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Edward Baines (1774-1848)

This article was written by Edward Smith and was published in 1885

Edward Baines, journalist, was born at Walton-le-Dale, Lancashire, on 5 February 1774, his father being a tradesman of Preston in that county. He was sent to the Preston free grammar school at eight years of age, and apprenticed at sixteen to a printer of the town. He gave some promise at this early age of a useful career in life. Before his term of apprenticeship was expired an arrangement was made for completing the period at Leeds in the house of Messrs. Binns & Brown, printers and booksellers, and proprietors of the ‘Leeds Mercury.’ Young Baines soon won the confidence of his employers and of his new fellow-townsmen by painstaking and industrious habits, and by his uniformly amiable disposition. At the close of his apprenticeship he started in business, at first for a few months with a somewhat unsatisfactory partner, and ultimately on his own account. In March 1801 he became the proprietor of the ‘Leeds Mercury,’ which had been languishing for several years past in the hands of his former employers. Improved management of the newspaper resulted in a steady increase in its circulation, and it soon became recognised as the leading whiggish paper in Yorkshire. At Baines's death, in 1848, the ‘Leeds Mercury’ had for many years ranked among the first provincial newspapers of the kingdom.

Baines was now becoming a prominent and valued citizen of his adopted town. He took an active part in parochial affairs, promoted local reforms, and largely aided in the establishment of the Leeds Mechanics' Institution and similar works of usefulness. At the period of the elections which ensued on the accession of George IV he took part in county politics, and the columns of his newspaper were henceforth steadily devoted to the questions of catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform, and the other whig agitations of the day. During the period of the reform bill agitation Baines was in frequent consultation and correspondence with leading members of parliament as a person of wide information and sound judgment. With all his activity and industry, Baines found the time also to indulge a fancy for topographical research. He produced, in 1823, the ‘History, Directory, and Gazetteer of the County of York,’ and in 1825 a similar work for Lancashire. Some years afterwards this latter work was expanded into a ‘History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster,’ published in 4 vols. 4to. Another praiseworthy effort of Baines's was the reclamation of a portion of Chat Moss, in Lancashire; of which he lived to see a large area converted into a fine estate, covered with farms and plantations.

Leeds obtained two members upon the passing of the Reform Act, Macaulay the historian being one of them. Upon Macaulay's resignation in order to accept his Indian appointment, Baines was almost unanimously chosen to be the liberal candidate, and in the result was elected in February 1834 by a small majority over his conservative opponent. He continued to represent Leeds in parliament until failing health compelled him to retire in 1841.

Baines was immediately welcomed in London society, both on account of his social qualities and his untiring efforts to fulfil his civic duties. He was principally involved in questions of factory legislation and the abolition of church rates and of civil disabilities, and gave an independent but hearty support to the Corn Law League. He was a good speaker, and enjoyed much personal influence and even popularity. His retirement from parliament was signalised by the presentation of a testimonial in recognition of his services. He died on 3 August 1848, a public funeral being accorded to him.

Baines is recollected as a benevolent, just, and liberal-minded man. He made an excellent local magistrate. He was married in 1798 to Charlotte, daughter of Matthew Talbot, currier, of Leeds, by whom he had eleven children. Of these more than one attained distinction.

Besides the works already mentioned, Baines wrote a ‘History of the Wars of the French Revolution from 1792 to 1815; comprehending the civil history of Great Britain and France during that period,’ 2 vols. (1818), which was afterwards extended, and became a ‘History of the Reign of George III,’ in 4 vols. 4to (1823).

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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