THOMPSON, William (1792-1854), of Dyer’s Hall Wharf, Upper Thames Street, London and 12 Gloucester Place, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 23 Jan. 1792, 2nd s. of James Thompson (d. 1841) of Grayrigg, Kendal, Westmld. and Agnes, da. of John Gibson of Orton, Westmld.1 educ. Charterhouse. m. 1817, Amelia, da. of Samuel Homfray† of Penydarren Place, Merthyr Tydfil, Glam. and Coworth Park, Berks., 1da. d. 10 Mar. 1854.
Alderman, London 1821-d. (father of the City 1851-d.), sheriff 1822-3, ld. mayor 1828-9; master, Ironmongers’ Co. 1829, 1841.
Chairman, Lloyd’s 1826-33; treas. Hon. Artillery Co. 1826-9, v.-pres. 1829-43, pres. 1843-d.; dir. Bank of England 1827-d.; treas. King’s Coll. London 1828-d; pres. Christ’s Hosp. 1829-d.; trustee, Patriotic Fund 1833-d.; dep.-chairman, St. Katharine’s Dock Co. 1848-51, chairman 1851-d.
Lt.-col. London militia 1835-51, col. 1851-d.
Thompson’s ancestors had been settled at Kendal for four generations, but his great-uncle William Thompson was a London silk merchant at 8 Basinghall Street. His father, the first son of James Thompson and his wife Isabel Dent of Crosby Ravensworth, Westmorland, was baptized at Kendal on 5 Aug. 1750, and apparently remained in the locality until his death in November 1841. He had two younger brothers, William and Robert, baptized respectively on 20 Jan. 1754 and 6 Feb. 1757.2 Both became involved in the iron trade. William signed the London merchants’ loyal declaration of 1795 as an iron merchant of Paul’s Wharf, and before the turn of the century was head of the firm of Thompson, Forman and Homfray of Bankside, which by 1802 had settled in Upper Thames Street. His partners were actively concerned in the South Wales iron manufacturing industry. From 1786 Richard Forman had been a partner with the brothers Francis, Jeremiah and Samuel Homfray in the Penydarren works at Merthyr Tydvil. He died in 1794, and his successor William Forman was William Thompson’s associate in the London business and also a partner in Penydarren. In 1790 Robert Thompson, having married the widowed sister of Richard Crawshay, became a partner in the iron merchants firm of Richard and William Crawshay and Company of George Yard, Upper Thames Street, which handled the products of the Crawshays’ massive Cyfarthfa works at Merthyr. The Crawshays and the Homfrays later became connected by marriage. Robert Thompson, who was the manager of the Guest family’s Dowlais iron works at Merthyr, acquired the Tintern works, near Chepstow, Monmouthshire, in 1798, and left the London business. He subsequently invested in iron works at Llanelli and Ebbw Vale, while William became a partner with Samuel Homfray and William Forman in the Tredegar and Aberdare works.3
Their nephew William Thompson, James’s second son (his elder brother John was baptized at Grayrigg on 10 Apr. 1786), was sent to London, where he attended Charterhouse and then entered the counting house of his pious uncle William’s firm in Upper Thames Street.4 On 15 June 1807 the latter, a bachelor, made a will, by which he left to Thompson’s father the estate of Lambert Ash at Grayrigg and provided for his children other than William, ‘now under my care’, whom he named as his residuary legatee. He put the management of his businesses during William’s minority in the hands of his brother Robert, his sole executor, in whom he vested discretionary power to redistribute his property among James’s other children should William ‘not turn out to be a man of business, industrious and attentive’. Thompson made the grade and on his uncle William’s death, ‘after repeated attacks of apoplexy’, at his home at Laurence Pountney Hill, 30 Apr. 1815, inherited £110,072 in residuary personal estate and became head of the Upper Thames Street firm of Thompson and Forman.5 Two years later he married the daughter of Samuel Homfray of Penydarren, and he subsequently became a partner in the iron works. His sister Isabel, who was born in 1788, married in about 1815, as his second wife, William Crawshay (1788-1867), head of the Cyfarthfa works.
At the general election of 1820 Thompson and the banker Matthias Attwood stood for Callington on the ‘independent interest’ against the nominees of Lord Clinton. They were defeated at the poll but successfully petitioned and were seated in June.6 Thompson gave general support to the Liverpool ministry, but was prepared to oppose them on specific issues. He divided with them against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. In December that year Lord Lonsdale secured some ‘favour’ for Thompson and Attwood from Lord Liverpool.7 Thompson did not, however, vote in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822. He voted with government on the revenue, 6 Mar., and against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., parliamentary reform, 9 May, and economy and retrenchment, 27 June; but he divided against them for inquiries into the currency (as one of a minority of 27), 9 Apr., and the administration of justice in Tobago, 6 June. He presented a petition in favour of the Thames wharves improvement bill, 10 May 1821.8 In August he was elected unopposed as a London alderman for Cheap ward, declaring that ‘he had ever been bred up in reverence of the king and for the established constitution’.9 Thompson voted with ministers against more extensive tax remissions, 11, 21 Feb., but divided in the minorities for gradual reduction of the salt tax, 28 Feb., and admiralty economies, 1 Mar. 1822. He voted for the production of information on the alleged assault on Alderman Robert Waithman* in the aftermath of the queen’s funeral, 28 Feb. On the presentation of the London livery’s reform petition, 2 Apr., he said that while distress was ‘severely felt by the trading and shipping interests’, as well as by agriculture, he ‘was not a friend to those sweeping propositions which were sometimes advanced from the other side of the House, although he would always be willing to remedy any clear case of corruption’.10 He was in small minorities for a 20s. duty on imported wheat, 9 May, against the export of ground bonded corn, 10 June, and for inquiry into the currency, 12 June; but he voted with government in defence of the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 25 June. He voted for Grey Bennet’s alehouses licensing bill, 27 June 1822.
He divided against inquiry into the parliamentary franchise, 20 Feb., and the £2,000,000 tax remissions proposed by Hume, 3 Mar., but for an amendment to the national debt reduction bill, 17 Mar. 1823. On 4 Mar. he expressed his hope that the dispute between the admiralty and Lloyd’s over piracy in the West Indies could be amicably settled. He called for ‘mature consideration’ of the warehousing bill, 17 Mar.,11 and approved the beer duties bill, 24 Mar., when he voted to reduce the grant for colonial agents and for information on the alleged plot to assassinate the Irish viceroy; he again voted against government on the latter issue, 22 Apr. He urged revision of the Insolvent Debtors Act, 26, 27 Mar. He voted with administration against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and investigation of chancery delays, 5 June. On 9 May he endorsed a London silk manufacturers’ petition for repeal of the ‘pernicious’ Spitalfields Acts. In common council, 10, 23 June, he was one of the aldermen who opposed the grant of £1,000 in support of Spanish liberals.12 He was in the very small minorities against a temporary increase in the barilla duties, 13 June, and treasury control over the appointment of engineers for the new London Bridge, 20 June, when he was a teller for the minority of four against the third reading of the bill. He spoke and voted in the minority of 19 in favour of ending capital punishment for stealing from shops attached to houses, 25 June.13 He presented a London merchants’ petition complaining of excessive duties on foreign seed, 2 July, and spoke and voted in the minority of 15 against the reciprocity bill, 4 July 1823.14
On 20 Feb. 1824 Thompson ‘deprecated the impolicy of imposing high duties on low-priced commodities’ such as wool and raw silk. He voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. He welcomed ministers’ sanction of Hume’s call for information on committals by magistrates in and around London, 2 Mar. He presented a London silk mercers’ petition for drawback to be extended to cut goods, 19 Mar., and spoke to this effect on the silk bill, 22 Mar. On the 30th he presented a London merchants’ petition in favour of the St. Katharine’s Docks bill, but in common council next day he opposed petitioning against the aliens bill.15 On 17 May Thompson, though not yet a subscriber to Lloyd’s, acted as their spokesman against Fowell Buxton’s ‘uncalled for’ marine insurance bill, which threatened their monopoly. His attempt to wreck the measure, 28 May, was defeated by 51-33; and his motion for the appointment of a select committee by 29-25, 3 June, when he also failed with an amendment to make every member of a joint-stock insurance company separately liable to the insured, and was thwarted by 30-7 on a clause to compel companies to register their partners’ names in chancery. He unsuccessfully opposed the third reading, 14 June.16 He opposed and voted in the minority of 20 against lifting the ban on the export of long wool, 21 May. He divided with government in defence of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824.
A member of the government dismissed Thompson’s performance in seconding the address, 3 Feb. 1825, as ‘wretched’.17 He supported the St. Katharine’s Docks bill, 22 Feb. He presented and endorsed a London petition for reduction of the tobacco duties, 24 Feb., and voiced disappointment when they and the brandy duties were ignored in the budget statement, 28 Feb., though he applauded proposed remissions on hemp and iron (being ‘largely interested’ in the latter trade) and, bragging that he was ‘not afraid of foreign competition’, proclaimed himself to be ‘a warm advocate of liberal commercial principles’.18 On 25 Mar. he gave his ‘approbation’ to all aspects of the ministerial proposals to relax the customs duties, which would ‘afford the greatest relief to commerce and would eventually extend our trade’, and denied that he had colluded with ministers over the iron duties. He voted against Catholic claims, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., when he presented a hostile petition from 3,000 ‘respectable’ Londoners and disputed the claim of Wood, one of the City Members, that majority opinion there was favourable to relief. He voted against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., presented a Cardiff anti-Catholic petition, 5 May, and divided against the relief bill, 10 May. He brought up petitions for the London water works bill, 3 Mar., and the Tees railway bill, 4 Mar., when he was a majority teller for its second reading. He presented a Tower ward petition for repeal of the assessed taxes, 17 Mar.19 He gave qualified support to Martin’s bill to increase the penalties for cruelty to animals, 24 Mar. He presented a petition from Thames fishermen against the Metropolitan Fish Company bill, 28 Mar., and next day supported the West India Company bill.20 He presented a London corn merchants’ petition for revision of the corn laws, 29 Mar., urged ‘the necessity of an alteration’ at the City meeting, 13 Apr., called on ministers to act, 25 Apr., and voted in the minority of 47 on the issue, 28 Apr.21 On 2 May he tried unsuccessfully to reduce the duty on bonded corn to 5s. He presented a number of petitions calling for protection for employers against violent and lawless workmen, 30 June.22 He divided with administration for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 2 June, and voted for the St. Olave tithe bill, 6 June 1825.
In common council, 8 Feb. 1826, Thompson supported financial aid for distressed Spitalfields silk weavers and, in response to questioning, said that he had ‘done all in his power to procure a change in the corn laws, which he considered a disgrace to a civilized country’.23 In the House, 13 Feb., he criticized the timing of the ministerial plans to deal with the financial crisis, which he blamed on an excessive issue of paper and a general spirit of speculation, forecast that the planned restriction of small notes would ‘create a convulsion’ and denounced the proposed interference with the Bank of England as ‘a mere delusion’; he was in the minorities of 39 and seven at the end of the debate. The Whig Member Agar Ellis found his speech ‘unbearable’.24 Thompson abandoned his resistance to the promissory notes bill, 24 Feb. He opposed ministers on the question of the president of the board of trade’s salary, 7, 10 Apr.25 He endorsed the London livery’s petition for relaxation of the corn laws, 17 Apr., and voted in that sense next day. He presented petitions against Littleton’s potteries regulation bill, 21 Apr. 1826. He had by then offered for London at the approaching general election, when he came forward as a spokesman for the shipping and commercial interests; his anti-Catholic views secured him strong Tory backing. He confirmed this stance at the nomination, claimed that he had ‘always acted with a spirit of independence’ and advocated repeal of the corn laws. He was impressively at the head of the poll.26
At the common hall meeting to petition for revision of the corn laws, 19 Oct. 1826, Thompson demanded abolition of the landowners’ ‘grievous monopoly’.27 In the Commons, 30 Nov., he praised ministers’ ‘liberal’ commercial policy and argued that it was pointless to inquire into trade, as Parnell wished, while the corn question remained unsettled. He presented and endorsed a petition for reduction of the duty on insurances and pressed for a thorough overhaul of stamp duties, 8 Dec. 1826.28 He supported the prayer of the London livery’s petition for free trade in corn, 19 Feb.,29 and generally welcomed the government’s proposals, 1 Mar., though he thought that the pivot price for imports was set too high. He was in the minorities for lower protection, 9, 12 Mar. He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and for the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar. On the London ship owners’ petition complaining of distress, 19 Mar., he ‘very much doubted’ if legislation could help, and suggested that relaxation of the navigation laws had done less damage than was alleged. He was given a fortnight’s leave on account of illness in his family, 2 Apr. At the common council meeting held to promote an address to the king on the change of ministry, 23 May, Thompson, while willing to concur in it as an expression of loyalty to the crown, expressed qualms about its
two-fold character. It appeared to intimate support to the ... [Canning] administration, and to that he must certainly refuse to pledge himself. When he considered the persons with whom Mr. Canning was now associated, he could not give him his implicit confidence. He was ... anxious not to give a decided opinion upon ... [Canning’s] government, and he wished the court to be equally anxious on that point.30
He presented Bishopsgate petitions for improvement of the process for recovering small debts, 8 June, endorsed one brought up by Hume for reduction of the duty on insurances, 15 June, and presented one to the same effect from London merchants and ship-owners, 21 June. He was unhappy with some details of the customs duties bill, but failed in his attempt to modify it, 19 June 1827.31
In late January 1828 Lord Ashley* told Peel, home secretary in the duke of Wellington’s new ministry, that Thompson, who was now a director of the Bank, ‘liked everything’ about it except the duke’s combining the premiership with the command of the army.32 Thompson promised to support the common council petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 24 Jan.33 He duly did so, 11 Feb., and he presented similar London ward and parish petitions, 18, 22, 26 Feb., when he voted for repeal. He was named to the select committee on the police of the metropolis, 28 Feb. (and again, 15 Apr. 1829), having attributed rising crime to ‘the low price of ardent spirits’ and the practice of compromising felonies. He had been considered by ministers as a possible nominee to the finance committee, but was not selected.34 As the representative of the ‘first’ body of ship owners in Europe, he gave his ‘most strenuous support’ to the passengers regulation bill, 20 Mar., though he wanted to amend it in committee. Next day he voted with the parliamentary reformers against throwing the delinquent borough of East Retford into the hundred of Bassetlaw. He urged greater magisterial authority to control retail wine outlets, 24, 31 Mar. He presented and supported a petition from 16 assurance companies for a reduction of stamp duties, 25 Mar. He brought up a Putney petition against the Battersea enclosure bill and was a teller for the majority against its second reading, 31 Mar. Next month he presented several petitions against the friendly societies bill. He saw no virtue in a fixed minimum wage, 21 Apr. The following day he voted in the minority of 58 to lower the pivot price for corn imports. On 28 Apr. he presented and endorsed a London merchants’ petition against a clause of the London Docks bill and supported the prayer of one from wool merchants against the new duty on foreign goods. He brought up the Sion College petition against Catholic relief, 6 May, and voted in that sense on the 12th. He defended the corporation of London’s policy on relocating Smithfield market, 5, 12, 13 June, when he expressed strong objections to the usury laws amendment bill. He voted against the measure to restrict Scottish and Irish small bank notes, 5 June, voiced fears of an undue contraction of the currency and tumbling prices and voted in Hume’s minority of 24, 16 June, and divided in the hostile minority of 13, 27 June. He voted against the additional churches bill, 30 June, and the silk bill, on which he had made representations to ministers, 14 July.35 On 15 July 1828 he pressed for the enforcement of British merchants’ claims on Spain, opposed any increase in the barilla duties, but defended that of the duty on lead ore.
At Michaelmas 1828 Thompson was chosen lord mayor of London; he professed pleasure at being so honoured ‘at a time when political distinctions were rather nominal than real’.36 In February 1829 the diehard anti-Catholic Lord Lowther* reported that Thompson was ‘undeviating in his hostility’ to emancipation, but Planta, the patronage secretary, expected him to vote ‘with government’ for it. He decided to do so on pragmatic grounds, as he privately told Wellington and Peel and explained in the House, 2 Mar., when he presented Sion College’s hostile petition. He voted to consider the proposal, 6 Mar.; supported the favourable London corporation petition and argued that emancipation would ‘form a basis for sound legislation’ for Ireland, 9 Mar.; ‘stayed away’ from the division on the second reading of the relief bill, 18 Mar., but attended to vote for its third, 30 Mar.37 He presented petitions against the London Bridge bill, 16, 23 Mar., and the anatomy bill, 27 Mar. He made known the worries of brokers and auctioneers over the auction duties bill, 6 Apr., and applauded its abandonment by ministers, 1 May. On 8 May he defended their scheme to refund subscribers to the recent exchequer bills issue. In July 1829 Peel endorsed Thompson’s claim to a baronetcy, which had been put to him by Lowther, on account of his ‘manly support for emancipation’. Wellington was sympathetic, but felt that he could not then recommend it to the king, whose desire to make his dubious friend Nash the architect a baronet he was trying to resist.38
Thompson refused to support Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, wishing to give ministers ‘time to develop their views ... as to the best means of removing the distress which now overwhelms the country’. Yet he warned from personal observation that matters were very serious, particularly in the manufacturing districts, and urged government to ‘exercise an unsparing economy’ and to establish a sound paper currency. He was named to the select committees on the East India Company, 9 Feb., 4 Feb., 28 June 1831, 10 Feb.1832. He carried the second reading of the St. Katharine’s Docks bill, 1 Mar. He voted silently for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. On 1 Mar. he opposed naval economies, for the sake of British merchant shipping, but said he would approve ‘all practicable reductions’ in the civil establishment. He disclaimed, curiously, any special interest in the Merthyr petition complaining of distress in the iron trade which he presented on 9 Mar., and gave a personal view that the problems were ‘temporary’. He presented and supported the prayer of a London licensed victuallers’ petition against the sale of beer bill, 11 Mar.; he voted for unsuccessful amendments to the measure, 21 June, 1 July. On 11 Mar. he spoke for the London corporation sponsored motion for an inquiry into the coal trade, to which he was named. On the London merchants’ petition for a reduction of taxation, 13 Mar., he observed that the City’s retail business was ‘very far from being in a prosperous condition’. After the budget statement, 15 Mar., he insisted that ministers could go further with remissions, advocated a property tax as the only ‘effectual’ solution and demanded reduction of the punitive levies on insurances. He opposed inquiry into the state of the nation, 23 Mar., contending that the ‘universal’ distress could not be blamed on ministerial policy; but he divided against government on the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar. He approved Peel’s proposals to mitigate the punishment for forgery, 1 Apr. Next day he supported reductions in the ordnance establishment. At a common hall meeting on distress, 5 Apr., he again advocated a tax on the ‘great and ... unproductive accumulations of capitalists’ and acquiesced in the resolution calling for a reduction of public salaries.39 When the petition was belatedly presented, 17 May, he said that while trade and manufacturing had improved, retailers were still in trouble, and promised to vote for a reduction of salaries and the enfranchisement of large towns. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He pressed for urgent inquiry into the Insolvent Debtors Act, which bore ‘with peculiar severity upon the retail trader’, 29 Apr. On 19 May he endorsed a petition for reduction of the newspaper stamp tax and got leave to introduce a charitable institutions bill to relieve the Bethlem and royal hospitals from a rate levy. It foundered in committee, 30 June.40 He welcomed the ministerial promise to curb Cuban piracy, 20 May. He called for repeal of the ‘ruinous’ soap duty, 21 May, 7 June. He defended the Bank’s arrangements for the transport of specie and the Ironmongers’ Company against Harvey’s allegations of ‘abandoned practices’, 4 June. On the 7th he agreed with Hume that magistrates should be empowered to have unmuzzled dogs destroyed and voted for the grant for South American missions. He disliked the ‘degrading’ clause of Littleton’s truck bill which made manufacturers liable to prosecution on the word of informers, 5 July 1830.
Thompson was returned unopposed for London at the general election at the end of the month, when he advocated ‘a change in ... [the] present system of taxation’ and stood by his support for Catholic emancipation.41 Ministers listed him as one of their ‘friends’. He was among the City dignitaries summoned to the home office to be informed by Wellington of the decision to cancel the king’s planned visit and, according to Lord Ellenborough, he approved of it and was ‘almost in tears’ at the thought of ‘the apprehended danger to the duke’. In the House, 8 Nov. 1830, he defended ministers and the City magistrates, but disowned the alarmism of the new lord mayor, Key; he spoke in the same vein in common council, 15 Nov.42 That day he got leave to reintroduce his charitable institutions bill (which he lost by 36-7 on its second reading, 7 Dec.), presented a petition for the abolition of slavery and voted in the ministerial minority on the civil list. On 14 Dec. he supported suspension of the Evesham writ as the traditional preliminary to dealing with corrupt boroughs and supported the London corporation petition for repeal of the coal duties, for which he presented ward petitions, 7, 11 Feb. 1831. He defended the Grey ministry’s reduction of the barilla duties, 23 Dec. 1830, 7 Feb. 1831. He presented ward petitions for repeal of the assessed taxes, 3 and 14 Feb. On the budget, 11 Feb., he expressed his ‘decided dissent’ from the proposed tax on transfers of funded property and criticized plans to equalize the timber, wine and cotton duties, but welcomed reductions on coals, candles and calicos. He applauded the abandonment of the transfer tax, 14 Feb., but, by request of the shipping interest, remonstrated against the timber duties proposals and sought modification of the scheme for wine for the sake of the Cape trade. He conveyed his constituents’ hostility to the planned tax on steamboat passengers, 17 Feb., complained of ministers’ refusal to allow drawback on the export of printed calicos, 28 Feb., 8 Mar., and had more to say on the timber duties, 11, 15 Mar., having denounced them at a mercantile dinner on the former day as ‘a breach of faith with the colonies and ship owners’.43 He presented London merchants’ petitions for a reform of bankruptcy administration, 21, 22 Feb. He partially approved of Frankland Lewis’s bill to regulate the London coal trade, 28 Mar., but argued that the fundamental cause of high prices was the ‘monopoly’ of the north-eastern coal owners. He presented a petition for the abolition of slavery, 29 Mar. 1831.
Thompson took a blatantly opportunist and insincere line on parliamentary reform. He presented and endorsed a London bankers and merchants’ petition for moderate reform, 26 Feb. 1831, but he was taken aback by the scale of the ministerial bill. In common council, 4 Mar., he said that while he was ‘convinced of the necessity of some change in the representation’ and ‘anxious to see the constitution repaired’, he felt that ‘although the bill would do a great deal of good, it would also do a great deal of evil’.44 In the House later that day he indignantly repudiated Hunt’s attack on the City corporation as ‘a set of jobbers and scavengers, and managers of all the dirty work in London’, and announced that he would not decide on his course on the reform bill until the livery met on the 7th. He indicated that if they decided to support the measure despite its ostensible threat to their franchises, he would ‘feel released from the compact into which I entered with them, to support ... their rights’. Yet at the meeting, which, according to Denis Le Marchant†, he later described as ‘a decided failure’, he declared that he would support the bill as the livery instructed.45 He duly gave a silent vote for the second reading, 22 Mar. At a Mansion House meeting of merchants and bankers, 25 Mar., he promised to support ‘in the most uncompromising manner’ the detailed provisions of the bill, which ‘would not only give strength and security to the monarchy, but satisfaction to the great body of the people’.46 He presented a favourable ward petition, 29 Mar., and voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he stood for London as ‘an uncompromising advocate of retrenchment in the public expenditure’ and supporter of the bill. He was returned with three other reformers, pledged to endorse the measure ‘at every stage’. He repeated his commitment at the livery reform dinner, 9 May 1831.47
The precise extent of Thompson’s stake in the Penydarren and associated iron works by this time is not entirely clear, though it was certainly considerable. After the death of William Forman he appears to have become chief partner in Penydarren, with Forman’s son Thomas Seaton Forman, John and Samuel Homfray and John Addenbrooke.48 At the general election of 1831 in Glamorgan he spoke against the sitting Member Talbot and tried to rally the other ironmasters to thwart what he mistakenly perceived as collusion between Lord Bute and the radical Josiah Guest* of Dowlais to secure the latter’s return for Merthyr if, as many hoped, it was eventually given separate representation.49 Thompson seems to have become the owner of Penydarren House, in the centre of Merthyr, but he made only occasional visits. In the destructive and bloody workers’ riots which occurred in the town in the first week of June 1831, the house was occupied by troops and became the seat of authority. Thompson, who went to see the state of affairs for himself on 7 June, conceded to Hunt in the House on the 27th that the rank and file of the Glamorgan yeomanry had behaved badly, but he defended the officers. His claim on government for compensation for the shambles to which the army had reduced the house dragged on for almost two years.50
Speaking in the Commons as ‘a manufacturer’, 24 June 1831, Thompson recommended a fixed duty on imported corn, contending that unrestricted free trade would be risky. On 1 July he advised Lord Althorp, the chancellor of the exchequer, not to transfer the duty from soap to tallow and deplored his postponement of the proposed repeal of the tax on candles. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, but landed himself in hot water with the livery on the 12th by speaking, from local knowledge, and voting in the minority for Appleby’s claim to be allowed to return one Member to be heard by counsel at the bar. Later that night he divided with ministers against the adjournment motions. Next day he stated that his Appleby vote did not vitiate his general and genuine support for the bill and applauded its abolition of ‘nomination boroughs’ and £10 householder franchise. He was called to account by a ‘junta’ of the livery on 14 July, when, according to a newspaper report, he attributed his vote to ‘inadvertence’, in that, being tired and not having heard ‘a word’ of the debate, he had assumed that the amendment had been merely to permit the evidence of an obvious clerical error in the 1821 census return, which had led to a significant underestimate of the borough’s population, to be put fairly before the House:
As to the suspicion entertained against me ... because I have been a Tory, I ... have never been of any party ... I have ... acted hastily and inadvertently, but nothing of the kind shall occur again. I had undergone great fatigue at the time I committed the error ... I have pledged myself to support the government. I repeat that pledge.
A resolution was carried accepting his explanation and, in view of his renewed pledge, reaffirming confidence in him as Member. In a highly embroidered account of the episode written later in the year, he was depicted as a ‘weeping, repentant and degraded alderman’, reduced to a state of ‘trembling servility’.51 Wellington and Greville took a dim view of Thompson’s submissive conduct, though the former reckoned that ‘more than half the Members of the present Parliament’ had been returned as ‘delegates’ for reform.52 When Thompson had meekly voted with government for the disfranchisement of Appleby, 19 July, Lowther commented that he had ‘finished his political career in avowing himself a cowardly ninny’ and had ‘sunk into perfect contempt with friend and foe in the City’.53 He was careful to divide steadily with government for the details of the bill during its passage through committee. On 3 Aug., taunted, not for the first time, by Wetherell over his subservience to his constituents, he defended his conduct and denied being ‘a disgraced, or degraded, or shackled Member’. He briefly argued Merthyr’s case for separate representation, 5 Aug. He addressed the common hall meeting called to petition the Lords in favour of the bill, 19 Sept.,54 and voted for its passage, 21 Sept., and for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He voted for the motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. On other issues, he called for a reduction of the duty on tiles, 21 July, and economies in the consular service, 25 July; objected to the wine duty proposals, 22 Aug., 7 Sept., and refuted Hunt’s allegation that the new London Bridge was ‘a City job’, 6 Sept., when he divided the House for immediate repeal of the ‘oppressive and unjust’ quarantine duties, losing by 64-20. He spoke and voted for inquiry into the effects of the Sugar Refinery Act on the West Indian colonies, whose ‘total ruin’ he forecast, 12 Sept., when he voted also in the minority of 24 against Littleton’s truck bill. He generally liked lord chancellor Brougham’s bill to reform bankruptcy jurisdiction, 13 Oct. 1831, but made it clear that he had ‘considerable objection’ to some of its details, especially those concerning the appointment of official assignees.
In the disputed lord mayoral election of 1831, Thompson backed the livery’s eventually successful attempt to re-elect the trusted reformer Key.55 He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and divided steadily for its details. He welcomed the concession of separate representation to Merthyr, while disclaiming any personal interference, 14 Mar. 1832. He voted for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and may have done so again, 12 July; but he was in their majority on the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. On 21 Feb. he confirmed that there was ‘overwhelming distress’ among London silk weavers, but argued that ‘prohibitory enactments’ against foreign goods were not the answer. He persuaded Althorp to consider modifying the soap duties, 28 Feb., and presented and endorsed a London merchants’ petition for relaxation of the hemp duties, 2 Apr. He presented petitions in favour of Sadler’s factories regulation bill, 6 Mar. He denounced Dom Pedro and ministers’ support for him in Portugal, 26 Mar., and joined in pressing them to act against Brazilian piracy, 16 Apr. He supported the London corporation petition for the supplies to be withheld until reform was carried ‘whole and entire’, 10 May, and voted for the address to the king on the issue later that day. But at the common hall meeting the following day, which was attended by a deputation from the Birmingham Political Union, he provoked disapprobation by refusing to commit himself to voting against granting the supplies. On the 14th he approved the studied language of common council’s address to the king.56 In the House later that day he supported the livery’s petition, but confessed his qualms about obstructing the supplies, and denied Hunt’s charge that the Bank could not cope with the demand for gold. He paired for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and voted with government against any increase in the Scottish representation, 1 June. He was named to the select committee on the Bank, 22 May. He thought the customs duties proposals on the whole ‘most judicious’, though he regretted some omissions, 15 June; and he was teller for the minority for an amendment concerning West Indian coffee, 25 July, when he demanded a reduction of the duty on currants. He was in the minority for an Irish absentee tax, 19 June. He voted for Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June. It was from the opposition benches that he questioned Althorp about the relief grant for some West Indian colonies, 29 June. He denied that the Bank had been negligent in the affair of the forger Fauntleroy, 10 July, and on 26 July 1832 he thanked ministers for resisting Easthope’s ‘ill-timed’ motion for information on the Bank’s management of the 1825-6 finical crash.
Thompson did not stand for London, where he probably would have had little chance, at the general election of 1832. He contested the new constituency of Sunderland and finished bottom of the poll, but was successful at a by-election four months later. Despite his steady drift to Conservatism, he was returned there at the next three general elections, but in September 1841 he transferred to his native county, where he had acquired the estate of Underley, near Kirkby Lonsdale. He was by now an unabashed protectionist, and he opposed repeal of the corn laws in 1846. In 1833 Lady Charlotte Guest of Dowlais had described him as ‘the Alderman in every sense’, who ‘has not the uprightness which I should have been inclined to give City merchants credit for’.57 His Welsh and London iron businesses made him extremely wealthy, and he became a substantial investor in shipping, railways, lead mining, landed property and South American mining ventures.58 He died at Bedwellty House, Monmouthshire, in consequence of a cold caught while visiting his iron works, in March 1854.59 By his will, dated 2 Mar. 1853, he left his wife his London house in Park Street, Westminster, an annuity of £1,500 and his Westmorland estates, with reversion to his only child Amelia, who had married Lord Bective* (later 3rd Marquess of Headfort). He gave her an annuity of £1,000 in addition to her marriage settlement. He created a trust fund of £8,000 to provide for the children of his late brother James, and left the Penydarren and Tredegar works in trust to all James’s sons except the eldest.60 Penydarren works stopped production in 1858 and was bought the following year by Dowlais.61
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. IGI (Westmld.); B.B. Orridge, Citizens of London, 185.
- 2. Orridge, 185; IGI (Westmld.); Gent. Mag. (1841), ii. 666.
- 3. A.H. John, Industrial Development of S. Wales, 25, 33-36; J.P. Addis, Crawshay Dynasty, 9-10, 153; Iron in the Making ed. M. Elias, 1, 18, 19, 33, 34, 75, 78, 81-84, 138-40, 149-51, 207-8, 213; Glam. Co. Hist. vi. 111.
- 4. Gent. Mag. (1854), i. 650; C. Wilkins, S. Wales Coal Trade, 396.
- 5. PROB 11/1569/283; Gent. Mag. (1815), i. 475; IR26/657/357.
- 6. West Briton, 11 Feb., 3, 10, 24 Mar., 16 June 1820; CJ, lxxv. 125-6, 305.
- 7. Add. 38288, f. 343; 38574, f. 232.
- 8. The Times, 11 May 1821.
- 9. Ibid. 3 Aug. 1821.
- 10. Ibid. 3 Apr. 1822.
- 11. Ibid. 18 Mar. 1823.
- 12. Ibid. 11, 24 June 1823.
- 13. Ibid. 26 June 1823.
- 14. Ibid. 3 July 1823.
- 15. Ibid. 31 Mar., 1 Apr. 1824.
- 16. C. Wright and C.E. Fayle, Hist. Lloyd’s, 310-14; The Times, 1 June 1824.
- 17. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 217.
- 18. The Times, 25 Feb. 1825.
- 19. Ibid. 4, 5, 18 Mar. 1825.
- 20. Ibid. 29 Mar. 1825.
- 21. Ibid. 30 Mar., 14 Apr. 1825.
- 22. Ibid. 1 July 1825.
- 23. Ibid. 9 Feb. 1826.
- 24. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC8/79.
- 25. The Times, 11 Apr. 1826.
- 26. Ibid. 10 Mar., 4 May, 10, 20 June 1826; A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 293.
- 27. The Times, 20 Oct. 1826.
- 28. Ibid. 9 Dec. 1826.
- 29. Ibid. 20 Feb. 1827.
- 30. Ibid. 24 May 1827.
- 31. Ibid. 9, 16, 19, 20 June 1827.
- 32. Add. 40395, f. 132.
- 33. The Times, 25 Jan. 1828.
- 34. Add. 40395, f. 221.
- 35. Add. 40397, f. 144.
- 36. The Times, 30 Sept. 1828. His engagement diary, which contains nothing of interest, is GL ms 501.
- 37. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 10 Feb., 19 Mar. 1829; Wellington mss WP1/1001/4; Add. 40399, f. 19.