LYON, William (1807-1892).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



7 Mar. 1831 - 1832

Family and Education

bap. 7 July 1807,1 5th s. of David Lyon (d. 1827), W.I. merchant, and Isabella, da. of John Read of Cairney, Forfar; bro. of David Lyon*. educ. Harrow 1820. m. 28 June 1860, Louisa Maria Sporle, da. of Henry Valentine Smith (alias Swanborough) of Albert Terrace, Mdx., 3s. suc. bro. David to Goring, Suss. and Balintore Castle, Forfar 1872. d. 5 Apr.1892.

Offices Held

Cornet 8 Drag. 1823, lt. 1825, capt. 1826; capt. (half-pay) 6 W.I. Regt. 1833; maj. (ret.) 67 Ft. 1841-d.


Lyon, who inherited £100,000 from his father on coming of age, had a brief army career.2 At the general election of 1830 he and William Williams, sheriff of Glamorgan, stood jointly for Seaford, apparently in response to an invitation from a group of electors in rebellion against the patron Lord Seaford, whose son Augustus Ellis and coadjutor John Fitzgerald were the sitting Members. While Lyon and Williams, who claimed to favour ‘retrenchment and reform of abuses’, stressed their championship of electoral ‘independence’, the contest had strong political overtones: Seaford, his son and Fitzgerald were followers of Canning’s political heir Huskisson; and the intrusion of Lyon and Williams, who were said by their opponents to have been sent down and subsidized by the treasury, was seen as part of the Wellington ministry’s vendetta against the Canningite rump. Five votes tendered for Lyon and Williams were rejected by the returning officer, leaving Lyon four behind Ellis in third place. Although he failed to enter into recognizances in support of his own petition, that lodged in the names of five electors was pursued to a successful conclusion, 7 Mar. 1831, when Lyon was seated in place of Ellis.3 In his maiden speech, 9 Mar., he condemned the Grey ministry’s ‘revolutionary’ reform bill, which infringed chartered rights and, in the case of Seaford, passed ‘a sentence of annihilation’. He voted against the second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing general election he came in unopposed for Seaford. At the nomination he stated his belief that

no reform was necessary. If populous towns ought to be represented, then give them the Members from those boroughs which were disfranchised for their venality and corruption, and give them also the Members for those nomination boroughs which the nominees [sic] were willing to resign. He thought that the Members who were returned for close boroughs had the interest of Birmingham, Manchester and such other towns as much at heart as any Members would have if returned for those places, because they would not be fettered by local prejudices.4

He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for use of the 1831 census as a basis for disfranchisement, 19 July. On the proposal to disfranchise Seaford, 26 July, he cited his own success as proof that it was not ‘under nomination’; his suggestion that it be united with Hastings on the model of Sandwich and Deal was disregarded. He voted in favour of allowing the freeholders of the four sluiced boroughs to retain their votes, 2 Sept. He divided against the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the revised measure, 17 Dec. 1831. His only other known vote against it was on the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. 1832. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and was in the minority of 16 against the Greek loan, 6 Aug. 1832.

By his own later account, Lyon ‘retired into private life, living chiefly abroad’, after the disfranchisement of Seaford.5 He was in England in 1837, when he unsuccessfully contested Lewes as a Conservative at the general election; and Disraeli encountered him in London in 1841.6 Five years later he had taken up residence at 22 Park Lane. By then he had undergone a political transformation, converted by his belated recognition of ‘the errors of a system of restriction and protection’ into ‘a free trader and a Liberal’. It was in this guise that he stood in 1859 on a vacancy for Marylebone, where his recent work as member for St. George’s, Hanover Square on the metropolitan board of works had made him widely known. He advocated neutrality in the Italian conflict, economy in the public departments and an end to ‘the corrupting process of nepotism’, abolition of church rates and a ‘full and entire’ reform of the electoral system, with the ballot a sine qua non. He voiced his objections to ‘political clubs’, which thrived on ‘hocus-pocus and confusion’, and was comfortably beaten by a more outspoken Liberal critic of the new Palmerston ministry, who was supported by Cobden.7

The following summer he married, at St. Margaret’s Westminster, the actress daughter of Henry Swanborough, a failed and bankrupt accountant, who in 1861 became lessee and manager of the Strand theatre. (He cut his throat two years later in a fit of ‘temporary insanity’ and was succeeded in the management by his widow.)8 In March 1862 Lyon, who was then living at 4 Grosvenor Gate, Park Lane, came within a whisker of returning to Parliament as ‘a thorough Liberal and practical reformer’, losing the Canterbury by-election by three votes in a poll of 1,385. At the general election of 1865 he was confident of a quiet return there by tacit agreement with the Conservatives, but he was dished when a section of the local Liberals started a second man and provoked an unsuccessful contest.9

On the death of his only surviving brother David in 1872 Lyon inherited his properties at Goring, Sussex and Balintore, Forfarshire, as well as his London house in South Street, Park Lane. He subsequently sold his own house in Upper Grosvenor Street. He stood for Shoreham as a Liberal at the general election of 1874, but finished a very distant third. In 1886 he moved his London home to 1 Hill Street, Berkeley Square, which cost him £5,600. He died at Goring in April 1892. By his will, dated 8 Mar. 1863 he provided his wife with an annuity of £1,400 and legacies of £5,400. He left £70,000 to his second son Fitzroy David Lyon (1862-1914) and £58,000 to his youngest son Nathaniel John Lyon (1865-1907), with an additional sum of £12,000 to be invested in a life trust fund. He was succeeded at Goring by his eldest son William Francis Lyon (1861-1925), on whose death the estate passed to Fitzroy Lyon’s daughter Joy Betty Marina.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. At St. Giles, Camberwell (IGI).
  • 2. PROB 11/1728/438.
  • 3. Brighton Guardian, 7, 14, 21, 28 July, 4, 11 Aug. 1830, 9 Mar. 1831.
  • 4. Suss. Advertiser, 2 May 1831.
  • 5. The Times, 23 June 1859.
  • 6. Ibid. 5, 18, 21, 25-27 July 1837; Disraeli Letters, iv. 1156X.
  • 7. The Times, 21-25, 27 June, 6-8 July 1859.
  • 8. Ibid. 29 May 1863; Ann. Reg. (1863), Chron. pp. 87-88.
  • 9. The Times, 3, 7 Mar. 1862, 3, 6, 12, 13 July 1865.