Sir James Lowther, 4th Baronet

Sir James Lowther, 4th Baronet

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Sir James Lowther, 4th Baronet, FRS (1673 – 2 January 1755) was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 landowner, politician and industrialist. He obtained immense wealth from coal mines in northern England, which he extensively developed and modernised.

Early life

He was baptised on 5 August 1673 at St Giles in the Fields
St Giles in the Fields
St Giles in the Fields, Holborn, is a church in the London Borough of Camden, in the West End. It is close to the Centre Point office tower and the Tottenham Court Road tube station. The church is part of the Diocese of London within the Church of England...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, the second son of Sir John Lowther, 2nd Baronet
Sir John Lowther, 2nd Baronet, of Whitehaven
Sir John Lowther, 2nd Baronet FRS was an English gentleman and landowner at Whitehaven.He was born at Whitehaven, St Bees, Cumberland, the son of Sir Christopher Lowther, 1st Baronet, and his wife, Frances, daughter of Christopher Lancaster of Stockbridge, Westmoreland and educated at Ilkley,...

 and Jane Leigh. Educated privately in London, he attended Queen's College, Oxford and the Middle Temple
Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn...



In 1694, he was returned as Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 for Carlisle
Carlisle (UK Parliament constituency)
Carlisle is a constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election. It was a Labour seat from 1964 until 2010, although the Conservatives came close to victory in the elections in...

, a seat he held until 1702. He also served on the Board of Ordnance
Board of Ordnance
The Board of Ordnance was a British government body responsible for the supply of armaments and munitions to the Royal Navy and British Army. It was also responsible for providing artillery trains for armies and maintaining coastal fortresses and, later, management of the artillery and engineer...

 from 1696 until 1708, when he re-entered Parliament for Cumberland
Cumberland (UK Parliament constituency)
Cumberland is a former United Kingdom Parliamentary constituency. It was a constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of England then of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832. It was represented by two Knights of...

. This seat he held until 1722; in 1723, he was returned for Appleby
Appleby (UK Parliament constituency)
Appleby was a parliamentary constituency in the former county of Westmorland in England. It existed for two separate periods: from 1295 to 1832, and from 1885 to 1918....

, but in 1727 was MP for Cumberland again, and would be so for the rest of his life. Politically, Lowther was a Whig
British Whig Party
The Whigs were a party in the Parliament of England, Parliament of Great Britain, and Parliament of the United Kingdom, who contested power with the rival Tories from the 1680s to the 1850s. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule...

, but with little interest in national affairs; his Parliamentary activity was primarily directed towards promoting local interests in Cumbria
Cumbria , is a non-metropolitan county in North West England. The county and Cumbria County Council, its local authority, came into existence in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972. Cumbria's largest settlement and county town is Carlisle. It consists of six districts, and in...

. He was sworn a Privy Counsellor in 1714.

Family estates

In 1706, he inherited the family estates upon the death of his father, his elder brother Christopher
Sir Christopher Lowther, 3rd Baronet
Sir Christopher Lowther, 3rd Baronet was an English baronet, the eldest son of Sir John Lowther, 2nd Baronet and Jane Leigh...

 having been disinherited as a spendthrift. The principal wealth of the estates was in collieries, and he made extensive investments to improve and extend his holdings. To facilitate the coal trade, he made improvements to the harbour facilities at Whitehaven
Whitehaven is a small town and port on the coast of Cumbria, England, which lies equidistant between the county's two largest settlements, Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness, and is served by the Cumbrian Coast Line and the A595 road...

, which became a major coal port for shipping to Dublin and elsewhere. Lowther also sought to promote iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 manufacture in the area, and develop Whitehaven as a planned town, an enterprise first begun by his father in the 1680s. He succeeded his brother in the baronetcy in 1731.

Despite his great holdings, Lowther lived a frugal lifestyle, which earned him the name of "Farthing Jemmy", and was thought by the 1730s to be the richest commoner in England, enjoying an income of about £25,000 a year at his death. Although his principal residence was London, his improvements were not made completely in absentia. Almost every summer, he made the then-arduous journey north to Whitehaven to discuss the management of his estates in person, and continued to travel despite advanced age, and the amputation of his right leg due to gout
Gout is a medical condition usually characterized by recurrent attacks of acute inflammatory arthritis—a red, tender, hot, swollen joint. The metatarsal-phalangeal joint at the base of the big toe is the most commonly affected . However, it may also present as tophi, kidney stones, or urate...

 in 1750.

Improvements in mining

Lowther was not interested merely in expanding his estate, but in technical improvements as well. By the late 1720s, he faced increasing competition from the Workington
Workington is a town, civil parish and port on the west coast of Cumbria, England, at the mouth of the River Derwent. Lying within the Borough of Allerdale, Workington is southwest of Carlisle, west of Cockermouth, and southwest of Maryport...

 mines, and found it necessary to increase production. His steward, Carlisle Spedding, was dispatched to Newcastle to learn about improvements in mining technology there, which he did by disguising himself as a common miner for some time. Upon Spedding's return, work began in 1729 on the Saltom Pit near Whitehaven, the first undersea mine in England, and, at 456 feet (139 m) deep by 1731, the deepest undersea mine anywhere at the time.

The first problem to be confronted in such an enterprise was drainage, which was dealt with by using early Newcomen
Thomas Newcomen
Thomas Newcomen was an ironmonger by trade and a Baptist lay preacher by calling. He was born in Dartmouth, Devon, England, near a part of the country noted for its tin mines. Flooding was a major problem, limiting the depth at which the mineral could be mined...

 steam engine
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

s. Lowther had already been the first to set up a Newcomen engine in Cumberland in 1715 at the Stone Pit. The second was firedamp
Firedamp is a flammable gas found in coal mines. It is the name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane. It is particularly commonly found in areas where the coal is bituminous...

, which was encountered in great quantities in sinking the pit. Spedding invented the "Steel Mill", a device which struck sparks from a flint to give illumination (and which was less likely than candle
A candle is a solid block or cylinder of wax with an embedded wick, which is lit to provide light, and sometimes heat.Today, most candles are made from paraffin. Candles can also be made from beeswax, soy, other plant waxes, and tallow...

s to ignite firedamp) and forced ventilation, but the Whitehaven pits were perpetually gassy, and the hazard of methane explosions was never entirely overcome. The large pocket of firedamp first encountered in digging Saltom Pit was in part drawn off by a pipe to the surface, where the gas could be collected. Lowther showed that it could be stored for some period of time and retain its inflammable properties, describing the nature of the gas in a submission to the Royal Society in 1733. As a result, he was chosen a Fellow of the Royal Society on 25 November 1736. Lowther also supported further research by Spedding and William Brownrigg
William Brownrigg
William Brownrigg M.D. F.R.S. was a doctor and scientist, who practised at Whitehaven in Cumberland. While there, William Brownrigg carried out experiments that won him not only a place in The Royal Society but the prized Copley Medal....

, a doctor, into the scientific properties and medical effects of methane, paying half the costs for construction of a laboratory (and lighting it with gas piped from a nearby pit).


In 1739, Lowther became a founding governor of a charity in London, the Foundling Hospital
Foundling Hospital
The Foundling Hospital in London, England was founded in 1741 by the philanthropic sea captain Thomas Coram. It was a children's home established for the "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children." The word "hospital" was used in a more general sense than it is today, simply...

, which would give unwed mothers an alternative to abandoning their babies by providing a child care institution where they could be brought up.

Lowther continued to be active through his eightieth year (despite the amputation aforementioned), managing through Parliament six bills on turnpike trusts, for the improvement of Whitehaven, in 1753. He died on 2 January 1755 in London. (The faithful Carlisle Spedding died in a pit explosion the same year.) Unmarried, Lowther left his estates to his fourth cousin once removed, Sir William Lowther, 3rd Baronet
Sir William Lowther, 3rd Baronet
Sir William Lowther, 3rd Baronet was an English landowner, of Marske Hall, Yorkshire and Holker Hall. He was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Lowther, 2nd Baronet and Lady Elizabeth Cavendish....