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Richard Pepper Arden, Baron Alvanley (1745-1804)

This article was written by William Edward Armytage Axon and was published in 1885

AlvanleyRichard Pepper Arden, Baron Alvanley, born at Bredbury, Cheshire, in 1745. He was the son of John Arden of Stockport, and was educated at the Manchester grammar school. His two brothers received their earlier instruction at the same institution. The eldest, John, became a country squire, and was resident at Harden and Utkinton Halls in Cheshire, and at Pepper Hall in Yorkshire, and was a feoffee of the grammar school and of the Chetham Hospital at Manchester. The other, Crewe Arden, A.M., of Trinity College, 1776, became rector of Tarporley, and died there in 1787.

Richard Pepper Arden entered the Manchester grammar school in 1752, and remained there until 1763. The elder boys acted the play of ‘Cato’ in 1759, and it is remarkable that of the ten scholars one became lord chief justice of the common pleas (Arden), one vice-principal of Brasenose (Rev. James Heap), two archdeacons of Richmond (Travis and Bower), one senior wrangler (William Arnald), and one recorder of Chester (Foster Bower). It is further noteworthy that the prologue declaimed by Arden in 1761 dealt with the topic of English elocution, and the career of the lawyer and politician. Arden was of the Middle Temple in 1762; he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1763, and soon distinguished himself by his command of classical literature and by the elegance of his elocution. The year when he came out as twelfth wrangler was one remarkable for the number of young men of ability who took part in the contest. Arnald, the senior wrangler, was another ‘Manchester School’ boy, and the second wrangler, Bishop Law, the brother of Lord Ellenborough, is said to have remembered with bitterness the defeat he then sustained in the struggle for the highest academical distinction.

Arden proceeded M.A. in 1769, and soon after was elected to a fellowship at Trinity College. He was called to the bar in the same year. His legal studies were pursued in the Middle Temple, and when he took chambers in Lincoln's Inn he lived on terms of friendly intimacy with William Pitt, who was on the same staircase. In 1776 he was made judge on the South Wales circuit, and took silk in 1780. In 1783 he became M.P. for Newtown (Isle of Wight), entering the House of Commons two years later than Pitt, the future prime minister, who was fourteen years his junior. He became solicitor-general under Shelburne's ministry in 1782, and again under Pitt's in 1783, and in the following year was attorney-general and chief justice of Chester. He succeeded Kenyon as master of the rolls in 1788, notwithstanding Thurlow's vehement opposition, when he was knighted. He sat successively for Aldborough, Hastings, and Bath, and was M.P. for the last-named from 1794 to 1801, when Pitt resigned. On the formation of the Addington administration Lord Eldon became chancellor, and Arden succeeded him as lord chief justice of the common pleas.

He was called to the House of Lords as Baron Alvanley, Cheshire, the title being derived from his brother's estate. He was not a man of great oratorical powers, but possessed the qualities of intelligence, readiness, and wit, which are so important to the debater. Mr. James Crossley says that Alvanley's decisions show him to have been a better equity judge than Thurlow, much as Thurlow would have been surprised at being considered inferior to ‘little Peppy,’ the man he most contemned. Lord Alvanley's poetical trifles were never collected. The best known of them is an epigram which appeared in the ‘Cambridge Verses’ of 1763, and was suggested by the circumstance of Dr. Samuel Ogden having written three copies of verses, one in Latin, one in English, and one in Arabic, on the accession of George III. Another of his slighter pieces, the ‘Buxton Beggar's Petition,’ has been annotated by Mr. J. E. Bailey, and appears in the ‘Palatine Note Book,’ iii. 255.

He married Anne Dorothea, the daughter of Richard Wilbraham Bootle, M.P., and died 19 March 1804. He is buried in the Rolls Chapel. His widow died in 1825. He left two sons, who in turn succeeded to the title. William Arden, second Baron Alvanley, who was born 10 February 1789, adopted the military profession, but after reaching the grade of lieutenant-colonel he retired, and died unmarried in 1849. Richard Pepper Arden, third Baron Alvanley, was born 8 December 1792, and married in 1831 Arabella, the youngest daughter of the first Duke of Cleveland, but died without issue 24 June 1857. He, like his elder brother, had been in the army, and attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. With him the peerage became extinct.

The only portrait of the first Lord Alvanley is a caricature by Dighton. It would be vain to claim any great distinction for Lord Alvanley. He was a learned lawyer and a successful politician, who doubtless owed much to the friendship of Pitt, without whose patronage his career would have been far more arduous. He retained a keen interest in the fortunes of the school where he had received his early training. If his legal decisions show his learning and sound judgment, the few productions that remain from his pen evince refinement, taste, and facility of expression.

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