HOULDSWORTH, Thomas (1771-1852), of Portland Place, Manchester, Lancs. and Sherwood Hall, nr. Epperstone, Notts.

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



1818 - 1830
1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 13 Sept. 1771, 2nd s. of Henry Houldsworth, yeoman, of Hagg Farm, Gonalstone and Anne, da. of Thomas Hooton of Newton. unm. d. 1 Sept. 1852.

Offices Held

Lt. S.W. Yorks. yeoman cav. 1820.


Houldsworth, a prosperous Manchester cotton manufacturer who had purchased a landed estate in Nottinghamshire, had a passion for horse racing; his stud and racing colours of gold and green were famous in the early nineteenth century and one of his horses won the Derby in 1816. According to the family historian, he was ‘the possessor of a genial and popular personality’.1 Reputedly he never made a bet, yet he took a chance in 1818 when he stood successfully for the open borough of Pontefract, where he also had a mill. He was returned at the head of the poll in 1820.

He was an irregular attender, but his politics became clearer than in the previous Parliament as he gave general though decidedly independent support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry. He voted in defence of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and was granted six weeks’ leave for private business, 5 Apr. 1821. He divided against relieving Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. 1822. He voted with ministers against inquiry into the conduct of the lord advocate towards the Scottish press, 25 June, but against them on the pensions bill the next day. He voted for Bennet’s public house licensing bill, 27 June. He divided against repeal of the salt duties, 28 June, but for repeal of the window tax, 2 July 1822. He voted for the Irish churches grant, 11 Apr., but for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. He divided against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June. He voted in the minorities on the silk bill, 9 June, and the beer duties bill, 13 June 1823. He gave no recorded votes during the 1824 session. He divided against repeal of the usury laws, 17 Feb., and for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. 1825. It was said of him at this time that he ‘attended frequently and voted sometimes with and sometimes against ministers’.2 He presented a Pontefract anti-slavery petition, 28 Feb., yet voted against the motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826.3 He divided against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826. At the general election that summer he was returned for Pontefract in second place, after an expensive contest in which the ‘No Popery’ cry was raised against him.4

A petition to the Commons accusing him of bribery was rejected, 14 Mar. 1827. Constituency considerations may account for his votes against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He divided against the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827. He presented a Pontefract petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 19 Feb., but voted against that measure, 26 Feb. 1828. He was in the small minority who believed a witness had not lied to the East Retford committee, 7 Mar. He voted against the appointment of a registrar for the archbishop of Canterbury, 16 June, but divided with the duke of Wellington’s ministry against reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, but he voted against their measure, 6, 18 Mar., and paired against it, 23, 30 Mar. He maintained that ‘much greater evil is attributed to the corn laws than has been produced by them’, 19 May, and spoke ‘on the authority of a vast number of the masters of Manchester’ in denying that wage rates were low in Lancashire, 1 June. He voted in the minority for the issue of a new writ for East Retford, 2 June 1829. His name does not appear in the lists compiled that autumn by the Ultra leader Sir Richard Vyvyan*. He presented a Pontefract petition against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 15 Mar. 1830. Having presented a Market Harborough petition against the sale of beer bill, 4 May, he warned that the removal of the ‘wholesome power’ previously exercised by magistrates would ‘let in every species of mischief’ and that ‘the difficulty of exercising any adequate control in popular places under the new system will be incalculable when the number of such houses come to be so greatly extended’; he believed that ‘all houses of licensed victuallers ought to be shut at seasonable hours’. Although he vowed to oppose the bill’s second reading, his name does not appear in the list of those doing so. At the general election that summer he retired from Pontefract and came in for Newton on the interest of Thomas Legh*. It is not known whether there was any truth in the explanation for this switch provided by one Yorkshire newspaper, which claimed that

a gentleman, the owner of a close borough, owes Mr. Houldsworth a large sum of money; that he is unable to pay it, unless Mr. H. will take it out in boroughs, the only article in which the aforesaid gent. deals; that therefore Mr. H. agrees to take the borough as a set off to the debt, and hence his resignation of the honour of representing us.5

The ministry regarded him as one of their ‘friends’, and he voted with them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and paired for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was returned unopposed for Newton at the ensuing general election. He was in the small minority for the reduction of public salaries to 1797 levels, 30 June 1831. He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for an adjournment motion, 12 July. He paired against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and the enfranchisement of Merthyr Tydvil, 10 Aug.6 On 19 Aug. he maintained that no person should be compelled to serve as a returning officer ‘without some degree of remuneration’, citing the need for the assistance of legal advisors and assessors. He expressed the opinion that the proposed two-day limit on voting was too stringent for the larger counties, 5 Sept. Next day he urged ministers to reconsider this matter and the number of places that could be used for polling. He was absent from the division on the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He voted against issuing a writ for Liverpool, 5 Sept., and to safeguard the West India interest when renewing the Sugar Refinery Act, 12 Sept. He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832.

With Newton disfranchised by the Reform Act, Houldsworth considered a return to Pontefract but instead offered for North Nottinghamshire, where he was elected in second place.7 He sat as a Conservative until his retirement in 1852. Although he was a manufacturer, he voted against repeal of the corn laws in 1846.8 He died in September 1852 and divided the bulk of his estate equally between his brothers; his personalty was sworn under £470,000.9

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. W.H. Macleod, Houldsworths of Coltness, 114-17.
  • 2. Session of Parl. 1825, p.469.
  • 3. The Times, 1 Mar. 1826.
  • 4. Leeds Intelligencer, 15 June; Leeds Mercury, 17 June 1826.
  • 5. Leeds Mercury, 10, 24 July 1830.
  • 6. The Times, 1, 12 Aug. 1831.
  • 7. Staffs. RO, Stafford Jerningham mss D641/B/P/3/14/69.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1852), ii. 427.
  • 9. PROB 11/2161/835; IR26/1936/909.