LAWLEY, Francis (1782-1851), of Middleton Hall, nr. Tamworth, Staffs. and 18 Grosvenor Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationbap. 13 Sept. 1782,1 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Robert Lawley†, 5th bt. (d. 1793), of Spoonhill, Salop and Canwell Priory, Staffs. and Jane, da. of Beilby Thompson of Escrick, Yorks.; bro. of Sir Robert Lawley †, 6th bt. and Paul Beilby Thompson*. educ. Rugby 1792; Christ Church, Oxf. 1800; fellow, All Souls 1803-15. m. 18 May 1815, Mary Anne, da. of George Talbot of Temple Guiting, Glos., s.p. suc. bro. Robert as 7th bt. and to estates in Salop, Staffs. and Warws. 10 Apr. 1834. d. 30 Jan. 1851.
Cornet Warws. yeoman cav. 1803, capt. 1805, maj. 1818, lt.-col. 1845, res. 1848.
Lawley’s father, who represented Warwickshire ‘under Whig auspices’, died in 1793, having entrusted the care of his younger sons Francis and Beilby, then aged ten and eight, to their mother (d. 1816), a Yorkshire heiress, and directed their brother Robert, his heir, to provide for them.2 Thwarted in Wenlock and Warwickshire, Robert represented Newcastle-under-Lyme as a Whig, 1802-6, before leaving for Italy, where he devoted himself to art collecting. He complained in April 1820 that he had spent £50,000 on his brothers and of their enmity, neglect and ingratitude towards him.3 Francis Lawley remained at Oxford, where he graduated in law, until he married, when his sister Jane, Lady Middleton, made Middleton Hall, near Tamworth on the Staffordshire-Warwickshire border, available to him.4 A keen agriculturist and yeomanry officer, the Tory Sir Charles Mordaunt* considered him popular ‘as a farmer, yeoman and foxhunter, and of straightforward independence ... not, as his two brothers, radical’.5 He inherited a town house in Grosvenor Square and £200,000 on the death of his maternal uncle Richard Thompson in September 1820 and successfully contested Warwickshire, which Mordaunt vacated, at a by-election in November.6 Supporters of his opponent, the radical Birmingham banker Richard Spooner*, denied him a hearing on the hustings, but at the nomination meeting, 19 Oct., he declared for the ‘church and the constitution’, refused to give pledges and expressed support for ‘temperate reform’.7 Squibs highlighted ‘Frank’s fortune’ and love of the chase.8 Spooner failed with a petition on behalf of the Coventry freeholders, whose votes, if accepted, could have cost Lawley his victory.9 He now lobbied successfully with his brothers to prevent Cecil Weld Forester† taking the title Baron Wenlock (which Robert coveted) when he became a coronation peer.10
Lawley attended the House frequently, spoke and voted sparingly and gained respect for his independence, common sense and readiness to promote Warwickshire interests. He was named to few major committees prior to that on the Bank of England’s charter, 23 May 1832, but he was a busy Member and his appointment to ones on county business (highways, 25 Feb. 1821, the game laws, 13 Mar. 1823, prisons, 18 Mar. 1824, county rates, 19 May 1824, 9 Mar. 1825, 2 Mar. 1826, clerks of the peace, 23 Feb. 1830) and especially those on artisans and machinery, 13 Feb. 1824, 24 Feb. 1825, the combination laws, 10 May 1825, and Irish vagrants, 12 Mar. 1828, which materially affected Birmingham and the silk towns, was considered important locally, as was the part he played in the passage of numerous transport and enclosure bills.11 He is not known to have voted on Queen Caroline’s case (or with the Liverpool ministry on any issue), but he presented a petition from Southam for restoration of her name to the liturgy, 13 Feb. 1821.12 He delayed voting for Catholic relief, which his colleague Dugdale Stratford Dugdale and most Warwickshire squires opposed, until 1825 (1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May).13 A radical publication that year noted that he ‘appeared to attend frequently and to vote with the opposition’.14 He divided for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 13 Apr. 1826.
In his maiden speech, 8 Feb. 1821, Lawley endorsed the prayer of the banker Thomas Attwood’s† Birmingham distress petition and asserted that the ‘experience of Birmingham’ did ‘not bear out the improvements in trade outlined by ministers’. He presented the farmers’ distress petitions, 20 Feb., 5 Mar.,15 and testified to the ‘general and strong opposition’ in Warwickshire to Scarlett’s poor bill, 24 May 1821. To the annoyance of some of his 1820 supporters, he divided with opposition for extensive tax cuts, 11, 21 Feb., admiralty reductions, 1 Mar. and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, and failed to comment on the agriculturists’ distress petitions he presented, 1 Mar., and others criticizing remedies proposed by the political economist David Ricardo*, 8 May, and the foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh, 21 May 1822.16 He voted for gradual abolition of the salt duties, 28 Feb., against the Irish constables bill, 7 June 1822, and for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. Representing Birmingham interests, in 1824 he brought up petitions for repeal of the excise licence duties, 12 Mar., and combination laws, 15 Mar., against the Bristol town dues bill, 13 Apr., and the sale of beer bill, 11, 13 May, and took charge of the assay office’s petition and bill regulating the hallmarking of wrought silver plate, 19 Feb., 15 Mar., and the contentious Birmingham gas light bill, which he withdrew, 6 May 1824, and carried amended in 1825.17 He voted to repeal the usury laws, 8 Apr. 1824, 8 Feb. 1825, and to condemn the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824. During the recess he consulted the home secretary Peel at Drayton concerning the dispute between the Coventry ratepayers and the corporation and made a comparative study of corporations in counties corporate.18 He called for a select committee and presented Birmingham’s petition for lower duties on metals, 11 Mar., and endorsed complaints of the ‘mischief’ caused by the repeal of the combination laws, 29 Apr., 11 May 1825.19 He paired against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 6 June.20 He indicated that the manufacturers would support the proposed increases in board of trade salaries, 14 June 1825, but divided against receiving the report on its president’s, 10 Apr. 1826.21 He voted for military reductions, 10 Mar., and to abolish flogging, 15 Mar. 1826. He presented and endorsed anti-slavery petitions, 26 Apr., 5 May, carried the Rugby School estates bill and contributed £100 to the Coventry weavers’ distress fund.22 Before the dissolution, Birmingham Chamber of Manufactures and Commerce, whose deputations to the Bank of England he had assisted during the 1825-6 crisis, carried a resolution commending his conduct.23 His return was not opposed. At the nomination meeting, 13 June 1826, he acknowledged the controversy caused by his pro-Catholic and opposition votes and defended his right to sit unfettered. On corn, he expressed regret at endeavours to separate agricultural and commercial interests ‘so interwoven ... that they must both flourish or decay together’ and predicted that the discredited system of taking corn price averages would be done away with in the next Parliament and the ports opened at a restrictive price.24 His brother Beilby, who had taken the name Thompson on succeeding to Escrick, came in for Wenlock.
Lawley divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., kept a low profile pending the appointment of a successor to Lord Liverpool as premier and presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 31 May, 8 June 1827. Presenting the Birmingham ratepayers’ petition for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 29 June 1827, he said that the town deserved to be represented by men familiar with its diverse and complex manufacturing interests and emphasized that the petitioners left it to Parliament to determine Birmingham’s franchise and electoral regulations - a sticking point in the proposed Grampound-Leeds and Penryn-Manchester transfers. He was directed with Charles Tennyson to introduce a bill effecting the transfer, 31 Jan., and had copies ‘served on the returning officer of East Retford and high bailiff of Birmingham’, 4 Feb. 1828. He divided against sluicing at East Retford, 21 Mar. He presented petitions, 25, 26, 28 Feb., 1 Apr., and voted to repeal the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and for Catholic relief, 12 May, having brought up favourable petitions from Catholics of the Midland counties, 24 Apr., and Coventry, 1 May. He presented numerous petitions for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, 12 Mar., and the Small Notes Act, 15 July, and against the friendly societies bill, 24 Apr., and slavery, 11 July. Contributing to the discussion provoked by the Warwickshire magistrates’ petition, 6 Mar., he criticized the ‘pre-trial imprisonment of young offenders, often for three months, where they became educated in crime’ and cited Eardley Wilmot’s corroborative statistics. Introducing a petition from the guardians and gunbarrel and arms manufacturers of Birmingham for repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 3 July, he explained, in what he termed a ‘rare speech’, how the Act, by authorizing customs officers to seize arms destined for export or to protect unlicensed vessels, had assisted manufacturers in Hamburg and elsewhere to Birmingham’s detriment. He promised to revive the issue should ministers fail to act and ridiculed Huskisson’s arguments that the matter was adequately dealt with through orders in council. He divided with opposition for ordnance reductions, 4 July 1828.
With opinion in Warwickshire and the House divided on the rival Napton and Oxford canal bills, the Birmingham poor bill, the Catholic question and distress, the 1829 session was a difficult one for Lawley. As the patronage secretary Planta had predicted, he voted ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and presented and endorsed Birmingham’s favourable petitions, 9, 27 Mar. He testified to the distress referred to in the Nuneaton ribbon weavers’ petition, but rejected its plea for protective tariffs, 20 Mar. Nor would he, as bid by the meeting,25 support Attwood’s 8,000-signature Birmingham petition attributing distress to overtrading and currency change, 4 June. He explained:
I am firm in my conviction that no such change as they seem to desire can take place in the currency without diffusing the most wide-spreading injustice among all classes of the community ... I do not think the state of the currency is the cause of the prevailing distress, which I lament as much as any man ... It is an acknowledged fact that bankers are ready in all directions to advance money upon receiving good and adequate security. Is not this a more wholesome state of affairs than when persons of no capital could command paper money for every kind of ill-advised speculation? There are other reasons ... to account for the present distress, besides this supposition of the altered currency. Great overproduction is ... one of them.
He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May 1829, 5 Mar. 1830.
Denis Le Marchant† recalled Lawley, ‘a country gentleman ... of high standing and consideration in the House’, as one of the instigators of the meeting held on 3 Mar. 1830 ‘to endeavour to form a party under the guidance of Lord Althorp with a view to take off some of the most oppressive taxes’, which heralded the revival of the Whig opposition.26 He naturally divided steadily with them for the remainder of that Parliament, including for Jewish emancipation, 17 May (when he also presented Birmingham’s favourable petition), and to end capital punishment for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He confirmed the Warwickshire petitioners’ distress and welcomed the chancellor of the exchequer Goulburn’s retrenchment proposals, 17 Mar. He took charge of many local petitions and bills, including Birmingham Chamber of Commerce’s petition for equalization of the sugar duties, 14 June; but his chief concerns were the fate of the London-Birmingham canal bill, beleaguered following revelations of fraud and the culpable neglect of the attorney Eyre Lee, on which he commented, 11 Mar., 20 May, and the proposed closure of the ordnance proof house at Birmingham. He opposed this as a member of the Birmingham delegation, and complained on presenting their petition how the gunsmiths and arms manufacturers had been goaded to overproduction, 25 Mar. On 2 Apr., drawing heavily on the 1828 finance committee report, he argued that the manufacture of arms by government at Enfield, Middlesex was ‘expensive and unnecessary’, criticized ministers for directing the East India Company to buy their arms there instead of from Birmingham, and vainly sought reductions in the ordnance factory grants. With a further motion in mind, he ordered accounts itemizing production costs at Enfield, 26 May. Nothing came of a rumoured opposition at the general election in August, but Attwood’s Birmingham Political Union members fêted Sir Francis Burdett* and mustered in force to cross-examine Lawley on the hustings, 6 Aug. 1830. Angry but undaunted, he defended his record, protested at Birmingham’s ingratitude, refused to be tied down by pledges, and criticized Attwood’s currency theories and support for Lord Blandford’s* ‘absurd’ reform scheme.27
Ministers listed Lawley among their ‘foes’, and he helped to vote them out on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented numerous anti-slavery petitions, 12 Nov. 1830, 19 Mar. 1831. The St. Martin’s (Birmingham) burial ground bill was successfully rushed through, but bills entrusted to him for the proposed Birmingham-Basford railway, 21 Mar., 20 Apr., the Birmingham poor, 21 Mar., and the King Edward VI grammar school, 18 Apr., became casualties of the dissolution. He divided for the Grey ministry’s reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., confirmed his support for it at the county meeting, 4 Apr., brought up favourable petitions from Warwick, 18 Apr., and voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.28 His failure to present the county reform petition before the dissolution attracted notice, but his return at the general election, when the reformer Sir Gray Skipwith replaced Dugdale as his colleague, was never in doubt.29 He praised the bill and the decision to award Birmingham two Members, but his insistence on sitting unfettered irked the political unions and ensured that his parliamentary conduct was critically reviewed in the Midland Representative.30 Lawley goaded Hunt, the reluctant presenter of the Stockport reform petition, by promising to oppose its reception if Hunt doubted its merits, 30 June 1831. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and supported it steadily in committee, where his only wayward vote, for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., was attuned to local interests.31 Contradicting the anti-reformer Mackworth Praed’s claim that Birmingham returned the Warwickshire Members, 24 Aug., he attributed his victory in 1820 to support from the eastern hundreds, ‘chiefly because my opinions coincided with the agricultural interest’. He cast doubt on Hunt’s unsubstantiated claims of waning support for the bill without the ballot, 30 Aug. The Beilby Thompson estate bill had received royal assent, 23 Aug., Robert was created Baron Wenlock at the coronation and the three brothers attended a party meeting at Lord Ebrington’s, 21 Sept.32 Travelling between London and Warwick during the annual yeomanry training, Lawley voted for the reform bill at its third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., rallied his troop with a rousing speech at Warwick bowling green, 22 Sept., and divided for the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept., and for Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct.33 At the Warwickshire meeting, 8 Nov., he thanked his constituents for praising his conduct and petitioning in protest at the bill’s defeat.34 He voted for the revised bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, consistently for its details, and for the third reading, 22 Mar., and the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May 1832. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June 1832. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, Portugal, 9 Feb., the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., and the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July, and voted to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832.
He brought up numerous petitions on local legislation and private bills on his constituents’ behalf and successfully handled the revived bills for the grammar school and the Birmingham poor. As committee chairman, he was obliged to withdraw the 1831 Birmingham-Basford railway bill, which Edward Littleton and certain Birmingham and Castle Bromwich landowners opposed, 6 July. He and Skipwith secured the passage of the Birmingham-London railway bill after a severe struggle during which they carried the division on 18 June by 125-46, but it foundered in the Lords, 12 July 1832.35 Qualifying remarks by the chairman of the Lords select committee on the bill, Lord Wharncliffe, at a meeting of the scheme’s promoters at London’s Thatched House Tavern next day, Lawley asserted that diligent attendance in committee to hear evidence for and against it had convinced him that the fears and objections of landed proprietors were unfounded, ‘otherwise he could not have supported the measure as he had done’.36 Irked by delays, disruptions to the business of the House and procedural changes pending the reform bill’s passage, he exposed the system of ‘parallel lists’ for presenting petitions operated by the Speaker’s office, 23 Feb. 1832. That day he succeeded in calling up Warwickshire petitions against the importation of French ribbons, testified to the petitioners’ forbearance and the great hardship caused by the partial introduction of free trade, but declined to endorse their plea for prohibitory tariffs.
Lawley was admitted to Brooks’s, 29 Jan. 1832. He announced his impending retirement on health grounds, 22 June 1832, and ceased to play an active part at elections. A personal friend and hunting companion of Peel, he declined an invitation to stand for Tamworth in 1847.37 In 1834 he succeeded Robert, who had no legitimate issue, as 8th baronet and to the Lawley estates, where he promoted cattle breeding and spent £40-50,000 repairing dilapidated farm buildings and cottages. He died without issue at Middleton Hall in January 1851, recalled as a patron of Birmingham School of Design and the Midland Counties and Royal shows, and as one of the last aristocrats to pronounce ‘goold for gold, woold for would’.38 He was succeeded in the baronetcy and estates by Beilby (since 1839 Baron Wenlock) and his heirs. His will provided generously for his widow (d. 21 Dec. 1878).39
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. IGI (Warws.).
- 2. PROB 11/1230/159.
- 3. Hull Univ. Lib. Forbes Adams mss DDFA/39/45/22.
- 4. Ibid. 44/56.
- 5. Norf. RO, Wodehouse of Kimberley mss KIM6/37, Walton to J. Wodehouse, 7 Nov. 1820.
- 6. CUL, Buxton of Shadwell Court mss 117/61; Salop Archives, Corbett of Longnor mss 1066/125, diary of Katherine Plymley, 2 Nov.; Coventry Herald, 3, 10, 17 Nov. 1820.
- 7. Warwick Advertiser, 23 Oct. 1820.
- 8. Warws. RO, election handbills CR1886; 2023/1/4.
- 9. The Times, 4, 6-9, 16 Nov. 1820.
- 10. Forbes Adams mss 39/45/21-27; Add. 38369, f. 332.
- 11. The Times, 8 Apr. 1826.
- 12. Ibid. 13 Feb. 1821.
- 13. Warwick Advertiser, 17 June 1826.
- 14. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 472.
- 15. The Times, 21 Feb., 6 Mar. 1821.
- 16. Creevey Pprs. ii. 34; A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 163; The Times, 2 Mar., 9, 21 May 1822; Warwick Advertiser, 17 June 1826.
- 17. The Times, 13, 16 Mar., 14 Apr., 12, 14 May 1824.
- 18. Add. 40369, ff. 89, 91, 298, 300; 40371, f. 4.
- 19. The Times, 30 Apr., 12 May 1825.
- 20. Ibid. 10 June 1825.
- 21. Ibid. 15 June 1825.
- 22. Ibid. 27 Apr., 6, 9 May; Coventry Herald, 12 May 1826.
- 23. The Times, 8 Apr. 1826.
- 24. Warwick Advertiser, 10, 17 June; The Times, 17 June 1826.
- 25. The Times, 11 May 1829.
- 26. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 3 Mar.; Castle Howard mss, Graham to Morpeth [3 Mar. 1830]; Le Marchant, Althorp, 244; Mitchell, 226-7.
- 27. Coventry Mercury, 11 July; Warwick Advertiser, 24 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 28. Warwick Advertiser, 9 Apr. 1831.
- 29. Coventry Herald, 22 Apr.; Midland Representative, 30 Apr.; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 454, G. Nicholls to T. Gladstone, 2 May; Brougham mss, Philips to Brougham, 5 May; Warwick Advertiser, 7, 14 May 1831; Warws. RO MI 247, Philips Mems. ii. 124-5.
- 30. Midland Representative, 14 May; Coventry Mercury, 15 May 1831.
- 31. The Times, 18, 19 Aug. 1831.
- 32. Greville Mems. ii. 283.
- 33. Warwick Advertiser, 24 Sept., 15 Oct. 1831.
- 34. Ibid. 29 Oct., 12 Nov. 1831.
- 35. LJ, lxiv. 374.
- 36. The Times, 17 July 1832.
- 37. Birmingham Jnl. 30 June 1832; The Times, 6 Dec. 1847.
- 38. Warwick Advertiser, 8 Feb.; Gent. Mag. (1851), i. 433; N and Q (ser. 3), x. 456.
- 39. PROB 11/2134/491; IR26/1906/364.