we shall probably have to contend with them in arms at their own chosen time’. In December he was reported as saying that ‘he was totally against the present measures’. In January 1817 he and two magistrates were forced out of Oadby, where they had gone to swear in special constables, whereupon he summoned the hussars from Leicester with a troop of his yeomanry to restore order.5 On 23 June he defended the suspension of habeas corpus in debate: ‘the evil had fixed its roots so deep’ that the ‘usual powers of the law were useless’. He defended the employment of such informers as Oliver, without whom, he said, ‘the designs of the disaffected could not be counteracted’. He further voted in this sense on 5 Mar. 1818. He was a member of the Poor Law committee in that, as well as the previous, session. Invited to Fife House to hear the ministerial proposals for the ducal marriage grants, 13 Apr. 1818, he ‘entirely disapproved’ them and said so in the House.6 He voted with opposition on 13 and 15 Apr. Interestingly, he voted for Brougham’s motion for inquiry into the education of the poor, 3 June 1818.
At the election of 1818 Keck was discouraged by reports of his unpopularity due to ‘the part he took in favour of Oliver, and the determined and spirited manner in which he met the late disturbances of the manufacturing districts’, and declined a poll—he had never faced one. Regarding it ‘more as my own cause than that of the public, and in an indifferent state of health produced by great anxiety’, he benefited from a backlash against the manoeuvre whereby he was replaced by Charles March Phillipps*. So ‘no sooner was the election over, than he began to canvass ... and keep open house with a view to the next general election’.7 He regained his seat. Legh Keck, to use his full surname, died 4 Sept. 1860.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: M. H. Port
- 1. Nichols, Leicester, iii. (1) 857; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 335.
- 2. Rutland mss, Beaufort to Rutland, 11 Oct. 1798.
- 3. Gent. Mag. (1860), ii. 554.
- 4. Wilson, 335.
- 5. Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 149; HO 40/3, Legh Keck to Sidmouth, 21 Dec.; Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 16 Dec. 1816; A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, 113.
- 6. Add. 38366, f. 133; Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary, 13 Apr. 1818.
- 7. The Late Elections (1818), 166; Hatherton diary, 10 Nov. 1818.