George Granville Leveson-Gower: Economic Importance

Image: Medal for the Opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. The railway was one of several investment opportunities for the Leveson Gowers.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office (309)

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, among others in an attempt to protect his canal interests.

He also supported the new railways, investing in the Liverpool-Birmingham line, among others.

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 boatbuilding.  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.

George Granville Leveson-Gower: Political Career and Influence

Image: Staffordshire. G Cole and J Roper, The British Atlas, comprising a complete set of County Maps (London, 1810). Staffordshire provided the geographical base for the political careers of the Leveson Gowers.

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library.

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.

George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquis of Stafford, 1st Duke of Sutherland (1758-1833)

Image: Trentham Hall, Staffordshire. William West, Picturesque Views of Staffordshire. (Birmingham 1830). This view shows a substantially altered house compared to the print of Trentham Hall in Plot’s History of Staffordshire (1686).

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

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.

Granville Leveson-Gower: Political Career and Influence

Image: The painted sign for the King’s Head Inn, New Street, Birmingham showing the Head of George III. Granville Leveson Gower achieved high political office under the monarch.

Image from: Birmingham Assay Office. Photograph by Kinson Chan

Viscount Trentham took over the post of Lord Privy Seal from his father who died in 1754.  He became the second Earl Gower. He also gained the well-paid posts of Master of the Horse (1757-60), Keeper of the Great Wardrobe (1760-1763) and Lord Chamberlain (1763-1765).

In 1771 Earl Gower was made a Knight of the Garter for his loyalty to George III. Having resigned in 1779 in protest against the way the American war was being managed he remained in opposition to the Fox-North coalition.  In March 1783 the King asked him to form a government as Prime Minister after the fall of Shelburne.  Although he turned this offer down he returned to government under Pitt the Younger as Lord President of the Council to 1784.  He then served as Lord Privy Seal until 1794 when he retired from political life.  He had been made a Marquis by George III in 1786, becoming known as Lord Stafford.

The Second Earl Gower’s political influence extended far beyond his own political career.  Between 1750 and 1800 he had full control of 4 out of the 10 Staffordshire parliamentary seats and a decisive say in two more.

The Leveson-Gower family had bought extensive property in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, earlier in the 18th century.  Tenants were allowed to get behind with rents and not pressed for them if they supported the family’s candidates.  Another example of election expenses is shown by the following entry in the first Earl Gower’s accounts for 1734: “Paid Henry Cooper, a poor man beat and bruised by ye mob at ye election 5s.”

The Chetwynds, who were close allies of the Leveson-Gowers, controlled Stafford.  A similar partnership with Ansons of Shugborough brought them the Lichfield seats.  The Second Earl’s chief agent Thomas Gilbert was MP for Newcastle (1763-1768) and then Lichfield (1768-1799).  The Earl’s eldest son, the future First Duke of Sutherland became MP for Newcastle (1779-1784) and Staffordshire (1787-1799).

As Josiah Wedgwood wrote to Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant, during elections in 1780: In our borough (Newcastle) as you will suppose, all is very quiet.  We sit still saying the Will of the Lord be done, and there is an end of our farce.  Lord Trentham and his brother have canvassed for form’s sake. 

Wedgwood did, however, use Earl Gower’s influence to resolve disputes over patent issues.

Granville Leveson-Gower: Political Career and Influence

Image: South-West View of Lichfield. John Jackson, History of the City and Cathedral of Lichfield (London, 1805)

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

In the 18th century the landed aristocracy formed the ruling class in England.  They and their families filled the important offices of state (and some not so important but lucrative ones called sinecures.)  They served as MPs, Lord Lieutenants and Justices of the Peace.

The young Granville Leveson-Gower started his political career as an MP for Bishops Castle in Shropshire (1744-1747).  As Viscount Trentham he then switched to a Westminster seat (1747-1754) before becoming MP for Lichfield in 1754.  Electioneering at the time involved much treating and bribery.  It has been estimated the family spent £30,000 on the elections of 1747 and 1749.

An extreme example of the way in which elections were carried at that time out is illustrated by the 1749 campaign.  Viscount Trentham was opposed by Sir George Vandeput.  When Vandeput lost he petitioned Parliament who enquired into the conduct of the election.  They found his chief agent, Alexander Murray

 attended by a mob did, before the return was made, come to the house of Mr Baldwin, the Deputy High Bailiff  of the said city, and then and there declared in a menacing and insulting manner, that he and a thousand men had sworn that the High Bailiff should make his return in the middle of Covent Garden  and not in the portico….and that the said Alexander Murray, immediately after the return was made, at the head of a mob who appeared to be on the part of Sir George Vandeput, did then utter words exciting and inflaming the said multitude to assault and murder the returning officer…saying’ Will nobody knock the dog down?  Will nobody kill the dog?’ Or words to that effect 

Murray was sent to Newgate goal.

Granville Leveson-Gower: Industrial and Commercial Entrepreneur

Image: Route of the Trent and Mersey Canal. Samuel Smiles, Lives of the Engineers: Vermuyden, Myddleton, Perry, James Brindley (London, John Murray, 1904).

Image from: Private Collection

The role of large landowners in canal projects was crucial as it was necessary to get Bills through Parliament to enable them to proceed.  In 1758 Earl Gower had employed James Brindley to survey a canal between the Trent and the Mersey.  The Earl himself opened the meeting in December 1765 where promoters, including Josiah Wedgwood, decided to petition Parliament for the Trent and Mersey Bill.  As the Derby Mercury on 17th January 1766 reported, he declared: “his Determination to support (the canal) with all his Interest, both Provincial and Political”. Earl Gower was also a shareholder in the enterprise.

The Earl constructed the Donnington Wood (or Pave Lane) Canal on his Lilleshall estate in order to transport coal, lime (used for building and as a flux in blast furnaces, as well as being converted into fertiliser for agricultural purposes) and ironstone which were all mined on the estate.

As Lord Stafford he also invested in the Shropshire canal (1787) and the Shrewsbury canal which provided communication links for his works at Lilleshall and Ketley.

From 1760 at both Trentham and Lilleshall mining expanded significantly.  In 1764 the Earl formed a company “Earl Gower & Co.”, with his agents Thomas and John Gilbert.  In 1786 it became ‘Lord Stafford &Co.’ and later other industrialists were persuaded to join what was then known as “The Lilleshall Co”.

The Earl also invested outside his estates, joining with the Duke of Bridgewater and the Earl of Carlisle to mine lead and silver at Alston Moor in Cumberland.

Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Gower, Marquis of Stafford (1721-1803)

Image: Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, engraved by M Burghers. Robert Plot, The Natural History of Staffordshire (Oxford, 1686). The hall served as the main residence for the Leveson Gowers in the 18th century.

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

Granville Leveson-Gower, the third son of John, 2nd Baron and the 1st Earl Gower, became a major player in the social, economic and political life of not just the West Midlands, but the country as a whole. Already a great landowner with estates in Shropshire (Lilleshall), Staffordshire (Trentham) and Yorkshire (Stittenham), he continued the family tradition of marrying heiresses. His marriage to his 2nd wife, Lady Louisa Egerton, favourite sister of the heirless Duke of Bridgewater, subsequently brought the family the wealth created by the Bridgewater Canal.

The 2nd Earl Gower, who succeeded his father in 1754, was also connected by marriage to the Duke of Bedford and the Earls of Galloway and Carlisle. He was thus part of the landed oligarchy who ruled England in the 18th century and himself had an important political career becoming Lord Privy Seal and President of the Council. George III made him the Marquis of Stafford in 1786 as a reward for political services. Earl Gower was also an entrepreneur, contributing to the rise of modern industry within the West Midlands. In 1758 he employed James Brindley to survey a proposed canal between the Trent and the Mersey and provided some of the loan capital for the Bridgewater canal, the first to be built in 18th century England. He played a leading role in the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal, allowing Trentham Hall to be used for meetings of landowners and industrialists. On his own estates and wider, Earl Gower encouraged industrial development. In 1764 Earl Gower and Company was formed which constructed the Donnington Wood Canal on his Lilleshall estate, bringing together its coal, lime and ironstone resources. By the time of his death in 1803 the Leveson Gower family was one of the richest and most influential in England.

The Gowers had owned land in Yorkshire since the Norman Conquest. In 1620 Sir Thomas Gower gained a baronetcy from James I.

The Levesons were a Staffordshire family, owning land at Bilston and Wolverhampton, who had gained great wealth from the 16th century wool trade. They were therefore able to buy land from Henry VIII at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Trentham, their main landed seat, had been an Augustinian Priory. They also bought land at Lilleshall Abbey, Stone Priory and Wombridge Priory.

Sir Thomas Gower married Francis Leveson in 1631 and their properties joined in the person of their son, Sir William Leveson-Gower (1636-1691).

Granville Leveson-Gower (1721-1803) inherited what Disraeli was later to call a talent for “absorbing heiresses”. His first wife, Elizabeth Fazackerley, was the daughter of a rich merchant from Prescot, Lancashire and brought a dowry of £20,000. His second, Louisa Egerton, daughter of Scroop, first Duke of Bridgewater, had a dowry of £10,000 but this marriage was to prove the most lucrative to the family. She was the favourite sister of the second Duke of Bridgewater who remained close to Earl Gower, despite Louisa’s death in 1761. When he died childless in 1803 his complicated will left the profits of the Bridgewater Canal to Lord Stafford’s (Earl Gower became Marquis of Stafford in 1786) eldest son, George Granville Leveson Gower, the future first Duke of Sutherland.

Until 1830 the Leveson Gower family used a half-timbered manor house, known as Lilleshall Lodge, as a country retreat and shooting lodge. Their main seat was Trentham Hall, near the Potteries in Staffordshire. It was here where James Brindley came to the notice of the Earl’s agent John Gilbert, having built the cascade at the foot of Trentham Lake. He subsequently became the consulting engineer for the Bridgewater Canal.

Aristocrats and the Industrial Revolution: The Leveson-Gowers

Image: The Most Noble George Granville Leveson Gower, Marquis of Stafford, KG, from an original picture by W Owen. The British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits. vol II (London, T Cadell, 1822).

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

Text: Judith Watkin


The Levesons were wool merchants in 15th century Wolverhampton. They grew in wealth as a result of judicious marriages, investment in property and government service. They became members of the Midlands aristocracy. Two members of the family were major players in the political, social and economic life of England in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Granville Leveson-Gower (1721-1803), 2nd Earl Gower and Marquis of Stafford, was a major landowner and through his role as an investor in canal development, mining and other emergent industries, he played an important part in the industrial life of the West Midlands. George Granville Leveson-Gower (1758-1833), 2nd Marquis of Stafford and 1st Duke of Sutherland inherited land and investments from his uncle and father. Through his marriage to Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, additional property was added to his economic portfolio and he became the wealthiest man in England. Charting the lives of these two aristocrats provides an insight into the relationship between landed, industrial, commercial and political networks in the West Midlands. Other regional aristocrats such as the Earls of Dudley also developed local industry on their estates, but the Leveson-Gowers were particularly important because of the scale of their investments and the extent of their political power.

Sections [Click on the images on the right to access each section]

1. Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Gower, Marquis of Stafford (1721-1803)
2. Granville Leveson-Gower: Industrial and Commercial Entrepreneur
3. Granville Leveson-Gower: Political Career and Influence (1)
4. Granville Leveson-Gower: Political Career and Influence (2)
5. George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquis of Stafford, 1st Duke of Sutherland (1758-1833)
6. George Granville Leveson-Gower: Political Career and Influence
7. George Granville Leveson-Gower: Economic Importance