DAVENPORT, Davies (1757-1837), of Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire and Brook Street, Hanover Square, Mdx
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Family and Educationb. 29 Aug. 1757, o.s. of Davies Davenport of Capesthorne and Phoebe, da. and coh. of Richard Davenport of Calveley. educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1775; I. Temple 1786. m. Apr. 1777, Charlotte, da. of Ralph Sneyd of Keele Hall, Staffs., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1758. d. 5 Feb. 1837.
Sheriff, Cheshire 1783-4.
Maj. Cheshire supp. militia 1797; lt.-col. commdt. Macclesfield Foresters 1803.
Davenport had represented his native Cheshire since 1806 and was known and respected for his independence, sound common sense and readiness to promote constituency interests.1 At the general election of 1820 he was called out of his anticipated retirement, which he had announced on 28 Feb., pleading that ‘the infirmities of age are growing fast upon me’, and came in unopposed with his erstwhile colleague Wilbraham Egerton, so thwarting the ambitions of George John Legh of High Legh and Thomas Legh*.2 On being informed of this by Lord Sheffield, whose son-in-law Sir John Stanley of Alderley had secured Davenport’s ‘retraction’, the home secretary Lord Sidmouth replied that it was ‘a most important circumstance’, as Davenport was ‘a very good county Member and not a bit of a radical’.3
He confirmed his independence by dividing against the Liverpool ministry on the appointment of an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May, but with them on the revenue, 4 July 1820. He had the motion for appointing a secret committee on the papers relating to Queen Caroline adjourned ‘to allow the House and the country time to pause’, 7 June 1820. He voted to condemn the omission of the queen’s name from the liturgy, 26 Jan., but explained when its restoration was sought, 14 Feb. 1821, that although he still considered the original omission ‘most ill advised’, information subsequently disclosed concerning the queen’s conduct made it impossible for him to support this.4 He did not divide on the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb. Unlike his son Edward, a supporter of Catholic relief, who espoused his own brand of reactionary radicalism under the banner of the Cheshire Whig Club, Davenport had pleaded ‘private engagements’ and stayed away from the chaotic county meeting, 11 Jan.5 Edward afterwards signed the Cheshire protest, but Davenport joined Egerton in proclaiming the sheriff’s independence and he attributed any wrongdoing at the meeting to ‘an error of judgement’ rather than party motives, 9, 14, 20 Feb.6 He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825, and the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., and presented and endorsed an anti-Catholic petition from Aldworth, 22 Apr.7 He presented and endorsed the Cheshire agriculturists’ distress petition, 6 Mar. 1821, and commented on others the next day, but The Times reporter could not hear him.8 He divided with opposition for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr. He cautioned against attempting to repeal the agricultural horse tax before the select committee on agriculture had reported, 5 Apr., but when Curwen revived the proposal, 14 June 1821, he referred to the tax as the ‘most oppressive and inexpedient that the ingenuity of man ever suggested; always excepting ... [that on] on salt’. He had supported Littleton’s labourers’ wages bill on his constituents’ behalf, 23 June 1820, and he presented Macclesfield’s petition against the poor relief bill, 8 June 1821.9 In 1822 he campaigned with renewed vigour for reduction of the salt duty and sought to represent the interests of the silk towns of Congleton and Macclesfield, which petitioned strongly against the proposed withdrawal of protection under the navigation laws. He voted for more extensive tax remissions, 11, 21 Feb., and to abolish one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., 2 May. Calling for a select committee on agricultural distress, 18 Feb., he cited the foreign secretary Lord Londonderry’s ‘flourishing description’ of the country’s finances as proof that ‘some reduction of taxation’ was possible, disputed his claim that farmers paid no more than five per cent in taxes, and spoke of the plight of the Cheshire farmers and the high duty on salt, a tax ‘bad in principle and therefore unsound in policy’. He seconded Calcraft’s unsuccessful motion for its gradual abolition, 28 Feb.;10 and before moving for total repeal, 24 May (which he also divided for, 3, 4 June), he presented a petition from the nobility, gentry and freeholders of Cheshire complaining of distress and praying for a ‘reduction in those taxes which bear most heavily upon agriculture’. He presented and endorsed petitions against the taxes on malt, 18 Mar., and hops, 14 May,11 protectionist petitions from the silk manufacturers of Macclesfield, 20 May, and others opposed to the warehousing bill, 17 June, and several against the navigation bill, 24, 31 May, when he succeeded in deferring its third reading to 4 June 1822. Although supported that day by George Anson, de Crespigny, Egerton, Ridley, Robertson and others connected with silk, he failed (by 47-38) to kill the bill by adjournment.12 He corresponded with Egerton on county business from Paris during the summer recess.13
Davenport divided with opposition for large tax remissions, 28 Feb., 17, 18 Mar., and against the national debt reduction bill, 17 Mar., and with government against repealing the Foreign Enlistment Act, 14 Apr. 1823. He voted against reforming the Scottish representation, 2 June 1823, 26 Feb. 1824. Ever a defender of the usury laws, he opposed their repeal, 12 Apr. 1821, 17, 27 June 1823, when, as a minority teller he complained that it would be ‘particularly disastrous to persons with small landed estates’. He expressed his ‘most decided opposition’ to the unsuccessful 1824 repeal bill, 16 Feb., and contrived to delay it in committee, 27 Feb., 8 Apr. He spoke and was a minority teller against a similar measure, 8, 17 Feb. 1825. He divided with opposition for the breach of privilege motion against lord chancellor Eldon, 1 Mar., and on taxation, 2 Mar., 10, 18 May 1824. On the contentious alehouse licensing bill, he endorsed his constituents’ hostile petitions, vainly urged a postponement, 17 May, and warned that the measure ‘would be productive of much immorality, riot and disorder, as publicans would no longer have a vested interest in preserving peace and good order’, 24 May. He spoke and was a minority teller against the hides and skins bill, 3, 31 May 1824.
He presented the Cheshire trade’s petition for reductions in the duties on tobacco, 9 Feb., several against the removal of the bounties on silk, 25 Feb., 5, 8 Mar., and cautioned the president of the board of trade Huskisson against hasty action, lest ‘by grasping at the shadow we might lose the substance - that we might lose the trade itself, as well as the revenue we now derived from it’, 5 Mar. 1824.14 He presented petitions against the excise licence duty, 11, 15, 22, 29, 31 Mar., vainly urged the postponement of the beer retail bill, 17 May, and warned that the measure ‘would be productive of much immorality, riot and disorder, as publicans would no longer have a vested interest in preserving peace and good order’, 24 May.15 He brought up petitions for repeal of the combination laws, 15, 25 Mar., and against the poor bill, 15 Mar., colonial slavery, 16 Mar., 21 May, (and again 17 Feb., 6 Mar. 1826) and the county courts bill, 3 May 1824.16 He spoke and was a minority teller against the hides and skins bill, 3, 31 May, and divided, 3 Mar., and paired, 17 May, for repeal of the assessed taxes and the window tax. He voted in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824. Opposing the Tees and Weardale railway bill, 4 Mar. 1825, Davenport objected in the strongest terms to introducing ‘infernal ... locomotive machines ... into that part of the country’.17 He divided against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 2-10 June, and when the award for Prince George was considered, 6 June 1825, he said that
he thought the House would be guilty of gross inconsistency, if they now voted for a proposition which they had twice before rejected. This child, for whom an annuity of £6,000 a year was asked, did not wear a cloak long enough to conceal the real object of the grant. He felt it his duty on this occasion to vote against his ... friends on the treasury bench, and he could not compliment them on their skill in military tactics, in having put the infantry in front of the battle.
During the recess, he remained at Capesthorne, while his wife and daughter, who was to be married to the barrister John Williams*, went to Paris to buy her trousseau.18
Presenting petitions of complaint from Macclesfield, 6 Feb., Congleton, 14 Feb., and Sandbach, 15 Feb. 1826, Davenport testified to the severity of the silk workers’ distress and said that his prediction that the 1825 regulations would ‘stop the looms of England and set those of France to work’ had been proved correct. He commented similarly when the ribbon workers of Coventry petitioned, 9, 14 Feb., and, supporting inquiry into the silk trade, 24 Feb., he glanced at the political economists present and declared pointedly that ‘those involved in trade in Cheshire did not want mere theoretical men or opinions; they did not want all book writing, but preferred practical experience’.19 He defended the grant for the yeomanry, without whom ‘almost every manufacturing establishment’ in Cheshire would have been destroyed, 3 Mar. He voted against the president of the board of trade’s proposed salary, 10 Apr. On 8 May he presented Congleton’s petition for the release of bonded corn.20 Nothing came of a threatened opposition to Davenport at the general election in June 1826, when Edward came in for the 2nd Earl Grosvenor’s borough of Shaftesbury.21
Some confusion occurred between the votes and speeches of Davenport and his son, but notwithstanding the elder Davenport’s preoccupation with the distressed silk trade, it was probably Edward who moved for a committee of inquiry on commercial distress, 26 Feb. 1827. Davenport presented a petition from Chester corn market against free trade in corn, 27 Feb., and voted against the government’s corn importation bill, 2 Apr., having paired against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He was granted three weeks’ leave because of illness in his family, 7 May, and his daughter-in-law Barbara, a niece of the Suffolk Member Thomas Gooch, died the next day. He voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn for electoral corruption, 28 May. He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts that day and 7 June 1827, 14, 19 Feb. 1828, but voted against the proposal, 26 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 12 May. He presented and endorsed distress petitions from the silk towns, 22, 30 May, 9 June, and spoke strongly against the usury laws amendment bill, 19 June 1828, when his wrecking amendment was defeated by 52-40. Although Davenport stayed away from the Cheshire Brunswickers’ meetings,22 the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary Planta’s prediction that he remained ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation was correct, and he divided against the measure, 18, 23, 30 Mar., having presented favourable, 6 Mar., and hostile petitions, 24 Mar. 1829. Testifying to the unexampled poverty of half a million workmen subsisting on charity and half a million unoccupied looms, he endorsed the silk workers’ petitions for protection, 26 Feb., 31 Mar., 9, 14, 28 Apr. Arguing vainly for these to be referred to a select committee, 14 Apr., he explained that ‘distress of the throwsters is greater than that of the manufacturers; and their mills, which have been erected at very great expense, cannot be put to any use whatever’. On 7 May he denounced the government’s silk trade bill as worse than nothing, ‘one of the most oppressive and ill timed measures that was ever entertained in this House ... which would never have appeared ... had the silk manufacturers exerted themselves properly’. He supported the controversial Cheshire constabulary bill, which his son later sought to repeal, 13 May 1829.
Davenport was slow to resume his political activities following the death on 8 Dec. 1829 of his wife, who had been ill for some time.23 He stayed away from the county meeting at which Edward’s proposals for a petition for government action to combat distress were modified, 25 Jan. 1830. Nor was he present when Edward brought on his abortive motion on the state of the nation, 18 Mar.24 He presented petitions against the beer bill, 29 Apr., and the Trent and Mersey navigation bill, 4 May. A member of the 1820 and 1821 select committees on the Welsh judicature, Davenport had belatedly lent his support to George Wilbraham’s proposal to add Chester’s palatine courts to the remit of the common law commissioners, 22 Apr. 1828, but he strenuously supported the county magistrates’ campaign against the proposed abolition of their separate jurisdiction under the administration of justice bill. He criticized ‘the experiment’ and the added expense it would entail, 27 May, and complained to the clerk of the peace Henry Potts that his speech was unlikely to have been accurately reported, 3 June 1830, adding, correctly, that the attorney-general Sir James Scarlett ‘will not give further way to our wishes’ as ‘it seemed to be the understanding of the House that the principle of the bill was not to be further discussed’.25 His minority vote with Edward for inquiry into the commerce, revenue and expenditure of Ceylon, 27 May, was the only one recorded for him that session and his last. He announced his retirement directly the king died, 28 June 1830, and left for Broadstairs in order to distance himself from the fray and Edward’s unsuccessful candidature for Cheshire at the ensuing general election.26
Davenport died at Capesthorne in February 1837, predeceased in 1833 by his second son Henry, an army major.27 His will, dated 31 May 1830, was proved in London under £120,000 and under £20,000 in Chester. He left his estates and London home in Brook Street to Edward, who was required to raise £12,000 on them for the children of his brother the Rev. Walter Davenport’s first marriage, and made separate provisions for other family members.28 Writing to John Croker* from Capesthorne, 26 Dec. 1856, Lord Hatherton, who had married Edward’s widow in 1852, reminisced:
I am now in old Davenport’s house - you remember him in the House of Commons. Don’t you now see him up, stroking his hat, and stammering out a sessional speech about the ruin of the silk trade, with old Egerton on one side, and the excellent Gaffer Gooch on the other?29
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 571-2.
- 2. JRL, Bromley Davenport mss BDMII/3, bdle. ‘Cheshire election, 1820’; Chester Chron. 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 Mar.; Macclesfield Courier, 18, 25 Mar.; Chester Courant, 8, 15, 22 Mar. 1820; Essex RO, Gunnis mss D/DGu C6/2/9.
- 3. Cheshire and Chester Archives, Stanley of Alderley mss D/STA, Sidmouth to Sheffield, 17 Mar. 1820.
- 4. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 27 Jan. 1821.
- 5. Chester Courant, 16 Jan. 1821.
- 6. The Times, 10, 21 Feb. 1821.
- 7. Ibid. 23 Apr. 1825.
- 8. Ibid. 7, 8 Mar. 1821.
- 9. Ibid. 9 June 1821.
- 10. Ibid. 1 Mar. 1822.
- 11. Ibid. 19 Mar., 15 May 1822.
- 12. Ibid. 21, 24, 31 May, 1, 4, 5, 18 June 1822.
- 13. Add. 40348, ff. 95, 138; 40349, f. 36.
- 14. The Times, 10, 26 Feb., 9 Mar. 1824.
- 15. Ibid. 12, 16, 23, 30 Mar., 1 Apr., 4, 8, 12, 18 May 1824.
- 16. Ibid. 16, 17, 26, 27 Mar., 4, 22 May 1824, 18 Feb., 7 Mar. 1826.
- 17. Ibid. 5 Mar. 1825.
- 18. Bromley Davenport mss, bdle. ‘Harriet Davenport to fa. 25 July-26 Aug. 1825’.
- 19. The Times, 7, 15, 16, 25 Feb. 1826.
- 20. Ibid. 9 May 1826.
- 21. Chester Chron. 26 May, 9 June; Gunnis mss C6/2/9; Macclesfield Courier, 17, 24 June; Bromley Davenport mss, Lord Grosvenor to E.D. Davenport, 18 June, draft reply, 20 June 1826.
- 22. Chester Chron. 2 Jan. 1829.
- 23. Bromley Davenport mss, bdle. ‘Charlotte Davenport 1829-44’.
- 24. Chester Courant, 26 Jan.; Chester Courant, 29 Jan.; The Times, 28 Jan. 1830.
- 25. Chester Chron. 23 Apr.; Chester Courant, 27 Apr. 1830; Cheshire and Chester Archives QCX/1/2.
- 26. Grosvenor mss 12/1,4.
- 27. Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 430.
- 28. PROB 11/1874/163; IR26/1444/113.
- 29. Croker Pprs. iii. 368-9.