ARKWRIGHT, Richard (1781-1832), of Normanton Turville, Leics. and Sutton Hall, Derbys.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

29 Mar. 1813 - 1818
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 30 Sept. 1781, 1st s. of Richard Arkwright (d. 1843) of Willersley Castle, Derbys. and Mary, da. of Adam Simpson of Bonsall, Derbys. educ. Eton 1796; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1801. m. 22 May 1803, Martha Maria, da. of Rev. William Beresford of Ashbourne, Derbys., rect. of Sonning, Berks., 2s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p. d.v.p. 28 Mar. 1832.

Offices Held

Lt. Leics. yeomanry 1803-4; capt. W. Leics. vols. 1804; maj. Chatsworth regt. Derbys. militia 1809; cornet, N. Derbys. yeoman cav. 1817.

Biography

When General Dyott visited Arkwright’s brother Charles at Dunstall, Staffordshire, in 1831 he was struck by the

great difference in the habits and pursuits of the two great cotton-spinners, the Peels and the Arkwrights, the former linking themselves in bonds of marriage with the noble females and living in high life, the latter contenting themselves with rural and domestic engagements with their county neighbours, quite unassuming, unostentatious, though fuller of wealth and riches than the Peels.1

Arkwright and his five younger brothers were set up as landed gentlemen by their immensely wealthy father, the son of Sir Richard Arkwright (1731-92), the inventor of the spinning-frame. Richard received £30,000 on his marriage in 1803, an annual allowance of £500 from 1805 to 1821 and the rents of the Normanton estate, worth £1,500 a year, from 1810. He lived at Normanton and managed the Sutton estate, bought by his father in 1824. His domestic life was blighted by the deaths in infancy of his three children between 1810 and 1813 and of his wife in 1820.2 There was talk of his coming forward for Leicester as a corporation candidate when a dissolution was expected in September 1825, but he decided against it.3 At the general election the following year he stood for his former constituency of Rye on the Lamb interest and was returned after a contest forced by the local independents.

Arkwright, who was granted a month’s leave on account of his mother’s death, 26 Feb., voted with the Canning ministry against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, 7 June 1827. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He presented petitions for the abolition of slavery and repeal of the restrictions on country banks, 19 June, and was in the Wellington government’s majority against reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, listed him as one of the Members ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation who would, once the principle was carried, ‘support the securities’. On the 10th he wrote to his father:

I cannot help thinking that those who now talk so triumphantly of the [Catholic] emancipation bill, as if passed, will be much disappointed at the intended enactments and that it is the policy of the duke [of Wellington] in the first instance to get the [Catholic] Association well put down if possible, as a matter of previous necessity; and that his bill of concession will be such as to afford all possible security to the Protestants ... and the Catholics will be much disappointed, that it should fall so far from their expectations.

Yet he felt obliged to vote steadily against emancipation, as he explained to his father, 9 Mar.:

I have ... after the most embarrassing consideration of all I have heard and seen taken upon myself in the exercise of my honest judgement to decide for myself ... I trust I have come to this decision with as little undue bias upon my mind as possible. Upon almost any other question, I should have been disposed to give up as much as possible my opinion to that of ministers, who are so much better able in general to judge of all the bearings of questions, but upon this, I could not have been satisfied without judging for myself upon the principle of the measure. I have been told that with such feelings, I should do my duty better by abstaining altogether from giving a vote. This I could not consent to, as I think it right, that, having those opinions as I have, I should not shrink from the expression of them as to the principle.

In the House, 12 Mar., he vouched for the worth of a Derby petition against relief in reply to the sneers of the Whig Lord George Cavendish, who said it had been got up among ‘the lower orders’ by the True Blue Club. He told his father that he was ‘much disposed to say a little more’ if Cavendish repeated ‘his violent feelings of opposition to the independent party in the county’, and they clashed again on this question, 23 Mar.4 He presented a hostile Rye petition, 13 Mar. 1829. The issue did not permanently alienate him from the ministry. He brought up petitions for relief from agricultural distress, 10, 12 Mar. 1830, but did nothing more in the House to advance that cause. He voted against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and paired against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He did not seek re-election for Rye in 1830, but tried to exploit anti-Catholic feeling in an attack on the Whitmore interest at Bridgnorth. His heavy defeat was reckoned to have cost him £10,000.5

He showed an interest in standing for Leicester as an anti-reformer at the 1831 election, but reluctantly acquiesced in his father’s veto of such a step:

I cannot but regret the decision you came to upon this matter, but probably it was the best which could be come to. I do not feel however quite satisfied in these times of great public excitement upon a subject which, if allowed to go too far, is certain to entail dangers upon the country. I know you do not feel strongly upon this subject, and I believe your opinions are not that much is to be apprehended.

Three weeks later, when it became clear that the Grey ministry would have a massive Commons majority, he confessed to his father:

I am quite surprised to find that I was wrong in my expectations as to the result of the elections, and I have to thank you for having prevented my embarking on an election ... which would certainly have brought on very great expense and annoyance and probably disappointment ... No one can guess what will happen within the next three months. I cannot help being glad that I have not a seat in Parliament as perhaps I might lend my aid to do harm as likely as good. For I cannot but think very ill of the ministers who have led us into this state which appears to me so dangerous.6

He had also indicated willingness to stand for Derbyshire ‘if influential parties should wish and approve it’; and he subsequently received ‘many letters’ urging him to declare his intention of standing for the county at the next election, but with his father’s ‘approbation and advice’ he declined to commit himself. To similar requests from Leicestershire he ‘paid very little attention’.7 This all became academic for Arkwright died v.p. ‘after a short illness’ in late March 1832. His brothers survived to profit handsomely by their father’s will on his death, worth £3,250,000, in 1843.