FOUNTAYNE WILSON, Richard (1783-1847), of Melton Hall, nr. Doncaster and Ingmanthorp, nr. Wetherby, Yorks.
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Family and Educationb. 9 June 1783, 1st s. of Richard Wilson of Rudding Hall and Elizabeth, da. of Very Rev. John Fountayne, DD, dean of York. educ. Eton 1799; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1800. m. Sophia, da. of George Osbaldeston† of Hutton Bushell, 4s.(2 d.v.p.) 5 da. suc. fa. 1786; maternal grandfa. 1802 and took additional name of Fountayne by royal lic. 20 July 1803. d. 24 July 1847.
Sheriff, Yorks. 1807-8.
Col. 1st W. Yorks. militia 1824-47.
Descended from Thomas Wilson, a Leeds merchant of the seventeenth century, Wilson’s great-grandfather Richard Wilson was recorder of Leeds, 1729-61. His third son Christopher, this Member’s grandfather, was bishop of Bristol, 1783-92, married a daughter of Dr. Edmund Gibson, bishop of London, 1720-48, and died ‘extremely rich’ in 1792.1 Wilson’s father apparently died v.p. in 1786, the same year as his mother, leaving him and his brother Thomas Charles as orphans.2 Who raised them is unknown, but Thomas’s death in 1801 left Wilson as the only surviving grandson of John Fountayne, the dean of York, who made him his heir and died on 14 Feb. 1802, bequeathing him Melton Hall. Wilson later inherited Fountayne’s East Anglian estates from his aunt Catherine Judith Fountayne. In addition he possessed two large estates near Wetherby that had belonged to his father and a large amount of land in and around Leeds.3 Thomas Creevey* reported in 1826 that Wilson was ‘such a queer looking devil as ever you saw’.4 He was made sheriff of Yorkshire in 1807, the year of the monumental county election, and it was later said that he had handled the occasion with ‘sound discrimination and strict impartiality’.5 In 1817, he presented the Leeds General Infirmary with 4,000 square yards of land on its south front, valued at £1,500, which was laid out as a garden and ‘served materially to ornament the west entrance to the town’.6 At a county meeting in October 1819 he backed Stuart Wortley, one of the Members, in opposing a petition to Parliament seeking to prevent prosecution of the organizers of the Peterloo meeting; but when he attempted to speak ‘he was overpowered by clamour and compelled to desist’.7 During the 1820 general election he was spoken of as a possible candidate for Yorkshire. Lord Hotham’s* agent John Hall also reported, 5 Mar., that he ‘came to Beverley, but would not oppose [George Lane] Fox, who had spent a great deal of money’.8 At a county meeting in January 1823, Wilson again backed Stuart Wortley, this time against resolutions calling for parliamentary reform.9 Later that year the Leeds tithes were commuted by payment of £14,000, half of which was paid by Wilson, the rest being raised by subscription.10 When a Wetherby petition was set in motion against Catholic relief in April 1825, Wilson successfully asked the home secretary Peel to present it.11 On 13 Apr. 1825 he chaired a Tadcaster meeting organized by local landowners, who drew up a petition that viewed ‘with great anxiety and alarm’ the efforts made by manufacturing and commercial interests to secure ‘the removal of the present corn laws’.12
At a meeting of the Leeds Pitt Club in June 1825, Michael Sadler* proposed Wilson as a Member for the county at the next election, when four seats would become available. Thomas Tottie told the Whig county Member Lord Milton, 6 June, that the suggestion had been ‘preceded by an insinuation that it was entirely without the knowledge of [Wilson’s] personal intentions’, but he believed Sadler to be
the puppet put forward on this occasion to try how the pulse beats towards an invitation ... to Mr. Wilson ... I need not tell your Lordship how skilfully and warily a certain family carry on their schemes of aggrandizement. I would not willingly cancel the worth of Wilson’s gifts on several occasions to this town by referring them to merely as political purposes, but I cannot doubt that there is a strong infusion of that ingredient in the late donation of £7,000 towards the increase in this vicarage, with a view to the very thing now attempted.13
In the expectation of a dissolution, a meeting of Protestant freeholders was called in Leeds, 12 Nov., when it was decided that Wilson was ‘a fit and proper person to represent the county’. Similar meetings throughout the West Riding endorsed this, and a requisition was started which he accepted, 1 Dec., promising ‘to promote their interests and to protect and preserve, unimpaired, the Protestant church and government’. The Whig Leeds Mercury condemned him as ‘a man of eccentricity and whim; totally unacquainted with and unfit for public business; destitute of talents, either as a speaker or a politician and fit to represent nothing in Parliament but his own money and his own prejudices’.14 On 9 Dec. 1825 Lord Scarborough wrote to Lord Fitzwilliam explaining that he could no longer back Milton but would be transferring all his support to Wilson on account of the coincidence of their ‘strict religious principles’. Wilson also received the backing of Miss Lawrence of Studley Royal, and over the succeeding months a number of Protestant committees were set up across Yorkshire to promote his campaign.15 In May 1826 he issued an address promising to represent the ‘great majority of the freeholders of Yorkshire’ who were ‘decidedly adverse to any further concessions of political power’ to the Catholics.16 Having joined forces with the Tory William Duncombe*, 6 June, he addressed the Cloth Halls of Leeds next day, when he argued that Catholics were ‘unfit for performing the various duties connected with the legislature of a Protestant country like this’, and pledged himself to support the abolition of slavery. Pressed on the corn laws, he called for ‘a protecting duty on the importation of grain ... as would be alike consonant with the interests of the farmer and the manufacturer’. On leaving he was stopped by Edward Baines junior of the Mercury, who accused him of trimming on the corn laws and raised the matter of the Tadcaster meeting. Wilson told him that he had not fully concurred in the resolutions passed there, but as chairman had been obliged to sign the resultant petition. Baines’s intervention had the effect of sidetracking Wilson’s campaign, and for the remainder of it he was forced to address the corn law issue instead of concentrating on his Protestant views. At the White Cloth Hall later that day he said he had ‘no objection to a limited importation of foreign corn, which would serve as a check upon any exorbitant price which the farmer might demand’, and on 8 June at Bradford he expressed ‘rather more strongly his opinion that those laws ought to be revised’. Asked at Sheffield, 7 June, his opinion of parliamentary reform, he replied that he ‘had never yet heard of a proposition for reform to which he could give his concurrence’. On his extensive canvass he only encountered strong opposition at Halifax, 10 June, and he was formally nominated at York, 12 June 1826. A contest was averted at the last minute and he was returned unopposed. At his celebration dinner Wilson admitted that he was ‘fully aware’ that he had been returned ‘for no other reason’ than to oppose Catholic emancipation.17
In the House he was a man of few words, but the presenter of a great number of petitions. He brought up some against Catholic relief, 11 Dec. 1826, 5 Mar., and voted thus, 6 Mar. 1827. He presented petitions for the protection of the landed interest, 14, 19 Feb., and against alteration of the corn laws, 20 Feb., 11 Apr. He was in the minority against the third reading of the spring guns bill, 30 Mar. He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 21 May, 12 June 1827, but voted against this proposal, 26 Feb. 1828. He divided with the Canning ministry for the grant to improve Canadian water communications, 12 June, and presented a Selby petition against the practice of suttee, 15 June 1827.18 On 4 Mar. 1828 he brought forward a bill ‘for the better recovery of small debts in several parishes in Yorkshire’, which seems to have foundered.19 That day he presented petitions from Beverley and Whitby against the stamp duty. He presented petitions against Catholic relief, 27 Mar., 24, 28 Apr., 30 Apr., and voted accordingly, 12 May. He presented a Woodhouse petition for limitations on the imposition of rates for church repairs, 8 July 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, listed him among those ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation. He presented 12 petitions from various Yorkshire parishes against further concessions, 3 Mar., over 50 more in similar terms that month, and voted against the measure, 6, 18, 23, 27, 30 Mar. Despite his strong opinions on the subject, he made no recorded intervention in debate. Along with the other Yorkshire Members, Wilson met the duke of Wellington to lobby for funds to help with repairs to York Minster, 26 Mar.20 He presented a Harrogate petition for repeal of the house and window taxes, 4 May, and an individual’s petition against the British Gas Light Company bill, 14 May 1829. In a letter to Lord Salisbury, 6 Aug., he was named by John Litton Crosby as one of those who had offered to help bail out the troubled Protestant paper, the Morning Journal.21 In October 1829 he was one of the Tories listed by Sir Richard Vyvyan, the Ultra Commons leader, as ‘strongly opposed to the present government’. He presented a petition from the landowners of Skelton against the Thirsk road bill, 24 Feb. 1830. Breaking his silence in debate, 4 Mar., he endorsed a petition against the Leeds and Selby railway bill, warning that it would destroy the towns along the Aire and Calder navigation canal and amounted to ‘a direct attack upon the interests of the proprietors’. He presented a petition from the parish of Marrick complaining of distress, 16 Mar. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830. He retired from Parliament at the ensuing election.
Wilson died in July 1847 ‘after a long series of illnesses’.22 By his will, dated 8 Apr. 1842, he devised Melton and the residue of his estate to his eldest surviving son Andrew, who had taken the surname of Montagu in 1826, and directed that £40,000, charged on his real estate, be divided equally between his other surviving son James and his five daughters. He left his wife £5,000 and an annuity of £1,500.23
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Martin Casey
- 1. R.V. Taylor, Biog. Leodinensis, 200-2.
- 2. Burke LG sub Montagu; Gent Mag. (1786), i. 84.
- 3. PROB 11/1374/360; 2061/689; IR26/425/118.
- 4. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 7 Mar. 1826.
- 5. Yorks. Gazette, 31 July 1847.
- 6. Taylor, 424.
- 7. Yorks. Gazette, 16 Oct. 1819.
- 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F49/72; Hull Univ. Lib. Hotham mss DDHO/8/2.
- 9. The Times, 24 Jan. 1823.
- 10. Taylor, 424.
- 11. Add. 40375, f. 389; 40376, f. 235.
- 12. Yorks. Gazette, 16 Apr. 1825.
- 13. Fitzwilliam mss.
- 14. Yorks. Election 1826, pp. 25, 42, 54; Leeds Mercury, 26 Nov. 1825.
- 15. Fitzwilliam mss 123/5; Yorks. Election 1826, pp. 60-62; Castle Howard mss, Strickland to Morpeth, 20 Dec. 1826.
- 16. Yorks. Election 1826. p. 72; Leeds Mercury, 27 May 1826.
- 17. Yorks. Election 1826, pp. 89-173.
- 18. The Times, 12 Dec. 1826, 15, 20, 21 Feb., 6 Mar., 12 Apr., 22 May, 13, 16 June 1827.
- 19. Yorks. Gazette, 8 Mar. 1828.
- 20. Wellington mss WP1/1004/35.
- 21. Hatfield House mss 2M/Gen.
- 22. Yorks. Gazette, 31 July 1847.
- 23. PROB 11/2061/689; IR26/1791/580.