BURSLEM, William (1662-1716), of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

bap. 14 Oct. 1662, 2nd but o. surv. s. of James Burslem, of Newcastle-under-Lyme by Rebecca, da. of Humphrey Warnor of Abbots Bromley, Staffs.  m. 28 July 1681, Dorothy (d. 1699), da. of Daniel Watson† of Nether Hall, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffs. 7s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. (2 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. 1675.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Newcastle-under-Lyme 1681, capital burgess 1685–1708, 1712–d., mayor 1690–1, 1696–7; receiver-gen. Staffs. 1700–6.2


Burslem, as his surname suggests, came from a family with close connexions to the area around Newcastle-under-Lyme. He inherited property in nearby Wolstanton and in the borough itself. His grandfather had served as mayor twice in the early 1660s and he himself became an alderman during James II’s reign, at about the same time cementing his local connexions with a marriage to the daughter of Daniel Watson, the borough’s recorder from 1660 to 1683.3

Very little is known about Burslem’s career before the turn of the century apart from the fact that he had begun practising as an attorney in Newcastle in 1682, a profession entirely consistent with the evidence of his will (made in 1699) which indicated that he was not a wealthy man, at least not so by the standards of those who aspired to parliamentary election. In 1700 he was appointed receiver-general of Staffordshire, a position apparently procured for him through the influence of Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, who took advantage of the indebtedness and then death of the previous incumbent, Thomas Spendelow, the nominee of John Lawton*, an important local Whig. Burslem used his new post to extend Tory influence in the county, particularly in Newcastle where he became Leveson Gower’s main agent. To facilitate this work he acquired the place of deputy-steward of Newcastle manor (under Rowland Cotton*), and leases of the castle (from the crown) and, most importantly, of Leveson Gower’s property in the borough, worth £90 p.a., which he sub-let to electoral advantage.4

Burslem first came to prominence in national politics after the disputed election at Newcastle in 1705, which resulted in the Commons unseating Cotton and another Tory, Sir Thomas Bellot, 3rd Bt., on 27 Feb. 1706 in favour of Lawton and his Whig partner, Crewe Offley*. In addition the House found Burslem guilty of bribery in endeavouring to procure votes for the Tory candidates and resolved to address the Queen to discharge him from office as receiver-general. Despite being dismissed in 1706, he played a similar role in the 1708 election. On this occasion, after the Tory candidates had been unseated on 1 Feb. 1709, Burslem was sent for into custody by the Commons and his actions used as a pretext to remove him from Newcastle corporation. Despite these setbacks, he was in a strong position to benefit from the Tory revival following the Sacheverell trial. The death of Lord Gower (as Leveson Gower had become) in 1709 had left him with an even greater role in the management and preservation of the Tory interest in the borough. Lady Gower, in particular, was keen to see him succeed in 1710 as a means of keeping at least one seat safe for her younger sons. With the death of Bellot also in 1709, he was the obvious partner for Cotton at the 1710 election. Given the enthusiasm of Newcastle’s reception of Dr Sacheverell in July 1710, Burslem’s return in October was scarcely surprising, even though one observer referred to his ‘inconsiderable estate’ and that he had been ‘twice before the House of Commons called to account for what he did for Lord Gower’.5

On the ‘Hanover list’ of the 1710 Parliament Burslem was classed as a Tory, an analysis borne out by the appearance of his name among those ‘worthy patriots’ who had helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous ministry during the 1710–11 session. On 3 Feb. 1711 he intervened in the debate on the report of the Ipswich election case to refute Sir Joseph Jekyll’s defence of the fairness of the previous Parliament because ‘for far less crime, or rather no crime at all, he was by the last Parliament 11 weeks in custody of the serjeant, having as he said a very just petition’. In February 1712 he managed through its stages in the Commons the bill from the Lords enabling the young 2nd Lord Gower to make a settlement upon his marriage. He showed himself to be a firm supporter of the ministry by voting on 18 June for the bill confirming the 8th and 9th articles of the commercial treaty with France. Burslem was also active outside the House during this Parliament in order to rectify the perceived injustices of Whig partisanship between 1706 and 1708. First, shortly after his election, in December 1710, he received an allowance for extraordinary charges relating to his period as receiver-general, and then, in May 1711, he secured the appointment of his son, Thomas, in that post. More pleasing still was the decision in December 1712 of the corporation of Newcastle to restore him to the aldermanic bench while removing his Whig rival John Lawton.6

With the corporation more completely under Tory control Burslem was returned with Cotton at the general election of 1713. Crewe Offley petitioned against the return on 5 Mar. 1714 on the grounds that Burslem’s estate was insufficient to meet the requirements of the recent Landed Qualification Act, but made no headway in a Tory-dominated House. Burslem’s most important task in the 1714 session was the management through the Commons of a local turnpike bill, which he carried up to the Lords on 13 May 1714. He was classed as a Tory on the Worsley list. Burslem did not stand at the general election of 1715, preferring to back Cotton and a new partner, Henry Vernon II*, who were returned only to be unseated on petition. This was the end of Burslem’s involvement in Newcastle elections, for he died on 17 Apr. 1716 at Oxford (according to Boyer), only four days after attending a council meeting. After his death his executors sold some of his property in Newcastle to Lord Gower.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. P. W. L. Adams, Hist. Adams Fam. 77–78; IGI, Staffs.; Newcastle-under-Lyme Par. Reg. pt.2, pp. 129, 145, 197, 249, 252.
  • 2. R. W. Bridgett, ‘Hist. Newcastle-under-Lyme, 1661–1760’ (Keele Univ. M.A. thesis, 1982), 177; N. Staffs. J. Field Stud. xiv. 78; J. C. Wedgwood, Staffs. Parl. Hist. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), ii. 207; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 98; xx. 606; J. Ward, Bor. of Stoke-upon-Trent, 336.
  • 3. Wedgwood, 207; Adams, 77–78.
  • 4. T. Pape, Newcastle-under-Lyme from Restoration to 1760, p. 30; PCC 89 Fox; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 98; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2 Hy 234, Philip Foley* to Thomas Foley (?II*), 7 Feb. 1701[-2]; VCH Staffs. viii. 15, 185; J. R. Wordie, Estate Management in 18th Cent. Eng. 234–5.
  • 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 606; Adams, 78–79; NRA Rep. 10699, viii. 64; Glos. RO, Hardwicke Court mss, Lloyd pprs. box 74, Dan. Tottie to Dr William Lloyd, 8 July 1710; Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/O2/100, Mrs Rogers to [Mrs Mary Cocks], n.d., [1710].
  • 6. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1020/9, Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.* to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 3 Feb. 1711; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, p. 227; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 522; xxv. 59; Adams, 78–79.
  • 7. Newcastle pollbk. 1714 (Hist. of Parl.); Boyer, Pol. State, xi. 506; Bridgett, 218; Wordie, 235.