BLUDWORTH, Thomas (1620-82), of Gracechurch Street, London and Thorncroft, Leatherhead, Surr.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 13 Feb. 1620, s. of Edward Blidward, yeoman. of Heanor, Derbys. m. (1) Mary, da. and h. of Walter Rogers, Leatherseller, of London and Leatherhead, 2s. 1da. d.v.p.; (2) 6 Jan. 1657, Mary, da. of one Butcher, boat-builder, wid. of Henry Benn, slopseller, of London, 2s. 3da. Kntd. 16 May 1660.1
Member, Vintners’ Co. 1643, master 1659-60; committee E.I. Co. 1656-61, 1662-3, 1664-5; common councilman, London 1658, 1660-2, alderman 1658-9, 1662-d., sheriff 1661-3, ld. mayor 1665-6; asst. Levant Co. 1658-65, 1673-5, R. Africa Co. 1675-6, 1678; member, Hon. Artillery Co. 1659; col. orange regt. of militia ft. London 1659-60, yellow regt. 1660-d., commr. for militia Mar. 1660; j.p. Surr. July 1660-d.; commr. for assessment, London Aug. 1660-80, Surr. Sept. 1660-3, 1664-80, Southwark 1661-80, sewers, Kent and Surr. Aug. 1660; dep. lt. London c. Aug. 1660-82; commr. for loyal and indigent officers, London and Mdx. 1662, oyer and terminer, London 1665, recusants, London and Surr. 1675, rebuilding, Southwark 1677.2
Bludworth was apprenticed in 1635 to a London Vintner, later becoming a successful Turkey merchant with interests in the timber trade. His first wife brought him a leasehold interest in a Surrey manor. He was elected alderman in 1658, but discharged when he refused to serve as sheriff. He was suspected of working for a Restoration, and on 9 Feb. 1660 he was arrested by order of the Council of State, but released on the return of the secluded Members.3
Bludworth was returned for Southwark at the general election of 1660 and marked as a friend by Lord Wharton. A moderately active Member of the Convention, he was named to 13 committees and made nine recorded speeches. He was among those given leave to attend the King with a letter from the City, and thanked for providing a letter of credit for the needs of the exiled Court. With four other merchants he produced half of the £50,000 required. He was knighted at The Hague, and recommended for the order of the Royal Oak, with an estimated income of £3,000. On his return to Westminster he was appointed to the committees for the navigation bill and the bill to reduce interest to 6 per cent. He spoke in favour of excluding Papists from the House of Lords and advised against attempting to raise a £100,000 loan in the City ‘for fear of refusals’. During the second session he spoke in favour of a tax on land rather than excise, and argued that the City should be reimbursed for the whole cost of celebrating the King’s return and the sitting of Parliament. On the second reading of the bill to empower the corporation to raise two months assessment for the militia, he defended the City from a charge of ‘backwardness’ in raising money, and acted successfully as teller against recommitting it.4
Bludworth was re-elected in 1661, and was again moderately active in the Cavalier Parliament. Of his 98 committees, over half were concerned with trade or taxation, but he was also appointed or added to the committee of elections and privileges in nine sessions. Although an Anglican, he took little part in the Clarendon Code and remained on good terms with the leader of the dissenters, William Love. He was appointed to the inquiry into the shortfall in revenue in the first session, and to the committees on the bills for the better employment of the poor in the metropolitan area and the establishment of suburban ‘courts of conscience’ for small claims. He acted as teller against inserting a reference to tin in a proviso to the customs frauds bill on 19 Mar. 1662, and against suspending the Merchant Adventurers’ monopoly. On 24 Apr. he was appointed to a small committee to expunge the clauses concerning tallow in the bill against the export of wool. He was also named to the committee for the additional corporations bill. When Love was removed from the bench by the commissioners for corporations, Bludworth was chosen to replace him on the King’s recommendation. In the 1663 session he was appointed to the committees for restoring the clerk of the London chamber and restraining abuses in the sale of offices. As a leading member of the Levant Company, having put up a substantial part of the capital required to establish a factory at Aleppo, he tried to avoid a clash with the ambassador to the Porte over the appointment, at Love’s suggestion, of a nonconformist chaplain at Smyrna. He also had influence in the East India Company, and later in the Royal Africa Company, and sat on several important committees of the common council of London. With his friend John Robinson I he worked for a good understanding between the City and the King, and served on the committee to raise a loan of £100,000 at the start of the second Dutch war. Nevertheless Samuel Pepys found him ‘a mean man of understanding and despatch of any public business’, and this opinion became general during his mayoralty, when the Plague and the Great Fire of London made it ‘the severest year ever man had’ in the office, as he justly wrote to Joseph Williamson. Inevitably perhaps, it was reported that he had been drinking heavily on the evening when the fire broke out, and when roused from his slumber undertook to extinguish it from his own personal resources. Pepys’s account of his inadequacy is well-known.
At last met my lord mayor in Cannon Street, like a man spent, with a handkerchief about his neck. To the King’s message, he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.
Bludworth appears to have been made a scapegoat for the failure to arrest the Fire, for until he had the King’s authority he could not pull down houses without being made personally responsible for the cost of rebuilding them, and he was also faced with stiff resistance from the aldermen. When Parliament met he was named to the committees on the bill ‘for providing utensils for the speedy quenching of fire’, no doubt ribald references to the lord mayor’s chamber-pot, and to recommend tax abatements for the stricken metropolis. His own house and stock in Gracechurch Street had been destroyed, but he was able to build himself a splendid replacement in Maiden Lane, later sold to Sir Dudley North II. It was less easy to restore his influence over the corporation. He asked Williamson to vindicate his handling of the emergency in the Gazette, and to make it clear that he was not ‘out of favour’. He remained ‘a zealous person in the King’s concernments, and willing, though it may be not very able, to do great things’ in the City.5
Bludworth gave information to the House about malversation of naval stores on 26 Nov. 1667, and he was authorized, together with Love and Samuel Sandys I, to make further inquiries; but nothing came of it. He acted as teller against another bill to reduce interest charges on 11 Apr. 1668, and was appointed to the committees on bills to prevent illegal imprisonment (3 Mar. 1670), the growth of Popery (8 Feb. 1671), and abuses in parliamentary elections (13 Feb. 1673). He was included in the Paston list of court supporters in 1673-4. In 1676 Sir Richard Wiseman marked his name with a query, but Shaftesbury classed him as ‘thrice vile’. On 8 May 1678 he was teller against instructing the drafting committee to finish the address for the removal of counsellors. When his son-in-law Sir George Jeffreys was accused of delaying the execution of those found guilty of the Popish Plot, he informed the House that it was the custom of the Old Bailey always to wait for an order from the King. Oates alleged that Bludworth had had a hand in burning London ‘by the Duke of York’s order’. He was blacklisted among the ‘unanimous club’ of court supporters, and never stood again, though he assisted Jeffreys against the exclusionists on the corporation. He presented the loyal address from Southwark approving the dissolution of the Exclusion Parliaments, and served on the Southwark grand jury which found Thomas Pilkington guilty of slandering a political opponent. He died on 12 May 1682 and was buried at Leatherhead.6