HEATHCOTE, Richard Edensor (1780-1850), of Longton Hall and Apedale Hall, Staffs. and 9 Bolton Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 25 Oct. 1780,1 1st s. of Sir John Edensor Heathcote of Longton Hall and Anne, da. of Sir Nigel Gresley, 6th bt., of Drakelow, near Burton-on-Trent, Staffs. educ. Westminster 1796; Christ Church, Oxf. 1799; L. Inn 1802. m. (1) 16 Aug. 1808, his cos. Emma Sophia (d. 13 Sept. 1813), da. of Sir Nigel Bower Gresley, 7th bt., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. d.v.p.; (2) 13 Dec. 1815, Lady Elizabeth Keith Lindsay (d. Sept. 1825), da. of Alexander, 23rd earl of Crawford [S] and 6th earl of Balcarres [S], 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (3) 19 June 1838, Susan Cooper, 3s. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1822. d. 3 May 1850.
Heathcote’s father, who was knighted on his appointment as sheriff of Staffordshire in 1784, was the eldest son of Michael Heathcote of Buxton, Derbyshire, and his heiress wife Rachel (née Edensor) of Hartington. He had prospered as a barrister, purchased the mansion (1778) and manor (1784) of Longton with its potteries and coal seams and married the eldest daughter of Sir Nigel Gresley of Drakelow, whose estates and influence extended into Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. The eldest of their ten children, at least two of whom were deaf and dumb, Heathcote excelled academically, graduated in classics at Oxford and was intended for the bar or the church, but preferred country pursuits.2 In 1808 he married his cousin Emma Gresley, on whom property in Castle Gresley, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Lichfield and Newcastle-under-Lyme was settled. He leased Condover Park near Shrewsbury, where Emma died in September 1813, shortly after giving birth to their fourth child.3 Following his marriage in 1815 to Lord Crawford’s daughter, he lived mainly in London, but he leased Lord Combermere’s Staffordshire estate at Rugeley after embarking on a £5,000-rebuilding programme at Longton, which he inherited, ‘dilapidated and encumbered’, in October 1822.4 When a vacancy at Newcastle-under-Lyme in July 1823 coincided with one for Staffordshire, which his absent cousin Sir Roger Gresley* aspired to, Heathcote was invited to offer for Newcastle as an anti-reformer opposed to Catholic relief, but stood as a champion of the local independent party, favourable to both. Writing to the Staffordshire Advertiser, he explained:
I told my friends most distinctly that I was no advocate of reform in its common and hackneyed sense, but only so far as I believed it to be perfectly safe and consistent with the preservation of our ... form of government ... All that I contended for was that where abuses were obvious, and the correction of them was practicable, they might in all cases be corrected and removed with an honest and steady hand ... My property, my connections, and the political conduct of my family, which had always been most loyal and disinterested, as well as my own on many trying occasions, might, I thought, afford them a sufficient guarantee, that I should never be the person to desire change of a violent and dangerous kind ... I should equally, I said, disguise my real sentiments, were I to describe myself entirely favourable or entirely hostile to the claims of the Roman Catholics. I differed alike with that party, which would resist all concessions in limine, and with that, which would remove at once all restraint and concede all that is asked without looking to consequences, or requiring any countervailing safeguards.5
He attributed his defeat by John Evelyn Denison to his ‘late start’ and urged his supporters to challenge the corporation through the courts.6 His prospects at Newcastle were soon scotched by the sitting Member Wilmot Horton, a junior minister, whose letters to the home secretary Peel cast doubt on Heathcote’s allegiance to Lord Liverpool’s administration and criticized his conduct; and also by his forfeiture of the Kinnersley interest.7 In November 1827, when a by-election was anticipated at Newcastle, he was unable to muster sufficient support for a realistic challenge by Gresley.8
Heathcote was widowed for the second time in September 1825, and unlike Gresley (who had been defeated at Lichfield), he did not scour the country in search of a seat at the 1826 general election. Probably on the Staffordshire Member Littleton’s recommendation, he started late on the corporation interest at Coventry where the corporation had advertised for a ‘No Popery’ Tory opposed to free trade, and topped the poll with Bilcliffe Fyler, so defeating the sitting Whigs.9 His speeches and addresses professed allegiance to church and state and stressed his Black Country roots, commercial concerns and hostility to all ‘jobs’: he ‘would neither systematically oppose, nor systematically support the government’.10 Reports of his 1823 defeat and pro-Catholic sympathies were belatedly circulated and, with a petition on behalf of the former Members pending, the press made great play of his involvement in prosecutions of the poor for nutting.11 Initially more astute and knowledgeable than Fyler, Heathcote’s advice and contacts helped to secure the election petition’s defeat, but his differences with his sponsors and a hostile press made him an ineffective Member and a convenient scapegoat when the corporation failed to secure amendments to bills and tariff concessions.12 Not surprisingly, some confusion occurred between him and the three Heathcote Members for Boston, Hampshire and Rutland. His voting record was pro-Catholic and essentially Whig. He spoke almost exclusively on matters affecting Coventry and should probably not be credited with interventions on behalf of the ship owners, 4 May, 15 June 1827, 24 Mar. 1828. No speech can safely be attributed to him after May 1829. He paired for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and voted for inquiry into the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar. 1827. Representing the corporation, he vainly opposed the Coventry magistracy bill, which extended the county justices’ jurisdiction to the borough, in speeches and as a minority teller, 22 May, 8 June, presenting hostile petitions, 23, 31 May, and by moving adjournments and repeatedly forcing divisions, 11, 15, 18 June, when the third reading was eventually carried by 65-55.13 He voted in the Canning government’s majority for the Canadian waterways grant, 12 June 1827. Having missed the start of the 1828 session through illness,14 he presented protectionist petitions from the wool producers of Cargill, Perthshire, 18 Apr., and Caernarvonshire, 17 June, the landowners of Cargill, 24 Apr., and the leadminers of Dolwyddelan and Betws-y-Coed on the Caernarvon-Denbigh border, 9 June 1828. He spoke and voted against the Customs Acts bill, 1 May, 4 July, and divided for Catholic relief, 12 May, and for information on civil list pensions, 20 May. He may have been the Heathcote named as minority teller for postponing the usury laws repeal bill, 19 June 1828. The Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary Planta considered his support for Catholic emancipation in 1829 ‘doubtful’, but he declared for it, 3 Mar. When Coventry’s hostile petition was brought up by Fyler that day, he condemned the means by which rival petitions ‘Against Popery’ and ‘For Popery’ had been got up and signatures presented as poll results: ‘3,915:903 - Majority for the Protestant Ascendancy 3012’. He spoke similarly on presenting the pro-Catholic petition, 9 Mar. He voted for emancipation, 6 Mar. (but not on 30 Mar.), and to permit Daniel O’Connell to sit without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May. He divided against the locally unpopular silk trade bill, 1 May, and voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May 1829. His brother Henry’s death, 5 May, his own purchase of the Fenton Spring coal seam, 1 Nov. 1829, and the disclosure that year of bad investments by his father preoccupied him, and he received a month’s leave on account of family illness, 8 Mar. 1830.15 His poor attendance and failure to press the cause of the distressed Coventry ribbon weavers prompted calls for his immediate resignation, and 1,600 signed a memorial to this effect.16 Spurning it, he announced, 4 Apr. 1830:
I have no intention of relinquishing my seat for Coventry, previous to a dissolution ... nor any desire to occupy it one day afterwards. In the meantime I shall take leave to exercise my own discretion as to the period when my attendance in the House may be most likely to promote the interests of my constituents or the public.17
From 28 Apr. 1830 he divided steadily with the revived Whig opposition, including for Jewish emancipation, 17 May. Later that month both Coventry papers carried critical reviews of his recent votes.18 He stood down at the 1830 dissolution.
A prominent figure at Staffordshire meetings in 1831 and 1832, Heathcote overcame his initial reluctance to support the Grey ministry’s reform bill, declared for the ballot and triennial parliaments and unsuccessfully contested the new Stoke constituency as a Liberal in 1832. He prevailed there in January 1835, but retired a year later.19 Deterred by encroaching industrialization, which he had promoted, from living at Longton, he and his third wife settled at Apedale Hall. He died in May 1850 near Geneva, where he had gone for health reasons, having bequeathed everything except his entailed estates to his widow.20