COX, Charles (d. 1729), of Hay’s Wharf, Mill Lane, St. Olave’s, Southwark, Surr.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
s. of Thomas Cox of St. Margaret’s Hill, Southwark; m. Jane. Kntd. 21 Sept. 1709.
Freeman, Brewers’ Co. 1686, master 1708; sheriff, Surr. 1717–18; gov. St. Thomas’ Hosp. by 1719–?d.1
By the time of his death Cox had established for himself a reputation as an ‘eminent brewer’, but his origins remain obscure. The identity of his father has been traced from the marriage licence of Cox’s sister Susanna, a source which accords Cox senior with the dignity of a gentleman in 1681. However, Cox may well have been brought up in the West Indies, for he later revealed that he had ‘resided’ in Jamaica, and a survey of the island in 1670 indicates that a ‘Thomas Cox’ owned a 300-acre estate there. Even though Cox’s presence in England can be plausibly assumed from the time of his admission to the Brewers’ Company in 1686, he maintained an active interest in colonial affairs throughout his career. He traded to Jamaica, and also acted as London agent for his brother Samuel, who held a succession of posts in the Barbadian administration from 1697. However, it was Cox’s success as a brewer which paved the way for his political career, for brewing was the dominant industry in Southwark. Moreover, although opponents often accused him of unscrupulousness at the polls, he proved a beneficent patron to his constituents, sponsoring public lectures in applied mathematics, and dispensing charity to St. Thomas’ Hospital.2
Cox’s success at the Southwark poll of 1695 gave clear proof of his status in the borough, although the agent who informed Robert Harley* of the result felt it necessary for Harley’s benefit to identify Cox as ‘a brewer’. Lacking such helpful instruction, any attempt to discern Cox’s ensuing activity in the House cannot overcome the ambiguity caused by the simultaneous presence of his namesake Charles Cocks*, the Member for Droitwich. In his first session Cox was bracketed with the Court’s adversaries in the forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, and he also voted in late March against fixing the price of guineas. He did sign the Association, however, and by the next session was prepared to support the ministry in the division of 25 Nov. concerning the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. Moreover, Cox’s loyalty to the crown had recently been confirmed by his acquittal on charges of obstructing the quartering of royal troops in Southwark. Although failing to steer completely free from local controversy, he proved a loyal adherent of the Court for the rest of his parliamentary career.
At the election of 1698 Cox was returned alongside his fellow brewer and parishioner John Cholmley*, thereby forming an electoral partnership which was to dominate the Southwark constituency for the next 14 years. Soon afterwards a parliamentary observer listed him as a Court supporter, and, after duly voting in favour of the standing army on 18 Jan. 1699, he was bracketed by a list of early 1700 with the Junto interest. In general his activity in the House during this and the next four Parliaments is further obscured by the additional presence of Charles Coxe*, the Member for Cirencester. In the first Southwark election of 1701 he had to campaign hard to meet the challenge of Arthur Moore*, although the poll revealed a comfortable victory for the sitting Members. The electoral contest of November 1701 saw a much more conclusive victory for the two brewers over Edmund Bowyer, the half-brother of Cox’s former electoral partner, Anthony*. After their election the Whig Members were presented with an instruction in the name of ‘the inhabitants of Southwark’, which called upon them to offer vigorous support for war with France. The next day Cox and Cholmley led some 500 liverymen to poll for the Whig candidates at the election for the City of London. Given such party activism, it was little surprise that a month later Cox was identified by Robert Harley as a Whig.3
The first election of Queen Anne’s reign caused Cox much embarrassment, for in its wake lurid accounts of the violent tactics employed by his supporters were brought before the Commons. He was initially returned on 17 July 1702, but on 10 Nov. the House declared the election void, having blamed the Whig Members for causing ‘a great riot’ at the polls. Even though the House also decided to restrict the Southwark franchise, at the second election both Cox and Cholmley managed to prevail over their Tory challenger, John Lade*. Cox predictably voted on 13 Feb. 1703 to agree with the Lords’ amendments to the bill to extend the time for taking the abjuration oath. However, given his political stance since 1696, he was unlikely to have been the Cox included in Robert Harley’s lobbying list in preparation for the vote on the Tack. This assumption is supported by a parliamentary list of 30 Oct. 1704 which forecast him as an opponent of the measure, as well as by Cox’s opposition to the Tack in the key division of 28 Nov. In the remainder of the session he may well have been involved with a group of New England merchants lobbying Parliament to encourage the import of potash from North America. In August 1702 a ‘Charles Cox’ had featured among the petitioners for a charter to supply naval stores from New England and, given his interest in colonial affairs, the Southwark brewer can probably be identified as the ‘Mr Cox’ whose ‘urgent offices’ prevented him from presenting the petition to the House on 1 Feb. 1705. Less than a week later Cox’s name headed a list of Barbadian estate owners addressing the Board of Trade and Plantations in support of the governor of that island, Sir Bevill Granville*.
In the May election of 1705 Cox enjoyed the luxury of an unopposed return, and dutifully voted for the Whig candidates at the ensuing Surrey election. At the outset of the new Parliament he was described in a list as ‘No Church’ and proceeded to back the Court in two of the crucial divisions of the first session: on 25 Oct., in favour of John Smith I* as Speaker; and on 18 Feb. 1706, in opposition to the regency bill’s ‘place clause’. Although the presence of two namesakes in the House continues to obscure his activity, a problem compounded by the return of James Cocks* in November 1707, he can with some confidence be identified as a teller on 24 Apr. 1707 in support of an amendment to a bill to control the import of gunpowder into London and Southwark. Such attentiveness to constituency affairs would have helped him to achieve his unopposed return at the Southwark election of May 1708, although his solid Whig credentials, confirmed by two parliamentary observers earlier that year, remained an enduring basis for his local support. His ruthless campaign to discredit his rival John Lade before the 1708 election, which culminated in Lade’s removal as a j.p., aggravated local party bitterness.4
In the new Parliament Cox had several opportunities to influence major issues which had a direct bearing on his constituency. Having voted in the first session in favour of the naturalization of the poor Palatine immigrants, Cox sought to alleviate their suffering in the autumn of 1709 by offering temporary shelter in his Southwark warehouses to ‘near 1,000’ refugees. However, it was for political, rather than charitable, reasons that he earned a knighthood in September 1709, an honour bestowed on the occasion of his presentation of a loyal address at court. Thenceforth his elevated status allows his Commons activity to be differentiated from that of his namesakes. For the rest of the session he was prominently involved in moves against the supporters of Dr Henry Sacheverell, the High Church champion who had procured a chaplaincy at St. Saviour’s, Southwark. On 16 Feb. 1710 Cox acted as a teller in favour of a motion to introduce a bill to regulate London’s select vestries, a measure coming in response to reports of their corrupting influence in parliamentary elections, and was duly named to its drafting committee. He predictably voted for Sacheverell’s impeachment, and also told on 24 Mar. in favour of a motion to burn a pamphlet reporting Sacheverell’s answers to the articles of impeachment. Moreover, he signed an address from the London lieutenancy which was severely critical of the outrages committed by High Church mobs.
The Southwark election of 1710 was, inevitably, a keenly contested affair, but the sitting Whig Members managed to repulse the renewed Tory challenge. Cox also voted in the Whig interest at both the Reigate and Surrey contests, thereby displaying a party loyalty which was confirmed by the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament. Although he had managed to overcome his local adversaries at the polls, in the ensuing session he found himself the target of a vengeful Tory Commons. On 15 Feb. 1711, when the House heard the report of the committee investigating victualling abuses, an information suggested that ten ‘embezzled’ royal casks had recently been spotted on his premises. Cox was, in fact, a purveyor of beer to the court, and, after a printed paper had been submitted to clear his name, no subsequent action was taken against him. Undeterred, his local opponents petitioned the House soon afterwards in an attempt to discredit Cox for his charity towards the poor Palatines some 18 months before. The committee appointed to investigate the matter reported on 14 Apr., having heard the testimony of parish officials who accused Cox of ignoring their warnings that the immigrants were likely to cause great local hardships, particularly in terms of expense or infection. Although the House later condemned all who had promoted such immigration, Cox defiantly maintained his party loyalty for the rest of the Parliament, voting on 7 Dec. 1711 for the motion of ‘No Peace without Spain’, and opposing the French commerce bill in the division of 18 June 1713.5
Cox’s decision to stand down at the election of 1713 was evidently a result of financial hardship rather than any radical shift in his political outlook. A ‘calamitous’ fire at his Battle Bridge brewery in January 1712 brought him serious financial difficulties, causing him to seek the profits of public office rather than a seat in the House. Although he split his votes at the ensuing London poll, the evidence of an election committee report on 20 Apr. 1714 confirmed that he had used his local influence to aid the Whig candidates at Southwark. He certainly entertained hopes of advancement under the Hanoverians, petitioning the Treasury for ‘an appointment’ in November 1714. However, having drawn attention to the length of his parliamentary service, as well as to his recent loss of ‘some 1,000s of pounds by fire’, Cox did not find favour with the ministry. The only significant office which he subsequently held was the shrievalty of Surrey in 1717–18, a position which may have satisfied his desire for status, but one which could only have exacerbated his financial problems.
In the absence of domestic appointment, Cox directed his ambition towards the colonies. In March 1720 he actually sought to become governor of Jamaica, boasting ‘the concurrent wishes of the planters and merchants’ on the island, but his bid was unsuccessful. However, his petition to the Board of Trade and Plantations suggested that his finances had recovered by this time, for he professed himself concerned only with the prestige of the post, observing that ‘without this grant or something equivalent, I am not able to show my head’. His will, written only weeks before his death on 13 June 1729, reveals that he had already provided for his wife ‘and all my children more than any law and custom can oblige’. The will provides no clue as to the identity and number of his offspring, but the Cox name ceased to be a significant force in Southwark politics after Sir Charles’s death.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. W. Rendle and P. Morgan, Inns of Old Southwark, 53; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxx), 73; Guildhall Lib. mss 5449A, f. 4; J. Aubrey, Surr. v. 312.
- 2. Boyer, Pol. State, xxxvii. 621; CSP Col. 1669–74, p. 101; 1720–1, p. 1; APC Col. 1680–1720, p. 391; E. G. R. Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart Eng. 284; Aubrey, 295.
- 3. Add. 70070, 70075, newsletters 29 Oct. 1695, 27 Nov. 1701; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 120; Advice of Inhabitants of Southwark .
- 4. APC Col. 1680–1720, p. 196; HMC Portland, viii. 167–8; Add. 70038, J. Jones to Robert Harley, 1 Feb. 1705; CSP Col. 1704–5, pp. 369–70; Surr. Poll of 1705; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 184–5.
- 5. Luttrell, vi. 492; Add. ch. 76120; Surr. RO (Kingston), 445/1, Reigate poll 1710; Surr. Poll of 1710; Sir Charles Cox’s Case .
- 6. Luttrell, vi. 713; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 79; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1714–19, p. 20; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. p. xlii; CSP Col. 1720–1, p. 1; PCC 162 Abbott.