Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blamire, William

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BLAMIRE, WILLIAM (1790–1862), tithe commissioner, was the nephew of Susanna Blamire [q. v.], being the only son of her brother William, who, in his early days, was a naval surgeon, but later in life settled down on his ancestral estate, The Oaks, near Dalston, in Cumberland. The vicar of Dalston was the famous William Paley, and by him William Blamire was baptised. In later life he attributed to his early intercourse with Paley, and his consequent knowledge of Paley's ‘Moral and Political Philosophy,’ the origin of those ideas which he was enabled to carry out in practical politics. He received a good education, first at Westminster School, and afterwards at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated in 1811. To the disappointment of his father he refused to follow any of the learned professions, and preferred to settle on one of his father's farms at Thackwood Nook, about three miles distant from his home. On his mother's side William Blamire was a nephew of John Christian Curwen [q. v.], of Workington Hall, who was the great promoter of agricultural improvements in Cumberland. William Blamire imbibed his uncle's zeal for agricultural science, and made many experiments in the breeding of stock, which cost him dear; but his experience was always at the service of his neighbours. He was well known at agricultural dinners, where his wise advice and his personal geniality made him deservedly popular amongst the sturdy and independent yeomen of his county. When, in 1828, he was nominated high sheriff of Cumberland, the yeomanry of the neighbourhood, to the number of several hundred, mounted their horses and escorted him to Carlisle, as a token of their desire to do him honour.

In politics William Blamire was a strong whig, and had taken an active part in parliamentary elections in behalf of his uncle, John Christian Curwen, who, in 1820, was elected both by the city of Carlisle and by the county of Cumberland. In the excitement about the Reform Bill the whigs in Cumberland resolved to run two candidates for the election of 1831. The personal popularity of William Blamire marked him out as the colleague of Sir James Graham against Lord Lowther, who sat as a conservative. The Cumberland election of 1831 is one of the most exciting in the annals of parliamentary contests. The sole polling-place was at Cockermouth, at one corner of the county, in the neighbourhood where the Lowther interest was strongest. It needed the personal enthusiasm which Blamire inspired to induce voters to incur the expense of so long a journey. But his yeoman friends rode in such an imposing cavalcade towards Cockermouth that Lord Lowther felt it better to retire on the third day's polling than to be ignominiously defeated.

In 1834 Blamire married his cousin, Dorothy Taubman. In parliament he showed great knowledge of matters concerning land tenures, and was useful on committees; but his reputation was made by a speech on the Tithe Commutation Bill, which was introduced by Lord John Russell in 1836. He was complimented by Sir Robert Peel on his consummate knowledge of the subject. His suggestions were listened to by the government, and the adoption of a seven years' average of the price of corn as the basis of commutation was the result of his practical experience in farming matters. When the bill became law, Blamire was appointed the chief commissioner for carrying it into effect. He resigned his seat in parliament and devoted himself exclusively to the adjustment of details which concerned every landowner and every clergyman in England. He had able colleagues in Colonel Wentworth Buller and Rev. R. Jones. The work was enormous in its extent, and beset with difficulties. First, the sum to be paid in lieu of tithe had to be fixed for each parish, then the rent-charge so fixed had to be apportioned on the different properties in the parish. There was need of strong common sense and great power of conciliation to carry out so complicated a process. The absence of proper maps was another difficulty, and the commissioners had frequently to investigate and decide upon the exact boundaries of parishes. It was owing to Blamire's suggestion while engaged in this work that the ordnance survey was undertaken in 1842, in accordance with the report of a committee of which Blamire was a chief member. The work of the tithe commission lasted from 1836 to 1851, when it was practically completed. Few reforms of such magnitude, involving so many interests, have given such universal satisfaction, and have stood the test of time so well. The work of the tithe commissioners has needed no amendment.

Blamire's energies, however, were not entirely absorbed by the work of tithe commutation. He was interested in all questions affecting land tenure, and his suggestions were of great use to Lords Lansdowne and Brougham in framing their ‘Copyhold Enfranchisement Act.’ When this act came into force in 1841, Blamire was made a commissioner for the purpose of carrying it out. At first the enfranchisement was voluntary, but the commissioners pressed that it should be made compulsory, which was practically done by the acts of 1852 and 1858. Moreover, Blamire was of great service to the government in preparing the ‘Commons Enclosure Act,’ passed in 1845, by means of which large tracts of waste land were divided and enclosed, so that they could be brought under cultivation. The evidence given by Blamire before the committee of the House of Commons on ‘Commonable Lands and Enclosure Acts’ (1843) is one of the most important sources of information concerning the tenure and incidents of commons. After the passing of the act it was felt that the tithe commissioners could not be saddled with any fresh duties; but Blamire's assistance was considered to be so necessary that he was requested to assume the post of enclosure commissioner without any salary. It was at his suggestion that the act embodied clauses allowing the exchange of lands of equal value by a simple process. In 1846 the scope of the labours of the enclosure commissioners was still further extended by an ‘Act authorising the Advance of Public Money to promote the Drainage and Improvement of Land in Great Britain.’

Besides attending to these important administrative measures Blamire was constantly consulted by ministers on all matters concerned with farming, such as the remedy for the potato blight, and the measures necessary to check the cattle plague. He prepared, in 1846, a Highway Act, which was postponed at the time; but his labours prepared the way for future legislation, and his principles practically prevail at present in regard to the administration of the highways. In all this work Blamire was unsparing of himself, and often was in his office till midnight. For months his horse was brought daily to the office door, in hopes that he might find time for a ride; but the horse was never used. His stalwart frame enabled him to endure much hard work; but in 1847 he was affected by paralysis of the right arm. He soon recovered, and worked as hard as before. His wife's death in 1857 took him back to Cumberland, where he had not visited his home for seventeen years. His last work was the completion of the Drainage Act by an ‘Outfall Bill,’ which was necessary to enable the drainage of low-lying and swampy ground. In the summer of 1860 his health entirely broke down. His mental and bodily powers slowly declined, and he died at Thackwood Nook on 12 Jan. 1862. Blamire is a conspicuous example of practical capacity in an official position. His thorough knowledge of agriculture, combined with his good education and sound sense, enabled him to suggest practical solutions for many questions of complicated detail. His labours are of a kind that meets with small recognition; they are embodied in statutes and official reports. The working of the English parliamentary system put him in a position where his voice could be heard. He became an official without any previous training, and devoted to the public service remarkable powers of business and untiring industry.

[Lonsdale's Life of William Blamire in the Worthies of Cumberland, vol. i. 1867.]

M. C.