SKIPWITH, Sir Gray, 8th bt. (1771-1852), of Alveston Villa, nr. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warws. and 6 Pall Mall East, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 17 Sept. 1771, in Virginia, 1st s. of Sir Peyton Skipwith, 7th bt., of Prestwould, Mecklenburg, Virginia and 1st w. Anne, da. of Hugh Miller of Green Crofts, Blandford, Virginia. educ. Eton 1787-90; Trinity Coll. Cambridge 1790. m. 22 Apr. 1801, Harriett, da. of Gore Townsend of Honington Hall, Warws., 12s. (2 d.v.p.) 8da. suc. Sir Thomas George Skipwith†, 4th bt., to entailed estates 1790 and to Newbold Pacey Hall, Warws. 1832; fa. as 8th bt. 9 Oct. 1805. d. 13 May 1852.
Recorder, Stratford-upon-Avon 1823-35.1
Skipwith, a descendant through his mother (d. 1779), of the American Indian Princess Pocahontas, was born and raised in Virginia, where Sir Grey Skipwith, the 3rd baronet of Prestwould, Leicestershire, had settled after selling his English property to a follower of Cromwell in 1652. His father, a loyalist during the American War of Independence, bequeathed his Virginia estates to his younger sons, for Skipwith, his successor in the baronetcy, was already provided for as heir apparent to their childless kinsman Sir Thomas Skipwith (d. 1790), the 4th and last baronet of Newbold Pacey Hall, south of Warwick (the 1769-80 county Member), who had financed his English education.2 Skipwith’s influence in Warwickshire was also enhanced by his marriage to the 4th earl of Plymouth’s granddaughter Harriett Townsend, which was noted for its fecundity.3 Sir Thomas’s widow (d. 1832) retained Newbold Pacey Hall for life, but she granted Skipwith £600 a year from the estate’s £4,000 and adopted his daughter Selina (b. 1804).4 He and his family meanwhile occupied the small Archer estate of Alveston, near Stratford-upon-Avon, where he acquired a reputation as an excellent quarter sessions chairman and able huntsman and became a trustee of Rugby School. Nimrod described him as ‘a very pretty rider, always well mounted, generally in a good place and an excellent observer of hounds’.5 A popular public figure on the hustings, he initially aligned with the Tories and was deemed suitable for the vacant county seat in October 1820, but his large family and small income forbade it.6 He proposed and acted for the Whig moderate Sir Francis Lawley* in 1820 and 1826. 7 His wife’s death, 7 July, precluded his participation in 1830 election.8 In March 1831 he signed Sir Francis Burdett’s* alternative requisition for a county reform meeting, 4 Apr., at which he declared unequivocally for the Grey ministry’s bill. He was adopted as the compromise or unity candidate at a stormy nomination meeting, 4 May.9 On the hustings that day, he confirmed his support for the proposed disfranchisements, £10 householder and copy and leaseholder franchises, but refused to pledge indiscriminately for ‘all economies’. He added:
I have never until lately exhibited myself as a reformer, because, I confess, I could formerly see no hopes of success. I, however, embraced the first opportunity of expressing my sentiments, when I considered their expression might prove effectual ... My only fear is, that in attending to business connected with the great town of Birmingham, my abilities will not be equal to my zeal.10
He was returned unopposed.11 Fêted at Stratford, 13 May 1831, he conceded that ‘many excellent men he knew admitted the need for some reform, but thought that the bill went too far’ by making the ‘Commons too democratic’ and increasing the risk of a revolution. He added: ‘I have no fear of that kind. I have too high an opinion of the strong sense of Englishmen’.12
Acting with Lawley, Skipwith, who joined Brooks’s, 16 July, voted for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and generally for its details, but against the total disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July 1831. His vote for Lord Chandos’s clause for enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., reflected local opinion. He divided for the bill at its third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., for the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept., and for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He had written publicly to the leader of the Birmingham Political Union, Thomas Attwood†, following the bill’s Lords’ defeat, urging moderation and continued support for the Grey ministry, and the ensuing county meeting commended him for doing so, 8 Nov.13 He divided for the revised bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, generally for its details and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He was absent ‘in the country’ when the House divided on the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. 1832. On slavery, an important local issue at the 1832 election, he was in Fowell Buxton’s minority for the immediate appointment of a select committee to consider abolition, 24 May 1832.
Attending to constituency business, he presented and endorsed a petition criticizing the laws affecting debtors, 12 Oct. 1831, and brought up others on behalf of the distressed ribbon weavers, 28 Feb., and in favour of the Maynooth grant, 21 May, and the factory bill, 17 July 1832. His main concern was the fate of the beleaguered London-Birmingham railway bill. He brought up favourable petitions, 28 Feb., 13 Apr., and his speeches on 28 Feb., when he and Lawley thwarted attempts to kill the bill and carried its second reading by 125-40, reflected his knowledge of the statutory procedures for local bills and of their implementation in this instance. Addressing the railway’s wealthy promoters at the Thatched House Tavern, 13 July, he extolled the scheme’s merits and denounced the Tory peers who opposed it. When the Lords returned the bill amended, 17 July 1832, he recommended accepting it in a persuasive speech, which drew heavily on the engineer Telford’s evidence to the select committee, and helped to secure its passage.
A Liberal and staunch churchman, but ‘no radical’, Skipwith moved to Newbold Pacey Hall in the summer of 1832 and topped the poll for Warwickshire South at the general election in December.14 He resigned to avoid a contest in 1835 and was defeated in Warwickshire South in 1836 and Warwickshire North in 1837. He died at Hampton Lucy in May 1852, survived by at least 15 of his 20 children. He was succeeded in the baronetcy and estates by his eldest son Thomas George Skipwith (1803-63), the defeated Liberal candidate for Warwickshire North in 1852.15
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
Generally spelt ‘Grey’, but Gray in wills and his marriage settlement (PROB 11/1776/575; 2159/727; Warws. RO CR829/114; 2942/2).
- 1. Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 16 June 1823; PP (1835), xxiii. 253-8.
- 2. Burke PB (1999); PROB 11/1195/400; Warws. RO, unpubl. ‘Jnls. of Selina, Lady Skipwith’ ed. E.J. Shirley, TD64/41; HP Commons, 1754-90, iii. 442-3.
- 3. Ann. Reg. (1852), Hist. Chron. p. 281; Warwick Advertiser, 22 May 1852.
- 4. Warws. RO CR829/114; PROB 11/1799/255.
- 5. Gent. Mag. (1852), ii. 90-91; The Times, 6 Dec. 1827; VCH Warws. ii. 381.
- 6. Essex RO, Gunnis mss D/DGu/C6/1/6; Norf. RO, Kimberley mss KIM 6/37, Walton to J. Wodehouse, 7 Nov. 1820.
- 7. Warwick Advertiser, 28 Oct., 4 Nov. 1820, 10, 17 June 1826; The Times, 17 June 1826.
- 8. Warwick Advertiser, 17 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 9. Ibid. 26 Mar., 9, 23, 30 Apr., 7 May; Brougham mss, G. Philips to Brougham, 5 May 1831; Warws. RO (MI 247), Philips Mems. ii. 124-5.
- 10. Coventry Mercury, 8 May 1831.
- 11. Warwick Advertiser, 14 May 1831.
- 12. Ibid. 21 May 1831.
- 13. The Times, 12 Oct., 10 Nov.; Warwick Advertiser 5, 12 Nov. 1831.
- 14. Warws. RO CR829/77; Warwick Advertiser, 8, 15 Dec. 1832.
- 15. The Times, 17 Dec. 1834, 24 June 1836; Warwick Advertiser, 22 May 1852; VCH Warws. iii. 180, 214, v. 32, 89.