WEBSTER, Sir Thomas, 1st Bt. (1676-1751), of Copped Hall, Essex, and Battle Abbey, Suss.
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Family and Education
bap. 12 Nov. 1676, 1st s. of Sir Godfrey Webster, merchant, of Fenchurch St., London, and Nelmes, Havering, Essex, by Abigail, da. and coh. of Thomas Gordon of Mere, Staffs. by Mary da. and coh. of Henry Whistler of Epsom, Surr. educ. M. Temple 1697. m. 2 Oct. 1701 Jane (d. 1760), da. and h. of Edward Cheek of Sandford Orcas, Som., 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1720. cr. Bt. 21 May 1703.1
Member, Levant Co. 1698; trustee, receiving loan to Emperor 1706; dir. E.I . Co. 1715–17.2
Sheriff, Essex 1703–4; alderman, Colchester 1714; verderer of Waltham Forest 1718–d.3
Webster’s father loaned money to William III after the Revolution, and was rewarded with such a lucrative contract to supply clothing to the army that by 1710 he owned enough stock in the Bank of England to qualify as governor or a director. Thomas Webster must therefore have needed little encouragement to follow, and indeed partner, his father’s mercantile interests. But although the contracts to supply hemp for the navy offered the prospect of large rewards they were not without hazard whether in time of war or peace. In 1708, for example, the loss of several ships ‘taken by the enemy’ prevented Thomas and two other merchants from meeting their commitments; in April 1713 he and his father were part of a syndicate, contracted to deliver 2,000 tons of hemp from Russia, that was caught out by a fall in the commodity’s price after the conclusion of the treaty of commerce; and by February 1711 he was leading a delegation of the navy’s creditors who complained about talk of a change in the way their debts were to be paid.4
Established by his father in business, Webster, at the age of 24, bought Copped Hall from the Earl of Dorset (Charles Sackville†), though probably with his father’s money, and improved the estate in 1706 by enclosing part of Waltham Forest for a ‘more easy and safe access to his seat’. In recognition of his new local status he was nominated as sheriff of Essex in 1701, although it was not until 1703–4 that he accepted the office’s duties. The first hint that he wished to stand for Parliament appears in a letter from the Whig Lord Fitzwalter, dated 3 Apr. 1704, in which the latter hoped that Webster’s presence at the quarter sessions ‘would . . . prevent us further trouble till the election’; but if he did have designs on the county seat these were soon disappointed when Lord Walden (Henry Howard*) decided to offer himself as a candidate. The first time that Webster contested an election, therefore, seems to have been in 1705 at Amersham. Despite having no identifiable interest there, he attracted a majority of votes on the inhabitant franchise, although the outcome was declared in favour of his Tory opponent Sir Samuel Garrard on a poll of scot and lot voters, a result that was subsequently upheld by the House. Webster was not long disappointed of a seat, however, and was returned at a by-election at Colchester. Since he came from a cloth-trading background, and was strongly sympathetic to Nonconformity, he was well suited to sit for the town and duly defeated Sir Thomas Cooke*. On 15 Mar. 1707 he acted as teller against a Tory amendment to the East India Company bill, which would have made it impossible to hold a directorship simultaneously of the company and of the Bank of England, and he was classed as a Whig on a list drawn up in early 1708.5
Webster was returned again for Colchester in 1708, and was categorized as a Whig on an analysis of the new Parliament. He voted for the naturalization of the Palatines early in 1709, and for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell a year later. Having been appointed to the commission for the London lieutenancy in 1708, he sought the following year to be elected as an alderman for Portsoken ward, but at the poll failed by a large margin to secure nomination, a defeat that was reported by one newswriter as a loss for the ‘Low Church’. At the 1710 general election he was again returned for Colchester and was noted as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament. However, a determination against him was upheld by the Tory House of Commons on 27 Jan. 1711, confirmation of the jealousies and antipathies created by his politics and his status as a navy contractor. Webster’s election in 1713 was in many ways a repeat of this earlier experience. The defeated Tory candidates petitioned against him and his partner, Sir Isaac Rebow, on grounds of having polled voters who were alleged to be illegally qualified, and the House resolved against them on 6 May 1714. Perhaps deterred by these two expulsions Webster did not sit again until 1722. In 1739, having already bought Battle Abbey, Sussex, he sold his Essex manor to Edward Conyers†, possibly after contact through the latter’s father, John*, who held the post of deputy-steward of Havering, Essex. Webster in turn bought property at East Grinstead, and it was from Edward Conyers that Sir Whistler Webster†, Sir Thomas’ son, took over as MP for the borough in 1741. Webster died on 30 May 1751, leaving all his lands and possessions to his elder son.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Mark Knights
- 1. IGI, Essex; Shaw, Staffs. ii. 107.
- 2. Daily Courant, 9 Mar. 1706; inf. from Prof. R. R. Walcott and Prof. H. G. Horwitz.
- 3. Essex RO (Colchester), Colchester bor. recs. assembly bk. 7, f. 27.
- 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 111, 127; xxii. 7, 28, 292; xxv. 12, 14; xxvii. 214.
- 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 722; CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 523; Essex Rev. vi. 180–1; xx. 171; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 613; VCH Essex, vii. 50; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, iv. 551.
- 6. Luttrell, vi. 506, 679; Add. 70420, newsletter 1 Nov. 1709; 70219, Compton to [Robert Harley*], 6 Aug. 1710; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 307; VCH Essex, v. 122; PCC 248 Busby.