EGERTON, Wilbraham (1781-1856), of Tatton Park, Cheshire

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

Constituency

Dates

1812 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 1 Sept. 1781, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of William Egerton† of Wythenshawe, Lancs. and 2nd w. Mary, da. of Richard Wilbraham Bootle† of Rode Hall, Cheshire. educ. Eton 1796; ?Brasenose, Oxf. 1800. m. 11 Jan. 1806, his cos. Elizabeth, da. of Sir Christopher Sykes†, 2nd. bt., of Sledmere, Yorks., 7s. (4 d.v.p.) 3da. d.v.p. suc. fa. in Egerton estates 1806. d. 25 Apr. 1856.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Cheshire 1808-9

Capt. R. Cheshire militia 1803; lt.-col. Macclesfield regt. 1809, lt.-col. commdt. 1812; capt. king’s Cheshire yeomanry 1819, lt.-col. 1831, lt.-col. commdt. 1835.

Biography

In 1812, Egerton, an anti-Catholic Tory whose estates made him one of the richest commoners in England, had come in unopposed for his native Cheshire, which his father had represented, 1802-6. He had proved to be a staunch advocate of protection for corn, salt and silk and a ready presenter of petitions, whose support for the Liverpool government was tempered by his readiness to represent local interests.1 In 1820 he sought to distance himself from the controversy surrounding the retirement and subsequent nomination of his colleague Davenport, which thwarted the ambitions of the Tories George John Legh of High Legh and Thomas Legh*.2

Despite occasional complaints about his indolence and reluctance to speak in debate, Egerton retained his seat unchallenged until the reform era. He presented a petition for relief from distress from the manufacturers of Stockport, 24 June, and divided with government on the revenue, 4 July 1820.3 He voted against censuring their handling of Queen Caroline’s case, 6 Feb. 1821. Having been present, 11 Jan., he intervened on behalf of the sheriff of Cheshire, James France France, when a petition criticizing his conduct at the contrived county meeting on the subject was presented, 9 Feb., and was a majority teller against the ensuing motion of complaint, 20 Feb.4 He divided as hitherto against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825, and presented anti-Catholic petitions from the dean and chapter of Chester, 16 Apr. 1823, 25 Mar., 18, 28 Apr. 1825.5 He voted against parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 2 June 1823. He had spoken in defence of the Peterloo magistrates in 1819 and did so again when Burdett revived the issue, 16 May 1821, justifying their decision to issue a warrant for Henry Hunt’s* arrest and explaining the impossibility of executing it without the aid of the military. He voted against abolishing capital punishment for forgery, 23 May 1821. He divided with government against more extensive tax cuts, 11, 21 Feb., admiralty reductions, 1 Mar., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., but against them on the salt tax, which he said was ‘so unequal in its operations and so oppressive to the lower orders’, 28 Feb., 28 June 1822. He presented and endorsed his constituents’ petitions against the navigation bill, 30 May, 4 June, the poor removal bill, 30 May, and the licensing bill, 3, 5, 7 June.6 He voted against inquiry into the lord advocate’s handling of the Scottish press, 25 June 1822. In July he ensured that the home secretary Peel consulted opinion in Cheshire before appointing a new prothonotary to the palatine court.7 George Canning*, an unexpected guest at Tatton in September 1822, when his coach broke down, described it as

a magnificent house in the midst of a most beautiful park and gardens, in short, one of the finest country seats that I ever saw - and the interior of the house, the whole style, and particularly ... the goodness of the dinner all corresponding with the external appearance. There was nobody but the family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. E. and a female relation and three Eton boys and two lesser ones.8

Egerton divided against tax concessions, 10 Mar., and inquiries into chancery delays, 5 June, and the currency, 12 June 1823. He presented Cheshire petitions against the proposed alterations in the duties on silk, 8, 17 Mar., beer and excise licenses, 31 Mar., 6, 7, 11, 17 May, and hides, 17 May, and voted in the minority against ending the prohibition on long wool exports, 21 May 1824. He strongly endorsed a petition entrusted to him against repealing the duty on imported salt, 9 June 1824.9 He voted against condemning the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June, having presented a Macclesfield petition advocating it, 26 May 1824.10 He brought up Stockport’s petition for repeal of the Beer Act, 25 Feb. 1825,11 and voted for the bill outlawing the Catholic Association that day. He presented distress petitions from the silk towns of Macclesfield, 6 Feb., and Congleton, 15 Feb. 1826.12 Supporting inquiry into the silk trade on their behalf, 24 Feb., he said that if a select committee ‘did not make out such a case as would justify government in abandoning their measures’, he would cease to support the petitioners’ claims. He voted against Russell’s electoral bribery resolutions, 26 May 1826. Nothing came of a reported challenge by an un-named third man at the general election in June, when attention focused on the close contest for Chester, in which he took no part.13

Egerton voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828, having presented a petition in its favour, 28 Apr. 1828. He voted against the Liverpool ministry’s corn importation bill, 2 Apr. and presented petitions against the alehouse licensing bill, 4 May, and for repeal of the Test Acts, 11 May 1827.14 The pro-Catholic Canning’s appointment as premier dismayed him, and he was quick to congratulate Peel on his appointment as home secretary by the duke of Wellington in January 1828 and to declare his confidence in their administration.15 He divided against repealing the Test Acts, 26 Feb., voted in the minority against providing a pension for Canning’s family, 13 May, and with government against ordnance reductions, 4 July. He presented his constituents’ petitions against the General Turnpike Act, 6 Mar., the 1827 Malt Act, 6 Mar., the friendly societies bill, 21, 24 Apr., and further reduction of the silk duties, 30 May 1828. As the patronage secretary Planta noted in February 1829, Egerton remained ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation. He presented and endorsed hostile petitions from the ‘loyal inhabitants of Lymm’, 16 Feb., and the controversial Knutsford meeting, 24 Feb., but he would ‘not say’ whether the latter expressed ‘the feelings of the county of Chester’.16 He presented others, 26 Feb., 9, 11, 16, 30 Mar., and voted against the relief bill, 6, 18, 27, 30 Mar. Testifying to the unparalleled distress and the ‘ruinous state’ of the trade, he supported the silk workers’ petitions for protection, 26 Feb., 31 Mar., 14, 28 Apr., and advocated inquiry, 1 May. He carried the second reading of controversial Cheshire constabulary bill, 13 Apr. 1829.

At the county meeting, 25 Jan. 1830, Egerton spoke briefly in favour of petitioning ‘for relief from the present dreadful distress’, but his views on the petition promoted by Davenport’s son Edward Davies Davenport* were not reported. Presenting it, 15 Feb., he strongly endorsed its requests for the appointment of an investigative committee and the ‘most rigid economy’, but distanced himself from its claim that distress emanated from currency change.17 He voted against Lord Blandford’s reform proposals, 18 Feb., and the proposed enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He presented petitions against renewing the East India Company’s charter from Congleton, 19 Feb., and the white salt manufacturers of Cheshire and Lancashire 15 Mar., and against the truck system from Congleton, 26 Feb., and Stockport, 28 Apr. He presented a favourable petition, 17 Mar., but divided against abolishing the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He cast a wayward vote against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., and divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He presented petitions, 30 Apr., 3 May, and voted to restrict on-consumption under the sale of beer bill, 21 June, 1 July. He was a member of the lobbying committee appointed by the magistrates to oppose the abolition of Cheshire’s palatine jurisdiction under the administration of justice bill, and he presented petitions hostile to it, 6, 18, 19 May, and vainly moved to have the clause abolishing Chester’s equity court ‘struck off’, 5 July.18 Conscious that his support had waned and of manoeuvring by potential challengers, he canvassed Cheshire thoroughly before the general election in August 1830, when the 2nd Earl Grosvenor’s heir Lord Belgrave replaced Davenport as his colleague.19 He faced strong criticism on the hustings for his self-serving stance on local bills, his ministerialist votes and his opposition to the abolition of slavery and parliamentary reform. Responding, he tried to explain that he would vote only for those reductions in public expenditure that he considered prudent and in the best interests of the state, and advocated a ‘gradual abolition of slavery, without injury to private interests’. He refused to commit himself to supporting ‘any particular’ measure of reform and said he had ‘not made up his mind’ on the ‘propriety of transferring the franchise to the great towns’, but asserted that he had ‘supported the transfer of the franchise from Penryn to the extensive and populous county of York’. He added that he was prepared to back any measure calculated to limit the cost of county elections.20

The Wellington ministry naturally counted Egerton among their ‘friends’ and he divided with them when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented an anti-slavery petition from Stockport, 12 Nov. On the 23rd he silenced opposition to an application for leave for his son Tatton Egerton, who was shortly to be married. He presented petitions against the East India Company’s monopoly, 8 Dec., the truck system, 8 Dec., the calico duties, 18 Dec. 1830, 10 Feb. 1831, and the register of deeds bill, 7 Feb.; and in favour of the liability of landlords bill, 25 Feb., and reform, 28 Feb., 15 Mar., on which he was said to be ‘wavering till he hears the result of the Cheshire meeting’.21 He divided against the Grey ministry’s reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar. Presenting favourable petitions next day from the county, Macclesfield, Nantwich and Stockport, he expressed support for ‘a moderate reform’ and declared that the bill went too far:

Taking it as a whole, I conceive it to be a dangerous measure, and cannot give it my support. I heartily regret that I am thus compelled to differ with those who have so long sent me to represent their wishes in this House. Nevertheless, I am, in some degree, consoled by the reflection that I am discharging my duty, which I owe to the House, the country and my own conscience.

With opposition certain in the event of a dissolution, by 26 Mar. he had resolved not to stand for Cheshire again. His political ally Lord Kenyon wrote: ‘I am sorry Wilbraham Egerton has been frightened out of the representation of Cheshire. He has always been an honest and upright Member ... and we are but too sure to have a worse in his room’.22 He presented petitions against the Thornset-Stockport road bill, 18, 25 Mar., and the first and second Liverpool-Chester railway bills, 16, 18 Mar., 12, 15 Apr. He also presented petitions on 15 Apr. from cotton manufacturers opposed to the factory apprentices bill and from the grand jury and magistrates of Cheshire for repeal of the 1830 Beer Act. He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831, and retired at the dissolution that month. He signed the Cheshire anti-reformers’ declaration of support for Lord Henry Cholomondeley* at the ensuing general election.23

Egerton backed Tatton when he contested the new Cheshire North constituency successfully in 1832 and remained steady in his support for the Cheshire Conservatives.24 He commanded the yeomanry during the 1839-40 Chartist riots and applied in vain to Peel as premier for a peerage in 1841.25 In 1848 the dowager countess of Bridgewater appointed him a trustee under the will of his late kinsman the 7th duke (d. 1823), but his claim to the Bridgewater fortune was ignored when the Lords ruled on the case, 19 Aug. 1853.26 He died at Tatton, to which his eldest son succeeded him, in April 1856, having been predeceased in 1853 by his wife. He made generous bequests to his younger sons Edward Christopher Egerton (1816-69), Conservative Member for Macclesfield, 1852-68, and Charles Randle Egerton, and provided £15,000 and a £22,500 trust fund for the widow of his son Thomas Egerton (d. 1847), rector of Myddle.27

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott

Notes

  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 677-8.
  • 2. Chester Courant, 29 Feb., 7 Mar.; Chester Chron. 10, 17, 24 Mar.; Macclesfield Courier, 18, 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. The Times, 15 June 1820.
  • 4. Chester Chron. 30 Jan.; The Times, 10, 21 Feb. 1821.
  • 5. The Times, 17 Apr. 1823, 26 Feb., 26 Mar., 19 Apr. 1825.
  • 6. Ibid. 31 May, 4-6, 8 June 1822.
  • 7. Add. 40348, ff. 95, 117, 138, 140; 40349, ff. 15, 36.
  • 8. Harewood mss WYL 250/8/26, Canning to wife, 6 Sept. 1822.
  • 9. The Times, 9, 18 Mar., 1 Apr., 7, 8, 12, 18 May, 10 June 1824.
  • 10. Ibid. 27 May 1824.
  • 11. Ibid. 26 Feb. 1825.
  • 12. Ibid. 7, 16 Feb. 1826.
  • 13. Chester Chron. 26 May, 9, 30 June; Macclesfield Courier, 17, 24 June 1826.
  • 14. The Times, 5, 12 May 1827.
  • 15. Add. 40395, f. 82.
  • 16. The Times, 18 Dec. 1828; Chester Courant, 6 Jan. 1829.
  • 17. Chester Courant, 26 Jan.; The Times, 28 Jan.; Chester Chron. 29 Jan. 1830.
  • 18. Cheshire and Chester Archives QCX/1/2.
  • 19. Macclesfield Courier, 3, 10, 31 July; Chester Courant, 6 July; Stockport Advertiser, 9 July 1830; Grosvenor mss 12/1,4.
  • 20. Macclesfield Courier, 7 Aug.; Chester Chron. 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 21. Kenyon mss, Lloyd Kenyon to Lord Kenyon, 19 Mar. 1831.
  • 22. Kenyon mss, Egerton to Kenyon, 27 Mar., Kenyon to wife, 31 Mar.; Chester Courant, 2, 29 Mar.; The Times, 5 Apr. 1831.
  • 23. Macclesfield Courier, 30 Apr., 7, 14, 21 May; Chester Courant, 3, 10, 17 May 1831.
  • 24. The Times, 23 July, 26 Sept. 1832; VCH Cheshire, ii. 158.
  • 25. JRL, Egerton of Tatton mss EG/T3; Add. 40489, ff. 53-55.