TOWNLEY, Richard Greaves (1786-1855), of Fulbourn, Cambs. and Beaupré Hall, Norf.

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



1 Nov. 1831 - 1841
1847 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 20 July 17861, 1st s. of Richard Greaves Townley of Belfield Hall, Rochdale, Lancs. and Margaret, da. of John Sale of Whitehaven, Cumb. educ. Eton 1799; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1802; L. Inn 1807. m. 23 Aug. 1821, Cecil, da. of Sir Charles Watson, 1st bt., of Wratting Park, Cambs., 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. suc. fa. 1823. d. 5 May 1855.

Offices Held


Townley belonged to a cadet branch of the old Lancashire family of Towneley. His great-grandfather Richard Townley (1689-1762), the son of Abraham Townley of Dutton, near Blackburn, settled in Rochdale as a mercer in 1717. He became steward to Alexander Butterworth, formerly sheriff of Lancashire, who left him the Belfield Hall estate on his death in 1728. Richard Townley married Jane, the daughter of William Greaves of Gartside Hall, Rochdale, and sister of William Greaves of Fulbourn, about five miles south-east of Cambridge, which he had bought in 1742.2 William Greaves, who was commissary of Cambridge University, 1726-79, married the daughter and heiress of Beaupré Bell of Beaupré Hall, on the Norfolk-Cambridge border near Wisbech, and took the additional names of Beaupré Bell. Richard Townley’s only surviving son and namesake was educated at Cambridge, served as sheriff of Lancashire, 1752-3, and in 1791 published at Whitehaven a rather tedious Journal kept in the Isle of Man. He died at Ambleside in 1802. With his first wife Ann, daughter of Thomas Western of Abington Hall, Cambridgeshire, he had an only son, Richard Greaves Townley, the father of this Member.

He, who was born in 1751, was educated at Rochdale, Eton, Manchester Grammar School, Trinity College, Cambridge and the Middle Temple. He was in the 15th Hussars, 1778-84, and married the following year. On the death of his great-uncle William Greaves Beaupré Bell in 1787 he inherited all his real estate, including Fulbourn, Beaupré Hall and property in Lancashire and Yorkshire.3 Townley made Fulbourn his principal residence and was sheriff of Cambridgeshire, 1792-3. He took command of the county’s provisional cavalry with the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1797 and, as a deputy lieutenant, was one of those who stood in for Lord Hardwicke, the lord lieutenant, during his absences as Irish viceroy.4 He died, worth £10,000 in personalty, at the Cork Street Hotel in London, 5 Feb. 1823. A local admirer wrote of him:

In his political life he was a Whig of the old school, and such was his nice sense of the high degree of liberty the people ought to enjoy that, although possessed of extensive property, he would never even ask a tenant or a tradesman with whom he dealt, for a vote in support of that interest to which he himself was attached.5

His eldest son Richard Greaves Townley, whose younger brothers William Gale and Charles entered the church, inherited all his real estate, which was variously charged with provision for his mother and two youngest siblings. (William Gale Townley, as incumbent of the ‘valuable’ living of Upwell cum Welney, was deemed thereby to be ‘very amply provided for’.)6 Townley also succeeded his father as a conservator of the corporation of Bedford Level, which enabled him to make a mark in county affairs.7 He shared his father’s Whig politics, but, like him, never joined Brooks’s. At the 1820 general election he nominated the sitting Whig county member, Lord Francis Godolphin Osborne, a personal friend, whose residence at Gogmagog Hills lay close to Fulbourn. He deplored the current ‘outcry of danger’ fomented by the Liverpool ministry, who might try ‘through their influence in Parliament to stifle the liberties of the people’, but could not prevent the return of popular and independent Members such as Osborne.8 Townley attended the county meetings in support of Queen Caroline, 16 Jan., and parliamentary reform, 13 Mar. 1821, but on each occasion confined his oratorical contribution to moving and seconding votes of thanks. He was a silent attender at the meeting on agricultural distress, 28 Feb. 1822.9 In October 1824 it was reported that he had returned to Fulbourn with his wife and two baby sons ‘after a long absence, during which the building had undergone considerable repairs and improvements’.10 A year later there was a story that at the next general election he would be nominated by the independents to challenge the Tory county Member, Lord Charles Manners, the duke of Rutland’s brother; but nothing came of this, and in 1826 he nominated Osborne.11

At the county meeting called to petition for repeal of the malt and beer taxes, 22 Jan. 1830, Townley seconded a resolution requesting the county Members to support it, which was defeated by the radicals in favour of an amendment instructing them to do so.12 He seconded Osborne’s nomination at the 1830 general election, when Manners was beaten by Henry Adeane, standing on the independent interest. Townley, who gave his second vote to Adeane, declared after the close that ‘the county had coalesced for the purpose of turning out Manners’.13 At the meeting to consider convening the county to petition for parliamentary reform, 27 Nov. 1830, he voiced the majority view that the new Grey ministry should first be given the chance to show its hand:

He had been brought up in the principles which advocated reform ... It was with satisfaction that he heard that ... ministers had come into office pledged to that measure, and he could not help thinking that something was to be hoped from them.14

His was the second signature on the requisition for a county meeting to endorse their reform bill, 18 Mar. 1831, when he proposed the loyal address but did not speak on the main question.15 He was chairman of Osborne’s committee at the 1831 general election and seconded him at the nomination, but he took the opportunity to make a public apology to Manners for an unguarded expression which had caused offence the previous year.16

When Osborne retired on health grounds in early October 1831 Townley, who was plausibly reported to have been tipped off well in advance, offered in his room, in response to a formal requisition from the leading county independents and reformers.17 He was opposed by Charles Yorke, Hardwicke’s nephew, who had the backing of Rutland and portrayed himself as a moderate reformer and champion of the agricultural interest.18 Townley, who was warmly supported by the duke of Bedford, members of his family and other leading Whigs, claimed to be ‘no tool of faction, nor delegate for party purposes’, and stressed his vested interest in safeguarding agriculture, to which the reform bill was not a threat. On the hustings, he conspicuously refused to give any ‘pledge respecting the bill’ and denied his opponents’ charge that he was committed to support all its details: ‘he had nothing to do with the details of the bill’, but would support ‘a full and efficient measure of reform’. He comfortably defeated Yorke by 536 votes in a four-day poll of just over 3,400; his expenses were paid by subscription.19 Townley, who took his seat, 7 Dec. 1831, did nothing to draw attention to himself in his first session. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec., and was a steady supporter of its details in committee, with the exception of his vote against the enfranchisement of Gateshead, 5 Mar. 1832. He divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. His only other known votes were against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish reform bill, 1 June, and to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June. He is not known to have spoken in debate in this period. He presented petitions from Chatteris in favour of the factories regulation bill, 2 Mar.; from Royston and Wisbech for the abolition of slavery, 18 May, and from the hemp and flax growers of Upwell for compensation for losses anticipated from the customs duties bill, 13 July 1832.

Townley successfully contested the county in 1832 and 1835, was unopposed in 1837, but went out in 1841, when three Conservatives came in. It was as a Protectionist that he was returned for the last time in 1847. He died at Fulbourn in May 1855. He was commemorated as ‘a man of sterling worth and great benevolence’, whose ‘amiable qualities much endeared him to his friends’, and ‘to no one more than to those who dissented from his political opinions’.20 By his will, dated only a week before his death, he confirmed the provision made in his marriage settlement for his wife and younger sons, allowed his brother William to continue as tenant of Beaupré Hall; and left all his Cambridgeshire and Norfolk estates to his eldest surviving son, Charles Watson Townley. (The first born, Richard Greaves Townley, had died in India in 1847.) By a private Act of 26 June 1846, Townley had had the rectory of Upwell divided into three; and he directed that after his brother’s incumbency his younger sons should be presented to these livings if they so wished.21 Charles Watson Townley (1823-93) was lord lieutenant of Cambridgeshire 1874-93; the second son, Thomas Manners Townley (1825-95), was a Cambridge University cricket Blue, served with the cavalry in the Crimea and found fame as a steeplechase jockey; and the other sons, William (1827-69) and Francis Mitford Townley (d. 1874) duly entered the church.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ex. inf. Stephen Lees.
  • 2. R. Gardner, Hist. Cambs. 214-15.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1787), i. 277; PROB 11/1151/108; VCH Cambs. iv. 209.
  • 4. Add. 35664, f. 262; 35666, f. 141; 35667, f. 345; 35668, ff. 46, 61, 92, 93; 35671, f. 257; 35750, f. 308.
  • 5. IR26/976/417; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 1, 8 Feb. 1823; Gent. Mag. (1823), i. 186.
  • 6. PROB 11/1671/327.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1855), ii. 437.
  • 8. Cambridge Chron. 24 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 20 Jan., 17 Mar. 1821, 2 Mar. 1822.
  • 10. Ibid. 23 Oct. 1824.
  • 11. Ibid. 24 Sept. 1825, 24 June 1826.
  • 12. Ibid. 23 Jan. 1830.
  • 13. Ibid. 14, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 14. Ibid. 4 Dec. 1830.
  • 15. Ibid. 12, 19 Mar. 1831.
  • 16. Ibid. 14 May 1831.
  • 17. Three Diaries, 151; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 1, 8, Oct. 1831.
  • 18. Cambridge Chron. 7, 14 Oct. 1831.
  • 19. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 8, 15, 22, 29 Oct.; Cambridge Chron. 4 Nov. 1831; Three Diaries, 154.
  • 20. Gent. Mag. (1855), ii. 436-7.
  • 21. PROB 11/2217/652; IR26/2047/753.