Friday, 26 November 2010

George Granville Leveson Gower, Duke of Sutherland

George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquis of Stafford, 1st Duke of Sutherland (1758-1833) has been called "The Leviathan of Wealth" and "the richest man that ever died". In the early 19th century his family was probably the richest in Britain. This great wealth came from ownership of land, exploitation of the mineral resources their estates contained and, as Disraeli pointed out "a talent for marrying heiresses".

As the eldest son of Granville, 2nd Earl Gower, 1st Marquis of Stafford and his second wife, Lady Louisa Egerton, favourite sister of the heirless Duke of Bridgewater, he inherited the revenues of the Bridgewater Canal when his uncle died in 1803. In the same year his father died and he inherited the family estates at Lilleshall in Shropshire and Trentham in Staffordshire.

George Granville's father, Granville, 2nd Earl Gower, 1st Marquis of Stafford, (1721-1803) had married as his second wife lady Louisa Egerton, favourite sister of the heirless 2nd Duke of Bridgewater. When he died in 1803 the Duke left the substantial annual profits from the Bridgewater Canal to her eldest son, George Granville.

George Granville's own marriage in 1785 to Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, Baroness of Strathnavar (1765-1839) in 1785, brought him vast estates in Scotland, with a further seat at Dunrobin Castle. She had inherited vast estates in Sutherland, amounting to 1¼ million acres at the age of 1 when her parents died of putrid fever in Bath in 1766.

Thus the family came to have three major seats, Dunrobin in Scotland, Lilleshall Hall, extensively rebuilt by Wyatville in the 1820s to provide a home for the family heir and Trentham Hall, a very grand Italianate palace, with a lake, formal gardens, terraces and woods. This was improved at a cost of £123,000 in the 1830s.

His vast wealth was partly derived from the exploitation of the mineral wealth of his English estates through enterprises such as the Lilleshall Co. Coal, lime and ironstone were carried on the Donnington Wood Canal at Lilleshall, built by his father. George Granville continued to invest in canal projects. He recognised the threat of the railways and invested in them in an attempt to protect his canal interests.

With his chief agent, James Loch, he became widely unpopular for the Highland Clearances carried out around 1810 on the Sutherland estate. He had been shocked by the living conditions of his Scottish tenants and they were forcibly resettled in new industries on the coast. He was therefore held responsible for the destruction of the Highland way of life. The English estates in the West Midlands were also improved, although not in such a drastic manner.

George Granville's political career was less illustrious than that of his father, although he did serve as an MP and Ambassador to Paris. Later, he supported Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill. As a reward he was created the Duke of Sutherland in 1833.

On his death in 1833 the Bridgewater inheritance passed to his second son, Francis, who later became the Earl of Ellesmere, taking his grandmother's name of Egerton. His railway interests and the rest of the estates went to his eldest son, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland.

In 1827 George Granville, Lord Stafford, bought the mansion York House in London from the government. It had been built by George IV's brother, the Duke of York, who died, seriously in debt, before it was finished. George Granville spent a further £150,000 completing and extending it, changing the name to Stafford House. It was widely regarded as the grandest town house in London (it became the present day Lancaster House in 1912). Here the family became the leaders of fashionable society with the Duchess organising costly parties and entertainments.

George Granville Leveson-Gower was educated at Westminster and Oxford. As a young man he was not particularly interested in politics but was sent to Auxerre to learn French and then travelled abroad for a number of years. In 1779 he had become MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, a seat traditionally controlled by the Leveson-Gower family. From 1787-1799 he represented Staffordshire.

In 1790 he was appointed as Ambassador to Paris where his wife became a close friend of Marie Antoinette, sending her clothes when she was in prison. When the embassy closed in 1792 he was offered the posts of Lord Steward and the Lieutenancy of Ireland but refused as his eyesight was failing. He did accept the office of Joint Postmaster-General 1799-1801. In 1803 he entered the Lords, on the death of his father, as the 2nd Marquis of Stafford, having previously been known as Earl Gower.

A supporter of Pitt, he became increasingly liberal in his political views and moved the resolution in the Lords on Catholic Emancipation in 1807 but it was defeated by 171 votes to 90. He had been awarded the Garter in 1806. In 1812 he retired from politics to devote himself to improving his estates and patronising the arts. He was a trustee of the British Museum and the President of the British Institution. In 1829 he briefly returned to politics, voting for the Reform Bill in 1832, along with his eldest son. For his support in pushing this through he became the Duke of Sutherland in January 1833.

When George Granville inherited the Leveson-Gower estates in 1803 he had gained in the same year the revenues from the Bridgewater estate, averaging £77,000 per annum. He was therefore able to increase what was spent on his tenanted property, taking greater responsibility for repairs.

From 1812 he employed the Scot, James Loch as his chief agent. Both men have attracted criticism both at the time and since for the Highland Clearances on the Sutherland estates, in the West Midlands charity and church schools were assisted, to encourage greater literacy among the tenants. He had been shocked by the living conditions of his Scottish tenants and they were forcibly resettled in new industries on the coast. He was therefore held responsible for the destruction of the Highland way of life.

The English estates in the West Midlands were also improved, although not in such a drastic manner. Savings banks were set up at Trentham and Lilleshall. In 1813 Loch introduced a cropping book to make sure crops were rotated and there were also improvements in stock breeding and ploughing.

However the trend towards larger tenant farms encouraged by Loch's policies meant the big rich tenants became richer and small poor tenants became poorer. The majority of those holding land under 20 acres on the Leveson-Gower estates held in fact much less than that and some were probably industrial workers employed in Ketley or Ironbridge. Thus class and social divisions became wider and more evident.

In 1764 the 2nd Earl Gower, George Granville's father, had set up Earl Gower and Co. to directly exploit and develop the valuable minerals - coal, lime and ironstone - found on the estates. In 1786 the name of the company was changed to the Marquis of Stafford and Co. to reflect the new title acquired by the 2nd Earl.

The original company had half its shares owned by him, with the rest being split between his agents, the brothers Thomas and John Gilbert. When Thomas Gilbert died in 1798 his mining rights were given to Granville Leveson-Gower, a younger son of the 2nd Earl by his third wife and half brother to George Granville. The company changed its name to the Lilleshall Co. in 1802 and Lord Granville took new partners. It has been estimated a quarter of the family's revenues came from industrial sources by the early 19th century.

The Leveson-Gowers had also invested early in the building of canals and this continued under George Granville. The 2nd Marquis doubled the number of his shares in the Trent-Mersey Canal in 1826 and held shares in the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal project started that year. He recognised the threat of the railways and invested in the Liverpool-Manchester Railway and the Liverpool-Birmingham line, among others' in an attempt to protect his canal interests.

Since the death of his uncle, the Duke of Bridgewater, in 1803 he had profited from the revenues of the Bridgewater Canal. On his death in 1833 they passed to his second son Francis, who became Earl of Ellesmere, taking his grandmother's name Egerton.

His railway interests passed to his eldest son, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland.

George Granville Leveson-Gower, the 1st Duke of Sutherland, has occupied a controversial place in history because of the policies carried out by his agent, James Loch, on his Scottish estates in Sutherland. Thousands of crofters were evicted from their homes to achieve land improvements, although new industries were established on the coast - including fishing, fish curing and boat building. He died in July 1833 at Dunrobin Castle and was buried in Dornoch Cathedral. In 1834 a subscription list was opened to build a monument in his memory at Golspie. Of the 170 subscribers only 14 were from Sutherland. Two similar monuments were built in England, one overlooking Trentham and the other, still dominating the area around Lilleshall Hill, in 1839. The latter carries as its inscription a kinder verdict:

"To the memory of George Granville Leveson Gower, K.G. 1st Duke of Sutherland. The most just and generous of landlords. This monument is erected by the occupiers of his Grace's Shropshire farms as a public testimony that he went down to his grave with the blessings of his tenants on his head and left behind him upon his estates the best inheritance which a gentleman of England can bequeath to his son; men ready to stand by his house, heart and hand."

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