LEGH KECK, George Anthony (1774-1860), of Stoughton Grange, nr. Leicester, Leics. and Bank Hall, nr. Preston, Lancs.
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Family and Educationb. 15 July 1774, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Anthony James Keck† (d. 1782) of Stoughton and Elizabeth, da. and h. of Peter Legh† of Lyme, Cheshire. educ. Eton 1785-90; Christ Church, Oxf. 1791. m. 18 May 1802, his cos. Elizabeth, da. of Robert Vernon Atherton of Atherton, Lancs., s.p. Took name of Legh bef. Keck under will of maternal gdfa. by royal lic. 31 July 1792. suc. bro. Peers Anthony Keck to Stoughton 1797. d. 4 Sept. 1860.
Cornet, Loyal Leicester yeomanry (afterwards Prince Albert’s own regt. of yeomanry cav.) 1798, lt. 1801, commdt. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. 1803-d.
Legh Keck, the owner of a substantial inherited Leicestershire estate, had abandoned the county seat which he had occupied for over 20 years in 1818 in the face of popular hostility to his firm stand against radicalism in the distressed manufacturing districts.1 Encouraged by a reaction in his favour in the alarmist response to the Peterloo massacre and its aftermath, he came forward again at the 1820 general election on the ‘true Blue’ independent interest. He was returned unopposed with his former colleague Lord Robert Manners, a brother of the 5th duke of Rutland. Returning thanks, he referred to his past parliamentary conduct ‘in the place of professions’.2 A somewhat lax attender, he resumed his general but far from slavish support of the Liverpool ministry.3
He voted against them on the appointment of an additional Scottish exchequer judge, 15 May, but was in their majority against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. He presented petitions for the restoration of Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 26 Jan., 8 Feb., but divided against the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb. 1821.4 He brought up a petition against Catholic relief, 23 Feb., and voted thus, 28 Feb.5 On 27 Mar. he obtained leave to introduce a bill to validate certain indentures of apprenticeship and certificates of settlement, which became law on 28 May (1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 32).6 He cast wayward votes for repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., admiralty reductions, 4 May, and the omission of arrears from the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, but sided with government against a cut in the army estimates, 11 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821. He presented petitions complaining of agricultural distress in Rutland and Leicestershire, 18 Feb., 24 Apr., when he assured the House that the graziers’ grievances were genuine, as ‘distress equally pervaded all parts of the country’.7 Although he mustered for the division against more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., he divided for relaxation of the salt duties, 28 Feb., admiralty economies, 1 Mar., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May 1822. He voted against Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr., and presented hostile petitions, 13, 16 May.8 He delivered Leicester petitions against the poor removal bill, 24 May 1822.9 In 1823 he voted for tax reductions, 28 Feb., 18 Mar., inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and equalization of the East and West Indian sugar duties, 22 May, but divided with ministers against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June. He presented petitions from Lord Stamford against the Marriage Act, 21 Feb., and from his constituents in favour of a bill to facilitate the recovery of small debts, 14 Mar. 1823.10 He voted for repeal of the window tax, 2 Mar., and presented petitions to that effect, 15 Mar., 5 Apr. 1824.11 He brought up anti-slavery petitions, 4, 17, 25 Mar., 6 Apr., and one for repeal of victuallers’ licence duties, 18 Mar. 1824.12 He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 14 Feb., and again, 15 Apr.; but he was present to vote against Catholic relief, 21 Apr. 1825. He paired for the division of 10 May 1825. He presented petitions for revision of the corn laws, 28 Feb., 1 Mar., and for an increase in coroner’s allowances, 10 Apr. 1826, when he voted against government on the president of the board of trade’s salary.13
Legh Keck was returned unopposed for Leicestershire at the general election of 1826, when he ‘flattered himself that a service of nearly 30 years would preclude the necessity of making any assurances as to his future conduct’.14 He was absent from the division on Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. Opposing Sykes’s motion for inquiry into the allegations of improper electoral interference by Leicester corporation, 15 Mar. 1827, he denied that they had misapplied their revenues or created honorary freemen to secure the return of their candidate at the last election. He received the thanks of the corporation, 20 Mar.15 He chaired the Penryn election committee, appointed on 27 Feb., and reported its findings to the House, 9 Mar.: evidence had emerged of ‘gross acts of bribery and corruption’, which the committee wished to have investigated.16 On 8 May he proposed to bring in a bill to restrict the franchise to the possessors of land within the borough and extend it to the freeholders of two neighbouring hundreds. He dismissed the prevalent notion of disfranchising Penryn and transferring its seats to Leeds or Manchester. He pressed for the prosecution of offenders and was given leave to bring in his bill. On 28 May he defended it and resisted Russell’s amendment to give the seats to Manchester as ‘an evil precedent’ which would threaten the parliamentary ‘balance’ between the manufacturing and landed interests.17 He was a teller for the minority in the ensuing division. He was reported as saying that he would vote for the third reading of the amended bill, 7 June, even though it was ‘at variance with the measure which he himself had proposed’, but he was listed in the hostile minority.18 He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 30 May, 6 June 1827.19 In reply to the home secretary Peel’s solicitation of his support for the duke of Wellington’s new ministry, 23 Jan. 1828, Legh Keck stated that ‘no one would more rejoice in the practical reassertion of the principles of Lord Liverpool than myself, and ... no one will be more ready to co-operate with yourself’.20 He did not act up to these professions. He presented more petitions for repeal of the Test Acts in February, but absented himself from the division when it was carried on the 26th. He presented a Leicester petition against the Malt Act, 28 Feb., and secured a return of information on its operation, 7 Mar. He presented a petition against Catholic relief, 1 May, and voted accordingly, 12 May. He divided against the provision for Canning’s family, 13 May, and on the 20th, as an ‘independent’ Member of long standing, defended this action, observing that ‘no motives of delicacy towards any man ... shall induce me to decline what I conceive to be a painful but unavoidable duty’. He refuted Otway Cave’s charges against Leicester corporation, 14 May, and repudiated his accusation of hypocrisy over the Penryn bill, 10 June, but disclaimed any responsibility for the petition which Abney Hastings, the Tory Leicester Member, had tried to present in vindication of the corporation. He voted for Hume’s motion for information on civil list pensions, 20 May, and against the government’s proposal to restrict the circulation of small notes, 5 June; he presented petitions on this subject, 12, 16 June. He divided against the archbishop of Canterbury’s estate bill, 16 June, and brought up anti-slavery petitions, 17, 24 June 1828.
In February 1829 Planta, the bungling patronage secretary, predicted that Legh Keck would side ‘with government’ for their concession of Catholic emancipation. However, he was ‘red-hot’ against it and, presenting the hostile Leicestershire petition, 3 Mar., he delivered what Manners described as a ‘flaming speech’.21 He deplored the measure, which ran counter to the views of most of his constituents, and spoke in ‘fearless independence’ of the consequent ‘diminution’ in his confidence in the ministry. In a clash with Otway Cave, he denied that he had compromised his vaunted independence by accepting patronage from the Goderich administration. He presented more anti-Catholic petitions, 9, 10 Mar. 1829, and was one of the diehard voters against emancipation that month. Alienated from the ministry by this episode, he voted against them on the treasurership of the navy, 12 Mar., the Bathurst-Dundas pensions, 25 Mar., the ordnance estimates, 29 Mar., privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May, and the grant for South American missions, 11 June 1830. On 4 May he presented Leicester petitions against the sale of beer bill and spoke and voted against its second reading, commenting that ‘as a magistrate I must disclaim all responsibility whatever for any scenes of disorder or confusion which may arise’. He presented petitions against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 4 May, 29 June, and the Maynooth grant, 25 June. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May 1830.
Legh Keck topped the poll at the contested general election of 1830, when he stressed his independence and said that ‘it was not in the power of government to make him swerve from what he considered the strict line of duty, by anything which it could bestow’.22 Ministers listed him as one of the ‘moderate Ultras’, and he helped to vote them out of office on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He brought up anti-slavery petitions, 15, 16 Nov. On 8 Dec. he presented one from Hinckley for a reduction in the window tax and urged the Grey ministry to give ‘serious attention’ to the subject. He presented petitions for parliamentary reform and the ballot, 26 Feb. 1831. When he produced petitions in support of the ministerial reform bill, 17 Mar., he stated that he would act on it ‘as I think right, upon seeing the alterations made to it in the committee’. He accordingly divided for the second reading, 22 Mar., but for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He retired from Parliament at the ensuing dissolution.
Thereafter he ‘employed himself either in attending to his vast estates, or in maintaining the efficiency of his yeomanry corps’.23 He restored and enlarged Bank Hall and devised it, together with his Leicestershire property, to his nephew, Henry Littleton Powys (1812-63), who took the additional name of Keck.24 He died at Bank Hall in September 1860.