HOLFORD, George Peter (1767-1839), of 22 Southampton Street, Bloomsbury, Mdx. and Weston Birt, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



12 Jan. 1803 - 1806
1807 - 1812
1812 - 1818
1818 - 1820
1820 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 1767, 2nd s. of Peter Holford, master in Chancery, of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx. and Weston Birt by Anne, da. of William Nutt of Buxted, Suss. educ. Harrow 1780-4; St. John’s, Camb. 30 Mar. 1784, aged 16; L. Inn 1788, called 1791. m. bef. 1802,1 Anne, da. of Rev. Averill Daniell of Lifford, co. Donegal, 1s. surv. 3da.

Offices Held

Sec. Board of Control Mar. 1804-Feb. 1806, Apr. 1807-1809.

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1798-1800.


Holford came of a Cheshire family which in the time of his great-grandfather, Sir Richard Holford, acquired an estate at Weston Birt near Malmesbury. Both his grandfather Robert and his father Peter2 were also masters in Chancery and accumulated large estates which at the death of Holford’s elder brother Robert (1758-1838), a director of the South Sea Company, were worth over a million pounds. The latter might have come into Parliament for Malmesbury, but preferred the life of an independent country gentleman, connoisseur and philanthropist.3

Holford distinguished himself in early life by patriotic versifying. He was also the author of Thoughts on the new and old principles of political obedience (1793), in defence of an English constitution based on compact rather than on the will of the majority, which he saw as the cause of the evils of the French revolution. He criticized those agitators who fomented the people to discontent with their lot; government was a matter for the informed few, though the many had a right to good goverment. Of the governing class he noted that, although the multitude might imagine that idleness and luxury were their lot, they too needed ‘an object of pursuit ... There is no secret virtue in wealth and greatness: but the exercise, which the pursuit of them affords us, preserves the health of the mind, it keeps off the disorders of indolence and is even necessary for the preservation of our faculties.’4

This essay was written not long after Holford’s call to the bar. For some years he practised, like his elder brother, keeping chambers at 4 Lincoln’s Inn New Square. In 1802 the prime minister Addington promised to find a seat in Parliament for him and he would have come in for Harwich in December on a vacancy, but for the fact that Addington wished his brother to have the seat: instead, he arranged for Holford to come in for Bossiney, where Lord Mount Edgcumbe’s seat was placed at the disposal of friends of administration. Addington described Holford as

a son of one of the masters in Chancery, an intimate friend of Lord Hawkesbury, of Ryder and of Vansittart, and I am thoroughly convinced that he is well worthy of the partiality they feel for him and that he would be an important and valuable acquisition to the House of Commons.

He added that he would tell Mount Edgcumbe that his ‘sense of obligation for any favour conferred upon Mr Holford will be the same as if rendered to my brother’. The next day, 29 Dec. 1802, Addington indicated that if Hiley Addington should fail to get in at Harwich, he would fall back on Bossiney, but there was no hitch and Holford came in. Lady Hawkesbury reported of him in April, ‘He seems to me to be completely happy with his seat in Parliament and his wife and not to have a wish beyond. He is a worthy creature and as reasonable as he is worthy.’5

Holford was a silent supporter of Addington’s and Pitt’s administrations. In May 1804 he became secretary to the Board of Control, which cemented his earlier friendship with Castlereagh. He voted against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. His essay The destruction of Jerusalem, an absolute and irresistible proof of the divine origin of Christianity was published that year. On the advent of the Grenville ministry he voted against them over Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar., and against the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806; also against the American intercourse bill on 17 June. This conduct left him without a seat at the ensuing election. Shortly before the dissolution, 27 June, he had moved the third reading of the bill to incorporate the Philanthropic Society, for which he had obtained leave on 12 Mar. A leading member of that society, he insisted on a chapel being attached to the institution for felons’ children set up by the Society and pointed out that the children would bring in £1,200 a year by their industry. At the election of 1807 he was returned for Lostwithiel, again on the Mount Edgcumbe interest, being prepared to support the Portland administration. He had not wished to come in, but Castlereagh persuaded him. He also resumed his post at the Board of Control. In 1808 he published Observations on the necessity of introducing a sufficient number of respectable clergymen into ... the West Indies and of establishing a college in this country for that purpose.

In the clash between Castlereagh and Canning in September 1809, Holford felt bound to stand by his friend and, writing to Lord Harrowby on the 19th, declined continuing his post at the Board of Control, even under Harrowby, to show his sense of the ill usage that Castlereagh had met with:

Lord Castlereagh is, to say the least, as near and as old a friend as any I have in the world, and from the formation of the present government I have always looked, and professed to look to him, as to the person with whom I was politically connected.

He hastened to add that this did not mean he would withhold his vote from Perceval’s government, or decline membership of committees suitable for Members ‘who are neither in office or Jacobins’.6 In the ensuing session he followed Castlereagh’s lead in voting for the address, 23 Jan., but was in the opposition majority for inquiry into the conduct of the Scheldt expedition, 26 Jan., and then in the government majority against censure of it, 30 Mar. 1810. He voted against sinecure reform, 17 May, and parliamentary reform, 21 May: on the former his votes were again hostile on 7 Feb., 24 Feb. and 4 May 1812. On 21 Jan. 1812 he was given leave to bring in a bill to establish a penitentiary for convicts in London and Middlesex sentenced to transportation; the idea was John Howard’s, and Jeremy Bentham had an alternative proposal which Holford criticized. He described the evils of the existing penal system which rendered the scheme necessary. At the committee stage, 20 Mar., he urged supervision of the penitentiary by a committee, rather than by an individual. On 1 July he moved, in a committee of supply, for a grant of £30,000 towards building the penitentiary at Millbank—it was approved by 41 votes to 7. He had declined the presidency of the Board of Control when it was vacated by Lord Melville.7

At the general election of 1812, Holford had to look for another seat; Lord Liverpool wrote to the Irish secretary, 1 Oct., ‘if you have a seat at your disposal [in Ireland] free of expense I should recommend Holford as one of the persons who has the best claims upon us, and for whom we have not been able to provide’. On 23 Oct. Thomas Knox* informed Lord Grenville, ‘The member for Dungannon (a borough in the patronage of Viscount Northland) is a Mr Holford, recommended I presume by government’.8 Holford, who was so recommended and at no expense to himself, appeared as a government supporter on the Treasury list and proved a steady one.

Holford voted for Grattan’s Catholic relief motion on 2 Mar. 1813, but jibbed on 11 May and voted against the resulting bill, 24 May. He remained hostile in 1816 and 1817. On 29 Mar. 1813 he objected to the sinecure offices bill: if pensions were awarded only for duration of service, time-servers would be encouraged. He opposed the compensation bill for John Palmer*, 15 June 1813: he had briefly objected to it before, 16 May 1808. On 14 June 1814, on the basis of the report of the committee on London prisons of which he was a member, he moved for a bill for their better management; he defended the bill until the report stage when Alderman Curtis thwarted it. He also promoted a bill to abolish gaol fees generally, 22, 27 Feb. 1815, and soon afterwards moved that the House reconsider the conditions of prisoners in the hulks (he was a member of the committee of inquiry of 1812 on these), in which he was successful. He criticized the offenders transportation bill, 5 Apr. 1816. On 17 Feb. 1817 he presented an individual’s petition for the abolition of capital punishment except for murder.

In 1818 Holford came in for Hastings on the interest of administration. In this Parliament he continued a member of the finance committee chosen in 1817 but spoke only on the Penryn election bill, 26 Feb., 12 May and 22 June 1819, against the extension of the franchise there; on the conditions in the new Millbank penitentiary, 22 Mar., and on the committee on the charitable foundations bill—he denied it was packed with government supporters, but admitted that so many well qualified Members had been omitted from it that he objected to attending it. He remained a member of the Poor Law committee. He was one of the few Members out of office invited to a ministerial dinner by Castlereagh.9

Holford’s attention to the subjects of prison discipline and the reformation of juvenile offenders continued unabated. He retired from Parliament in 1826. He was one of Castlereagh’s executors and also one of Liverpool’s. He was frequently in Ireland, his wife’s native country, but was not hopeful of good results from Catholic relief; nor did he have any faith in parliamentary reform. He died 30 Apr. 1839, aged 71.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. His infant son died 23 Mar. 1802.
  • 2. Peter Holford, an East India Company director, who died in 1804 ‘immensely rich’, was governor of the New River Co. and George succeeded him in this, Gent. Mag. (1804), ii. 698.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 444. Robert Holford’s heir was this Member’s only son.
  • 4. BL Cat.; Thoughts, ch. 2.
  • 5. Sidmouth mss, Addington to Pole Carew, 28, 29 Dec. 1802, 3 Jan.; Sheffield City Lib. Wharncliffe mss, Lady Hawkesbury to Lady Erne, 11 Apr. 1803.
  • 6. Harrowby mss.
  • 7. SRO GD 51/1/198/21/45.
  • 8. Add. 40181, f. 7; Fortescue mss.
  • 9. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems., ii. 28.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. (1839), ii. 318; W. Suff. RO, Hervey mss, Holford to Bristol, 31 Aug., 15 Oct., 13 Dec. 1828, 9 Nov. 1830.