John Lewthwaite (1771-1849)

Written by Tim Cockerill

Occupation: Attorney-at-Law


Family background

John Lewthwaite was born on 18 April 1771 and was baptised at Thwaites, near Millom on 22 April. He was the second son of William Lewthwaite (1740-1809) JP of Broadgate, Thwaites, later of The Cupola (afterwards the Town Hall), Whitehaven, who married in 1767, at Bootle, Mary Nicholson (1744-1807), the younger daughter and co-heiress of Joseph Nicholson a yeoman of Milholme, Bootle. Mary's younger sister and co-heiress Thamar Nicholson married Myles Cooper (1736/7-1803), a yeoman of Beckfoot, Ulpha. In 1767, at his marriage, William Lewthwaite was described as a husbandman , but later as a yeoman, merchant, gentleman and ultimately as Esq., in the early 19th Century, a significant social trajectory, which reflects not only his ability but also his latter day transformation into both a wealthy man and a local magistrate.

The Lewthwaite family had settled at Broadgate in 1642, when Thomas Lewthwaite (1588-1667) a yeoman of Whicham, near Millom, purchased the farm. His descendants enlarged the property over the next five generations, as well as diversifying into mining operations at Kirkby Ireleth and in plantations in Dominica and Antigua in the West Indies.

In 1794 the family fortunes were dramatically altered when William Lewthwaite, John's father, won a case in the Court of Chancery against the powerful Lawson family of Brayton and Isel, near Cockermouth. The argument involved the residue of the estate of another John Lewthwaite (1701-1790), a cousin and rich Whitehaven merchant, whose mother was a Lawson and whose only son Gilfred (b.1737) had been drowned whilst swimming in the sea off Whitehaven in 1779. William was the father's sole executor and one of the next of kin but was unable to obtain probate without seeking a court order over-riding the claims of Sir Gilfrid Lawson 7th Bt of Isel (d.1794) and other relatives. The outcome of the court's judgement by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Richard Pepper Arden ( 1744-1804)  and confirmed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Loughborough (1733-1805), was a complete victory for William Lewthwaite, who thereby inherited about £100,000 in investments together with considerable real property in Whitehaven and land elsewhere


Education

Young John probably entered Hawkshead Grammar School in about 1780, at the age of nine, following his elder brother William (1769-1845), later of Broadgate. His younger brother George (1772-1854) (qv), later rector of Adel, near Leeds, is likely to have joined them in 1781. They were taught by the Revd. William Taylor (1754-1786) and were close contemporaries of the lawyer Richard Wordsworth and his brother, the poet William (1770-1850).  John Lewthwaite later married Peggy Taylor (1773-1854), who was at school with Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855), the poet's sister, and they kept up the acquaintanceship for the rest of their lives. All the boys were boarders and, like the poet, probably remained at the school until they were 16 or 17 years old. They may also have overlapped with the Revd. Rowland Bowstead (1766-1843) (qv), the junior master, who was later headmaster of Caistor Grammar School in Lincolnshire.


Legal Career

As the second son, John Lewthwaite needed to follow a career and he chose the law. He did not go to a university, so that his only other option to qualify as an attorney-at-law was to be articled to a practicing attorney for five years, for which his father would have paid a premium of several hundred pounds. It is likely that he was articled locally, probably to a Whitehaven attorney, several of whom were either connected to or acted for the family.

He was admitted an attorney in Chancery as 'John Lethwaite of Thaives Inn, London' on 10 July 1794 and had set himself up in private practice in Lancaster by the late 1790s. In 1802 he was appointed Town Clerk and was later Clerk of the Peace and Under-Sheriff for the County of Lancashire. In 1822 he was forced to resign as Town Clerk by what he termed a conspiracy led by his rival, another attorney called John Higgin, who promptly replaced him and continued in the post until 25 April 1837, when he was himself asked to resign. Lewthwaite continued to practice with his son William (1798-1851) as attorneys and scriveners until they were both declared bankrupt in 1828, as a result of which they were automatically struck off the Roll of Attorneys and Solicitors. It seems therefore that the Lewthwaites' private practice fell into decline after John's resignation as Town Clerk and never recovered.

John Lewthwaite, by then 57, retired to his wife's family home at Stott Park, Finsthwaite and prepared a Case relating to the conduct of certain individuals lately engaged in a conspiracy against me, for private circulation to his friends and dated 18 April 1823. In effect this was his apologia pro vita sua but he never took the matter any further. In his preface, Lewthwaite says that, for reasons that he does not specify, ‘I have firmly withstood the solicitations of many of my Lancaster friends of laying the whole affair before the public; suffice it then for my present purpose to say, that the pit which my conspirators have so artfully dug for me will, in all probability at no very distant period prove, in conjunction with their other nefarious speculations, a visitation upon themselves, of their own disgrace and ruin and teach them perhaps for the first time to know that Honesty is the best policy’.

This document was carefully preserved in the Lewthwaite family until recently when it was deposited with Lancashire Archives at Preston and was the basis of Dr Philip J. Gooderson's paper A Town Clerk Disgraced; The case of John Lewthwaite of Lancaster (2023). Dr Gooderson concludes that Lewthwaite was too comfortable in his job and possibly too easy going in his conduct of some corporation business. The records and estates were found to be in disorder and no other officer could be held accountable. Lewthwaite had also underestimated the surge for reform in the town and allowed his rivals to take the initiative and obtain both Acts of Parliament and a new borough charter which effectively brought the town up to date but undermined both his standing and authority. Gooderson comments that: ‘as a power struggle to replace a town clerk in office, this was a most unusual episode in the history of English municipal corporations, even before reform’.  He also observes that Lewthwaite appears from his description of events as ‘strangely isolated and friendless and without the means of countering Higgin, who was ruthless in recruiting a faction to carry out this unopposed coup in the council chamber.’ Furthermore, he states that ‘Higgin's efforts are not only unsavoury, but may be judged misconceived considering the economic problems faced by Lancaster's town, port and corporation, at a time when the 'smart' money and men of business had moved to Liverpool’. Finally, he states that ‘Higgin's own bankruptcy seems no more than he deserved'.

Apart from his legal connections with Lancaster, John became a Freeman in 1797, as were his father and grandfather, and in the same year was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Lancaster Volunteer Infantry under Major Charles Gibson (1760-1823) of Quernmore Park. This was in response to a public meeting called by the Mayor following anxieties about a French invasion, but the mood calmed and John disappears from the Army List in 1801. The Peace of Amiens followed in 1802.


Inheritance

John Lewthwaite inherited substantial sums under the will of his father William Lewthwaite who died in 1809. Apart from £500 in cash he was left £9,000 in 3% Consols, in addition to which he succeeded to Swinside, a tenanted farm of about 250 acres, on the east of Swinside Fell, in Thwaites parish. This farm, which was formerly part of the Hudleston family's Millom Castle estate, incorporates the megalithic stone circle called Swinside, or Sunkenkirk, which is described by Wordsworth in his The River Duddon, Sonnet XV11 (1820) as 'that mystic Round of Druid frame'. Later the farm and stone circle reverted to the Lewthwaite estate at nearby Broadgate.

He also inherited, together with his three surviving brothers and four sisters, his father's 'plantations, messuages, negroes and cattle on the Island of Dominique (Dominica) in the West Indies'. This, however, proved to be a mixed blessing, with both gains and losses, until it was agreed that the estate, called Check Hall, should be sold in 1826, when the Whitehaven solicitor Richard Armitstead (1797-1859), John's nephew and a grandson of William Lewthwaite, who kept a diary of his visit to Dominica, was instructed to conclude the sale, which after much legal wrangling was finalised to his satisfaction, although he does not mention the price obtained.

John's cash inheritance alone in today's money was worth the equivalent of at least £380,000 and with his legal emolument he would have been a wealthy man until the twin disasters of his forced resignation as Town Clerk of Lancaster in 1822, followed by his bankruptcy in 1828. At his death in 1849 his estate was sworn for probate purposes as ' under £800', now about £48,000, the Stott Park estate at Finsthwaite, where he lived, always remaining in the ownership of the Taylors, his wife's family.


Marriage and Family

On 18 April 1797 John Lewthwaite married, at Ulverston, Margaret ('Peggy') Taylor (1773-1854), daughter of Roger Taylor senior (1740-1792), an Ulverston mercer who had married Margaret Latham, whose family were connected with the furnaces at Backbarrow, Cunsey and Satterthwaite. Family letters show that, for some unknown reason, John's parents were not in favour of this marriage, which seems surprising as the Taylor family owned considerable land and were influential in the Finsthwaite area. Margaret Taylor had an only brother Roger Taylor junior (1770-1849), a bachelor, on whose death Margaret and her two sisters Mrs Elizabeth Pedder (d.1857), wife of the Revd John Pedder JP of Finsthwaite House and Mrs Maria Burton, (1779- 1852) inherited the Stott Park estate. Mrs Burton married Emanuel Matthews Burton (1779-1822) in 1799, whose family mill at Middleton near Manchester was attacked by 3000 Luddites in 1812, resulting in 12 deaths and 60-100 people wounded, and his house was burnt to the ground. They were the parents of the Revd Roger Taylor Burton (1818-1906) (qv), vicar of Great Tey, near Colchester, Essex from 1875 to 1891, when he retired to Finsthwaite to live with his sisters.

Whilst Town Clerk of Lancaster, John and Margaret Lewthwaite lived at Richmond House (now known as 35-41, Slyne Road) which still stands by the A6, north of Skerton, near the river Lune. They had four surviving children (two died in infancy), all born and baptised in Lancaster.

Their elder son William (1798-1851) was admitted a solicitor as ' late of Whitehaven but now of the Inner Temple, London' in 1820.  Between 1822-1828 he was in partnership with his father in New Road, Lancaster, working as an attorney and scrivener, until they were both declared bankrupt and struck off the Roll of Solicitors and Attorneys in 1828. At that date, William fled the country by emigrating to Australia, never to return. In 1831 he was admitted a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and was appointed Coroner of Parramatta. However, in 1837 he was struck off the Roll here too and by 1844 was petitioning the Chief Justice for re-admission as an attorney, solicitor and proctor of the Supreme Court. He petitioned 'in the hope that the length of time I have been struck off the roll will be considered a sufficient punishment for the offence charged against me'. Remarkably he was successful and was re-admitted an attorney of the Supreme Court and to the bar, but is listed as practicing as a conveyancer. He was also secretary of the local branch of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. In 1832, at the age of 34, he married, at St John's Church, Parramatta, Sarah Clapson, a daughter of Michael Clapson (1767-1819) a former convict sentenced at Sussex Assizes in 1797 to seven years transportation, who had arrived in New South Wales in 1801. She was aged 16 and signed by mark. This marriage produced three surviving children: Maria Margaret (1832-after 1875), who married in 1860 a Jackson of Rutland Vale, Gunning, Sydney, NSW and whose subsequent whereabouts are unknown; John (1840-1861) and Frances Jane (1836-1914), the younger, not to be confused with her aunt of the same name (see below). On their father's death in 1851 he directed by his will that his children should be equipped and safely placed on board ship for England and left his widow, presumably by now estranged, the sum of £2. However, only John and Frances Jane made the voyage, Maria Margaret remaining in the Colony. By November 1852 their mother had re-married, to Thomas Gough of Parramatta, a blacksmith and disappears from view.

Of these two children who returned to England, John entered Caius College, Cambridge in 1860 but only resided for five terms and died unmarried at Stott Park, aged 21 in the following year; whilst Frances Jane, also unmarried, lived with her uncle and two aunts, all unmarried (see hereafter) at Stott Park for the rest of her life and in 1914 left it to her cousin the Revd George Lewthwaite (1868-1941) (qv).

Apart from their son William, the Town Clerk and his wife had three more children, Gilfred Lewthwaite (1801-1888), Marianne (1800-1875) and Frances Jane (1804-1876), all of whom lived together at Stott Park and were unmarried. Whilst it may seem odd that the Lewthwaites continued to use the name Gilfred or Gilfrid, derived from the Lawsons, their opponents in the Chancery action mentioned above, it was probably because they still wanted to acknowledge their links to this family of baronets and also perhaps to commemorate the death by drowning of Gilfed Lewthwaite, only son of their great benefactor John Lewthwaite of Whitehaven, by whose death they inherited all the old man's property.


Later years and death

John Lewthwaite was 57 when he was declared bankrupt and struck off the Roll of Solicitors and he lived for another twenty-one years. However, in a letter dated 12 April 1834 Dorothy Wordsworth wrote to her friend Jane Pollard of Halifax mentioning their old school friend Peggy Taylor, later Mrs Lewthwaite, and saying that after much affliction and anxiety she was in good health but that Mr Lewthwaite had an alarming illness a year ago and was now perfectly recovered.  She added that nothing could alleviate their distress at the ‘unfeeling conduct of a son’. This later comment must presumably allude to their son William's flight to Australia following his bankruptcy and striking off the Roll of Solicitors in 1828.

John Lewthwaite died on the 7 February 1849 aged 78 at Stott Park and the Ulverston Advertiser contained a short death notice saying that ‘his end was in peace’. In his will dated the 7th February 1835 he was of 'Stottpark (sic), gentleman'; he gave his wife Margaret a life interest in his farm at Kirksanton, Millom, then let to Richard Mellon, and subsequently to his children equally, his wife taking the residue. His estate was sworn at under £800. He is commemorated by a wall tablet in Finsthwaite Church and by a gravestone in the churchyard, which also mentions his wife, who was buried beside him.

His widow Peggy died in 1854 having made her Will at the same time as her husband in 1835. As she was able to leave the Stott Park estate to her remaining three children (she excluded William in Australia), she must have come to some arrangement with her two sisters Mrs Pedder and Mrs Burton, the co-heiresses of their brother Roger Taylor junior, who had been the owner until his death in 1849.

The Stott Park estate remained in the Lewthwaite family until 1939, when the Revd George Lewthwaite sold it to the YMCA for £2,000, now about £80,000, having never lived there since inheriting it in 1914, but letting it out. It comprised the main dwelling-house known as Stott Park House, a garden, an orchard and a boathouse on Windermere, in addition to a bungalow, a farm house and farm buildings known as Stott Park Farm, several closes of land and a coppice wood comprising in all about 40 acres.

The author has original portraits in oils of John Lewthwaite, his wife Margaret and their son William of New South Wales, knows of photographs of portraits of Roger and Margaret Taylor, parents of Mrs Lewthwaite, and has copies of old photographs of both Stott Park and of all the Lewthwaites who lived there during the 19th and 20th centuries.


Sources

  • Boumphrey, R.S, Hudleston C. Roy and Hughes, J., An Amorial for Westmorland and Lonsdale, p. 189 ( for Lewthwaite of Stott Park) and p. 291 (for Taylor of Finsthwaite)
  • Bulmer, J., ed., T.Bulmer and Co's History, Topography and Directory of Furness and Cartmel, pp. 232-239, Preston, 1910
  • Cockerill, Timothy, A Cumbrian Lawyer (Richard Armitstead) visits the West Indies in 1826, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Vol. LXXV11 , 1977, pp.158-159, Titus Wilson and Son Ltd, Kendal , 1977
  • Cockerill, Timothy, The Lewthwaite Family of Stott Park, Finsthwaite, Cumbria (formerly N. Lancs), unpublished, 2008
  • Gooderson, Philip J., A Town Clerk Disgraced: The Case of John Lewthwaite of Lancaster, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. 172 (2023) pp. 65-85, Liverpool, 2023
  • Lancashire County Council, Red Rose Collections online (re John Higgin)
  • Lewthwaite, John, Case pro and con relating to the conduct of certain individuals lately engaged in a conspiracy against me, privately circulated 1823, Lancashire Record Office, Preston, ref. DDX 3707
  • Venn, J.A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, part 2 (1752-1900), vol.1, p,469 ( for the Revd Roger Taylor Burton), Cambridge, 1940
  • Wikitree for details of Emmanuel Matthews Burton