FRESHFIELD, James William (1775-1864), of The Manor House, Stoke Newington and 9 Upper Wimpole Street, Mdx.

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



1830 - 1832
1835 - 1841
22 Apr. 1851 - 1852
1852 - 1857

Family and Education

b. 8 Apr. 1775,1 1st s. of James Freshfield of Chertsey, Surr. and w. Elizabeth. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. 1827; G. Inn 1827, called 1842. m. (1) 27 Feb. 1799, Mary, da. of James Blacket, 3s. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 22 Oct. 1821, Frances Jane Sims, s.p. d. 27 June 1864.

Offices Held

Attorney to Bank of England 1812-40.

Sheriff, Surr. 1849-50.


Freshfield was admitted as an attorney in 1795 and by 1805 he was a partner in the firm of Freshfield and Kaye, which developed ‘an extensive practice in the City of London’, acting as legal advisors to the West India Dock Company, the Royal Exchange Assurance Company and the Globe Insurance Company, of which he was a co-founder and eventual chairman. In 1812 he was appointed to the ‘important and lucrative office’ of attorney to the Bank of England.2 He also became the private attorney of the Tory minister Robert Peel, and acted for another, Lord Ellenborough, in respect of his divorce bill. In 1823 he was ‘entrusted with the conduct of the London merchants’ petition to Parliament for an alteration in the law of principal and factor’, and his address to a Commons committee was circulated by his clients.3 He appears to have acted as an agent for prospective candidates seeking parliamentary constituencies.4 In August 1825 he announced his intention of standing for the notoriously venal borough of Penryn and avowed his ‘decided hostility to what are termed Catholic claims’, yet the following month his name was added to ‘the list of candidates’ for a peerage. His political ambitions suffered a setback shortly afterwards when it emerged that his partner, Charles Kaye, had made improper use of a client’s stock; the partnership was dissolved and Freshfield lamented ‘the loss of many thousand pounds’. He consulted Peel as to whether he should withdraw from Penryn or ‘whether I might suffer more by not continuing to occupy a prominent station, from whence it might be inferred that I had sustained a greater shock than I have in credit and pecuniary consequence’. In the event, he withdrew shortly before the dissolution in May 1826 and introduced in his place the Bank of England director, William Manning*, for whose return he campaigned personally.5 He indignantly repudiated the claims made by witnesses appearing before a subsequent Commons committee that he had supplied money with which to bribe the electors, and he told Peel that he hoped to represent the borough in the next Parliament if it was not disfranchised.6 He expressed his ‘respect and gratitude’ in May 1827 for Peel’s decision not to serve in Canning’s coalition ministry. In May 1830 he welcomed the Commons’ rejection of the Jewish emancipation bill, observing that this would ‘materially remove an opinion prevalent that all ... vital principles are surrendered to the fear of being considered old fashioned, while the more active triumph in their work of destruction’.7 At the general election that summer he was returned in second place for Penryn after a ‘very smart’ contest.8

The duke of Wellington’s ministry regarded him as one of their ‘friends’, but he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented an anti-slavery petition from Penryn Dissenters, 11 Nov. He informed Henry Brougham, 16 Nov., of his intention, ‘unless his nerves should fail’, of replying to the latter’s complaint that he was being intimidated by the attorneys for promoting legal reform; Brougham’s elevation as lord chancellor in the Grey ministry put an end to the matter.9 He defended his profession from the imputation that its opposition to a general register of deeds was self-interested, 16 Dec. 1830. He condemned the ‘gross injustice, the dire breach of faith’ involved in the government’s proposed tax on stock transfers, 11 Feb. 1831. He introduced jointly with the attorney-general Denman a Bankrupt Act amendment bill, 21 Feb., to rectify certain problems with the operation of the existing law; it passed, 9 Mar., but did not reach the Lords before the dissolution. He declared himself ‘unfriendly and hostile in the highest degree’ to the ministry’s reform bill, ‘a measure of revolution, calculated to destroy those institutions under which the country has flourished’, 4 Mar., but said he was willing to support a ‘safe and practical measure’ such as that advocated by Lord Chandos. He presented a Penryn petition against the borough’s partial disfranchisement, 21 Mar., and argued that its economic importance and ‘improving circumstances’ entitled it to retain two Members. He divided against the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was returned at the head of the poll.10

Reintroducing his Bankrupt Act amendment bill, 22 June 1831, Freshfield explained that it was ‘confined to the remedy of a great and pressing evil’ arising from an oversight in the existing legislation, which meant that the depositions of deceased witnesses ceased to be evidence of bankruptcy and persons who had purchased property from a bankrupt estate risked losing it through legal proceedings by the original owner; the bill, which incorporated suggestions from Brougham,11 did not complete its report stage. He objected to Brougham’s bankruptcy court bill in its present ‘incomplete state’, 12 Oct., and hoped that the House would not ‘fall into the common error of the present day’ of finding imperfections in ‘institutions of great antiquity’ and supporting drastic measures to reform them. He made several observations and suggestions for amendment, 14, 15 Oct., but stated on 17 Oct. that his objections to it ‘seem to increase with ... consideration’ and predicted that ‘many material alterations’ would soon be found necessary. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, for five adjournment motions, 12 July, to use the 1831 census for the purpose of scheduling boroughs, 19 July, and to postpone consideration of Chippenham’s inclusion in schedule B, 27 July. On 9 Aug. he moved an amendment to allow Penryn to retain two Members and its existing franchises, rather than being united with Falmouth. He accepted that Falmouth deserved separate representation but emphasized Penryn’s ‘increasing ... trade and commerce’ and the fact that the population of the parish in which it was situated was over 4,000. He attached particular importance to protecting the rights of the scot and lot voters, who displayed an ‘instinctive love of independence’ although many were from the lower classes. He admitted that Penryn had gained a bad reputation, but insisted that the voters had struggled to make it an ‘open borough’ and maintained that ‘no transactions have ever been proved ... that might not ... be charged upon any open borough in the kingdom’. However, he did not force a division. He voted against making proven payment of rent a requirement for voting in the boroughs, 25 Aug. He complained that the bill in practice ‘limits the exercise of ... and provides for [the] annihilation’ of the rights of freemen voters, 30 Aug., when he voted to preserve the rights of non-resident freemen. He voted to protect those of £5 non-resident freeholders in Shoreham, Cricklade, Aylesbury and East Retford, 2 Sept. He divided against the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He protested against the attacks made by Members on the Lords for rejecting the bill, 18 Oct., and thought it was ‘indefensible to hold up to odium’ the bishops for doing their duty to king and country. He voted against the quarantine duties, 6 Sept., and for greater protection for the West Indian sugar interest, 12 Sept. 1831.

He emphasized the limited purposes of his reintroduced Bankrupt Act amendment bill, 15 Dec. 1831, and regretted that ‘at different periods during the last session ... interested persons have found means, through some of the public journals, to arraign the justice of the measure and my motives in advocating it’; he denied that he had any personal interest in the matter. He mentioned that several suggested amendments had been adopted in committee, 18 May, and the bill passed, 26 July 1832, after he agreed to omit three clauses which had ‘excited strong objections’. He warned Brougham that certain amendments could not be introduced without ‘endangering the fate of the bill’; it gained royal assent, 15 Aug.12 He defended ‘the character’ of the Bank in respect of certain bankruptcy cases, 10 July 1832, rejecting claims that it had acted ‘oppressively’ towards the creditors. He divided against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. On 23 Jan. 1832 he repeated his objections to the union of Penryn and Falmouth, which would be ‘productive of nothing but disgust, confusion and disorder’, because of the ‘very considerable degree of jealousy’ that existed between the towns, but his amendment to preserve Penryn’s rights was negatived. He believed that enfranchising leaseholders and occupiers in the counties would operate ‘most decidedly against’ the agricultural interest, 1 Feb. He moved an amendment to allow the property conferring a £10 borough household vote to be held of more than one landlord, 3 Feb., observing that such tenants were ‘less likely to be influenced’; but the leader of the Commons Lord Althorp argued that it might encourage the creation of faggot votes and it was negatived. He complained that the 1s. registration charge would be burdensome for many scot and lot voters and might ‘furnish a temptation to bribery’, 20 Feb., adding that ‘the entire measure is calculated to multiply difficulties and add to the general expense of elections’. He voted against enfranchising Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. Next day he proposed an amendment to better secure the rights of freemen voters whose qualification was based on birth, but Lord John Russell warned of its possible ‘injurious effect’ and it was negatived. He divided against the Vestry Act amendment bill, 23 Jan. He voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July. He presented a petition from the Globe Insurance Company against the London Bridge approaches bill, 6 Mar. He divided for inquiry into the glove trade, 3 Apr. He was a majority teller for going into committee on the coroners bill, 7 May, but complained that the principle of open court proceedings had been introduced by means of a ‘sidewind’, 20 June. He voted against inquiry into the inns of court, 17 July. On 1 Aug. 1832 he said that he was ‘honoured’ to present the first petition from the Incorporated Law Society, for better accommodation for judges in Serjeants’ Inn, and expressed his belief that the new body would ‘tend to raise the tone of my own branch of the profession’.

At the general election in December 1832 Freshfield was defeated at Penryn and Falmouth, but he represented the borough as a Conservative in three later Parliaments. He retired from legal practice around 1840 and became ‘a considerable landed proprietor’ in Surrey, but his sons and grandsons kept the firm of Freshfields going and they continued to act as attorneys to the Bank.13 He died in June 1864. His elder surviving son, Charles Kaye Freshfield (1812-91), was Conservative Member for Dover, 1865-8 and 1874-85.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Ex inf. Stephen Lees.
  • 2. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1838), 112; Gent. Mag. (1864), ii. 258-9; Boase, Modern English Biog. i. 1108.
  • 3. Wellington mss WP1/1199/22; Von Neumann Diary, i. 205; R. Cornw. Gazette, 20 Aug. 1825.
  • 4. Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DD/J2/98, Freshfield to Hawkins, 6 Mar. 1826; Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C130/9.
  • 5. Add. 40381, f. 245; 40606, ff. 79, 87, 91, 97; R. Cornw. Gazette, 20 Aug. 1825, 20 May, 10, 17 June 1826.
  • 6. PP (1826-7), iv. 371-484; Canning Official Corresp. 380-1; Add. 40396, f. 28.
  • 7. Add. 40394, f. 90; 40607, f. 135.
  • 8. R. Cornw. Gazette, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 9. Brougham mss, Freshfield to Brougham, 16 Nov. 1830.
  • 10. West Briton, 6 May 1831.
  • 11. Brougham mss, Freshfield to Brougham, 26 June 1831.
  • 12. Ibid. same to same, 12 Aug. 1832.
  • 13. Gent. Mag. (1864), ii. 258-9.