THICKNESSE, Ralph (1768-1842), of Beech Hill, nr. Wigan, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1831 - 1834

Family and Education

b. ?1768, o.s. of Ralph Thicknesse, MD, of The Oaks, Cheshire and Wigan and w. Anne Dorothy Bostock. m. 20 Dec. 1798,1 Sarah, da. of John Woodcock of Newburgh House, nr. Ormskirk, Lancs., 1s. suc. fa. 1790. d. 1 Nov. 1842.

Offices Held


Thicknesse’s ancestors were active in the Newcastle area of Staffordshire in the thirteenth century. They acquired a property at Balterley, about six miles away, and supplied Members for the borough in the late fourteenth century. Ralph Thicknesse of Balterley (b.?1663), a non-juror, married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Thomas Stockton of The Oaks, Cheshire. His son, successor and namesake, who was born in 1693, married Alethea, daughter of Richard Bostock (1690-1747), a physician of Shrewsbury. He apparently ‘squandered idly away’ his patrimony and left his children ‘wholly unprovided for’. His eldest son, another Ralph Thicknesse, was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford. (He has sometimes been confused with his father’s cousin, Ralph Thicknesse (1709-41), of Farthinghoe, Northamptonshire, who was educated at and became a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.) He qualified as a physician and, having disposed of Balterley, settled and practised in Wigan. His marriage to his kinswoman Anne Bostock was financially advantageous to him. In 1749 he published A Treatise on Foreign Vegetables. On his death, 12 Feb. 1790, he was variously described as ‘a man of the nicest feeling, and of a compassionate disposition’; and as ‘a victim ... to the blue demon of dismay’, who ‘as an acquaintance ... was capricious; as a master, a tyrant; and as a physician, trifling, unscientific, and generally unsuccessful’.2

By then his only son, imaginatively named Ralph, was established as a banker in Wigan. He was subsequently in partnership with Thomas Woodcock of Bank House, who presumably was his brother-in-law. He had a residence at Beech Hill, just to the north of the town centre, and became ‘extensively engaged in the coal trade’ at Birkett Bank and Ince; he was a co-proprietor of the lucrative Kirklees colliery.3 His politics were liberal, and on 10 Mar. 1831 he chaired a Wigan meeting called to express support for the Grey ministry’s reform bill. He said that while the measure might have disappointed the advocates of the ballot and universal suffrage, it ‘exceeded’ the expectations of most reformers, whom he called on to back the king and his ministers against the boroughmongers. A few days later he announced his intention of standing for Wigan when the bill had become law.4 As it happened, he came forward as a reformer and the opponent of the Balcarres interest at the general election precipitated by the defeat of the measure. At the nomination he declared that ‘a moderate reform, such as had been proposed by the enemies of the present bill, would never meet with the confidence of the nation’. He advocated free trade, and in particular abolition of the East India Company’s monopoly:

The situation of the working classes of England was most deplorable; but he believed that if an opening was made in the Indian seas, our trade would be so much improved, that artisans of any description would get wages sufficient to keep them in happiness and comfort.

A serious outbreak of violence forced an adjournment of proceedings, but when order was restored the next day Thicknesse topped the poll.5

He never joined Brooks’s, and in the House acted with the advanced wing of the government’s supporters. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, was a reliable voter for its details and divided for its third reading, 19, and passage, 21 Sept. 1831. He was in the minority of 27 against the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies, 25 July. He voted with O’Connell to proceed with the Dublin election committee, 29 July, and was in the minority for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug.; but he divided twice with ministers on the findings of the Dublin committee, 23 Aug. He was in minorities on the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept., and for inquiry into the Deacles’ allegations against William Bingham Baring*, 27 Sept. He voted for the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., spoke at the Wigan reform meeting, 26 Sept.,6 and divided for the motion of confidence in ministers, 10 Oct. Thicknesse voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. He generally supported its details, but he was one of the minority of 32 who opposed the enfranchisement of £50 tenants, 1 Feb. 1832. He divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. He voted for the vestries bill, 23 Jan., and the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb., but sided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He voted against Warburton’s anatomy bill, 27 Feb., 11 May, when he was a teller for the minority of four. On 8 Mar. he presented and endorsed a petition against the factories regulation bill from the mill owners of Wigan who, he explained, were of opinion that reduced hours must entail lower wages. He divided with government on the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., but voted against the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr. He presented petitions for mitigation of the severity of the criminal code, 8 May, and voted for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May, and against the government’s temporizing amendment on the abolition of slavery, 24 May. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and presented a Wigan petition for supplies to be withheld until it had been passed, 18 May. He voted for the second reading of Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June, but was in the minority for preservation of the voting rights of Irish freemen, 2 July. When ministers proposed an amendment to the boundaries bill to make Newton rather than Wigan the place of nomination for South Lancashire, 7 June, he argued strongly against it and, despite the county Member Lord Stanley’s reasoned plea, insisted on dividing the House: he got five votes to 54. He was in the minorities on the boundaries of Whitehaven and Stamford, 22 June. He voted for a tax on Irish absentees and to suspend flogging in the army, 19 June, to make inquests public, 20 June, and to reduce the barracks grant, 2 July. He supported Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June, and presented a Wigan magistrates’ petition against the vagrants removal bill, 16 July 1832.

Thicknesse topped the poll at Wigan at the general election of 1832, when he advocated repeal of the corn laws and the abolition of tithes and boasted of his ‘non-attachment to any party’.7 By the time he stood down at the dissolution of 1834, he had withdrawn from the Wigan bank, which was now styled Woodcock and Son. He died, ‘aged 74’, at Beech Hill, 1 Nov. 1842.8 By his will, which was proved at Chester, 9 Jan., and in London, at £1,000, 16 Sept. 1843, he left all his property, including mines and collieries, to his only child, Ralph Anthony Thicknesse (1800-54), pro-ballot Liberal Member for Wigan from 1847 until his death.9 As Ralph Anthony’s only son predeceased him, Beech Hill passed to his daughter Anne, whose husband, Francis Henry Coldwell, later bishop of Leicester, took the name of Thicknesse in 1859.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. IGI (Lancs.).
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1790), i. 185, 273, 399-400, 521.
  • 3. E. Baines, Hist. Lancs. (1825), ii. 617-19; Gent. Mag. (1843), i. 657.
  • 4. Preston Chron. 12, 19 Mar. 1831.
  • 5. Manchester Guardian, 30 Apr., 7 May; Liverpool Mercury, 13 May 1831.
  • 6. Bolton Chron. 1 Oct. 1831.
  • 7. The Times, 12 Dec. 1832.
  • 8. Preston Pilot, 5 Nov. 1842; Gent. Mag. (1843), i. 657 incorrectly gives 10 Nov.
  • 9. PROB 8/236; 11/1986/667; IR26/1656/6.