GRAY, Charles (1696-1782), of Holly Trees, Colchester.
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Family and Education
bap. 20 Sept. 1696, s. of George Gray, alderman of Colchester, by his w. Elizabeth. educ. Colchester g.s. 1702; G. Inn 1724, called 1729, bencher 1737. m. (1) 1726, Sarah (d. 6 June 1751), da. of John Webster, wid. of Ralph, o. surv. s. of Sir Ralph Creffield of Colchester, 2da. d.v.p.; (2) 1755, Mary, da. of Randle Wilbraham, s.p.
Alderman, Colchester, 1734, recorder, Ipswich 1761-76; trustee of British Museum.
The son of a prosperous Colchester glazier, Gray acquired by marriage a substantial estate in Colchester, together with Colchester castle; practised successfully as a barrister, becoming the steward of many local manors; and in 1741 stood for Colchester as a Tory against the interest of the Whig corporation. Returned on petition by the anti-Walpole majority of the House of Commons, he instituted legal proceedings against the corporation, which led to its dissolution. His father, a member of the dissolved corporation, voted against him in 1741 and again in 1747, when he died, cutting him out of his will.1
At this stage of his career Gray seems to have belonged to the extreme wing of the Tory party. In 1743 a French agent, who had been sent over to concert with the English Jacobites plans for a French landing at Maldon in Essex in support of the Pretender early in 1744, reported that he had been informed by Jacobite leaders
ces deux villes de Colchester et Maldon étoient zélées pour leur légitime Roi, et que les Srs. Gray et Savill [Samuel Savill], qui résidoient ordinairement dans celle de Colchester étoient d’une fidélité reconnue.2
After the failure of the Forty-five, he was one of the Tories who favoured an alliance with the Prince of Wales’s party, writing to the 2nd Lord Egmont in 1749:
It was a glorious expression of your Lordship’s that you wanted to regenerate this country, and I most earnestly entreat you not to give over the attempt as impracticable or impossible. The court flood has overspread a great part of the land, but very far from all. There are so many knees left which have not yet nor ever will bow down to Baal, that our state is not to be despaired of ...
Let but some constitutional terms be first fixed, and let it be a solemn stipulation, that no one concerned shall accept any employment till they are obtained and enacted; I could almost answer for it with my life that success would inevitably follow. What these terms should be is the next question. For my own part it appears to me that the very root of corruption should be struck at, by enabling free-holders of a certain value to vote jointly with the burghers in every corporation in the country. The terms set down sometime ago at Leicester House were extremely good, to which it would rejoice me to see added a bill to take away all informations ex officio at the suit of the attorney-general; for this is a way of proceeding very consonant to an inquisition or a star chamber, but quite repugnant to the rest of our constitution.
Any rational terms may certainly be obtained, and beyond, will not be desired by the bulk of disinterested country gentlemen whose views square best with the public good.3
In the 2nd Lord Egmont’s electoral survey about this time, Gray is described as
a Tory of tolerable sense, but rather too full of strange reformations, however, I believe I can do a great deal with him.
His reforming zeal is shown by a letter to an Essex friend, 17 Feb. 1750:
Last night was one of the mortifying sort. The constitutional, humane and prudent bill brought in by Mr. Thomas Pitt, to enable the soldiers to demand their discharge after 10 years service upon giving 3 months notice to their officer and paying him £3 for a new recruit, was thrown out at the 3rd reading upon a division 154 against 92. The debate was a very good one and lasted till between 9 and 10 last night. This bill will be offered again next session and so from session to session till sooner or later we get it to pass: and I don’t at all despair but that this good time may come.4
In 1751 he published a pamphlet entitled Considerations on Several Proposals lately made for the Better Maintenance of the Poor, exhorting country gentlemen to interest themselves in the administration of the poor law, which he strongly criticized, and to belie ‘the Dutch reproach, that a gentleman and an idleman are synonymous terms’.
Apart from Gray’s reforming and humanitarian activities, he was a Hebrew and classical scholar, a numismatist, and an archaeologist, who was responsible for the preservation of Colchester castle. On 19 Mar. 1753 he spoke in support of the bill setting up the British Museum, of which he became an original trustee.5
He died 12 Dec. 1782.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. L. C. Sier, 'The Ancestry of Charles Gray, M.P.', Essex Rev. lxi, 94-96; 'Charles Gray, M.P., of Colchester', ibid. lvii. 18.
- 2. AEM & D Angl. 82, ff. 149-57. See also BARRY, James.
- 3. Add. 46577, bdle. II.
- 4. Add. 37222, f. 60.
- 5. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 291; J.H. Round, Hist. Colchester Castle; Nichols, Lit. Anecs. ix. 604; Add. 37222, ff. 91-92.