GREENE, Thomas (1794-1872), of Slyne and Whittington Hall, Lancs

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



20 Apr. 1824 - 1852
12 Apr. 1853 - 1857

Family and Education

b. 19 Jan. 1794, o.s. of Thomas Greene of Slyne and Whittington and Martha, da. and coh. of Edmund Dawson of Warton. educ. Lancaster g.s.; Oriel, Oxf. 1811; G. Inn 1811, called 1819. m. 30 Aug. 1820, Henrietta, da. of Sir Henry Russell, 1st bt., of Swallowfield, Berks., 3s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.) suc. fa. 1810. d. 8 Aug. 1872.

Offices Held

Bencher, G. Inn 1838; chairman of ways and means 1841-7; commr. for completion of Palace of Westminster 1848-1852.

Sheriff, Lancs. 1823-4.; constable, Lancaster Castle 1865-d.


Greene, whose family had held land in Slyne and Hest Bank since the reign of James I, was raised in Lancashire and London, where his barrister father had chambers in Gray’s Inn and a house in Bedford Square.1 His death (worth £80,000) in December 1810, before arrangements for Greene’s Oxford education were finalized, added to his mother’s grief, for she intended Geeene to be a ‘reading man’ and feared that without ‘a tutor of zeal and perseverance’ he would drift into idleness.2 Her brother-in-law, the barrister William Long of Marwell Hall, Hampshire, soon secured Greene’s admission to Oriel, where he became a lifelong friend of the future canon of St. Paul’s, James Ednell Tyler, and gained a third in classics. Slyne had been entrusted to his father’s brother-in-law Robert Bradley, with whose son, Robert Greene Bradley, Greene trained as a barrister and special pleader.3 He was called in 1819, but probably never practised. After returning from a 12-month continental tour in August 1817 (the first of three for which his journals survive),4 he oversaw the management of his north Lancashire estates, including the development of Hest Bank Quay, and became an active member of Lancaster Pitt Club and the Lancashire grand jury. He took a London house in Seymour Street after his marriage in 1820 and visited Parliament regularly, taking a particular interest in procedures and private bills.5 He had projected himself as a prospective ‘church and state’ Member when Lancaster met to address the regent after Peterloo, 13 Sept. 1819, but he delayed his candidature until the death in April 1824 of the sitting Member Gabriel Doveton produced a vacancy. His considerate treatment of his tenants following the collapse in 1822 of Worswick’s Lancaster Bank and his successful campaign as sheriff, 1823-4, to keep the assizes at Lancaster, secured him the corporation’s backing and the tacit support of the Whig 12th earl of Derby, and his return was unopposed, despite hostile manoeuvring by the Whig 10th duke of Hamilton. On the hustings, Greene approved the policies of Lord Liverpool’s administration, but insisted that he was ‘not devoted to party and would always vote conscientiously, even if he should differ with them’.6 His annual income of £4,000 was already stretched by loans to his impecunious brothers-in-law Whitworth and Francis Whitworth Russell, and he appears to have financed his ‘lavish’ election entertainments through consol sales. He also postponed (to 1830) the outright purchase of land surrounding Whittington Hall, near Kirkby Lonsdale, which he renovated as his country seat. When Parliament was in session he rented various London properties or stayed with the Russells at 27 Charles Street.7

In his early parliamentary career Greene tacked between the Tories and Whigs to retain the local support by which he made his seat his own, and gained respect through his endeavours to overhaul tithes legislation by replacing the plethora of local and private Acts with a permissive one tending to a general commutation. The 1824 Cockerham tithe bill that he promoted was shelved, 31 May, but a Lancaster one entrusted to him, 4 June, received royal assent on the 17th. He voted against condemning the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June, an emotive issue on account of Lancaster’s many Dissenters and declining West India trade. He divided for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824, to outlaw the Catholic Association, 25 Feb. 1825, and against relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. He voted for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 2, 10 June, and against the spring guns bill, 21 June. His maiden speech on 2 Mar. was an endorsement of the petition he presented against the Liverpool-Manchester railway bill, and showed his thorough knowledge of the locality and understanding of legal precedents. It also drew a barbed reply from the president of the board of trade Huskisson, who had reluctantly supported the measure as a Liverpool Member. He presented a protectionist petition from Kirkby Lonsdale against relaxation of the corn laws, 28 Apr., spoke and was a majority teller against amending the church lands exchange bill, 21 June, and was instrumental in carrying private bills that session to protect the Peruvian Mining Company, the Arigna Iron and Coal Company, the Cornwall Mining and Smelting Company and the Atlantic and Pacific Junction and Ship Canal Company.8 Invited and briefed by the leader of the House Canning, he seconded the address, 2 Feb. 1826, in an erudite endorsement of government commercial and foreign policy, and called for the establishment of joint-stock banks and additional legislation restricting small bank notes.9 He chaired the anti-Catholic Estcourt’s London committee when he came in for Oxford University that month and rallied in defence of lord chancellor Eldon in the Commons, 21 Apr.10 Obliged from the outset to deny reports that he was standing down at Lancaster, he sought the assistance of Charles Russell* and Henry Russell as speechwriters at the general election in June, and saw off his challengers to come in unopposed, with Hamilton’s grudging acquiescence.11

Greene was absent from the division on Catholic relief, 6 Mar., but voted for information on chancery arrears, 5 Apr. 1827. Little is known of his political allegiance during Canning’s premiership, but he congratulated Derby’s grandson Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley* on his appointment as the Goderich ministry’s colonial under-secretary, and accepted a summons from Huskisson, as their leader in the Commons, to attend in 1828.12 He presented the Lancaster Dissenters’ petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 20, 25 Feb. 1828 (as previously, 6 June 1827), and voted thus, 26 Feb. He divided with the duke of Wellington’s ministry against investigating chancery arrears, 24 Apr., and against Catholic relief, 12 May, and ordnance reductions, 4 July 1828. His tithes commutation bill, in essence a redraft of one he had agreed to postpone in 1827, was his main preoccupation that session. He had introduced it, 1 Feb. 1828, after prior consultation with the lawyers William Fuller Boteler and Henry Brougham*, and he felt unjustly treated when the home secretary Peel wrecked it with a restrictive amendment, 17 Mar.13 On 6 June he brought up the Lancaster West India planters’ petition against legislative change and for inquiry into the condition of slaves. He waited on Peel, as expected, during his north-western tour in October 1828, and took a house in New Street for the 1829 session.14 The patronage secretary Planta correctly considered his support for the concession of Catholic emancipation ‘doubtful’. He spoke of the alarm it had provoked in the North on introducing a hostile petition from Ulverston, 12 Feb., and presented and endorsed others, 2, 10 Mar., when Smith Stanley, representing the Lancaster emancipationists, disputed his statements.15 Lancaster corporation, however, passed a resolution thanking Greene for accurately representing their views, 13 Mar.16 He divided against the relief bill, 6, 18, 23, 27 Mar., denounced it that day and on the 30th as a threat to the Protestant establishment, but praised English Catholics, 27 Mar. He gave his vote to Peel against the Ultra Inglis at the Oxford University by-election. He brought up petitions against the truck bill, 28 Apr., and butlerage on wine imports, 25 May. Greene saw nothing unconstitutional in ad hoc enfranchisements of manufacturing towns, and voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, 2 June 1829, 5, 15 Mar. 1830. He divided against Lord Blandford’s reform proposals, 18 Feb., but voted to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. The tithes bill he introduced, 8 Feb., conceded the 21-year rule on which his last one had foundered, but still attracted criticism and had to be abandoned.17 On 22 Mar. he presented several petitions against the St. Helens-Runcorn Gap railway bill. He voted against abolishing the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, and to restrict on-consumption under the sale of beer bill, 1 July, to which he also recommended adding a clause clarifying the law on drunkenness, but Brougham scotched the proposal. He voted against an amendment to the administration of justice bill reducing judges’ salaries, 7 July 1830. A severe inflammation of the trachea had kept him away from the House for six weeks from April to June and it frustrated his hopes of canvassing early at the general election that summer, when his colleague Cawthorne’s local opponents forced a poll. Accused on the hustings of neglecting constituency interests, Greene made illness the excuse for his ‘poor’ voting record and claimed that, though absent from the published lists, he had voted against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar. 1830, ‘at great peril to his health’. He defended his conduct as a local Member and, taking the same line as Charles Russell, he called for the enfranchisement of the manufacturing towns and ‘measures to do away with the need for violent reform’ and end the East India Company’s trading monopoly.18

Ministers listed Greene among their ‘friends’, but he was absent when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Adopting a higher local profile, he presented numerous Lancashire petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery, 3 Nov., 17, 21 Dec., and against the truck system, 21 Dec., and urged inquiry into tithes, 13 Dec., and abolition of the tax on printed calicoes, 17 Dec. 1830. He brought up petitions opposing the Liverpool-Leeds and Liverpool-Chorlton railway bills, 15, 28, 29 Mar., and alterations in the timber duties, 17 Mar., and in favour of the Warrington-Newton railway bill, 15 Apr. Greene, like Russell, accepted reform as inevitable, but he kept a pragmatic silence on the issue until after the Lancaster by-election of 14 Mar. 1831, when Hamilton’s nominee Patrick Stewart was returned unopposed as a reformer.19 As requested by the Lancaster meeting, 15 Mar., he joined Stewart on the 19th in endorsing its petition in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, expressed relief that his constituents shared his views and said that although he was unwilling to ‘pledge myself to the whole of the details’, he ‘fully approved’ the principle of the bill.20 He divided for it at its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. His ecclesiastical lands exchange bill (a redraft of the 1825 measure) became a casualty of the dissolution. Having circulated his 1830 election speech as proof that he was ‘no reformer of convenience or recent convert’, he contested Lancaster as a ‘moderate reformer’ at the general election in May 1831, and came in unopposed with Stewart. On the hustings he called for the enfranchisement of the manufacturing towns and a property-based franchise and praised the bill as a means of preventing more sweeping reforms. He confirmed his opposition to the ballot and colonial slavery, but conceded that immediate abolition was unsustainable.21

Greene divided for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and supported it fairly steadily in committee, where his wayward votes for the enfranchisement of borough freeholders in counties corporate, 17 Aug., and £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., and his commitment to denying votes to weekly tenants and lodgers, 25 Aug. 1831, confirmed his conservative approach to reform. He insisted that his vote for the amendment preserving freemen’s voting rights, 30 Aug., was ‘in full accordance with the best principle of the bill’ and that the gradual extinction of the freeman vote would soon halve the Lancaster electorate. Later that day, ostensibly to avoid the ‘complication’ of divided parishes, he suggested amending the seven-mile residence rule by including an entire parish within its remit if ‘any portion’ was within the limit, but the bill’s architect Lord John Russell would have none of it. He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. Finding Lord Althorp’s summons to attend on 20 Jan. 1832 inconvenient, he wrote to Estcourt on the 13th seeking a pair and to sound him on his proposal for a bill giving all illegitimate children, wherever born, the parish of settlement of their mother. (He did not proceed with it.)22 He received ten days’ leave on account of illness in his family, 23 Jan. 1832. From 8 Feb., with the exception of the Gateshead enfranchisement, 5 Mar., he divided steadily for the bill’s details, its third reading, 22 Mar., and the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He voted for Alexander Baring’s bill to deny insolvent debtors parliamentary privilege, 27 June, and with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 20 July.23 The Irish secretary Smith Stanley approved his candidature for Lancaster, and requesting his support in the new Lancashire North constituency at the general election in December 1832, he added that the general opinion was that ‘though not a supporter of Lord Grey’s government in the sense in which that word is generally used, you had always supported measures of reform, both before and during his administration’.24

Greene reintroduced his ecclesiastical corporations bill on 22 June and 9 Dec. 1831, but he no longer had the full support of the archbishop of Canterbury and it did not progress beyond its first reading.25 He fully endorsed petitions he introduced against the factory bill from the proprietors and employees of Lancaster’s Dolphinholme spinning mill, 30 July, 8 Aug. 1831, 7, 14 Mar. 1832, when, citing an erroneous report in The Times, he insisted that he opposed the employment of young children.26 He presented Lancaster’s petition for the anatomy bill, 23 Feb. As one of the visiting magistrates, he refuted allegations by the radical Nathan Broadhurst and his fellow petitioners of maltreatment in Lancaster gaol, 27 Mar., and justified the practice of putting prisoners to work and opening their mail on grounds of economy and security. He objected to receiving petitions from debtors imprisoned at Lancaster, because they had approached the House before informing the magistrates of their grievances, 4 Apr. 1832.

The Whig Lancaster Herald had repeatedly taken Greene to task for appealing to both sides in his speeches at corporation and reform meetings, 1831-2, and it scrutinized his conduct closely throughout the protracted canvass at the 1832 general election, when his pro-reform votes and judicious declarations against the ballot, slavery, monopolies, and opposition to removing the assizes and to capital punishment for non-violent crimes enabled him to see off a second Liberal and secure an unopposed return with Stewart.27 He reverted to Conservatism soon afterwards.28 His appointment as chairman of ways and means in 1841 was made by Peel on Stanley’s recommendation and with bipartisan support.29 The consequent ‘distraction’ from constituency business, his endorsement of corn law repeal and involvement with the troubled Lancaster Joint-Stock Banking Company almost cost him his seat in 1847, and he was defeated in 1852, after devoting the previous four years to overseeing the completion of the new Houses of Parliament.30 He was re-elected in 1853 but retired in 1857. He died at Whittington in August 1872 after a long illness, and was succeeded there by his eldest son and residuary legatee Dawson Cornelius Greene (1822-87).31 By his will, dated 30 July 1869 and proved in London, 4 Sept. 1872, his widow (d. 1882) received an additional £400 a year drawn on his Southwark property, his second son Thomas Huntley Greene (1823-87) £10,500 in stocks, and his youngest son Henry Aylmer Greene (1827-77) £14,000.32

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. VCH Lancs. viii. 138.
  • 2. PROB 11/1518/20; IR26/167/153; Lancs. RO, Dawson Greene mss DDGr C9, bdle. 1, Martha Greene to Mrs. Long, 12, 22 Dec. 1810, 1 Jan. 1811.
  • 3. Dawson Greene mss C9, bdle. 1, Martha Greene to Mrs. Long, 18 Feb. 1812, 30 Jan. 1816; C10, E. Coppleston to Greene, 1 June 1821.
  • 4. Ibid. C8, bdle. 3; C9, bdle. 1, Martha Greene to Mrs. Long, 8 Oct. 1816; F5, passim.
  • 5. Dawson Greene mss A5; C7, bdle. 2; Lancs. RO HS3 (1820-4); VCH Lancs. viii. 94-95, 137.
  • 6. The Times, 21 Sept. 1819; Dawson Greene mss C7, bdle. 2, Greene to Bradley, 29 Feb. 1820; HLRO, Thomas Greene mss GRE/4/1-7; Lancaster Gazette, 1 June, 19 Oct. 1822, 29 Mar., 5 Apr., 31 May 1823, 3, 10, 17, 24 Apr.; The Times, 24 Apr. 1824.
  • 7. Dawson Greene mss A5; C10, Greene to Wheeler, 18 July, 13, 20 Oct. 1824, 23 Mar. 1825; C20, W. to H. Russell, 28 Jan. 1822 and passim.; VCH Lancs. viii. 246.
  • 8. The Times, 22 Mar., 29 Apr., 22 June 1825.
  • 9. Greene mss 4/8-11.
  • 10. Morning Chron. 8-10, 13, 15, 17, 20 Feb. 1826; Glos. RO, Sotherton Estcourt mss D1571 X 27.
  • 11. Lancaster Gazette, 10 Mar., 7, 21 May 1825, 18, 25 Feb., 10, 24 June 1826; Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 159, ff. 36-46; Greene mss 4/12.
  • 12. Derby mss 920 Der (14) box 61, Greene to Smith Stanley, 29 Oct. 1827; Greene mss 4/14.
  • 13. The Times, 7, 23 June; Brougham mss, Greene to Brougham, 31 Dec. 1827; Greene mss 4/13, 15.
  • 14. Lancaster Gazette, 18, 25 Oct. 1828; Herefs. RO, diaries of John Biddulph of Ledbury [Biddulph diary] G2/IV/J55, 27 Feb.; Derby mss (14) box 63, Greene to Smith Stanley, 3 Mar. 1829.
  • 15. Derby mss (14) box 63, T. Higgin to Smith Stanley, 28 Feb.; Greene mss 4/16.
  • 16. Lancaster Gazette, 21 Mar. 1829.
  • 17. Sunday Times, 7 Mar.; Lancaster Gazette, 3 Apr. 1830; R.H. Jago, Letter to T. Greene (1830).
  • 18. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 165; Lancaster Gazette, 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 19. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. d. 153, f. 24.
  • 20. Lancaster Gazette, 26 Mar. 1831.
  • 21. Ibid. 30 Apr., 7 May, Lancaster Herald, 7 May 1831.
  • 22. Sotherton Estcourt mss D1571, f. 209.
  • 23. The Times, 14 July 1832.
  • 24. Greene mss 4/20, 25.
  • 25. Ibid. 4/17, 18.
  • 26. The Times, 8 Mar. 1832.
  • 27. Greene mss 4/21; Lancaster Herald, 1, 15, 22 Oct., 5 Nov. 1831, 23 June, 29 Sept.; Lancaster Gazette, 14 July, 15 Sept., 20, 27 Oct.; The Times, 11, 13 Dec. 1832.
  • 28. Greene mss 4/23, 27-31, 37.
  • 29. Ibid. 4/64-70.
  • 30. Derby mss (14) box 65/8, Greene to Stanley, 25 Sept., 3, 24 Nov. 1841, 19, 23 Aug. 1844, 8 Nov. 1847; Greene mss 4/40-60.
  • 31. Lancaster Gazette, 10, 17 Aug.; The Times, 12 Aug.; Lancaster Guardian, 7 Sept. 1872.
  • 32. IR26/2732/742.