Milham Hartley (1771-1839)

Milham Hartley

Written by Tim Cockerill

Occupations: Banker, Businessman and Landowner

Background and Early Life

Milham Hartley was born at Whitehaven in 1771, second son of John Hartley (1735-1801) of Whitehaven, merchant, banker and partner in the family ropery business by Elizabeth Milham (1738-1815), daughter of James Milham, a wealthy merchant and ship's Master in the town, whose wife, Elizabeth Gale, belonged to one of Whitehaven's leading commercial family. The Hartleys originated in Bridekirk, near Cockermouth, but moved to the expanding town of Whitehaven in the early 17th Century, where their initial business was a ropery at Corkickle. Later they branched out as West Indian merchants and, in 1786, Milham’s father John and his younger brother Thomas Hartley 1 (1744-1815) were founding partners in Hartley’s Bank, believed to be the first Cumbrian bank. Hartley Street, Whitehaven, later renamed George Street, took its name from the family’s ropery.

Milham had an elder brother, Thomas 11 (1766-1831), of Linethwaite and Gillfoot, Egremont, a partner in Hartley’s Bank, who also owned 430 acres in the village as well as properties in Howgill and Tangier Streets, Whitehaven. He married in 1769 Elizabeth Grayson ((1747-1800), a daughter and co-heiress of John Grayson of Gillfoot and they had two daughters. In addition Milham had two elder sisters, Isabella Hartley (1763-1827) who married in 1786 Thomas Wybergh of Clifton Hall, Clifton,Westmorland and Anne Hartley (1765-1811) who married in 1787 Sir Wilfred Lawson, 10th bart. of Isel and Brayton Hall, Cumberland, both long established Cumbrian gentry families.

Young Milham started off with some useful connections and was educated at Hawkshead Grammar School, where he was a contemporary of William Wordsworth (1770-1850), his future brother-in-law William Lewthwaite (1766-1845) of Broadgate, Millom and many of the Cumbrian gentry and upper yeoman families. In 1791 Milham, and his elder brother Thomas, each donated £1.1s to the school's New Library.


Destined for a business career he did not go to Oxford or Cambridge but was probably apprenticed to a partner in the family ropery, which specialised in the production of ships' rope and twine and had been established in Whitehaven since the 17th Century. The raw material used was Baltic hemp, grown in Russia Already part of the growing maritime network of West Cumberland the firm branched out into shipbuilding in the 1760s. They also became plantation owners in Jamaica with some participation in the slave trade, were ironmasters at Egremont and also began lending out money at interest. It was, therefore, a logical conclusion as well as fulfilling a local need, to found what became one of the earliest country banks in England in 1786. The original partners were Thomas Hartley 1 and his brother John, Milham's father, together with Isaac Littledale (1736-1791), a Whitehaven merchant and Samuel Potter(d.1813), of Springfield, Egremont, a draper. They began trading under the style of Hartley, Littledale, Hartley and Potter. Their premises stood on the corner of Coates Lane and Queen Street, Whitehaven and was purchased by Thomas Hartley in 1787 for £600. The vendor was Lord Muncaster as the trustee of the estate of Joseph Tiffin Senhouse (1743-1829) of Calder Abbey. In 1838 the bank became known as the Bank of Whitehaven Ltd and, in 1916, was acquired by Manchester and Liverpool District Bank, having survived all the banking crises of the 19th century. 

Milham Hartley had two principal businesses. Firstly he became a partner with his brother Thomas in Hartley's ropery but he combined this with his partnership in Hartley's Bank, again with his brother Thomas, and his nephew Thomas Hartley 111 (1802-1855). In 1818 the Hartleys converted their bank into a joint stock bank as the Joint Stock Bank of Whitehaven, which meant that it remained a partnership but issued shares to the public, who benefitted from the profits but thereby became also liable for any of the firm's debts. The Hartleys retained the controlling interest, which brought the family increasing wealth so that in 1880 Milham Hartley's great nephew was able to purchase the Armathwaite Hall estate facing onto Bassenthwaite Lake from the Fletcher Vane family and, in the following year, he commissioned the Carlisle architect C.J.Ferguson to design the present enormous house in the ‘Tudorbethan’ style, now a five star hotel. In the early 19th Century Milham Hartley had purchased the more modest Rosehill estate at Moresby, which comprised 383 acres when his son lived there in 1873. Rosehill was described by John Martin Robinson as 'a handsome and unusual late 18th century house of more than one period with two canted bay windows on the garden front while the entrance front is boldly convex with a Greek Doric porch in antis enclosing an oval vestibule'. In the 20th Century Rosehill became the home of Sir Nicholas Sekers, founder of the West Cumberland Silk Mills, whose family commissioned Oliver Messel to design the Rosehill Theatre in the grounds.

In addition to his Whitehaven business interests Milham Hartley was a joint owner of the Crawle plantation in the parish of St James, Jamaica with his brother Thomas and nephew Thomas and the three of them were mortgagees of further estates at Jock's Lodge, Dry Valley, Water Valley and Tillstone, all in Trelawney parish, being mortgagees in possession of the latter two estates. After the emancipation of their slaves in 1833 the three Hartleys were awarded compensation by the government of a total of £23,365, in modern money about £1.4m., so they must have been considerable slave-owners.

Despite his busy commercial life Milham Hartley also took a prominent part in local affairs. In 1818 he served as High Sheriff of Cumberland, in 1822 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of the County, was a JP and he was also a Major in the Whitehaven Local Militia in which his father had been a lieutenant colonel.

Family Life

On the 31st October 1799 Milham Hartley married, at St Nicholas's Church, Whitehaven, Mary Lewthwaite (1776-1833), fourth daughter of William Lewthwaite (1740-1809),JP of Broadgate, Thwaites, Millom and The Cupola, Duke Street, Whitehaven, also a landowner and West Indian merchant, and owner of plantations in Antigua and at Check Hall in Dominica. On her father's death in 1809 Mrs Hartley inherited The Cupola, one of the finest houses in Whitehaven, plus £8,000 in 3% Consols, (now at least £312,000). It appears that she and her husband never lived at The Cupola and it is unclear why she, as a second daughter and with several brothers, was left this property. In 1850 the Hartleys sold the Cupola to the Whitehaven Council and it later became the Town Hall. 

Milham and Mary Hartley seem to have started married life in Irish Street, Whitehaven before purchasing Rosehill and Moresby House and gradually acquiring a good deal of other property in the village of Moresby. There were four sons and three daughters of the marriage, but one son and two daughters died young. The remaining children included John (1800-1845) of Moresby House, Moresby, who married in 1826 Margaret, daughter and co-heiress of Henry Fisher of Greenbank, St Bees, wine merchant and shipping agent in Whitehaven with Anthony Benn Steward (see below), and left five sons and four daughters, including Marion (d.1907) who married in 1852 John Stirling (1820-1907), JP,DL., of Fairburn, Ross and Cromarty, proprietor of the Montreal iron-ore mine at Cleator Moor and a munificent local benefactor. Of their other sons Gilfrid William (1810-1874), JP, DL of Rosehill, Moresby, High Sheriff of Cumberland in 1847 and co-founder of the Cleator Hematite Iron and Steel Works married in 1844 Margaret Randleson, daughter of William Randleson (1786-1854) of Tivoli, Whitehaven, a partner in Randleson and Forster, chemists and druggist and colour manufacturers in the town. Mary Anne(1801-1843), the only daughter of Milham and Mary Hartley to reach adulthood, married in 1842 Anthony Benn Steward JP(1805-1881) of Newton Manor, Gosforth, a partner in the Whitehaven wine-merchants Fisher and Steward, who was High Sheriff of Cumberland in 1858, but they were childless. Newton Manor was built by the Stewards in 1835 in red sandstone in the ‘Tudorbethan’ style, as was Armathwaite Hall, mentioned above.

The later years

Milham Hartley continued his partnership in the family ropery and was also an active partner in the joint stock bank until at least 1829. In addition his busy public life in Whitehaven continued, although the abolition of slavery in 1833 must have meant that the Hartley's plantations in Jamaica underwent some changes. The freed slaves were now paid and many worked on their former estates in a different capacity which would have reduced the family income from the West Indies. However, government compensation paid to the Hartleys for the emancipation of their slaves, as mentioned above, would have added to their considerable existing wealth. This is reflected in Milham Hartley’s will dated 2nd April 1834. He gave his eldest son John his half share in the Corkicle ropery, his half part of the Guinea warehouse in Whitehaven and all his share in ships. He gave to his second son George £500 in cash and £8,000 in 3% Consols and to his third and youngest son Gilfrid William the Rosehill estate, together with two farms and other land in Moresby, his pew in the north-west gallery of St Nicholas's Church, Whitehaven, £500 in cash and £10,000 in 3% Consols. Lastly, he gave to his only surviving daughter, Mrs Mary Anne Benn, property in Whitehaven, £500 in cash and £125,000 in 3% Consols. The total Consols alone amounted to over £7m in modern money.

Mrs Milham Hartley, whose sister Agnes Lewthwaite had married the Revd. Richard Armitstead of Whitehaven, q.v., died on the 19th December 1833 and her husband Milham followed her on the 30th May 1839. They were both buried at Moresby and there is a wall tablet to them in the church.

It is unclear if male descendants of Milham Hartley remain, but the last male descendant of his elder brother Thomas was Thomas Milham Hartley (1878-1966), who sold Armathwaite Hall in 1931 and went to live at Silchester House, Silchester, Hants. His only son Major Thomas Fitzhardinge Hartley R.A. (b.1912) died on active service in 1942. No portraits of Milham Hartley or his wife are known to exist, although portraits of other members of the Hartley family have survived.


  • Caine, Caesar, A History of the Churches of the Rural Deanery of Whitehaven, Whitehaven, 1916, 29 and 376
  • Caine, Caesar, Cleator and Cleator Moor, Past and Present, Kendal, 1916, 208, 274-277,280 and 345-346
  • Cockerill, Timothy, The Hartley family of Whitehaven, Egremont and Moresby, Cumbria Family History Society Newsletter, No. 144, August 2012, 12-16
  • Hughes, Edward., North Country life in the eighteenth century, vol. 11, Cumberland and Westmorland 1700 -1830, London, 1965, 51
  • Legacies of British slave owners, Milham Hartley, profile and legacies summary, accessed 8 May 2020
  • Parson, Wm. and White Wm., History, Directory and Gazetteer of Cumberland and Westmorland, Leeds, 1829, 229
  • Pine, L.G, Editor, Burke's Landed Gentry, 17th Edition, London, 1952, 1178 (for Hartley)
  • Return of Owners of Land, Cumberland, vol. 1, London 1875, 15 and 32
  • Robinson, John Martin, A guide to the Country Houses of the North-West, Cumberland, London, 1991, 86-87,131
  • Townend, Peter, Editor, Burke's Landed Gentry, 18th Edition, vol.11, London, 1965, 651 (for Stirling of Fairburn.)