BLANCH, John (c.1649-1725), of Wotton Court, nr. Gloucester and Eastington, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. c.1649. m. 25 Jan. 1688, Hannah (d. 1709), da. of William Mew, rector of Eastington, 1s. (d.v.p.) 1da.1
The identity of Blanch’s parents has not been ascertained, but they were probably citizens of Gloucester. As a successful and wealthy clothier he purchased the Wotton Court estate in 1683 a short distance from the city. By the early 1690s he had become an important and well-informed lobbyist on behalf of the ‘rich Gloucestershire clothiers’, initially in their long-standing struggle to prevent the Blackwell Hall factors monopolizing the London cloth market and forcing clothiers to buy often inferior wool at inflated prices. A printed ‘case’ of 1699 mentions him as having been prominent in the attempts to place legislative restrictions on the factors in 1692 and 1693, a cause which he pursued again in 1699 when a new bill was initiated. In a pamphlet he published in 1694 he asserted that the suffering reputation of English wool in foreign markets arose from a decline in quality. He also advocated the regulation of mercantile activity in foreign markets wherever it undermined the trade in English wool. In 1698, for instance, he notified Edward Clarke I*, a commissioner of customs, that the East India merchants’ intrusion into the Persian markets was upsetting the delicate reciprocal trade in silk and woollen cloth, and suggested that the situation could be remedied by uniting the East India and Levant companies into a single chartered body. He, of course, typified the protectionist opinions of his interest and its sometimes draconian extremes. In 1704, when a bill to hinder commerce with France was pending, he submitted a proposal to Secretary Harley (Robert*) to prohibit ‘the wearing of hoods and scarves by all persons under such a degree of quality as your honourable House shall think fit, and by as strict an injunction of the wear of hats’.2
At the 1710 election Blanch was encouraged to stand for Gloucester and made a direct application for support to Harley. It was presumed by one observer that he stood purely ‘in order to serve Mr Webb’, a leading corporation Tory who was seeking re-election, as otherwise it was not apparent ‘what pleasure he can take in the House’. But those well versed in Gloucester’s affairs saw positive benefits in having ‘honest John Blanch’ as an MP and felt that he would ‘prove a useful man in the affair of Blackwell Hall and the merchandise of our cloth, which has been for some time under a very disadvantageous management’. Following his election he was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament and was counted one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who during the first session helped to expose the mismanagements of the Godolphin administration. He was gratified to see the stimulus given to commerce by Harley’s recovery from Guiscard’s assassination attempt. Informing the chancellor at the end of March 1711 that ‘bills of exchange that could not be discounted at 12 per cent may now be done at six per cent’, he looked forward to telling him in person of the ‘alteration in many other affairs’, adding,
it’s plain to me that the chief heads of our faction will in a little time appear to be but slenderly supported, so that like Samson’s riddle, sweet is like to come out of bitter, and a happy reconciliation of our unhappy divisions . . . and as you have been signally instrumental in the happiest turn of affairs that may have ever happened to this kingdom, that the same good providence may still influence your actions to a peace which I think as our affairs now stand is highly needful.
Despite Blanch’s consuming interest in commercial issues, he was not active in promoting measures in the House. He preferred instead to work ‘behind the scenes’ in persuading members of the government of the efficacy of various fiscal incentives to trade. As an MP he evidently felt he could now approach ministers with the weight of backbench opinion behind him. In January 1711 he submitted to Harley a detailed conspectus of proposals for the supply, designed to stimulate various branches of manufacture and trade; and repeated the exercise again in 1712. He enjoyed the position of an unofficial adviser whose expertise Harley periodically sought, and of being able to bend ministerial ears when necessary. In July 1711 he was consulted by the lord treasurer’s brother Edward* on means of preventing the export of wool, and responded directly to Lord Oxford with his thoughts in full, the main thrust of which was that the laws ‘lately made are very good, only ineffectual’. In 1713 he was active in sounding out MPs’ views in relation to the restoration of full commercial links with France, and ‘finding many Members that serve for clothing ports very pressing’, proposed to Oxford the early repeal of laws prohibiting the admission of English woollen fabrics to France. At the election Blanch stood again, but his position had seriously weakened after the ministers had persuaded Thomas Webb, his fellow MP and main source of electoral support, to make way for another candidate. He none the less persisted, but lacking Webb’s assistance came a poor third in the poll. He began canvassing again two weeks later, on hearing that one of the new Members was gravely ill, but the MP recovered, and he thereafter showed no further interest in recovering his seat. He subsequently devoted his energies to schemes for advancing Gloucester’s position as a centre for the marketing and shipping of cloth, although an ambitious plan of 1723 could not overcome difficulties in the navigation of the lower Severn. He died on 10 July 1725, aged 76, and was buried at Gloucester’s church of St Mary Magdalen. His only son having predeceased him, his estates passed to a nephew.