GODSON, Richard (1797-1849), of Inner Temple and 22 Woburn Place, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 1 June 1797, 2nd s. of William Godson (d. 1822), att., of Tenbury, Worcs. educ. Worcester (Mr. Simpson); Caius, Camb. 1814; L. Inn 1818, called 1821; I. Temple 1822. m. 11 Aug. 1825, Mary, da. and h. of James Hargreaves of Springfield Hall, nr. Lancaster, 3s. 1da. d.v.p.1 d. 1 Aug. 1849.
QC 6 July 1841; bencher, L. Inn 1841; counsel to admiralty and judge adv. of fleet 1844-d.
Little is known of Godson’s antecedents. His father William Godson was an attorney in practice at Tenbury, Worcestershire, and in 1809 was elected one of the county coroners.2 Two of his sons, Stephen and Septimus Holmes Godson, were articled to him in 1812 and 1815 respectively; the latter subsequently entered Gray’s Inn and became a barrister in 1837. William Godson died 19 Aug. 1822. By his will, dated 4 July that year, he left all his property to his wife Margaret, who was presumably the mother of his surviving children. His personalty was sworn under £3,000.3 Septimus Godson was heavily defeated in the election for coroner precipitated by his death.4 Stephen Godson, who practised as an attorney at Worcester, married Susannah, the daughter of Robert Coker of Dorset, and died 9 June 1839.5
On his call to the bar in 1821 Richard Godson went the Oxford circuit. In December 1822 he completed a substantial Practical Treatise on the Law of Patents for Inventions and of Copyright, which was published the following year. At the Worcester Michaelmas sessions of 1830 he defended ten Kidderminster carpet-weavers brought to trial for their part in recent riots in the town. He secured several acquittals and reductions of charges, though he made it clear at the close that he did not condone their conduct, which had been ‘of the most illegal description’. The weavers of Kidderminster subsequently presented him with a handsome hearth rug as a token of their appreciation of his efforts.6 When the Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed the enfranchisement of Kidderminster as a single Member constituency in March 1831, Godson accepted an invitation from potential electors to stand for the borough, where there was ‘the greatest enthusiasm in his favour’, at the first election after the bill became law. While on the circuit early the following month, he entered Kidderminster in a triumphal procession and made a public statement of his political principles. As ‘one of the people to represent the people’, he applauded the reform bill, which would restore ‘the good old constitution’ and ensure that ‘the voice of the people was heard before wars were commenced and taxes imposed’. He predicted that from it would stem ‘every species of reform which could be desired’, notably elimination of the ‘defects’ in the church establishment, the abolition of commercial monopolies and the implementation of free trade. On the question of slavery, he revealed a personal embarrassment, explaining that on his marriage to a Lancashire heiress he had been ‘forced to take possession of’ a £50,000 mortgage on a West Indian estate:
I scorn the idea of having property in my fellow subjects. The government may declare the black population free upon any conditions that may be thought reasonable; I only ask that the lives of the white people, resident on the islands, may be protected. I shall therefore vote for an emancipation which will protect our colonial possessions, and the best emancipator is the man who is willing to sacrifice his own interests.
He wanted reform of the criminal code to produce ‘cheap and good law, but no distressing imprisonments’.7 At the general election three weeks later he stood as a reformer for the open and venal borough of St. Albans and was returned with another supporter of the bill after a contest against the Tory sitting Member.8
Godson, who never joined Brooks’s, rose with self-confessed ‘fear and trembling’ in the debate on the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 5 July 1831. He had no regrets about having given on the hustings a so-called ‘unconstitutional pledge’ to support the whole bill: ‘we will stick to this bill, and the whole of this bill; because, if we do not carry this reform, we shall have no reform at all’. He forecast that the benefits of the measure would be ‘the removal of discontent and disaffection, and the establishment of confidence in the legislature’. He voted for it next day, and against the adjournment, 12 July. Two days later he was given leave to go the circuit, which prevented him from supporting the reform bill in committee for five weeks, though he arranged a pair for the divisions of 26, 28 July, 3, 5 Aug., and probably for others. He was present to divide with ministers on details of the bill, 17, 18, 20 Aug., 2 Sept. On 24 Aug. he presented a petition from the inhabitants of St. Albans for reduction of the borough householders’ voting qualification from £10 to £5; it was alleged by his enemies that the petition was ‘a hole and corner affair’.9 He voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and, after giving ‘a sumptuous entertainment’ to his St. Albans supporters, 7 Oct.,10 divided for the motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. He was in the minority of 12 opposed to the grant of compensation to Lescene and Escoffery for their expulsion from Jamaica, 21 Aug.; but he sided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He made a technical point in favour of the bankruptcy court bill, 14 Oct. 1831. Godson welcomed the ‘improvement’ effected by the ministerial amendments to the revised reform bill, 17 Dec.1831, when he voted for its second reading after arguing that it was not ‘a party question’ and claiming that ‘I am not connected with ministers any more than I am with the opposition’. He voted steadily for its details and made an observation on the clause dealing with the appointment of returning officers, 24 Jan., but he was treated with disdain by ministers when he seemed to be suggesting that it was necessary in point of law to inquire into the usages of each borough before passing the measure, 16 Feb. 1832. He presented the petition of Kidderminster political union in favour of the bill, 27 Feb., when he got leave to go the circuit. He paired for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He voted with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., but was in the minorities for inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan., and the production of information on military punishments, 16 Feb. He preferred inquiry by select committee to Fyshe Palmer’s proposed bill to regulate the office of sheriff and reduce its expense, 14 Feb. Godson presented a petition from the freemen of Stafford against the general registry bill, 13 Apr., and spoke of the ‘many objections’ to Cripps’s coroners bill, 7 May, when he was a teller for the hostile minority. On 8 May he gave notice of four amendments which he intended to propose in committee on the death penalty abolition bill, which he welcomed, 30 May, as ‘a good beginning for ameliorating the severity of the law’. He attended and spoke at the St. Albans meeting to address the king to reinstate the Grey ministry, 16 May.11 He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, but was in minorities for amendments to extend the franchise to £5 freeholders, 18 June, and to do away with the payment of municipal taxes as a prerequisite of registration, 29 June. He spoke and voted against Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June, feeling that it was not designed to effect its object, however laudable. He secured an alteration to the boundary proposed for the enlarged constituency of St. Albans, 8 June. On 29 June Godson, who had voted in the minority against government’s temporizing amendment on the abolition of slavery, 24 May, defended the loan of £1,000,000 to Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent to deal with losses and damage incurred in recent hurricanes. Claiming that many Jamaican planters were ‘reduced to ruin’, he deplored the unnecessary ‘rancour’ of some zealous abolitionists and appealed to ministers to decide once and for all whether they wanted to retain British colonies in the West Indies:
If they are worth having, they must be treated in a kindlier spirit, and the planters must be enabled to cultivate their estates, not less for their own sakes than for the sake of the slaves themselves, whose emancipation, nevertheless, I should be glad to see.
That day he was given a week’s leave to attend the quarter sessions. He was initially listed among reformers absent from the division on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832; but it was subsequently reported that he had voted in the opposition minority.12
Godson published a Supplement to his book on the law of patents in late 1832; in the preface (p. iv) he expressed the hope that next session an effort would be made to create ‘a good code of laws for the better protection of inventions’. There was some notion in July that he might stand for both St. Albans and Kidderminster at the general election, but he opted for the latter alone, and was narrowly returned there in December 1832 after a contest with a fellow reformer.13 He was defeated in 1835, but came in again in 1837, by which time he had become a free trade Conservative. He produced a second edition of his Treatise, which he dedicated to Lord Brougham, in 1840.14 He took silk in 1841 and obtained a legal appointment from Peel in 1844, but continued to harbour an unfulfilled desire for something better.15 He died at Springfield Hall ‘from disease of the heart’ in August 1849.16 By his very brief will, dated 4 Oct. 1836, he left all his property to his wife.17 Two of his sons, Arthur Richard and George St. Alban Godson, entered the church. His nephew Augustus Frederick Godson, the son of Septimus, was Conservative Member for Kidderminster, 1886-1906.