SHADWELL, Lancelot (1779-1850), of 36 Harley Street and 2 New Square, Lincoln's Inn, Mdx.

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



1826 - Nov. 1827

Family and Education

b. 3 May 1779, 1st s. of Lancelot Shadwell of Lincoln’s Inn and 9 Upper Gower Street, Mdx. and 1st w. Elizabeth Sophia, da. of Charles Whitmore of Southampton, Hants. educ. Eton 1793; St. John’s, Camb. 1796, BA 1800, fellow 1801-5, MA 1803; L. Inn 1797, called 1803. m. (1) 8 Jan. 1805, Harriet, da. of Anthony Richardson, merchant, of Powis Place, Great Ormond Street, Mdx., 6s. (4 d.v.p.); (2) 4 Jan. 1816, Frances, da. of Capt. Locke, 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1815; kntd. 16 Nov. 1827. d. 10 Aug. 1850.

Offices Held

KC 6 Dec. 1821; bencher, L. Inn 1822, treas. 1833; v.-chan. Nov. 1827-d.; PC 16 Nov. 1827; member, judicial cttee. of privy council 1833; commr. of great seal Apr.1835-Jan. 1836, June-July 1850.


Shadwell was descended from a Staffordshire family who had acquired property at Beamish in Shropshire during the eighteenth century. His grandfather Lancelot Shadwell (1704-55) was in business as a chemist in Leadenhall Street, London. His father, the only surviving son, was born in 1750 and called to the bar in 1777. He specialized as a conveyancer, enjoying a high reputation and a lucrative practice. After the death of his first wife he married in 1797 Isabella, daughter of Sir Thomas Cayley of Brompton, Yorkshire, who was only a few years older than his eldest son Lancelot. Shadwell senior died in 1815, leaving to Lancelot real estate which had come to him by his first marriage.1 His widow survived until 1854.

At Cambridge Shadwell became a friend of Thomas Denman*, with whom he made a punishing walking tour of Wales in 1797.2 He was bred to the bar and practised successfully for 18 years as a junior in chancery. Like his father, he was an expert in real estate law. After taking silk in 1821 he sacrificed considerable income by declining to follow the fashion of taking briefs in more than one equity court, confining himself to chancery practice. When the Liverpool ministry reshuffled the legal hierarchy at the end of 1823 he was a serious contender for the post of solicitor-general, but lord chancellor Eldon preferred his senior Charles Wetherell*.3 Shadwell had become the ‘man of business’ of Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence, the parliamentary patron of Ripon, and she returned him for the borough with Frederick Robinson, the chancellor of the exchequer, at the 1826 general election. He continued to manage her affairs, including Ripon elections, until her death in 1845, when he received £15,000 and a life interest in £10,000 by her will.4 Charles Williams Wynn* had described him as a ‘Papist’ in 1823, but three years later Sir John Copley* was reported as saying that he ‘has had some new lights on the Catholic question, and thinks there might be great danger in granting further concessions to the Catholics’ and that ‘he is to be the next solicitor-general’.5 Whether this change of mind had any connection with Miss Lawrence’s deep Anglican piety is not clear, but Shadwell duly voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. Yet when Peel was under attack for his apostacy on emancipation in 1829 Shadwell, acting on the Johnsonian dictum that ‘in situations of distress the kind opinion of any one human being is always of some value’, sent him a letter of encouragement and support.6

In his maiden speech, 29 Nov. 1826, he declared his wish to eradicate the ‘evils’ of high fees and long delays from conveyancing procedure.7 On 14 Feb. 1827 he sought leave to introduce a bill to limit to 30 years the period within which the legal title to land might be disputed by writs of right and to simplify the law of dower. Some radicals dismissed it as a ‘patch’, but Shadwell, appealing to ‘the spirit of reform in all useful matters [which] was now cultivated by all classes of persons’, argued that those who wanted revision of real estate law ‘ought not to reject the remedy of one grievance because they could not obtain their wishes with respect to all’. Leave was given and Shadwell introduced the measure on 26 Feb. and steered it through the House by 10 Apr., despite continued criticism of its crudity. It was given a first reading in the Lords, 11 Apr., but no more was heard of it.8 Shadwell presented Ripon petitions in favour of agricultural protection, 27 Feb.9 On 13 Mar. 1827 he defended Peel’s decision not to apply his criminal laws consolidation bills to Ireland.

On the formation of Canning’s ministry the following month he was spoken of as a possible lord chancellor of Ireland. Williams Wynn was ‘sorry for this as I think him a weak man though said to be a good lawyer and more of a gentleman than most in the court of chancery’.10 Nothing came of the speculation. When Robinson (now Lord Goderich) became premier in September 1827, Shadwell was confidently tipped by many observers to become solicitor-general in the revamped coalition with the Lansdowne Whigs. Mrs. Arbuthnot, noting that he was ‘no politician’, was not alone in wondering how the ambitious Whig Henry Brougham*, who was suspected of coveting the office, would ‘swallow that’.11 The Whig James Abercromby* warned Huskisson, the leader of the Commons, that Shadwell

can never be of any use to the government. He has no principles, no opinions and no ... stability of mind. He will be a reformer of the law or an enemy to reform as his interest directs, but he will perform neither part with prudence or wisdom. It would be a very unpopular appointment with the bar. It will be set down as the act of Lord Goderich, who will be supposed ... to have an interest in promoting Shadwell on account of his influence with Miss Lawrence, who has great wealth to distribute.12

In the event Shadwell was not appointed, but at the end of October Goderich and lord chancellor Lyndhurst, in a manoeuvre blatantly designed to exclude Brougham, selected him as vice-chancellor in the room of Sir Anthony Hart, who unexpectedly became Irish chancellor. Goderich disingenuously informed Lansdowne, 24 Oct.:

We cannot find a better man than Shadwell ... He has many excellent qualities, as I can testify from a long and rather intimate acquaintance; and from what I know of his general political sentiments (although that is of less importance, perhaps, as the vice-chancellor cannot be in Parliament) I should say that he is not governed by antiquated prejudices, but sincerely approves of the principles and construction of the present administration.13

Shadwell, who was noted for his judicial courtesy and the rapidity with which he disposed of routine business, presided competently in the vice-chancellor’s court for almost 23 years. Yet in 1833 lord chancellor Brougham’s secretary Denis Le Marchant† wrote disparagingly of him:

The vice-chancellor is a very good natured, careless person, of not very strong principles, a feeble judge and an inconsistent politician. He is a lively though not an interesting talker, and there is nothing about him agreeable besides the good-natured expression of his countenance and the buoyant gaiety of his manner.14

He declined Peel and Lyndhurst’s request that he take the Irish great seal in December 1834 ‘on account of his numerous family of children’, and the subsequent offer of a peerage did not change his mind.15 In 1827 he had bought the manor of Northolt, Middlesex from Lord Jersey, and in the early 1830s he acquired a property at Barn Elms, Barnes, on the southern bank of the Thames, where he indulged his passion for outdoor bathing in the winter.16 On 9 Dec. 1849 his second surviving son Louis Henry, a barrister, was found drowned in a ditch in the grounds of Barn Elms; he ‘had for many years shown a degree of eccentricity, and always slept in the entrance lodge instead of the house’. It was assumed that he had ‘accidentally fallen, in consequence of the fogginess of the evening, when on his way to his night’s rest’.17 Shadwell took it very badly. On 19 June 1850 he became for the second time one of the commissioners of the great seal, but five days later he was seized with ‘a sudden and dangerous illness’, which prevented him from sitting again during the continuance of the commission. He was still ‘seriously unwell’ when it ended on 15 July and he lingered at Barn Elms until 10 Aug. 1850. Denman was convinced that he had been ‘killed by his son’s lamentable death, co-operating with every derangement of the system, and ensuring the victory to bronchitis in its contest with life’.18 In his will, dated 31 July 1850, he left £7,000 to his now second surviving son Charles Frederick Alexander, a naval officer, and the residue of his estate to his wife, the sole executrix. His personalty was sworn under £60,000 in the province of Canterbury and under £16,000 in that of York. He had already settled on his children the money bequeathed to him by Miss Lawrence.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PROB 11/1565/109.
  • 2. Arnould, Denman, i. 16-18, 25.
  • 3. Add. 40304, ff. 189, 191; 40329, f. 229; 51574, Abercromby to Holland [?30 Dec.]; 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland, 11 Dec.; 51659, Whishaw to same, 13 Nov., 3 Dec. 1823; Hobhouse Diary, 108-9.
  • 4. Lady Holland to Son, 229; Gent. Mag (1845), ii. 423; Add. 40489, ff. 127, 129, 274-9; 40490. ff. 229, 231; 40491, ff. 62-66; 40523, ff. 401, 403; 40526, ff. 16, 19; 40569, f. 90.
  • 5. Buckingham, Mems. Geo IV, ii. 16; Life of Campbell, i. 437.
  • 6. Add. 40398, ff. 255, 257.
  • 7. The Times, 30 Nov. 1826.
  • 8. Ibid. 27 Feb. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 169, 405; LJ, lix. 250.
  • 9. The Times, 28 Feb. 1827.
  • 10. Canning’s Ministry, 213; NLW, Coedymaen mss 195.
  • 11. Arbuthnot Corresp. 90; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 143; Add. 38750, f. 95; Lansdowne mss, Abercromby to Lansdowne [?25 Aug.]; (3) 34, Holland to same, 3 Sept.; (3) 37, Rice to same, 4 Sept.; NLS, Ellice mss, Grey to Ellice, 8 Sept. 1827.
  • 12. Add. 38751, f. 9.
  • 13. HMC Bathurst, 646; Hobhouse Diary, 142; Lansdowne mss.
  • 14. Foss, Judges of Eng. ix. 263-4; Oxford DNB; Three Diaries, 374.
  • 15. Add. 40316, ff. 95, 97, 106.
  • 16. VCH Mdx. iv. 114; VCH Surr. iv. 3; J.L. Roget, Hist. ‘Old Water Colour Club’, ii. 210-11.
  • 17. Gent. Mag. (1850), i. 106.
  • 18. Ibid. (1850), ii. 545-6; T.D. Hardy, Mem. Lord Langdale, ii. 258-9, 265, 267; Arnould, ii. 313.
  • 19. PROB 11/2118/640; IR26/1883/677.