James Garth Marshall (1802-1873)

Written by Jean Warburton

Occupations: Businessman, Landowner and Politician

Life and family

James Garth Marshall was born on 20 February 1802 in Leeds and baptised on 30 March 1802. He was the third son, having older brothers William (1796-1872) and John (1797-1836). His other siblings were: Mary Anne, sometimes Marianne (1799-1889); Catherine (b 1800); Cordelia (1803-1855); Ellen (b 1806); Henry Cowper (1808-1884); Julia Anne (1809-1841); Susan Harriet (1811-1896); and Arthur (1814-1893). His father was John Marshall (1765-1845; DNB), a flax mill owner who was the son of Jeremiah Marshall (1731-1787), a linen draper, and his wife Mary Cowper (1728-1799). James Marshall’s mother was Jane Pollard (1765-1849) the daughter of William Pollard of Ovenden Hall, a cloth merchant and banker of Halifax who, from 1779, was a partner of the Halifax Commercial Bank, a precursor of the Midland Bank.

James Marshall grew up in Leeds but spent time in the Lake District as his father had, in 1815, built a house, Hallsteads, on the shore of Ullswater at Watermillock. He was privately educated in Edinburgh and then joined the family business when he was 18. On 9 February 1841, at All Souls, Langham Place, Westminster, James Marshall married The Honourable Mary Alice Pery Spring Rice (1813-1875). Mary was the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon (1790-1866; ODNB) and Lady Theodosia Pery (1787-1839), the daughter of Henry, the 1st Earl of Limerick (1758-1845). In the same year, Lord Monteagle married James Marshall’s sister, Marianne. James and Mary had four children: Victor Alexander Ernest (1842-1928); Julia Mary Garth (1846-1907); Constance Eleanor Garth (1849-1853); and James Aubrey Garth (1844-1874) who died in an accident on Mont Blanc. Victor married Victoria Alberta Alexandrina Hamilton Gordon (1842-1936) and they had a daughter, Mary (b 1878), and a son, James Aubrey Garth (1881-1965). Julia married Edward William O’Brien (1837-1909) and had four children: Margaret Ernestine; Aubrey Ulick Marshall; Edward Connor Marshall; and Katherine Jenny.

James Marshall lived at Headingley House in Leeds on the fringes of Beckett Park and also had houses in London and Torquay. In 1836, he bought the Monk Coniston estate and, after his marriage, this became his favourite home. He died at Monk Coniston on 22 October 1873 and was buried at Coniston on 27 October 1873. His wife, Mary died in Kensington on 11 May 1874 and was buried in Brompton Cemetery on 15 May 1875.


James Marshall’s father had acquired the patent for a new flax spinning machine in about 1787. He developed the machine over the next ten years and built Marshalls Mill in Holbeck, Leeds where he employed over 1,000 factory workers, mainly women and children, working 12 hours a day for a few shillings a week. John Marshall profited greatly from wartime demand for cloth. James joined the firm in 1820 with responsibility for the firm’s machinery which he played a chief role in developing. He became a partner in 1825 and was responsible for significant improvement in working practices.

When a new factory was needed, it was James who recommended the unique single storey plan with innovative ventilation and lighting systems and sheep grazing on the roof. Temple Mill, designed by engineer James Coombe, the architect Joseph Bonomi the Younger (1796-1878) and the artist and traveller David Roberts (1796-1864), was opened in 1840 and was regarded as a wonder of its age. The sheep were taken up to graze in a hydraulic lift. Despite some improvement in the conditions for his workers, he still had to fight off a terrifying attack on Temple Mill by Chartists in 1842.

James used his scientific and technical abilities and interests to provide improvements for the business. For example, in the 1840s he developed China grass as a substitute for flax. However, he was never fully involved in the business. His brother, Henry, was responsible for the commercial side of the firm and they did not see eye to eye. In addition, James had many interests which he preferred to pursue both in Coniston and London. By 1847, he was MP for Leeds. Both brothers continued to draw from the firm even as profits fell, resulting in a reduction of working capital. The firm suffered heavy trading losses in 1851 and 1852 and James decided something drastic needed to be done and resigned from Parliament. Unfortunately, his technical improvements did not work and there was a shortage of working capital for new plant. The firm continued to make losses and in 1858 he withdrew from active involvement in the business. His health had suffered and, in that year, he spent six months in Italy. The firm became profitable again in the 1860s when, as a result of the American Civil War, linen was sought as a substitute for cotton but Marshalls ceased trading in 1886.

Lake District

James Garth Marshall’s mother, Jane Pollard, was a close friend of Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855; ODNB) from the time Dorothy spent with the Threlkeld family in Halifax after the death of her mother in 1778. She and her brother, William (1770-1850; ODNB), spent time with John and Jane Marshall both at Hallsteads and on joint travels, including a five week tour of Ireland. Driven by the pleasure he took in natural dramatic scenery and influenced by William Wordsworth, John Marshall purchased a large number of estates around Buttermere and Crummock water. Land purchase in the Lake District became a family affair with Patterdale and surrounding estates purchased by John Marshall and passed to his son, William, whilst Henry owned Derwent Island in Derwent Water and an estate in Borrowdale. In 1835, James, on the advice of William Wordsworth, purchased the Monk Coniston estate at the head of Coniston from the Knott family. He added further land to the estate, including Tilberthwaite and Yewdale, so that it eventually comprised nearly 4,000 acres with seven farms, numerous cottages and quarries, extensive timberland and open fell.

James Marshall carried out improvements across the Monk Coniston estate following his father’s views on creating and managing plantations to optimise the natural landscape, allowing public use and restricting commercial returns to quarries and timber in areas which were not intrusive to the scenery he sought to preserve. At Monk Coniston Hall, his residence, he added a north west wing, probably designed by Anthony Salvin (1799-1881; ODNB), and developed the gardens. His most notable improvements, however, were at Tarn Hows where he created a new body of water by flooding three natural tarns and surrounded them by bold ornamental planting to enhance the dramatic Lakes landscape. The scheme also had industrial use to supply water power to his sawmills on the Yewdale estate.  Tarn Hows was a prime example of James Marshall wanting to make improvements for the public benefit in providing a beauty spot for visitors. In other parts of the estate, he installed bridges, footpaths and pony rides to make access easier. He diverged from his father’s ethos of no commercial building development by the construction of the Waterhead Hotel at Coniston as he wished to provide for the comfort and recreation of visitors. James Marshall was actively involved in farming on the estate wining prizes for his short horn cattle, sheep and horses at the Windermere Agricultural Shows.

The estate became increasingly burdensome as the family’s income declined and, in 1930, the major portion of Monk Coniston estate was sold by his grandson, James Aubrey Garth Marshall, to Beatrix Potter (1866-1943; ODNB). She then transferred it to the National Trust, part by sale after the National Trust had raised the necessary funds and the remainder being left in her will. The National Trust came to hold the entire estate when they purchased Monk Coniston Hall in 1945. The Hall is now leased to the Holiday Fellowship.

Politics and public life

James Garth Marshall followed the family tradition by serving as Liberal MP for Leeds from 1847-1852. His father had been MP for Yorkshire from 1826 until he resigned because of ill health in 1830. John Marshall was joined in the House of Commons by his son, William, who became an MP in 1826 and remained there until 1868 sitting at various times for Petersfield, Leominster, Beverley, Carlisle and East Cumberland. James’ brother, John, preceded him as MP for Leeds from 1832-1835. Whilst his brother, Henry, did not serve as an MP, he was Mayor of Leeds from 1842-1843. The family tradition was intended to continue with James’ son, James Aubrey Garth, serving on the Committee of the Leeds Liberal Association at the time of his death in 1874. Other public offices held by James Garth were High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1860-1861 and Justice of the Peace in both the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire. He moved in high society circles as his wife, Alice, had been a Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1841. In 1851, he attended the Queen’s second levee of the season and, in 1864, his daughter, Julia, was presented by her mother in the drawing room of the Princess of Wales.

James Marshall was committed to political reform. His dedication to extending the franchise led to his helping to found the Leeds Parliamentary Association in 1841. He wanted to see the vote extended to women and also desired the introduction of proportional representation. He was active in other areas of reform including supporting Anti-Corn Law Demonstrations and advocating state, rather than voluntary, provision of education. His desire for reform drove many of his philanthropic and other interests.

Interests and philanthropy

James Garth Marshall was privileged in the wide range of ideas, literary, scientific and philosophical, to which he was exposed to from an early age. He was educated in Edinburgh at a time when that city was a major centre of the Scottish Enlightenment drawing together many distinguished men to cultivate thought, science and literature under the eminent professors at the University. In addition to William and Dorothy Wordsworth, friends of his father who stayed at Hallsteads included Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881; ODNB), Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832; ODNB) and John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1845; ODNB).

James Marshall maintained and extended those friendships, many of which influenced his thoughts and interests. His advocacy of proportional representation, for example, won approval from his friend John Stuart Mill (1806-1873; ODNB). His friendships with Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1873; ODNB), John Ruskin (1819-1900; ODNB) and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898; ODNB), amongst others, encouraged his own literary contributions. Two particular interests were geology and astronomy which he pursued in the Lake District and discussed with his guests – geology with Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873; ODNB) one of the founders of modern geology and astronomy with Sir John Herschel (1792-1871; ODNB). He did not restrict his scientific interests to geology and astronomy, registering patents for improvements in steam generation in 1864 and for improvements in ventilation and the purification of air in 1870. He took an active interest in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society established in 1819 and was the President in 1857-1859, following his father who was President from 1820 to 1826. James was also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

James Garth Marshall’s main concern, consistent with his progressive, liberal, utilitarian principles, was the improvement of the conditions of the poor, although it could be argued that the conditions for the employees of the firm Marshalls were far from ideal even after the construction of Temple Mill. He pursued this concern both by political campaigns and practical philanthropy. His campaigns for both political and educational reform have already been noted. James Marshall supported the mill schools, founded a new school in Holbeck with a library and supported a new Mechanics Institute for Holbeck, the site for which had been presented by the firm. He founded the Mutual Improvement Society in Headingley and gave land for allotments for the poor. He also funded the building of and provided an endowment for the new Church of St John the Evangelist in Holbeck in 1849.


James Garth Marshall did not have the character of a successful business man. He lacked perseverance and vision, pursuing knowledge for its own sake and relegating commercial considerations to second place. These defects do not detract from his qualities as a man of wide interests, in touch with the ideas of his day and with a social conscience committed to reform. His strong sense of duty impelled him to pursue what he considered to be necessary reforms despite being by nature extremely shy. Although not a fluent as an orator, he was always listened to with respect because his opinions were based on solid information and independent thought. He sought neither honour nor popularity but earned both by virtue of his inflexible honesty of character, wise generosity of disposition and sterling abilities.