The Hon. William Henry Cross MP (1856-1892)

The Hon. William Henry Cross MP

Written by Tim Cockerill

Occupations: Barrister and Member of Parliament

Background and Early Life

William Henry Cross was born on the 22 August 1856 at Appleton Hall, near Warrington, Cheshire, the second but eldest surviving son of Richard Assheton Cross, 1st Viscount Cross of Broughton-in-Furness, Co. Lancaster, P.C., G.C.B, G.C.S.I., D.C.L, LL.D, F.R.S., J.P., D.L., (1823-1914; ODNB), who married 4 May 1852, Georgiana Lyon C.I., the third daughter of Thomas Lyon J.P., D.L. of Appleton Hall.

Both the Cross and Lyon families included lawyers and bankers and by 1871 they were included in Burkes Landed Gentry. The Cross family were originally tanners in Preston and then attorneys-at-law and officials of the Court of Chancery of the County Palatine. The Lyon family owed their wealth and position to Parr's Bank in Warrington, founded in 1782, in which the Parrs and their relations the Lyons were partners. Later Lord Cross gave up the Bar to become a partner in the Bank.

Lord Cross was a distinguished Conservative politician in Disraeli's cabinet and was recently described by Simon Heffer in High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (2014) as 'one of the century’s great reformers'. He was Home Secretary and later Secretary of State for India, as well as being a confidante and lawyer to Queen Victoria. In 1865 Lord Cross commissioned Edward Graham Paley (1823-1895) to build him a Tudor Gothic country house called Eccle Riggs, near Broughton-in-Furness, where he afterwards regularly spent his holidays, travelling up in a special train when a Minister of State.  In 1909, when he was the senior Director of the Great Central Railway, the company named one of its express steam locomotives Viscount Cross.


William Henry, named after his father’s Cabinet colleague, the bookseller W.H. Smith MP (1825-1891), lived with his parents in London for most of the year but early on acquired a love of the Lake District from family holidays spent at Eccle Riggs from the mid - 1860s.  In the family, Henry was always known as Harry. In September 1869, he entered Rugby School, where his father had been before him, and was initially under the headmastership of Dr Frederick Temple (1821-1902; ODNB) and remained there until late 1875. In 1874 he won five school prizes, for Latin hexameters, Latin prose, Greek iambics and two for class-singing and reading. He was, in addition, head of house and was awarded his school colours for football. In 1875 he was a major and minor exhibitioner and scholar to University College, Oxford, attaining the first class in Mods in 1877 and graduating BA in 1879. Although a good oarsman who rowed for his college, he was described by a colleague as lacking in physique, hardness and stamina, which prevented him from taking part in the annual University Boat Race. However, he seems to have been universally popular at Oxford for his good humour, charm and straightforward character.

Marriage and Family

On 19 August 1880, William Henry Cross married Mary Lewthwaite (1855-1946), younger daughter of the late William Lewthwaite JP, DL of Broadgate, Thwaites, Millom, Cumberland. The service at St Anne's, Thwaites was conducted by the Revd John Stackhouse, assisted by the bride's cousin the Revd George Lewthwaite (junior) of Adel, near Leeds. The bride’s brother William Lewthwaite (qv) (1853-1927) had entered Rugby School in 1868, fourteen months before the bridegroom and was created a baronet in 1927. In addition, Mary Lewthwaite’s elder sister Anne (1852-1933) married in 1878 Hamlet Riley (qv) (1851-1922) JP, DL of Ennim, Penrith, who had entered Rugby School in February 1865. Both Lewthwaite and Riley were in Burrows House, whereas Cross was in Arnold.

There were five children of the marriage. The eldest, Richard Assheton Cross (1882-1932) succeeded his grandfather as the 2nd Viscount Cross in 1914. In 1918 he married Maud Evelyn Inigo Jones, daughter of Major-General Inigo Richmund Jones CB CVO, of Kelston Park, Kelston, near Bath, Somerset, a descendant of Lt. Gen. Henry Richmund Gale (1760-1814) of Bardsea Hall, near Ulverston. They had three sons and a daughter, including Assheton Henry Cross (1920-2004), the third and last viscount.  The four daughters were unmarried and lived at Ash House, Thwaites. They were the Hon. Dorothy (Mary) Cross JP ARRC (1884-1962), the Hon. (Georgiana) Marjorie Cross (1886-1958), ARRC, FSA, the Hon. Katharine Cross (1888-1969) and the Hon. Ellinor Frances Cross (1891-1978).  Upon the death of their grandfather, the 1st Viscount Cross in 1914, their father the Hon W.H. Cross would have become the 2nd Viscount. As he had predeceased his father, his above four daughters were granted the rank and precedence of the daughters of a viscount by Royal warrant, dated 29 July in the same year. Dorothy and Marjorie were both members of the CWAAS and the latter excavated prehistoric material in the dunes of Walney Island.

Legal Career

Harry Cross followed his distinguished father into the legal profession and became a barrister of the Inner Temple in 1882. He was a special pleader, that is, he specialized in drafting pleadings in the higher courts, of which there were only 19 after 1860.  He joined the Northern Circuit, in early 1883, holding his first brief at Lancaster, but advocacy was not his strong point.  His extreme modesty and diffidence, coupled with his failure to appreciate that others were not as quick-witted as himself, did not make him a successful advocate with a jury.

He soon realized that his forte was drafting complicated pleadings, leaving others to do the court work. Several judges, including Lord Justice Henry Lopes (1828-1899), later Lord Ludlow and Mr Justice Richard Henn Collins (1842-1911), considered him to be a hard worker, thoroughly conscientious and a good lawyer. He was soon assisting the editor of Smith's Leading Cases and devilling for the Attorney-General, Sir Richard Webster (1842-1915), later Viscount Alverstone. In 1888, he was involved in several cases for the Barrow-in-Furness corporation and represented the Lancashire county council in the complicated litigation that arose over the passing of the Local Government Act of 1884.

Sir Charles Russell (1832-1900; ODNB), later Lord Russell of Killowen and Lord Chief Justice, after Cross' untimely death, perhaps shrewdly commented that Harry Cross 'might not have risen to the very foremost rank at the Bar......but he would in time have made a useful and highly creditable judge. His talent certainly was rather judicial than political or forensic'.


Nevertheless, Harry Cross, both at school and university, had always said that he meant to get into Parliament and no doubt his eminent father would have welcomed this ambition.  His work on Assize and at the Quarter Sessions took him much to Lancashire, and in August 1888, at the age of 32, he was invited to stand as the Conservative candidate in the West Derby division of Liverpool. The existing member, Lord Claud Hamilton (1843-1925), was resigning and later became the energetic chairman of the Great Eastern Railway, who also had a steam engine named after him.

Cross, trading somewhat on his father's name and emphasizing his staunch support for the Church of England and the policies of Lord Salisbury's government, was unanimously adopted by the constituency's council. The West Derby division was then a prosperous one, with a population of 76,971 and an electorate of 10,093. As matters turned out, these figures did not matter, as he was elected unopposed later in 1888.  However, in July 1892 there was a general election and although his Liberal opponent was Frederick Edwin Smith (1872-1930), later Lord Birkenhead and a Liverpool man, Cross won the seat with a 1,182 majority.

Although by nature he was modest, cautious and unobtrusive, he worked hard for his constituency. However, his time in Parliament was to be relatively brief. Once again, his administrative skills rather than his oratory came to the fore. He was rather a legislative draftsman than a public speaker and in this respect was his father's son. But he was clearly a man of ability and principal and his friendly character and attractive appearance made him a popular figure in both Liverpool and the House of Commons. In particular, he promoted the interests of the Liverpool Shipowners' Association, and guided through bills on Municipal Corporations, Bills of Sale and Summary Jurisdiction. The joint authors of the Memoir of the Hon. William Henry Cross concluded that his 'his brief life within the House was necessarily one rather of promise than performance'.

Last Illness and Death

In August 1892, the family spent their summer holidays at Eccle Riggs and Broadgate, as usual; these being their respective homes in North Lancashire and South Cumberland, but, after returning to London in November, Cross developed what was thought to be influenza. On the 25 November he became very ill and his doctors then diagnosed severe typhoid fever. He died peacefully on the 11 December at his house in 93 St George's Road, Southwark, London SE1 aged only thirty-six.  This event was a great shock to the family, deprived his father Lord Cross of his heir apparent and resulted in the new heir as being William’s ten year old son, Richard.

His body was conveyed by train to Broughton-in-Furness station on the 14 December and was buried in the churchyard, the burial service being read by the Revd J.H.J. Ellison, vicar of St Gabriel's, Warwick Square, London, where the deceased had been a churchwarden. The Revd Ellison was assisted by the vicar of Broughton and his curate.

The scene was movingly captured by the joint authors of the Memoir of the Hon. W.H. Cross (1893) as follows:

        No one who stood by that open grave on that bleak December afternoon could readily forget the scene - the solemn service in the church, solemn yet so bright and full of hope; the presence at the grave of the widow and her only son (ten years of age), his parents, brothers and sisters... his life had been bright and happy and so they seemed resolved that no grief of theirs should be apparent to mar the closing scene around the grave...

Memorial services were held in London and Liverpool, mention was made in Parliament, at the assizes and quarter sessions at Lancaster; there were also obituaries in both national and local papers, for example in The Maryport Advertiser of 17 December 1892. Queen Victoria wrote a personal letter to Lord Cross, an extract from which reads:

        I cannot remain for a moment silent without expressing my heartfelt, deepest sympathy in this hour of terrible affliction. You know, my dear Lord Cross, that I look upon you as a kind and faithful friend and that therefore I do feel most truly for you....... it is inexplicable that a young and most promising, useful life should have been cut off when he could have been of such use to his sorrowing family and his country.

His grave is marked by a simple cross in Broughton-in-Furness churchyard, where his father, the 1st Viscount Cross, who survived him for twenty-two years, and other members of his family are also buried. His widow lived on for another fifty-seven years, dying at her home, Ash House, Thwaites, in 1946 aged 92. Her four unmarried daughters continued to live there until their deaths in 1958, 1962, 1969 and 1978, respectively.


  • Bulmer, J., The History, Topography and Directory of Furness and Cartmel, Preston, 1st edn. 1910, 181
  • Burke, Sir Bernard, Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of England and Ireland, London, 1871, vol. 1, 305-306 (for Cross of Red Scar and Cross of Eccle Riggs) and vol.11, 831-832 (for Lyon of Appleton Hall)
  • Burke, Sir Bernard, Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of England and Ireland, London, 1894, vol.1, 1085, (for Jones of Kelston Park) and vol.11, 1200-1201, (for Lewthwaite of Broadgate) and 1714 (for Riley of Brearley House and Putley Court)
  • CW2 xi 68-77  re Marjorie Cross’s excavation on Walney
  • Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, London, 1893, 211
  • Foster, Joseph, Men at the Bar, London, 1885, 108
  • Foster, Joseph, Alumni Oxonienses, Oxford, 1888, vol 1, 321
  • Gray, James and Pearson, Alexander, Memoir of the Hon. William Henry Cross, London, 1893
  • Maryport Advertiser, 17 December 1892 (obituary)
  • Michell, the Revd. A.T., editor, Rugby School Register 1842-1874, vol.11, Rugby, 1902, 302
  • The London Echo, 8 December 1892 (re the W.H. Smith connection)
  • Walford, Edward, The County Families of the United Kingdom, London, 1890, 258
  • Also family information from the Hon. Ellinor Cross in the 1970s. The author's grandfather, the Revd George Lewthwaite (1868-1941) was a first cousin of the Hon. Mrs W.H. Cross (nee Lewthwaite).