BRADSHAW, Robert Haldane (1759-1835), of Worsley Hall, Lancs.; Woodmans, Herts. and Berners Street, Mdx.

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



14 Dec. 1802 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 23 Aug. 1759, 1st s. of Thomas Bradshaw† of Hampton Court, Mdx. and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Robert Wilson, corn merchant, of Woodford, Essex. educ. ?Harrow.1 m. Cornelia Thornhill Rowe, 2s. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1774. d. 8 Jan. 1835.

Offices Held

Clerk, pay office c.1777; dep. paymaster, W.I. Co. 1780; auditor-gen. of plantations.


In 1803 Bradshaw, a consummate businessman, was appointed one of the three trustees of the 3rd duke of Bridgwater’s will and sole superintendent of his canal interests. Conscientious to the point of obsession, he told the railway pioneer John Moss in October 1828 that ‘the old duke had made him promise 26 years ago to attend to the interests of the canal, from which day, he had not once dined out’. Bridgwater had returned him in 1802 for his pocket borough of Brackley in order to protect his canal interest, and after the duke’s death Bradshaw acquired the right to nominate both Members, under the patronage of the 2nd marquess of Stafford, Bridgwater’s nephew and principal beneficiary. At the 1820 general election he again returned himself. A silent Member, whose insistence on conducting all the business of the canal himself made him a lax attender, when present he continued to support the Liverpool ministry.2 He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and in defence of ministers’ conduct in the Queen Caroline affair, 6 Feb. 1821. He paired against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr. He voted against reducing the grants for the adjutant-general’s office, 11 Apr., and barracks, 28 May, and Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He divided against more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and relieving Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. 1822. His only known votes in 1823 were against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. He presented a Brackley petition against slavery, 18 Mar. 1824.3 His only recorded vote of the 1824 session was against going into committee on the beer duties bill, 24 May. In February 1825 he returned his younger son James (who acted as his deputy superintendent) for the vacancy at Brackley created by the death of Henry Wrottesley. Thereafter there is difficulty in distinguishing between the two. He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 8 Feb. 1825, but it is more likely to have been his son who, as ‘T. Bradshaw’, was listed in the majority for receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. 1826.

Bradshaw spent much of his time from 1824 to 1826 in trying to resist the Liverpool and Manchester railway bill. The demand for such a link has been partly attributed to the high tolls (which Bradshaw had doubled in 1810) and underinvestment in the maintenance of the canal. However, his room for manoeuvre was restricted by the terms of Bridgwater’s will, which determined that the profits from the canal were to be paid to Stafford, leaving little to invest, while legal restraints limited his freedom to borrow money for repairs or improvements to the navigation. His policies did ensure great profits for the canal in the short term. When the railway surveyors began their work in the autumn of 1824, he forbade them to come on his or the trust’s land and had guns fired in his grounds at night to prevent them from working under the cover of darkness. He and his fellow trustees petitioned against the railway and the Liverpool improvement bill, 21 Mar., and the railway bill was lost in June 1825. Thereafter its promoters changed their tactics and declared that they had no hostile feelings towards the canal. On 27 Sept. 1825 Bradshaw informed James Loch*, Stafford’s man of business:

The Manchester and Liverpool railroaders are certainly going to Parliament next session. Their existing surveyor has just been here to show me their plans, etc., and ask permission to go over our lands, to which (you will scarcely believe it) I have consented; but the man behaved so fairly and openly that I really could not refuse; am I not a liberal?

In January 1826 Stafford was persuaded by Loch of the merit of the railway and bought £100,000 of shares, apparently against Bradshaw’s advice. This ended his active opposition and, reconciled to the inevitability of the project, Bradshaw sought the contract for cutting a tunnel at the Liverpool end of the line. He also endeavoured to improve the canal’s position, instigating a number of repairs and improvements from August 1826. He wanted an estate bill to end the restriction on the trustees’ ability to borrow money, but Loch refused to recommend it to Stafford. When the railway opened in September 1830 Bradshaw slashed the tolls on the canal, but it was not enough, and profits fell sharply.

At the 1826 general election Bradshaw returned himself and his son for Brackley. He paired against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He was probably the ‘Mr. Bradshaw’ who was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 16 Mar. 1827. Writing to Loch that July, he derided the ‘march of intellect’ and ‘the age of reason’ and declared himself ‘one of the old school’. In late February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, predicted that he would vote ‘with government’ for their concession of emancipation, and he divided accordingly, 6 Mar. 1829.4 Either he or his son voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and they were both in the minority for the transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830. He paired against inquiry into the distressed condition of the country, 20 Mar. 1830.5 After his unopposed return at the 1830 general election, ministers listed him among the ‘good doubtfuls’, but he was absent from the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 22 Nov. 1830, and was probably the ‘Mr. Bradshaw’ given another month, 10 Feb. 1831. Both he and his son were listed as absent from the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., though one of them was later added by The Times to the favourable majority.6 He paired for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, and at the ensuing general election was again returned unopposed. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and Sir James Mackintosh told The Times that he had paired with Bradshaw for one of the divisions to adjourn the bill, 12 July.7 He divided against considering Chippenham’s partial disfranchisement, 27 July, and in favour of swearing in the original committee on the Dublin election, 29 July. He paired against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. 1831. That November he suffered a stroke and lost the use of his left arm and leg. He cast no recorded votes thereafter and lost his seat when Brackley was disfranchised by the Reform Act, having made no known contribution to debate in nearly 30 years as a Member.

Bradshaw’s paralysis ‘permanently impaired his judgement’ and his moods became unpredictable, oscillating between extremes of ‘excitement and irritability’, but he insisted on continuing to oversee the Bridgwater affairs. On 2 July 1833 James warned Loch that the situation had become critical and that unless action was taken there would be ‘an end of any profit from this concern’. Stunned by James’s suicide the following September, Bradshaw was eventually persuaded by Loch to retire in 1834, on full pay. Although he was entitled by Bridgwater’s will to nominate his successor, Loch managed to persuade him to overlook his elder son William Rigby Bradshaw (whom Bridgwater had suggested) and to appoint James Sothern, a canal employee of many years standing. Bradshaw gave up his company residence at Worsley and negotiated to sell his private estates in Lancashire (which he had acquired for their coal reserves) and at Brackley for £127,000. He retired to his Hertfordshire property at Woodmans, but soon became bedridden.8 He died there in January 1835. By his will, dated 29 Aug. 1834, proved under £250,000 and resworn in October 1836 under £350,000, he directed that all his real and personal estate be put into trust for the benefit of his grandson Henry Bradshaw (1819-77). Income from his investments was to be used to provide for the other surviving members of his family.9 Greville commented, ‘Bradshaw was a profligate old dog, who feathered his own nest and lived a dissolute life’.10

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Martin Casey / Philip Salmon


See F.C. Mather, After the Canal Duke, 42-85, from which the details of Bradshaw’s business career are taken.

  • 1. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 77. Bradshaw certainly had three brothers at Harrow.
  • 2. Black Bk. (1823), 140; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 452.
  • 3. The Times, 19 Mar. 1824.
  • 4. Ibid. 10 Mar. 1829.
  • 5. Ibid. 26 Mar. 1830.
  • 6. Ibid. 25 Mar. 1831.
  • 7. Ibid. 16 July 1831.
  • 8. B. Falk, Bridgwater Millions, 126.
  • 9. PROB 11/1842/62; IR26/1375/49.
  • 10. Greville Mems. v. 237-8.