Manuscripts and Special Collections

Biography of John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington (1800-1873)

John Evelyn was the eldest surviving son of John Denison (c.1759-1820), who as John Wilkinson had inherited the Ossington estate in Nottinghamshire from his uncle Robert Denison in 1785, following the terms of the will of another uncle, William Denison, in 1782. The Denisons were Leeds wool merchants.

He was the eldest of a close-knit and distinguished family of nine sons and daughters, plus two daughters from his father's previous marriage. His siblings included Edward Denison (1801-1854), Bishop of Salisbury, Sir William T. Denison (1804-1871), colonial governor, and George A. Denison (1805-1896), Archdeacon of Taunton.

Denison inherited the Ossington estates in 1820 on the death of his father. In addition to the family home at Ossington Hall, and other lands in Nottinghamshire, the family titles included lands in Lincolnshire, County Durham and Yorkshire. He was a progressive landlord, interested in agricultural improvements, and he became president of the Royal Agricultural Society.

John Evelyn Denison was educated at Eton and Christ Church College, Oxford. He entered the political arena in 1823 as a moderate Whig. He subsequently occupied elective office over a period of fifty years, as M.P. for the constituencies of Hastings, Newcastle under Lyme, Nottinghamshire, South Nottinghamshire, Malton, and North Nottinghamshire. In 1827-1828 he held government office as one of the council of the Duke of Clarence, Lord High Admiral in Canning's administration.

Denison's most substantial political contribution lay in his role as Speaker of the House of Commons from 1857 to 1872. During this period he remained in touch with Nottinghamshire affairs from his home at Ossington Hall near Newark. He was a staunch supporter of traditional landed interests and the Church of England, and was political ally and friend to numerous politicians and statesmen, including Lord Derby, the Duke of Argyll and Lord Egerton. Denison had deep religious beliefs and, given his political stance, a natural concern with matters relating to Church and State. This interest is reflected in his instigation of a work of biblical criticism known as 'The Speaker's Commentary on the Bible', published between 1871-1881. He was created Viscount Ossington on his retirement from the Speakership in 1872.

On his death in 1873, the Ossington estates passed to his nephew William Evelyn Denison (1843-1916), son of his brother Sir William T. Denison.

In 1882 the Ossington Coffee Palace in Newark, a temperance hotel, was opened. The cost of the hotel, over £20,000, was borne by Viscountess Ossington in memory of her husband and of his nephew and heir, Edward Denison M.P., who predeceased him in 1870.


J. Evelyn Denison, 1st Viscount Ossington
from Cornelius Brown, 'Lives of Nottinghamshire Worthies' (London, 1882)  


He married in 1827 Lady Charlotte Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (1806-1889), 3rd daughter of the 4th Duke of Portland. They had no children.

Viscountess Ossington took the surname Scott by Royal Licence in 1882, following her inheritance of part of the Portland estates after the death of her brother the 5th Duke of Portland.

Archive Collections

Seven collections held in Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham relate particularly to Viscount and Viscountess Ossington:

  • (Os) Papers of John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington: Including diaries, personal papers and correspondence of J. Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington; and among Lady Charlotte's papers a number of puzzles and acrostics
  • (Pw N) Papers of Lady Charlotte Denison, Viscountess Ossington, in the Portland (Welbeck) Collection: Correspondence, predominantly from her family and other members of the aristocracy, plus micellaneous papers
  • (Pw K) Letters from Lady Charlotte Denison, Viscountess Ossington, to her brother William, 5th Duke of Portland, and from J. Evelyn Denison to the 5th Duke of Portland (Pw K 1312-1441 and Pw K1449-63)
  • (Ne C) Letters from J. Evelyn Denison to the 5th Duke of Newcastle, 1823-64 (in Ne C 8779-14,145)
  • (De Wm) Papers of Sir William T. Denison and his family: Includes letters sent by J. Evelyn Denison and Lady Charlotte Denison, Viscountess Ossington
  • (De) Denison collection: Title deeds, settlements, estate and legal papers relating to the ownership of the estates of J. Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington
  • (DL) Papers of Lee and Pemberton, Solicitors: Legal papers, accounts and correspondence concerning the trust arrangements arising from the death of Viscount Ossington

Letters sent by J. Evelyn Denison and Lady Charlotte Denison to various recipients including Benjamin Disraeli, the 14th Earl of Derby, the Duke of Devonshire, W.E. Gladstone, the 3rd Earl Grey, Lord Halifax, Lord Harrowby, William Huskisson, Sir Anthony Panizzi, Lord John Russell, Samuel Wilberforce, Sir R.J. Wilmot-Horton, Elizabeth Mary Copley, and Lord and Lady Grey, are held in a variety of archive offices and libraries, including:

Published Sources

  • G.F.R. Barker, 'Denison, (John) Evelyn, Viscount Ossington (1800-1873)', rev. H.C.G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [available online to subscribers,]
  • J. Evelyn Denison's political diaries were edited and published posthumously as Notes from my Journal when Speaker of the House of Commons (London: John Murray, 1899) [East Midlands Special Collection Not 340.V38 DEN]



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