RIDLEY, Matthew (1711-78), of Blagdon and Heaton, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b. 14 Nov. 1711, 2nd s. of Richard Ridley of Newcastle upon-Tyne and Heaton by Margaret, da. of Matthew White of Blagdon. educ. Westminster 1724; St. John’s, Oxf. 1727; G. Inn 1728, called 1732, bencher 1749, treasurer 1765. m. (1) 1735,1 Hannah (d. 7 Nov. 1741), da. of Joseph Barnes, a Newcastle merchant, 1s.; (2) 18 Nov. 1742, his 1st cos. Elizabeth, da. of Matthew White of Blagdon, sis. of Sir Matthew White, 1st Bt., 8s. 4da. suc. fa. 2 Nov. 1739.
Gov. company of merchant adventurers 1739; mayor, Newcastle 1733, 1745, 1751, 1759.
Ridley was returned unopposed for Newcastle in 1754 and at all his subsequent elections. Country gentleman, barrister, coal magnate, owner of glass-works and a brewery, and a leader of the Newcastle business community, he must be counted as merchant, though in the House he spoke also for the country gentlemen;2 but first and foremost he represented the city with which he was thoroughly identified. He held no Government contracts nor is he known ever to have asked for office or honours—he was as independent as his Tory colleague, Blackett, with whom he closely collaborated on matters concerning their constituents. But he was a staunch Government supporter, and if, under George II, any favours were required for their constituents, it was he who applied.
Little is known about Ridley in the Parliament of 1754: he did not speak on great political issues, and there are few reports of debates of a local or economic character for that Parliament. In Bute’s list he and Blackett are bracketted as ‘Lowther opponents’, and against Ridley are placed the remarks: ‘Newcastle. Doubtful’; but the Duke of Newcastle too, 13 Nov. 1762, listed him as ‘doubtful’; and he is neither in Fox’s list of Members in favour of the peace preliminaries, nor in any minority list against them. In the autumn of 1763 Jenkinson listed him as ‘pro.’, and on 18 Feb. 1764 (general warrants) as an absent friend; but he was classed by Newcastle on 10 May as a ‘sure friend’. Rockingham listed him in the July of 1765 as ‘pro’, and in November 1766, as ‘doubtful’; Charles Townshend in January 1767 as a ‘country gentleman’; and Newcastle, on 2 Mar. 1767, as a friend. In short, none of the parliamentary managers knew exactly where to place him; and his only recorded vote in this Parliament was given with Opposition on the nullum tempus bill. In the Parliament of 1768 every known vote of his was against the Government; and yet in Robinson’s electoral survey of 1774 he was listed as ‘pro’. Of his recorded votes four were on Wilkes and the Middlesex election (but he refused to present a petition from his constituency for the dissolution of Parliament), one on the royal marriage bill, and the last on Grenville’s Act, all three questions on which many an independent country gentleman, friendly to Administration, went against them. From Robinson’s classification it must be concluded that he was not in ‘formed opposition’ to Government.
Three speeches by him are reported in the Parliament of 1761, and ten in that of 1768; most of them on matters concerning Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On 25 Feb. 1763 he moved ‘that no new elected freemen should vote under twelvemonth’; 1 Apr. 1765, opposed an export tax on coal; and on the 23rd defended the Newcastle corporation against charges of neglecting the Tyne navigation.3 In May 1768 he spoke in defence of Newcastle men involved in London riots; against the use of the militia in riots; and condemned sailors striking for higher wages; on 19 Apr. 1769, for the repeal of the Townshend duties, because of the towns which suffered in their American trade; spoke twice in 1773, on the corn bill (oats to feed pit ponies); on the Newcastle plate glass industry; and the Selby canal bill. Speeches on the City remonstrance, 20 Mar. 1770,4 on the controversy with the House of Lords, 9 Apr. 1772, and 8 Feb. 1774, on a petition from Gray’s Inn, with which he was connected, are the only ones not concerned with the interests of his constituents.
Because of declining health, he withdrew from Parliament in 1774 leaving the representation of Newcastle to his son; and died 6 Apr. 1778.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. This was a clandestine marriage; the first marriage ceremony having been declared illegal, it was repeated, 3 May 1736, under the names of Matthew Roberts and Hannah Booth. The only child of the marriage, Richard, an officer in the Guards, never inherited the Heaton property, to which, in the natural course, he would have been entitled, but he remained on very friendly terms with his half-brothers, the sons of Matthew Ridley’s second wife.
- 2. See e.g. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iv. 71.
- 3. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 4. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iv. 71.