Thomas Potter (mayor)

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Thomas Potter

Sir Thomas Potter (5 April 1774 – 20 March 1845) was an English industrialist and Liberal politician.

Liberal Party (UK) political party of the United Kingdom, 1859–1988

The Liberal Party was one of the two major parties in the United Kingdom with the opposing Conservative Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The party arose from an alliance of Whigs and free trade-supporting Peelites and the reformist Radicals in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone. Despite being divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to government in 1905 and then won a landslide victory in the following year's general election.


Early life

Thomas Potter born on 5 April 1774 in Tadcaster, Yorkshire, the seventh of nine children of John Potter, a draper, and his wife Anne Hartley. [1] His brothers were Richard who became MP for Wigan, and William.

Tadcaster town in the Selby district of North Yorkshire, England

Tadcaster is a market town and civil parish in the Selby district of North Yorkshire, England, 3 miles (5 km) east of the Great North Road, 12 miles (19 km) north-east of Leeds, and 10 miles (16 km) south-west of York. The River Wharfe joins the River Ouse about 10 miles (16 km) downstream from it.

Yorkshire Historic county of Northern England

Yorkshire, formally known as the County of York, is a historic county of Northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Due to its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform. Throughout these changes, Yorkshire has continued to be recognised as a geographical territory and cultural region. The name is familiar and well understood across the United Kingdom and is in common use in the media and the military, and also features in the titles of current areas of civil administration such as North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and East Riding of Yorkshire.

Draper cloth merchant

Draper was originally a term for a retailer or wholesaler of cloth that was mainly for clothing. A draper may additionally operate as a cloth merchant or a haberdasher.

His father, John Potter, was born on 7 December 1728 in Tadcaster and died there on 28 November 1802. He is buried in grave 40655 at St Mary the Virgin's Church in Tadcaster. He worked as a journeyman in London and on the death of his father, also John Potter, on 16 June 1758, and his mother, Anne, on 2 May 1762, he succeeded to their draper's shop in Tadcaster. He took a farm at Wighill where he dealt in sheep and wool. [2] On 23 December 1785 an indenture was made for the lease of Wingate Hill Farm between Sir Walter Vavasour and John Potter [3] "The produce of it (Wingate Hill Farm) having been successively on the advance, his shop, too, having been conducted by his wife and children, all his concerns prospered, and enabled him to set two of his sons (William and Richard) up in Manchester at the beginning of this year (1802) with a capital possessed by few beginners (£ 14,000). And he died worth twelve thousand pounds, which, on the death of his spouse, he left equally to his sons and daughters." [4]

William and Richard Potter opened a warehouse in Manchester at 5 Cannon Street, and a few months later they were joined by Thomas. The firm of William, Thomas and Richard Potter was established on 1 January 1803. William stood down from the business in 1806 when it became Thomas and Richard Potter. [5]

First Little Circle

The Potter family were wealthy Unitarians who attended Cross Street Chapel, and were concerned with the welfare of the poor. Thomas and Richard Potter became concerned with unfair representation of the people in parliament in rapidly expanding industrialised towns such as Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Salford in the Victorian era and decided to form a group to promote change.

Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity which in many other branches of Christianity defines God as three persons in one being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. As is typical of dissenters, Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.

Cross Street Chapel church in United Kingdom

Cross Street Chapel is a Unitarian church in central Manchester, England. It is a member of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the umbrella organisation for British Unitarians. Its present minister is Cody Coyne.

Victorian era Period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodists, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.

In 1815 the first Little Circle was formed, around a core of members from the Cross Street Chapel who were influenced by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Joseph Priestley. The founding members included John Edward Taylor (cotton merchant), Joseph Brotherton (a non-conformist minister and pioneering vegetarian), Thomas Preston, and Thomas and Richard Potter. [6] Meetings were held in a room at the back of the Potters' Cannon Street counting-house, generally known as the "plotting-parlour", [6] and its core membership was Unitarian. Group member Archibald Prentice (later editor of the Manchester Times ) called them the "Little Circle"; other members were John Shuttleworth (industrialist and municipal reformer); Absalom Watkin (parliamentary reformer and anti corn law campaigner); and William Cowdroy Jnr (editor of the Manchester Gazette ).

The Little Circle was a Manchester-based group of Non-conformist Liberals who held a common agenda with regards to political and social reform. The first group met from 1815 onwards to reform political representation and gain social reform in the United Kingdom. The second group operated from 1830 onwards and was key in creating the popularist movement that resulted in the Reform Act 1832.

Jeremy Bentham British philosopher, jurist, and social reformer

Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism.

Joseph Priestley English theologian, chemist, educator, and political theorist

Joseph Priestley was an 18th-century English Separatist theologian, natural philosopher, chemist, innovative grammarian, multi-subject educator, and liberal political theorist who published over 150 works. He has historically been credited with the discovery of oxygen, having isolated it in its gaseous state, although Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Antoine Lavoisier also have strong claims to the discovery.

After group members witnessed the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, and the closure of the liberal Manchester Observer by successive police prosecutions, [7] it decided the time was right to advance its liberalist agenda. In 1820, Brotherton, Shuttleworth and Thomas Potter founded the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. In the following year, the group supported John Edward Taylor found the liberal newspaper the Manchester Guardian to which they all contributed. Published by law only once a week, Taylor continued to edit the newspaper until his death. [8] [9] [10]

Business career

Whilst his brother, Richard, applied himself almost exclusively to political movements and reform, becoming Member of Parliament for Wigan in 1830, Thomas was left in charge of the management of the warehouse which developed into the largest concern of its type in Manchester. [6]

Second Little Circle

In 1821, 12 merchants met in Thomas and Richard Potter's "plotting parlour" in Cannon Street, and began a fund to support the Manchester Guardian [6] [11] Seven were Unitarians, including five from the Cross Street Chapel: Thomas and Richard Potter; Abasolm Watkin; Mark Philips, John Shuttleworth, John Benjamin Smith, and brothers Edward and William Baxter (all cotton merchants); Fenton Atkinson (prominent Manchester attorney); William Harvey; John Edward Taylor. [12]

The group supported social reform issues discreetly: Taylor survived a trial for libel; Shuttleworth organised the defence of plebeian reformers accused of administering an illegal oath. [12] The group initially proposed that the seats of rotten boroughs convicted of gross electoral corruption should be transferred to industrial towns, citing and later targeting example boroughs including Penryn and East Retford. But when Parliament refused to take action, in 1831 Absalom Watkin was tasked with drawing up a petition asking the government to grant Manchester two Members of Parliament. As a result, Parliament passed the Reform Act 1832, and the group gave Manchester its first two post-reform MPs: Mark Philips and Charles Poulett Thomson. [12] Richard was elected MP for Wigan in 1832, holding the seat until 1839.

Later life

Thomas became more involved in the business life of Manchester. Between 1832 and 1835 he led a successful campaign against church rates. After the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act in 1835, Thomas was elected to the Manchester Borough Council and became first Mayor of Manchester between 1838 and 1840. On 1 July 1840 he was granted a knighthood.

Personal life

Potter married Elizabeth Palmer, daughter of John Westorby Palmer, of York in January 1808. They had two children, Elizabeth and Anne but his wife died in February 1810. After her death he married Esther Bayley daughter of Thomas Bayley of Booth Hall, Blackley in Manchester in September 1812 in the Collegiate Church. They had four children; Esther (born July 1813 and died February 1814), John, Mary (born October 1816 and died March 1817) and Thomas. [1] His second wife died in June 1852 at Buile Hill in Salford and was buried in Ardwick Cemetery in June 1852. In 1818 she founded Lady Potter's Schools at Irlams o' th' Height enabling 80 girls to receive an education.

In 1825 Thomas Potter commissioned the architect, Sir Charles Barry, to design him a house at Buile Hill [13] in Salford. This is the only house where Barry used Greek revival architecture. It was completed in 1827.

After the death of Sir Thomas's first son, Sir John Potter, Buile Hill was inherited by Sir Thomas's second son, Thomas Bayley Potter, whose youngest son, Richard Ellis Potter, was born there on 3 October 1855. Thomas Bayley Potter sold the property to John Bennett in 1877. Salford Corporation purchased the estate in 1902 and in 1906 the house opened as Salford Natural History Museum. The 80 acres of parkland were opened to the public. Buile Hill House is a grade II listed building and is one of the case studies of the Georgian Group who advocate that the principal reception rooms, staircase and hall should remain as they are (with restoration). There has been some talk of Salford City Council selling it off for hotel use but there is also a movement for its retention pending a further decision. [13] )


Potter died on 20 March 1845 at the age of 70 at home at Buile Hill. Thomas Potter is buried at Ardwick Cemetery, Manchester.

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  1. 1 2 "Person Page". Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  2. From Ploughshare to Parliament, by Georgina Meinertzhagen p.3
  3. Indenture concerning the lease of Wingate Hill Farm
  4. From Ploughshare to Parliament, by Georgina Meinertzagen, extract from Son Richard's Diary in 1802, p.3
  5. English Merchants, by H.R. Fox Bourne, p. 267
  6. 1 2 3 4 English Merchants by H. R. Fox Bourne
  7. 'Manchester Gazette,' 7 August 1819, quoted in David Ayerst, 'The Guardian,' 1971, p 20
  8. Peter Shapely (2004). "Brotherton, Joseph (1783–1857)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 March 2009.
  9. "Richard Potter". Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  10. Stanley Harrison (31 October 1974). Poor Men's Guardians: a record of the struggles for a democratic newspaper press, 1763-1973 (1st ed.). London: Lawrence & Wishart. ISBN   0853153086.
  11. Dr Michael J. Turner (15 April 1995). Reform and Respectability: the Making of a Middle-class Liberalism in Early 19th-century Manchester. Carnegie Publishing Ltd for the Chetham Society. ISBN   1859360246.
  12. 1 2 3 "Before the Welfare State". Cross Street Chapel . Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  13. 1 2 The Georgian Group
Civic offices
Preceded by
Newly created position
Mayor of Manchester
Succeeded by
William Neil