ATKINSON (afterwards SAVILLE), Christopher (?1739-1819), of 3 Park Street, Westminster, Mdx. and Hill Hall, Hales, Norf.
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Family and Education
b. ?1739.1 m. (1) Elizabeth (d.1765), da. of John Constable of Bures St. Mary, Suff., 1s. d.v.p.;2 (2) 10 June 1773, Jane, da and coh. of John Savile, linen draper, of Clay Hill, Enfield, Mdx., 1s. 2da.3 Took name of Savile by royal lic. 8 Aug. 1798.
Little is known of Atkinson’s origins and early life, but his first wife’s nephew, the painter John Constable, had this to say of him in 1811:
He is a native of Yorkshire, and came up to London to get bread as he could. He got into the house of a corn merchant, Abram Constable, a relation of our family, and by degrees obtained the whole business for himself.
This story was probably coloured by Constable’s prejudice against Atkinson, whom he described as ‘a man whose sole object in this world is gain’, for which ‘he would sacrifice every principle’, and who had become ‘so hardened that reproach and shame have no effect upon him’. The known facts are that Atkinson married the niece of Abram Constable (1701-64), a successful London corn merchant, and that Constable bequeathed him his shares in the London corn market. Atkinson subsequently prospered as a corn factor, trading at 15 Mark Lane, and as a contractor for wheat and malt to the victualling board.4
He retired from the corn trade after his disgrace in 1783, when he was convicted of perjury in his denial of fraudulent dealings with the board, sentenced to stand in the pillory and expelled the House. Government subsequently filed an Exchequer information for restitution against him, but in November 1790 he was exonerated by decree of the court and the following year he sought and obtained a royal pardon. This was not enough for Atkinson, who on 3 Mar. 1794 petitioned the House to have the record of his expulsion expunged from the Journals. Both Pitt and the master of the rolls spoke in favour of receiving the petition as a matter of course, but neither was prepared to commit the House to take action on it and the latter observed that Atkinson would be wise not to risk a possibly damaging and certainly unnecessary investigation of the merits of his case, as the pardon had restored his right to sit in the House. The petition was formally received, but Atkinson did not press the matter further.5
At the general election of 1796 he was returned unopposed for the venal borough of Hedon, his former seat. He was expected to support government and did so on the loyalty loan, to which he subscribed £10,000, 1 June 1797, and the triple assessment, 4 Jan. 1798, though he later voted, without explanation, against the Austrian subsidy, 17 Feb. 1800, and the Irish master of the rolls bill, 19 Mar. 1801. In July 1798 he applied unsuccessfully to be added to the list of sureties for Walter Boyd* in his transactions with the Bank.6 Shortly afterwards he obtained royal licence to take the name of Savile, in compliance with the request of his late wife. In 1800 he wrote to Henry Dundas asking to be presented at Court, adding that many of his friends had ‘often said that he ought to have made this request on his return to Parliament in 1796’ but that ‘the wounds given to his nerves and spirits would not allow him to do it till now’.7
It was reported in June 1802 that Savile had bought the late Lord Lonsdale’s property at Haslemere for £40,000, but that there was ‘some demur at transferring over to him the title’.8 If negotiations did take place, they collapsed, for Haslemere remained in the hands of the Lowthers and at the general election Savile was re-elected for Hedon after a contest. His only known attempt to speak in the House was made on 27 Dec. 1802 when, mistaking an allusion to the expulsion of a Member in the early 18th century for a reference to his own case, he began to defend his dealings with the victualling board, but was ruled ‘completely out of order’ by the Speaker. He voted against Addington on Pitt’s motion for inquiry into the naval administration, 15 Mar. 1804, but not in the later divisions which sealed the government’s fate, and in June he opposed Pitt’s additional force bill. In the ministerial list of September he was classed as ‘doubtful Pitt’. He is not known to have voted against government in 1805, but he was listed as ‘doubtful Opposition’ in July. He voted for the Grenville ministry’s repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806.
Savile did not stand for Hedon at the subsequent general election, when he put forward his son but withdrew him before polling began. Soon afterwards he bought the Holland family’s property at Okehampton, where Albany Savile was returned, after a contest, at the general election of 1807. He claimed the following year to have paid between £70,000 and £80,000 for his purchases at Okehampton and to be on the verge of completing his acquisition of ‘the domain and interest’, with further expenditure of between £20,000 and £30,000.9 He subsequently enjoyed control of both seats.
Between 1807 and 1810 he applied repeatedly to the Portland and Perceval ministries for a baronetcy in order to ‘obliterate the unjust disgrace’ which, so he asserted, still smeared the family name. His appeals on this score were of no avail and he had no more success with boasts of his wealth, property and political services:
I have been a constant, zealous and assiduous supporter of the King’s government in Parliament, always with considerable expense and sometimes with very great personal inconvenience to myself. I contested and represented ... Hedon, bringing in my colleague as well as myself during several successive Parliaments, and in all of these I paid such a scrupulous attendance on every occasion where the government required the presence of its supporters, that every other avocation and sometimes even my health were by me considered as secondary to that object.
His chances of success could not have been improved by his son’s tendency to vote against government on crucial issues; and after Perceval’s firm refusal of a renewed application in 1810, Savile seems to have given up hope of achieving his object.10
At the general election of 1818, when he was almost 80 years old, he returned himself for Okehampton with his son, but no trace of parliamentary activity has been found for this postscript to his career. He was now living in Hans Place, Chelsea, and he died there, ‘in his 81st year’, 23 Apr. 1819.11
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: P. A. Symonds / David R. Fisher
- 1. In Nov. 1809 he was 70 years old (Add. 38243, f. 292).
- 2. John Constable’s Corresp. ed. Beckett, 12, 317.
- 3. Mdx. Par. Regs. v. 204. As well as his legitimate son Albany Savile*, he had an illegitimate son, Robert Farrand.
- 4. Farington, vii. 26; Constable’s Corresp. 5-6, 12-13.
- 5. Senator, ix. 495-7; CJ, xl. 271.
- 6. Add. 38735, ff. 86-88.
- 7. SRO GD51/6/1418.
- 8. The Times, 11, 22, 23 June 1802.
- 9. Add. 38242, f. 334.
- 10. Add. 38242, f. 334; 38243, f. 292; 38244, f. 179; 38245, ff. 168, 169b.
- 11. Gent. Mag. (1819), i. 488.