STANTON, Robert (1793-1833), of Highbury Place, Islington, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 4 Jan. 1793, 1st s. of Robert Stanton, looking glass manufacturer, of 58 Lombard Street, London and Islington Green and Eleanor, da. of John Mason of Spilsby, Lincs.1 m. 21 Mar. 1816,2 Louisa, da. of Thomas Darby of St. Michael’s Cornhill, London, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p). suc. fa. 1818. d. 3 May 1833.
The historical painter Benjamin Robert Haydon summed up Stanton’s life in the following curiously constructed sentence: ‘Staunton [sic] died in a mad house. He became after spending £80,000 a clerk to Charles Pearson, saved money became mad and died’.3 While it has not proved possible to corroborate any of these statements, some hard facts have emerged about this obscure Member. He had a Nonconformist background. The Robert Stanton of George Yard, Lombard Street, who was interred in the Dissenters’ burial ground at Bunhill Fields, City Road, London, on 19 Mar. 1784, may have been his grandfather. Certainly his grandmother Mary Stanton was buried there, aged 68, on 28 Oct. 1802.4 By 1794 his father Robert Stanton was in business with Arthur Wilcoxon (?1758-1842) as a looking glass manufacturer at 58 Lombard Street. The firm was styled Stanton and Wilcoxon until about 1815, when it became Wilcoxon, Stanton and Company. With his wife Eleanor Mason, who died, aged 50, in July 1809, Robert Stanton had two sons, Robert and Charles, and seven daughters, Marianne, Sarah, Eleanor, Frances, Sophia, Harriet and Eliza. In his will, dated 28 Aug. 1809, he left his daughters £4,000 each on attaining their majorities, which he increased to £5,000 by a codicil of 4 May 1811. To Robert, the subject of this biography, he bequeathed his business and his house at Islington Green, plus £1,000 when he became 21. He devised the same sum to Charles, who was to take an equal share with Robert in the residue of the estate on their turning 30. As it happened Charles died, aged ten, on 27 Nov. 1811. Robert Stanton senior died at Plymouth, aged 61, on 7 Sept. 1818 and was buried on the 17th in the family grave which he had purchased in Bunhill Fields. His personalty was sworn under £80,000.5
His son Robert seems to have participated in the business for some years before coming into what must have been a handsome inheritance: he was described as a merchant in the baptismal record of his first child Louisa (6 Feb. 1817), when he was living at Dalby Terrace, City Road. In his evidence before the House of Lords committee on the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 8 May 1828, he said that he had been involved in looking glass manufacture for ‘about five years’. The indications are that he withdrew from active participation, possibly by selling out, soon after succeeding his father. The firm’s style had changed to Wilcoxon, Harding and Owen by 1820 and to Wilcoxon and Harding, who had added cabinet making to their repertoire, by 1825. The Harding involved was probably Stanton’s brother-in-law and executor William Harding, the husband of his sister Frances. At the baptisms of his daughters Eleanor Darby (4 Jan. 1822) and Sophia Frances (21 Mar. 1823) Stanton, who was then a resident of Highbury Place, described himself as a ‘gentleman’. He had at least one other daughter, Marianne Maria, who died, aged three, in April 1833. His first son Robert lived for only two weeks and was buried in Bunhill Fields on 3 Dec. 1817; but he subsequently had another son, also named Robert, who was alive when he made his will on 21 Oct. 1822.6 By this document, which made no mention of any business interests, he devised £500 to his wife, £50 to her cousin Maria Jane Ashmole and £50 to his nephew Robert Stanton Wise, the son of his sister Marianne. He left freehold premises in Fenchurch Street to his son, who was to be maintained from their rents during his minority, and directed that three insurance policies of £1,000 each on his own life should be cashed and the proceeds invested for the benefit of his surviving daughters. He left the residue of his estate to his wife for her life and thereafter to his surviving children as tenants-in-common. He appointed as his trustees and executors Harding, Thomas Clarke and Henry Smith.7
According to his own and Sir Christopher Hawkins’s* evidence to the Lords committee, Stanton was introduced to Hawkins by a Mr. Simpson in about 1822 as a man who had ‘come into a large fortune’ and was ‘very anxious to get into Parliament’. Hawkins could not help him then, but in April 1824 advised him to try his luck on a vacancy for the venal borough of Penryn, where he had a stake. The contemporary description of Stanton in the Cornish press as a London banker was evidently correct for, according to his own testimony, he had embarked on such a venture a few months before he went to Penryn. On 9 May 1828 Joseph Sowell, a Penryn maltster and enemy of the corporation, who acted as Stanton’s leash-holder, gave the following enigmatic answer when asked by the Lords if he knew on what terms Stanton had gone there:
‘No; I believe there could be no terms at all; for I believe if I had not come into the bank [at Falmouth] a person would have shot him in the bank; he had two loaded pistols with him’.
‘Who would have shot him?’
‘The gentleman that recommended him to go down’.
He was not required to elaborate. Stanton became involved in a bitter contest with a corporation candidate and won by six votes after a three-day poll of 300 electors.8 His parliamentary career is soon dealt with, for his silent votes against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825, are the only traces of his activity which have been found. He evidently considered taking the Chiltern Hundreds in 1826, but in the event left Parliament at the dissolution in June that year.9
By then he was in serious financial trouble. His banking enterprise had failed ‘about two months’ after his election, which had cost between £2,000 and £3,000; he had paid back none of this by 1826.10 His affairs were placed in the hands of trustees, who arranged the payment of 10s. in the pound on his ‘considerable’ debts. On 6 Feb. 1827 he was arrested on the suit of Cairne and Lake, bankers of Falmouth, who had advanced him £900 on his arrival at Penryn. He was committed to king’s bench prison four days later but released on 20 Feb. 1827, having compromised the debt, which he repaid at 14s. in the pound. He was again confined to king’s bench on 22 June 1827 at the suit of one Edward Jones for a debt of £75, and he remained there until 27 Aug.11 It was during this second period of incarceration that he crossed the path of Haydon, who witnessed the celebrated mock election which took place within the prison, 12-16 July 1827. Stanton, who took the part of one of the ‘Members’, was reported to have ‘particularly distinguished himself in the frolic, and appeared on each of the days dressed up in the most grotesque manner imaginable’. On 16 July the marshal of the prison sent in troops to prevent the planned chairing, and Stanton and the other ringleaders were put into ‘close confinement’. Haydon commemorated these events in his paintings ‘The Mock Election’ and ‘Chairing the Member’: in the former he depicted Stanton, ‘who, by his experience in the finesse of elections, was the moving spring of all the proceedings of this’, as ‘attired in the quilt of his bed, and in a yellow turban’ and ‘pointing, without looking at his opponent, with a sneer’.12 He is not known to have been committed to king’s bench subsequently.
The last trace of Stanton which has been found prior to his death is his appearance before the Lords committee on the Penryn disfranchisement bill, when he sorely tested the patience of his questioners with the evasiveness of his replies, particularly on the subject of his relationship with Hawkins. He denied Hawkins’s allegation that he had advanced him £1,000 for the payment of his public house bills and insisted that Hawkins had made no claim on his estate thereafter. He also firmly but unconvincingly denied having authorized direct bribery at his election and attributed almost the whole of his expenses to the cost of food and drink.13 Stanton, who evidently took up residence in Trinity Square, Southwark, died in May 1833. He was buried with his family in Bunhill Fields on the 9th. His 13-year-old daughter Eleanor joined him there on 27 Apr. 1835, but nothing has been discovered of the fate of his widow, son and other surviving daughters.14 On 31 Aug. 1836 administration of his effects was granted to his widow, his surviving executors, Harding and Smith, having renounced probate.15