Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grey, John (1785-1868)

For works with similar titles, see John Grey.

GREY, JOHN (1785–1868), of Dilston, agriculturist, eldest son of George Grey of West Ord, near Berwick, who died in 1793, by Mary, daughter of John Burn of Berwick, was born at Millfield Hill, Glendale, in August 1785, and was educated at Richmond grammar school. He was intimate from an early age with Lord Jeffrey, Chalmers, Irving, and Sir Walter Scott, and entered active life when seventeen years old. The first public question that he took part in was the abolition of slavery. He was entrusted by Clarkson in 1823 with the task of collecting petitions in some of the border towns. He accompanied Lord Brougham in his celebrated anti-slavery tour in Northumberland and Cumberland in 1826, and seconded by some speeches of great promise and ability the orations of his leader. He took part in the agitation for catholic emancipation, and in the struggle which preceded the Reform Bill of 1832. He enjoyed the confidence of Earl Grey and Lord Althorp (Lord Spencer), and on the hustings at Alnwick made many eloquent speeches. In 1833 Sir James Graham placed under his sole management the northern estates belonging to Greenwich Hospital in Northumberland and Cumberland. He then ceased to take an active part in politics, but was consulted on various measures of public usefulness, such as the Tithe Commutation Act, the land drainage scheme, and free trade. From early years (1803) he had devoted his energies to aid in the development and improvement of the soil, as well as labouring to bring to perfection every description of stock raised on farms. He had originally farmed in north Northumberland, where, with others, he created a new system of agriculture, both in breeding cattle and cultivating the land.

In the administration of the agricultural and mining estates of Greenwich Hospital Grey was remarkable for his activity, good sense, and sagacity. He raised the net rental of the property in twenty years from 30,000l.to 40,000l.,and added to its value at least 200,000l. by his judicious management. During his long tenure of office he was frequently visited by distinguished foreigners, and Baron Liebig was pleased on visiting Dilston to see his own discoveries practically applied to the improvement of the Northumbrian crops. Grey's impartiality in dealing with the estates made him many enemies, and he was denounced in some of the newspapers with much scurrility; time, however, proved his honesty and the success of his management. On 9 Oct. 1849 a great number of his neighbours and friends presented him with a testimonial of plate and his portrait, in oils, by Patten, for his efforts in promoting the moral and material welfare of the Tyneside district. In the autumn of 1857 he lost the greater part of his savings by the failure of the Newcastle bank. He retired from the management of the Greenwich Hospital estates in 1863, feeling that at seventy-seven he could no longer do full justice to the work. He then removed to Lipwood House on the banks of the Tyne, near Haydon Bridge, where he died on 22 Jan. 1868. He married, in 1815, Hannah Eliza, daughter of Ralph Annette of The Fence, near Alnwick, by whom he had a family of nine children. She died at Dilston on 15 May 1860. His son, Charles Grey, succeeded to the management of the Greenwich Hospital estates.

[Memoir of John Grey of Dilston, by his daughter, Josephine E. Butler, revised edition, 1874; Gent. Mag. 1868. pt.i. pp. 678-9; Times, 27 Jan. 1868, p. 10; Saddle and Sirloin, by The Druid, 1878. pp. 121-8, with portrait.]

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