Morley, Samuel (DNB00)
|←Morley, Robert de||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
MORLEY, SAMUEL (1809–1886), politician, born in Well Street, Hackney, 15 Oct. 1809, was youngest child of John Morley, a member of a Nottingham family of tradesmen, who started a hosiery business in Wood Street, London, at the end of the last century. His mother Sarah was daughter of R. Poulton of Maidenhead. At the age of seven he was sent to the school of a congregational minister named Carver at Melbourn in Cambridgeshire, and afterwards to Mr. Buller's school at Southampton. He was industrious and energetic, and when he went into the Wood Street business at sixteen was a fairly educated lad for his age. Thenceforward he had little time for book-learning. For seven years he remained in the countinghouse, and proved himself very competent in the management of the accounts.
In 1840 his father retired from the business, and from 1842 it was carried on by himself and his brother John. In 1855, his brother John retired from the London business of J. & R. Morley and left him sole partner. He became sole partner also in the Nottingham business in 1860, and, while maintaining his connection with the old-fashioned framework-knitters, not only had two mills in that town, but he built others at Loughborough, Leicester, Heanor in Derbyshire, and Daybrook and Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire. To his thousands of workpeople he granted pensions on a liberal scale, and provided for old employes at a cost of over 2,000/. a year. His business was the largest in the textile industries of its class, fend his wealth was soon exceeded by that of few contemporaries.
In May 1841 he had married and settled at Five Houses, Lower Clapton. From 1854 till 1870 he lived at Craven Lodge, Stamford Hill.
Morley was deeply religious from youth, and became in manhood active in religious and philanthropic affairs. He was zealous for complete religious freedom, and exerted himself against church rates with great vigour. His house at Stamford Hill became a rendezvous for dissenting ministers and radical politicians, but, although busily concerned in the internal affairs of the independent body, he declined all his life to hold the office of deacon. In 1847 he became chairman of the dissenters' parliamentary committee, formed for the purpose of opposing Lord John Russell's education scheme and of promoting the return of dissenting members of parliament. For thirty years from 1849 he held the office of treasurer of the 'Ancient Merchants' Lecture.' In May 1855 he organised the 'Administrative Reform Association 'for the purpose of having the civil services thrown open and of abolishing promotion otherwise than by merit. But the association produced little result. Eager for more work, he became treasurer to the Home Missionary Society in 1858, and visited the society's stations throughout England and Wales. About this time he first interested himself in the temperance movement, and became a total abstainer. He subsequently promoted religious services in theatres, discussed currency questions, and became chairman in 1861 of the 'Bank Act and Currency Reform Committee.' He attacked 'The Drinking Usages of the Commercial Room' at a temperance conference in Exeter Hall, 6 Aug. 1862; supported the celebration of the bicentenary of nonconformity in the same year, and contributed 6,000l. to the erection of the Congregationalist Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, London. He was a munificent builder of chapels, and spent on them alone 14,000l. between 1864 and 1870, and he also organised a system of colporteurs and local preachers for poor districts.
Cobden had urged him to seek a seat in parliament in 1857, but he decided, judiciously as it proved, to wait. At length, in 1865, he reluctantly consented to be put in nomination for the representation of Nottingham, where his local influence as an employer of labour was very great. Yet it was not without a bitter contest that he was returned at the head of the poll. His first speech in the House of Commons was on the Church Rates Abolition Bill, 7 March 1866, but in April he was unseated on petition for colourable employment. No personal charge of corruption was made against him. He at the time interested himself in the promotion of the liberal press, became a principal proprietor of the 'Daily News,' and caused its price to be reduced to a penny.
Although the liberal party at Nottingham had offered him their support at the next general election, he contested Bristol at a by-election in April 1868, and was defeated by 196 votes. His opponent at Bristol was then unseated on petition, and at the general election in November Morley was returned by a triumphant majority. He continued to represent Bristol till his retirement in 1885. In parliament he was an unswerving and almost unquestioning follower of Mr. Gladstone. He contributed large sums to the election funds of liberal candidates, and found the money to enable several labour candidates to go to the poll. He seconded the address in the House of Commons in 1871, when he described himself as belonging to the class of 'silent members.' But, though not influential as a speaker, he spoke often. While anxious to disestablish the Irish church, he abandoned in later life any desire for the disestablishment of the church of England. In the Irish church debates he took no share, but spoke on the Bankruptcy Bill of 1869, and moved in 1870 for an inquiry into the working of the commercial treaty with France. After half a lifetime devoted to opposing every project of state interference with education, he became a convert to a state system of teaching, but he was very desirous of safeguarding the interests of dissenters. He voted against Henry Richard's motion, 19 June 1870, which required all religious teaching to be voluntary, and expressed himself in favour of biblical teaching by board-school teachers, subject always to the protection afforded by the conscience clause. He sat from 1870 to 1876 on the London School Board, and was always a warm supporter of biblical unsectarian teaching in the schools. He also took a large part both in and out of parliament in the movements for the removal of tests in universities and of dissenters' grievances as to burials. He was on the consulting committee of the Agricultural Labourers' Union from its foundation in 1872, and in 1877 he became, and for some years remained, an active director of the Artisans', Labourers', and General Dwellings Company.
In 1880 he inadvertently gave his support to the candidature of Charles Bradlaugh at Northampton, whose religious and social opinions he viewed with 'intense repugnance.' Not only did he publicly confess the mistake, but separated himself from his party, and voted steadily against Bradlaugh's admission to the House of Commons. He was one of the first to bring before the parliament of 1880 the unsatisfactory working of the Bankruptcy Act of 1869, and he took charge in the lower house of Earl Stanhope's bill prohibiting payment of wages in public-houses. But his principal public efforts during his remaining years were exerted in support of the temperance or 'blue-ribbon' movement, and he was prepared to abandon purely voluntary efforts in favour of temperance and demand legislative assistance.
The strain of his threefold series of occupations, mercantile, political, and philanthropic, at length broke down his strength. He vacated his seat in parliament at the general election of 1885. A peerage was offered to him in June, but he refused it. He was in ill-health through the early part of 1886, and never recovered from a severe attack of pneumonia in the summer. He died on 5 Sept. at his house, Hall Place, near Tonbridge. He was buried at Abney Park cemetery, and deputations from ninety-seven associations and institutions with which he was connected followed him to his grave. He had by his wife Rebekah Maria, daughter of Samuel Hope of Liverpool five sons and three daughters, Samuel, Howard, Charles, Arnold (privy-councillor and postmaster-general), and Henry, Rebekah, Augusta, and Mary. To his children he bequeathed a prodigious fortune. A portrait of him by H. T. Wells, R.A., was painted in 1875, and is in the library of the Congregationalist Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street; there is also a bad statue of him in marble at Bristol.
Morley had all the business talents of a man of this world and all the warmth of heart and piety of a man of the next. Endlessly active, a hater of waste or sloth, keen in a bargain and shrewd in his trade, he applied himself laboriously to spending for the good of others the wealth which his commanding aptitude for business had enabled him to accumulate. He loved a good horse; otherwise he not only had no hobby and pursued no sport, but discountenanced some sports, such as gaming, in others. In old age his views broadened and his temper mellowed; in middle life he was apt to be irritable and austere; but in religious matters, though always a professed Congregationalist, he was undogmatic and liberal. Like Lord Shaftesbury and George Peabody, he erected benevolence into a business, which he carried on upon a scale hardly less huge than that on which he made his money. His numberless public and private acts of charity made him undoubtedly one of the most signal benefactors of his generation.
[His Life and Letters, based on family materials and the assistance of all his relatives and intimate friends, was brought out by Edwin Hodder in 1889; the Congregationalist, xv. 711, a eulogistic estimate by J. Guinness Rogers; Contemporary Magazine, 1. 649.]