WATTS RUSSELL, Jesse (1786-1875), of Ilam Hall, Staffs

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



1820 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 6 May 1786, 2nd s. of Jesse Russell (d. 1820), soap boiler, of Goodman’s Yard, Minories, London and Walthamstow, Essex and Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Noble of Boroughbridge, Yorks. educ. Worcester Coll. Oxf. 1804-8. m. (1) 29 Jan. 1811, Mary (d. 8 July 1840), da. and h. of David Pike Watts, wine merchant, of Portland Place, Mdx., 4s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 20 June 1843, Maria (d. 30 Oct. 1844), da. of Peter Barker of Bedford, 1s.; (3) 22 Nov. 1862, Martha, da. of John Leach of Wexford, s.p. Took name of Watts before Russell by royal lic. 28 Mar. 1817. d. 26 Mar. 1875.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Staffs. 1819-20.


Though described by an obituarist as ‘a venerable country gentleman’,1 Watts Russell was in fact a landowning parvenu, the son of an East End soap manufacturer. He was educated at Oxford and there is no evidence that he took part in his father’s business. He was established at his Staffordshire seat by the time of his advantageous marriage in 1811 to the heiress of a wealthy wine merchant, who died five years later and whose surname he subsequently adopted.2 On his father’s death in 1820 he received a half-share of estates in Essex and a third-share of the residue of personalty sworn under £500,000.3 At the general election that year he was returned for Gatton, presumably as a paying guest of the patron Sir Mark Wood†.

He was a fairly regular attender who gave silent support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry (his father had signed the London merchants’ declaration of loyalty in 1795)4. He was granted a fortnight’s leave on account of his father’s illness, 21 June 1820. He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He voted against Maberly’s resolution on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and Hume’s economy and retrenchment motion, 27 June. He divided against the disfranchisement of civil officers of the ordnance, 12 Apr., parliamentary reform, 23 May, and the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May 1821. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June 1822. He divided against relieving Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. 1822. He was one of the ministerialist renegades who voted with the majority for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. He divided for repeal of the usury laws, 27 Feb., and against the motion condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He was granted a month’s leave for urgent private business, 24 Feb., paired against Catholic relief, 21 Apr.,5 and voted against it, 10 May 1825. He retired at the dissolution in 1826.

He apparently made no attempt to return to the House until the general election of 1832, when he stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative for North Staffordshire. The diarist William Dyott commented that while ‘not an orator’, Watts Russell seemed ‘a worthy and most excellent man’, and Sir Robert Peel ‘spoke warmly’ of him. He became a vice-president of the Staffordshire Conservative Association on its foundation in 1835. Three years later Robert Plumer Ward* remarked that he was one of those Staffordshire landowners ‘with no blood, but immensely rich’, but that he ‘bears his faculties so meekly, that he is deservedly popular’. He declined an invitation at that time to offer again for North Staffordshire.6 He died in March 1875 and left Ilam Hall, which he had had rebuilt ‘in the Gothic style’ in the 1820s, and which Dyott deemed ‘most magnificent’ and ‘splendidly furnished’, together with estates in Derbyshire and Northamptonshire, to his eldest son, Jesse David Watts Russell (1812-79), Conservative Member for North Staffordshire, 1841-7. Known as a patron of the arts, he left a sizeable collection of paintings ‘chiefly of the English School’, which were auctioned at Christie’s.7

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Howard Spencer


  • 1. The Times, 1 Apr. 1875.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1816), ii. 182-3; PROB 11/1583/473; IR26/694/545. The personalty was sworn under £160,000.
  • 3. PROB 11/1632/437; IR26/836/679.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. (1820), i. 639.
  • 5. The Times, 26 Apr. 1825.
  • 6. Dyott’s Diary, ii. 133-5, 149, 196-7; P.G. Patmore, Friends and Acquaintances, ii. 103; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss 3031.
  • 7. N. Pevsner, Buildings of England: Staffs. 152; Dyott’s Diary, ii. 181; Cat. of Pictures of Jesse Watts Russell (1875).