WHITBREAD, Samuel (1720-96), of Cardington, Beds.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 30 Aug. 1720,1 5th s. of Henry Whitbread of Cardington, receiver of the land tax for Beds., by his 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Philip Read of Salisbury. m. (1) July 1757,2 Harriet (d. 17 Apr. 1764), da. of William Hayton of Ivinghoe, Bucks., 1s. 2da.; (2) 18 Aug. 1769, Mary, da. of Charles Cornwallis, 1st Earl Cornwallis, 1da.
Whitbread, the son of a prosperous Bedfordshire yeoman, was apprenticed in 1736 to a London brewer. In 1742, in partnership with Thomas and Godfrey Shewell and with a capital of between two and three thousand pounds he purchased a small brewery in Old Street. Neither of the Shewells seems to have been active in the firm, and it was Whitbread who by 1750, when the firm moved to Chiswell Street, had established it as the leading porter brewery. By 1761 he had amassed a capital of £116,000; the business was entirely in his hands, and he was building up the largest and technically most advanced brewery in the country.3
In 1761 Whitbread purchased estates at Cardington where his father had farmed, and he subsequently acquired many of the surrounding estates, becoming one of the largest landowners in the county. Asked by the Duke of Bedford whether he intended to stand for Bedford borough, he replied on 23 July 1767:4
I have had repeated kind, unsought for invitations from a great number of the inhabitants of Bedford, declaring their friendship from many years knowing me, for my being of the county and a neighbour.
He successfully contested the borough on his own interest at the general election of 1768. In Parliament he was completely independent, following his own highly individual line. He voted with Opposition on Wilkes’s petition, 27 Jan. 1769; for the expulsion of Wilkes, 3 Feb. 1769, but against the seating of Luttrell, 8 May 1769. Robinson’s first survey on the royal marriage bill, March 1772, listed him as ‘pro, present’, but the survey of 9 Mar. as ‘doubtful’. He voted with Opposition on the naval captains’ petition, 9 Feb. 1773, but in the King’s list was marked as a friend. He voted with the Administration on the Middlesex election, 26 Apr. 1773, but with Opposition on Grenville’s Election Act, 25 Feb. 1774, when he was again noted in the King’s list as a friend. Robinson’s list of September 1774 classed him as a Government supporter. Whitbread’s speeches during this Parliament were infrequent, and apart from one defending the expulsion of Wilkes, 17 Feb. 1769, were either on the corn laws or concerned with the brewing industry.
In 1774 Whitbread again contested Bedford; he was defeated, but seated on petition. He does not appear in any of the minority lists, 1775-8, and presumably supported Administration over the American war. He voted with Opposition for the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779; with Administration on Keppel, 3 Mar. 1779; and again with Opposition on the economical reform motions of March 1780, and on Dunning’s motion of 6 Apr. 1780. Robinson noted in his electoral survey of July 1780: ‘Mr. Whitbread is a very doubtful, uncertain man for either side, but if either way I think may be reckoned more hopeful to go in general with Government.’ In 1780 Whitbread was again returned for Bedford after a contest. He voted with Administration against Lowther’s motion to end the war, 12 Dec. 1781; with Opposition for the dismissal of Sandwich, 20 Feb. 1782; but rallied to Administration on Conway’s motions of 20 and 22 Feb. against the war, and again on Lord John Cavendish’s censure motion of 27 Feb.; yet on 15 Mar. he voted with Opposition in support of Rous’s motion of no confidence. A few days before this crucial division Whitbread had moved, 5 Mar., for a committee of inquiry into contracts made by the commissioners of the navy and the victualling office, and on 19 Mar., supporting the contractors bill, he attacked ‘the atrocious crimes and robberies committed in the expenditure of public money’. He was a ‘hearty friend’ to the present bill but it dealt with only ‘one of the evils which flowed from a most corrupt fountain’.
This was time for Opposition to show their sincerity; it was beyond a doubt that there would be a change of men, and those coming in, he hoped, would adhere to their Opposition principles, and not govern by influence and corruption; they had by their many professions of integrity, raised the expectations of the public, and if they should deceive them, they must be held infamous.
To save the millions lost by exorbitant contracts and wasteful bargains, he suggested the appointment of ‘three or more commissioners for the public expenditure in time of war, to purchase all that was wanted, and take that business entirely from the several boards that now conducted it’. Whitbread voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. On 17 Apr. 1783 he criticized the Coalition for their handling of a new Government loan:
It appeared to him, that the same bad use would be made of it, as of the loan of last year, which members of the present Administration had censured with so much freedom and justice ... He really had hoped and expected better things from them, and had entertained an idea of their good faith and abilities, but was sorry to find his mistake by their first manoeuvre.
Whitbread voted against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, and supported Pitt’s Administration. At the general election of 1784, he was returned unopposed for Bedford. As before he spoke infrequently in the House, mainly on financial matters. On 9 May 1788 he ‘professed himself as a strenuous advocate for the abolition of the slave trade’, and on 21 May 1788 he seconded Dolben’s bill to regulate the transportation of slaves.5
Whitbread was noted for his benefactions to charity, and after his death on 11 June 1796, the Gentleman’s Magazine (1796, p. 531) in its obituary paid tribute to his ‘abilities, integrity, benevolence, and public spirit’ and reported that the ‘distribution of his private benevolence’ was said to have exceeded £3,000 a year.