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Oley Douglas MP




Oley Douglas (1684 - 7 November 1719) was MP for Morpeth and a landowner. He was the 5th, but eldest surviving, son of John Douglas, of Westgate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and East Matfen and Halton, Northumberland, Town Clerk of Newcastle, and Alice Hutchinson.

Like his father and younger brother, he trained for the law. He was admitted to Grays Inn on 26 April 1703 , at the same time as his father, and resided there until his marriage. He was, in 1709, made a freeman of Newcastle.

Elected on corporation interest, he served as Member of Parliament for Morpeth between 1713-1715, He is described as 'an inactive member'. Following his defeat there, he stood at the Northumberland by-election the following year, where, despite a vigorous campaign, he was defeated by 23 votes. The electoral reverses placed a considerable strain on the family finances. His father wrote to him that election expences of 'above' £3000 had contributed significantly to family debts of over £7000.

He married, in early 1718, Mary Harris, (died 1784) daughter of Richard Harris, a 'wealthy African trader' (Although some records state John Harris, 'merchant in London') after protracted negotiations over a marriage settlement, which led to legal action after his death. She later married again, to James Jurin, an English scientist and physician, with whom she had 5 daughters and 1 son.

Oley Douglas died on 9 Nov 1719 after an illness. Just 3 days earlier, he made a will in favour of his daughter, who had been born only a short time previously.

Oley and Mary's only child, Anne, married, in 1751, Sir Edward Blackett, 4th Bt. On her marriage, ownership of Halton Castle, a pele tower close to Hadrian’s Wall, north of Corbridge, Northumberland and the estate of Matfen, acquired from the once powerful Carnaby family, passed to the Blackett family.

The early life of Douglas’ father is obscure. Said to be of Scottish origin, by the 1670s he was closely linked to Newcastle’s company of hostmen, a body intimately connected to the region’s coal industry. When he was admitted in 1675 to the freedom of Newcastle he was described as a hostman, and four years later was appointed clerk of the company. This appointment may indicate that John Douglas provided some kind of legal services in Newcastle, and in 1682 he was chosen to act for the city’s Merchant Adventurers in a dispute concerning the rights of Newcastle’s drapers. The following year he was admitted to Barnard’s Inn. The 1680s were also notable for Douglas senior’s extensive land purchases in Northumberland. Starting with the purchase of Clarewood in 1686 and Halton Shields and Great Whittington the following year, Douglas’ father made at least six other large purchases in the next 20 years, at a total cost of over £10,000, and his continuing involvement in the county’s coal trade was demonstrated by his ownership of a coal pit at Kenton. John Douglas’ rising social and economic status received corporate recognition in September 1699 when he was appointed Newcastle’s town clerk, a post he held until 1709 when he resigned in favour of a younger son. Clinching testimony of the family’s new importance was seen in 1700 when Douglas’ daughter married Hon. Sir Andrew Hume, a younger son of the 1st Earl of Marchmont.

Like his father and younger brother, Oley Douglas trained for the law, entering Gray’s Inn on the same date as his father in 1703 and remaining resident there until his marriage. Elected on the corporation interest for Morpeth in 1713, against the Whig candidate of the borough’s dominant patron Lord Carlisle (Charles Howard*), Douglas was classed as a Whig in the Worsley list. An inactive Member, his only significant act in the Parliament saw him confirm his partisan allegiance when he voted, on 18 Mar. 1714, against the expulsion of Richard Steele. His notes of debates upon disputed elections, the expulsion of Steele and the ‘succession in danger’ debate, reveal nothing of Douglas’ own activities but are distinctively Whig in bias.

Defeated at Morpeth in 1715 the following year Douglas stood at the Northumberland by-election against a Whig candidate sponsored by Lord Carlisle, but despite a vigorous campaign he was defeated by 23 votes. Douglas’ father claimed that these electoral reverses placed a considerable burden upon the family’s finances, writing to Douglas in September 1717 that election expenses of ‘above’ £3,000 had contributed significantly to family debts of over £7,000. He informed Douglas that ‘in case your elections had not been, my debts would have been easy and paid without much trouble’, and these financial difficulties led to negotiations for Douglas’ marriage to the daughter of the wealthy African trader Richard Harris, who may have been the Richard Harris elected to the capital’s common council on the Whig interest in 1716. Negotiations for the marriage were convoluted. Harris was suspicious that Douglas’ father had over-valued his lands, and his discovery that part of the indebtedness of the Douglases’ Northumberland estate had been concealed during the early stages of negotiations did little to allay such concerns. Douglas’ father was also wary of Harris’ demands in relation to the marriage settlement. He wrote to Douglas that settling estates upon the marriage of a son had ‘proved fatal’ for many men, and stated that though ‘I will be kind to my children’ he was not prepared to ‘strip myself for their sakes nor rely or depend on their favours’. Prepared to settle the manor of Halton on Douglas, which he claimed was worth £1,200 p.a., he was determined to retain East Matfen in order to provide for his younger children. The delays occasioned by negotiations for the settlement caused Douglas some concern, as he wrote to his father that ‘my fate depends so much on your favourable answer next Monday that I am on the rack till it comes, strange extremes of happiness and misery possess me till you crown it with success’. Articles of agreement, stipulating that a portion of £7,000 would be paid in return for settling Halton upon Douglas, were drawn up on 15 Nov. 1717, but it appears that in the eventual settlement Douglas’ father agreed to Harris’ demand also to settle East Matfen on Douglas in return for increasing the portion to £7,600. The wedding followed early in 1718, but by winter the following year Douglas had fallen ill and he died on 9 Nov. 1719 with his will, drawn up three days previously, devising his estates to his only daughter. In the early 1720s his widow and father-in-law began a Chancery suit alleging that Douglas had been forced by his father to enter into a number of bonds with the express intention of providing for his younger siblings, amounting to a premeditated undermining of Douglas’ marriage settlement. The lands inherited by Douglas’ daughter descended, upon her marriage in 1751 to Sir Edward Blackett, 4th Bt.†, to the Newby branch of the Blackett family.

Watch - Oley DouglasWatch - Oley Douglas This magnificent watch once belonged to Oley Douglas. It was made by George Graham of London, c1716..





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See also:
•  Matfen Hall

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