James Spencer-Bell

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James Spencer-Bell (18 April 1818 – 22 February 1872), known until 1866 as James Bell, was a British Liberal Party politician. He was a member of parliament (MP) for Guildford from 1852 until 1857.

Parental family[edit]

He was a son of John Bell (1774–1849) and Eliza Smith (died 1839), his wife.[1] They were a Quaker family. John Bell (1774–1849) married Eliza Smith, daughter of Frederick and Sarah Smith. Her father was a Chemist (Pharmacist) of the Haymarket, London, to whom John Bell had been apprenticed. John Bell and his older sons successfully continued his father-in-law's business, moving it to Oxford Street.

Marriage and name-change[edit]

On 6 June 1858, James Bell married Mary Ann Spencer, at the Friends Meeting House, Cockermouth. He is described as a Gentleman, the son of John Bell, Chemist. She is described as daughter of Jeremiah Spencer of South Lodge, Cockermouth, Cumberland, yeoman. [2]

On 29 January 1866, the couple received a Royal Licence to change their name to "Spencer-Bell", and to incorporate the Spencer coat of arms in theirs, according to the London Gazette[3]

They had an addresses at 1, Devonshire Place, Marylebone and at Fawe Park, Keswick, Cumberland, a house designed for Spencer-Bell by Waterhouse.

Architectural interests[edit]

James Bell trained as an architect but seems not to have practised in that profession, after the age of 30. He served as Honorary Secretary to the RIBA[4] and received an obituary notice on his death:

I am unable to obtain particulars as to Mr. Bell's professional life. He was, fortunately for his own ease, in a position requiring little labour on his part, but he was attached to the profession he nominally followed and for some time showed his interest in it by acting as honorary secretary to the Institute. He was a pupil of Mr. Railton's[5] but did not attempt to practise after the age of thirty. Mr Bell travelled much, and was indefatigable with his pencil. He represented the borough of Guildford for some time in Parliament. He took an active part in the committees of the House of Commons, and was a diligent worker in several societies of a benevolent and religious character. He was in declining health for some time prior to his death, which occurred in February last, at the age of 52[sic - in fact 53].[6]

The RIBA Library catalogue lists a number of his writings, including contributions to the programme of lectures preparing students for the Voluntary Examinations.[7][8]

In 1866, he debated the proposals of Robert Kerr for the housing of the poor, under RIBA auspices.[9]

Political activity[edit]

James Bell, as he was then called, was elected as one of the two MPs for Guildford at the general election of 1852[10] along with R. D. Mangles (both Liberals),[11] who had held the Guildford seat since 1841. After the 1852 election, there was a petition, alleging bribery and treating, which was found to be groundless and costs were awarded against the petitioner, in March 1853.[12]

His maiden speech, on 8 March 1853, concerned objections to the proposed resiting of the National Gallery to Kensington.[13]

In 1854, he spoke in the Commons on the building of the new Houses of Parliament and on the catalogue and collections policy of the British Museum. He spoke three times during the consideration of the Medical Graduates (University of London) Bill.[14]

In 1855, he asked the Attorney General a question concerning the rival claims of the Duchy of Cornwall and the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to minerals below high-water mark. He spoke in the debate on the Victoria Government Bill, opposing its second reading. He questioned cost of the contemplated new offices in Downing-street and Fludyer-street. He spoke concerning a proposed government building in Kensington Gore. He spoke on the Burials Bill.[15]

In 1856, he spoke on the funding of the British Museum, hoping for evening opening. His last, brief contribution concerned irregularities in the procurement of a machine for perforating postage labels[16]

At the General Election of 1857, Bell lost his seat to the Conservative Party candidate William Bovill.[10] The Times suggested his vote on the China Question, against the Government appears to have given "general dissatisfaction among his constituents".[17]

In 1870, he was a member of a delegation from the Society of Friends to Mr Gladstone and Mr W.E.Forster concerning Quaker views on the Elementary Education Bill.[18]

James Bell's older brother Jacob was also a Liberal MP, sitting for St Albans from 1850 to 1852.[19]



James Spencer-Bell died in on 22 February 1872, aged 53.[32][33]

Mary Ann Spencer-Bell, his widow, died 16 August 1891, aged 59.[34]

Fawe Park[edit]

Fawe Park is a large Victorian house that was built in 1858 for James Bell (after 1866, called James Spencer-Bell). It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse.[35][36] It is on the west bank of Derwent Water, opposite the town of Keswick. It is not open to the public (2010).

After James Spencer-Bell's death, the house was occupied by his son Frederick Spencer-Bell and following his early death, by his daughter Adelaide and her husband, Samuel Middleton Fox. After their deaths, it was occupied by their son, Commodore Frederick Middleton Fox. The current ownership has not yet been discovered.

Beatrix Potter[edit]

Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator of children's books visited the house in July 1903. The house was the setting one of the scenes in the 2006 film about her life, "Miss Potter".[37][38]

Fawe Park Road, Putney[edit]

Fawe Park Road in Putney, South West London was developed by James Spencer-Bell and auctioned in 1894.[39] The road still exists and runs east-west from Putney Bridge Road (A3209) to Disraeli Road.


  1. ^ The dates birth of the children of John and Eliza Bell of Oxford Street, Middlesex are recorded in the Digest Register of London & Middlesex General Meeting on Microfilm at Friends House Library, London.
    • Sarah 27 May 1804
    • John 11 October 1806 died 14 June 1807
    • Jacob 5 March 1810
    • Anna 28 December 1811
    • Maria 11 May 1816 died 17 April 1819
    • James 12 April 1812 (James's father is described as a "Druggist", a obsolete term for a pharmacist).
    Other Quaker records at Friends House, London include a certificate of removal, sent by Westminster Monthly Meeting to Kingston Monthly Meeting on 17 November 1825 for John and Eliza Bell. It included the names of their children: Eliza, Jacob, Anna, Frederick John and James. Cited in the Dictionary of Quaker biography (typescript, Friends House).
  2. ^ The marriage was according to the usage of the Society of Friends, London. The marriage was noted in The Times, Wednesday, 16 June 1858; pg. 1; Issue 23021; col A: Marriages. It is recorded in the Digest Register of Cumberland and Westmoreland General Meeting, at Friends House, London.
  3. ^ Name change: London Gazette 2 February 1866, page 585 of issue 23065.
  4. ^ The architecture of Deane and Woodward by Frederick O'Dwyer (1997, University of Cork Press) says, on p35, that James Bell, as Hon Sec of RIBA, read Deane's obituary at a meeting on 24 June 1861.
  5. ^ Spencer-Bell was perhaps a pupil of William Railton.
  6. ^ Obituaries included in the Presidential address of the Royal Institute of British Architects 4 November 1872 and reported in The Builder, 9 November 1872, page 879, Column c and RIBA Proceedings 1872/3, p8
  7. ^ Architecture-art or profession?: three hundred years of MMM Mark Crinson, Jules Lubbock; Manchester University Press, 1994 p.184 gives an explanation of the Voluntary Examinations of RIBA.
  8. ^ RIBA Library catalogue lists:
    • Lecture by James Spencer-Bell entitled On Physics, etc., 24 July 1865 54p., holograph
    Title: Lecture by James Spencer-Bell entitled On Physics, etc., 24 July 1865 Collection context: Forms part of the RIBA Archive: Voluntary Architectural Examination Lectures, 1865 – Contents: Read at the RIBA as part of a course of lectures to students preparing for the RIBA Voluntary Architectural Examination. Summarises elementary physics and chemistry with reference to the practice of architecture, based on two textbooks, Neil Arnott's `Elements of physics, 1828, and George Fownes' `Manual of elementary chemistry, 1858. Order/Ref no.: ED/7.2.2
    • Essay by James Spencer-Bell entitled 'On the modifications and adaptation of the Orders of the Greeks by the Romans and Moderns', 1847 21 p., ms.
    Collection context: Forms part of the RIBA Archive: Papers Read at General Meetings, 1835–1858 General note: Awarded the RIBA Medal of Merit and read at the RIBA on 22 March 1847 Contents: Spencer-Bell proclaims the purity of Grecian architecture, in which the column was the crucial component, and traces its progressive debasement in Roman and mediaeval times, when the column became subordinate to the arch and ceased to regulate the proportions of buildings; the goes on to trace its regeneration by Italian Renaissance architects and praises the purity of detail and correctness of character in the application of the classical orders by Sir Christopher Wren; he comments on the beneficial effects on British architecture of the architectural Grand Tour of Italy and of the archaeological discoveries made in Greece by Professor Cockerell and others; he ends by praising the Germans for 'having made the most successful application of Grecian architecture --- many of the buildings of Berlin and Munich, when referred to a Greek standard, are singularly original and happy in their conception and pure in their execution and detail'. Order/Ref no.: MS.SP\1\5
    • Paper by James Spencer-Bell entitled "The architectural remains of the Roman provinces", read at the RIBA, 4 November 1850 43p., manuscript
    Collection context: Forms part of the RIBA Archive: Papers read at general meetings, 1835–1858 Order/Ref no.: MS.SP/10/36
  9. ^ Report of Prof Kerr's presentation: "Labourers and artizan's dwellings" Daily News (London, England), Tuesday, 4 December 1866; Issue 6422 and "Royal Institute of British Architects", The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, 4 December 1866; pg. 3; Issue 29011. Follow-up meeting: "Royal Institute of British Architects", The Morning Post, Wednesday, 19 December 1866; pg. 3; Issue 29024. Keer's paper: "On the problem of providing dwellings for the poor in towns", in RIBA Transactions, series 1, volxvii (1866)pp39-58
  10. ^ a b Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1977]. British parliamentary election results 1832–1885 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 139. ISBN 0-900178-26-4. 
  11. ^ The Times, Saturday, 17 July 1852; pg. 2; Issue 21170; col E: "The General Election"
  12. ^ "GUILDFORD ELECTION. HC Deb 07 March 1853 vol 124 c1220 1220 LORD SEYMOUR appeared at the bar with the Report of the Select Committee appointed to try to determine the proceedings at the Election for the Borough of Guildford. The Committee had determined that Ross Donnelly Mangles, Esq., and James Bell, Esq., are duly elected to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Guildford; and the Committee had further agreed to the following Resolutions:— "That the allegations of bribery and treating contained in the Petition were made without any reasonable ground, and are frivolous and vexatious." "The Committee have thereupon ordered, that all costs and expenses, of and relating to the said allegations, shall be forthwith paid by the Petitioner and his surety, to the said Ross Donnelly Mangles and James Bell, esquires." Source: Hansard online
  13. ^ Hansard – House of Commons – Debate 08 March 1853 vol 124 column 1315.
  14. ^ Medical Graduates (University of London) Bill – This was an adjournment debate: "with regard to Great Britain, certain medical bodies had the exclusive privilege of exercising the medical profession in England. Great exception was taken to this monopoly by learned and competent members of the medical profession who had graduated in Ireland and Scotland. The Bill now before the House proposed to extend the monopoly to those who had taken a medical degree in the University of London, and there was a further proposition to include the University of Durham." -Hansard account of the debate.
  15. ^ This was the third reading of a proposed amendment relating to Church of England Burial Grounds and the burial of Dissenters. It was lost and the Bill passed – See Hansard account
  16. ^ For Summary information for Mr James Bell see Hansard online.
  17. ^ The Times, Monday, 30 March 1857; pg. 6; Issue 22641; col C: "The Elections"- "His vote on the China Question, against the Government appears to have given general dissatisfaction among his constituents" For the motion and the vote see The Times, Thursday, 5 March 1857; pg. 6; Issue 22620; col E: War With China. Division., House of Commons, Tuesday, 3 March. For contemporary comment on "The China Question" see The Times, Thursday, 5 March 1857; pg. 9; Issue 22620; col A: "The Defeat of Ministers" and The Times, Friday, 6 March 1857; pg. 4; Issue 22621; col A: "House of Lords, Thursday, March 5"
  18. ^ The Times 14 May 1870, pg 12 Column C: "The Elementary Education Bill: a deputation". The text of the statement by London Yearly Meeting on this Bill is to be found in the issue of Monday, 16 May 1870 of the Northern Echo (Darlington).
  19. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "S" (part 1)[self-published source][better source needed]
  20. ^ a b c d Under a codicil of the Will of Mary Ann Spencer-Bell, Adelaide would receive the Swinside and Fawe park estates, Helen the South Lodge estate and Juliet the Brandenhow estate. Hubert was already sufficiently provided for. The Will's provision was published in The Leeds Mercury, Friday, 20 November 1891; Issue 16731.
  21. ^ a b c d Census 1881, Class RG11; Piece 5170; Folio 110; Page 9; GSU roll 1342247 – from Ancestry.com. 1881 Census for Fawe Park lists those present and their ages.
  22. ^ Birth index says James Frederick Bell was born in the April May June period- Hampshire Vol 2c Page 142.
  23. ^ "The Times", Saturday, 11 September 1886; pg. 8; Issue 31862; col C: "Drowned" – Mr F. Spencer-Bell, of Fawe Park and Mr Edward Rathbone, of Liverpool, drowned by capsizing a small boat in Derwent-water. and The Times, Monday, 13 September 1886; pg. 9; Issue 31863; col F (bodies recovered).
  24. ^ Annual Monitor " index. p38
  25. ^ Birth Index says Helen Johanna Bell was born in 1865, during the January, February, March period – Vol 1a Page 442
  26. ^ The announcement of the birth of an unnamed daughter on 9 July 1866, at Devonshire Place, Portland Place, was announced in The Pall Mall Gazette , Wednesday, 11 July 1866; Issue 443.
  27. ^ The Times, Wednesday, 4 October 1922; pg. 7; Issue 43153; col C: "Obituary. Colonel Grove-Hills".
  28. ^ Marriage index says Juliet's marriage was at St George's, Hanover Square – Vol10 page 753
  29. ^ The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, 24 February 1869; pg. 8; Issue 29707 "Births, Deaths, Marriages and Obituaries " – "a son" (forename not stated)
  30. ^ Birth index says Marylebone Vol 1a Page 492
  31. ^ Annual Monitor index p.376
  32. ^ The Times, Tuesday, 27 February 1872; pg. 1; Issue 27310; col A: Death notices: James Spencer-Bell.
  33. ^ Annual monitor 1873, p.144. He was said to be a member of both Westminster and Keswick Monthly Meetings and an Elder.
  34. ^ Death of Mary Ann Spencer-Bell: Mary Ann Spencer Bell died 16 August 1891, according to Probate notice in the London Gazette 8 January 1892, page 162 of issue 26243 and Annual Monitor 1892: p.14.
  35. ^ Fawe Park built by Waterhouse see article by Colin Cunningham, 'Waterhouse, Alfred (1830–1905)' in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2010 accessed 3 May 2010: "The earliest of these were for relatives, such as his cousin Sebastian Waterhouse in Liverpool; but these were soon followed by a range of mansions for industrialists on the urban fringes and several houses in the Lake District, among which was Fawe Park (1858), for James Bell MP. This last was the subject of the first watercolour Waterhouse exhibited at the Royal Academy."
  36. ^ Image of Fawe Park on the Victoria & Albert Museum website (Beatrix Potter section)
  37. ^ Aerial view of Fawe Park on this page, describing Beatrix Potter's visit.
  38. ^ "Beatrix Potter: place as inspiration" from the Victoria & Albert Museum website.
  39. ^ The Times, Saturday, 10 November 1894; pg. 15; Issue 34418; col A: Sales By Auction of Fawe Park Road.
  • Note: The originating editor of this article would like to thank the librarians and archivists of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Religious Society of Friends, London and the House of Commons Information Service.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ross Donnelly Mangles
Henry Currie
Member of Parliament for Guildford
With: Ross Donnelly Mangles
Succeeded by
Ross Donnelly Mangles
William Bovill