SMITH, Christopher (d.1835), of 7 Adam Street, Adelph, Westminster and Starborough Castle, Lingfield, Surr.
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Family and Education
s. of a farmer at Harwell, Berks.1 m. (1) 6 Sept. 1785, Catherine (d. 10 Feb. 1802), da. of one Church of Norwich, Norf. 1da.; (2) Eleanor (d. 31 Jan. 1845), 2s.
Member, Drapers’ Co.; common councilman, London 1800-7, alderman 1807-d., sheriff 1807-8, ld. mayor 1817-18.
Pres. St. Thomas’s hosp. 1818-d.
Dir. Atlas Assurance Co. 1812.
At the time of his death Alderman Smith’s career was compared to that of Dick Whittington,2 for he was the son of a small farmer near Abingdon (in his will he left his copyhold there, an orchard and two cottages with gardens to his nieces). Such he might have remained, but for the fact that he was sent up to town to be inoculated at the smallpox hospital and was ‘adopted’ by the manager of the hospital, a wine merchant named Smith (but no relation), who employed him in his business and left it to him at his death. This story is confirmed by the trade directories which show Smith and Cherington, wine merchants, at 21 Queen Street, Cheapside, in 1791 and Christopher Smith & Co., wine merchants, by 1802. Later his sons Newman and Sebastian became partners, as well as Edward Woodhouse who married his daughter Catherine Ann with a dowry of £12,000. After Smith’s death the business was continued in the name of Sebastian Smith.
Smith was once ‘a most strenuous advocate for Thomas Paine and the Rights of Man’ and ‘a frequent attendant at the Westminster forum, and other debating societies’. He was related to John Gale Jones, whom he converted to radicalism. On 2 May 1797 he joined the Whig Club. In 1800 he became a common councilman and in 1806 contested East Looe as an opportunist second string, supposedly well disposed to the Grenville ministry. He was reported never to have supported the measures of government ‘until the failure of the Walcheren expedition’. In May 1811 he was described by reformers in common council as a renegade. When in February 1812 he appeared at St. Albans to offer at the next election he was described as Perceval’s friend. His radical past was exposed in a pamphlet, but he took a seat from the Whigs in the ensuing contest.3
Smith was listed a supporter by the Treasury. He first spoke in support of the gold coin and bank-note bill, 11, 14 Dec. 1812. He invariably opposed Catholic relief, defending the London petition against it, 23 Feb. 1813. On 21 June he objected to governmental regulation of bread prices, which only sent them up. He favoured the continuation of legislation against machine breakers, 29 Nov. While he had sympathy for the debtors in the Fleet prison (11 Nov.), he opposed inquiries into conditions in other London gaols; the depravity of the prisoners at Newgate, he thought, made amelioration difficult and, as a magistrate, he was satisfied that the London gaols offered the best conditions in the kingdom, 7 Dec. 1813, 28 Mar., 23 May, 14 June 1814, 22 Feb. 1815: on the latter occasion he raised a laugh by saying that ‘the prisoners always had their proper allowance, sometimes more and sometimes less’. He opposed the election expenses bill, 28 Apr., 9 and 16 May 1814, and spoke in favour of relief for the suffering in Germany, 14 July. On 29 Nov. 1814 he was given leave to bring in a bread assize bill to prevent adulteration of bread and regulate its weight; he wanted a committee of inquiry on the subject, but got nowhere. In 1815 he supported Thomas Frankland Lewis’s efforts in the same direction and took part in some ‘desultory conversation’ on the subject.
Smith voted and spoke against any alteration in the Corn Laws; the corn bill, he said, was being hurried through, 3 Mar. 1815, and would benefit the great landowners rather than the farmers, while mercantile opinion was against it, 6 Mar. On the other hand, he favoured the property tax, 19 Apr., 5 May, and said nine-tenths of the City were in favour of it: he disparaged a London petition against it, 1 May. He voted for the civil list and on 29 June defended the grant to the Duke of Cumberland on his marriage, for which he would have voted had he been present the previous night. He thought St. Albans church might be used for a national monument to the Duke of Wellington, 29 June. He approved the vote of thanks to the Duke of York for his military services, 4 July 1815. He defended the character of King Ferdinand of Spain against Brougham’s allegations, 15 Feb. 1816, referring to his own correspondence with respectable Spaniards. On 14 Mar. he said he could not now support the property tax; the government should yield to the general clamour against it. He defended the aliens bill for security reasons, 13 May. On 19 Feb. 1817 he opposed a committee on the Bank. He defended the delay in the execution of condemned prisoners: he said ‘the prisoners in Newgate, where he had been that day, did not complain of the law’s delay’, 21 Feb. He voted for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. He was inactive the next session, being lord mayor.
Smith was defeated in 1818, but he still had an effective interest and regained his seat in 1820. He died 20 Jan. 1835.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. In his will (PCC 125 Gloucester) he mentioned his brothers John and James Smith (deceased), his nephew Abel Smith (son of James) and his nieces Charlotte, wid. of John Shorter of Sutton, Berks., Mary, w. of John Pyer and Rachel, da. of John Smith.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1835), i. 666; ii. 669.
- 3. Herts. RO, Giles mss C6, Ald. Christopher Smith, Tom Paine and the Rights of Man, or a Hint to the Electors of St. Albans (1812), citing Jones’s letter to the Statesman of 8 June 1810; Morning Chron. 31 May 1811.