WESTON, John (1651-aft.1714), of Ockham, Surr.
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Family and Education
bap. 16 June 1651, 1st surv. s. of Henry Weston† of Ockham by Katherine, da. of Sir William Ford of Harting, Suss. educ. I. Temple 1670; Christ Church, Oxf. 1670. m. lic. 5 June 1677, Frances, da. of Henry Hall of Greatford, Lincs., 7s. 4da. suc. fa. 1666.
Freeman, Guildford 1688.
Gent. privy chamber 1691–?1714.
Receiver-gen. of taxes, Surr. 1703–10.1
Although John Weston succeeded to a prominent position within Surrey society, his predecessors had not long been in the front rank of Surrey’s local gentry. The family had been based in Ockham since at least the early 15th century, but the manor itself had only been purchased from their unrelated namesakes of Sutton Place in 1621. Weston’s father had served as MP for Guildford in 1648 and as sheriff of Surrey in 1660–1, but did not leave his son a strong electoral interest.2
John Weston was himself chosen sheriff of Surrey in 1686, but played no significant role in his county’s reaction to the Revolution. His first experience of parliamentary office came in the Convention, when he sat for Guildford, a natural choice given its proximity to his residence. However, the borough had been dominated for many years by the Onslows of nearby Clandon Park, and Weston’s ensuing relationship with that family interest was a key influence on his parliamentary career. In the Convention itself Weston revealed Tory sympathies, voting against the motion of 5 Feb. 1689 to make William and Mary co-sovereigns. He then managed to fight off an election petition from Morgan Randyll* in order to secure his seat in Parliament, but was unable to defend it in the face of Randyll’s renewed challenge at the polls in 1690. Although appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber in 1691, his limited political influence within the shire was underlined by his reluctance to challenge the Onslow interest at Guildford in 1695.3
From these very unpromising beginnings, Weston was to find himself catapulted to the forefront of county politics almost by default in 1698. On 22 Aug. he was to be the victim of some very dubious election practices employed on behalf of his rival Foot Onslow*, who was declared by the mayor to have taken the second Guildford seat despite having polled fewer votes than Weston. He later petitioned against the result, but the mayor’s actions were vindicated by the Commons on 18 Dec. 1699. However, within weeks of the Guildford contest the apparent high-handedness displayed by Foot Onslow’s supporters had immediate ramifications for his brother, Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, at the county poll of 1698. Having already seen his county support ebb away after his refusal to accept Sir Francis Vincent, 5th Bt.*, as his running-mate, Sir Richard was now to face a further backlash against his family’s local supremacy. As James Vernon I* explained, ‘many gentlemen grew angry at seeing how unfairly his brother was returned at Guilford, and therefore encouraged Mr. Weston . . . to stand for the county’. Weston emerged the clear victor in a field of six candidates, and even one of his losing opponents acknowledged his ‘very great majority’. Sir Richard Onslow managed to take the second seat nearly 500 votes behind him, and the ensuing county elections suggest that he had learnt to respect Weston’s newly found political influence.4
In his subsequent parliamentary career, Weston proved to be a back-bench figure who made little impact on the business of the House. In August 1698 it was predicted that he would oppose any motion to continue the standing army, and a month later he was firmly identified as a Country supporter. His unopposed re-election alongside the Whiggish Sir Richard Onslow at the Surrey election of January 1701 can thus be seen as an accommodating gesture on the latter’s part, unwilling as he was to incite the local gentry so soon after his chastening experience in the preceding poll. In the immediate aftermath of his re-election, Weston was actually cited as a Court supporter over the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’, a temporary departure from his ‘Country’ position which was probably influenced by the mixed composition of the new ministry. In the course of the year, he was blacklisted for opposing the preparations for war with France, and he was cited as a Tory by Harley in the wake of his election victory of December 1701. He was a runner-up to Sir Richard Onslow at that contested poll, but was to suffer bitter disappointment only eight months later when Leonard Wessell* pipped him for the second county seat by a mere 17 votes. John Evelyn observed that even Onslow ‘could not hinder . . . Mr Wessell from carrying it against Mr Weston’, and though he had managed to muster over 1,200 votes in defeat, Weston’s political career was over.5
After 1702, Weston’s energies were directed towards more mercenary objectives, a change of priorities which may have been caused by his involvement in three fiercely contested, and evidently expensive, shire elections. In April 1703, he successfully petitioned for the post of receiver-general of the Surrey land tax, and, in the following year, also shouldered the responsibility for the county’s marriage and house duties. However, any hopes of financial bounty were quickly dashed as Weston’s fiscal dealings plunged him deep into debt. As early as March 1706 he was some £13,000 in arrears to the Treasury, and, after a tough hearing at the board, confessed to John Evelyn that ‘I questioned whether my integrity would preserve me’. He managed to hold on to his commission until March 1710, when, with a total deficit of over £20,000 outstanding on his accounts, it was finally revoked.6
The crippling extent of Weston’s financial difficulties, which had evidently curtailed his political activity, now undermined his social standing completely. Before the end of 1710, proceedings were already under way to arrange for the sale of the Ockham manor to Sir Peter King* in order to pay off the bulk of the debt. An Act of Parliament and the concurrence of Weston’s heir, Henry, were required to break the entail on the property, but this was swiftly achieved, with the bill receiving the Royal Assent on 16 May 1711. The contrast between the fortunes of King, who went on to the lord chancellorship, and Weston, who slipped quietly into obscurity, could not have been sharper. Although the date of Weston’s death has usually been cited as 1712, petitions from him were heard at the Treasury Board in November 1714 and April 1715, and he only disappeared from the Surrey commission of the peace in March 1714. However, no exact date of death has been ascertained. In spite of the Westons’ desperate plight after 1710, his eldest son Henry was eventually able to re-establish the family’s name, having the good fortune to inherit the manor of Chertsey from Sir William Perkins in 1740 as well as that of West Horsley from the Nicholas family in 1749.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. IGI, Surr.; Brayley, Surr., ii. 86–7; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1442; N. Carlisle, Gent. Privy Chamber, 207, 215.
- 2. Surr. Arch. Colls. lxii. 88.
- 3. A. Browning, Danby, iii. 171.
- 4. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 147; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1593, Nicholas Carew to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*