BARCLAY, Charles (1780-1855), of 43 Grosvenor Place, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



17 Feb. 1815 - 1818
1826 - 1830
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 26 Dec. 1780, 1st. s. of Robert Barclay of Bury Hill, Surr. and 1st w. Rachel, da. of John Gurney of Keswick, Norf.; bro. of David Barclay*. educ. Wandsworth; Alton, Hants.1 m. 1 Aug. 1804, Anna Maria, da. of Thomas Kett of Seething, Norf., 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1830. d. 5 Dec. 1855.


Offices Held

Sheriff, Surr. 1842-3.

Capt. Loyal Britons vols. 1805.


Barclay, who according to family tradition had had a youthful spat with his cousin Elizabeth Gurney (later Elizabeth Fry, the philanthropist and prison reformer) after she draped herself in a French tricolour, had abandoned the Quaker faith of his ancestors in order to join the militia and taken ‘a prominent part’ in the anti-slavery campaign. By 1812 he was effectively running the family brewing business of Barclay and Perkins and Company in Southwark, where he was returned at a by-election in 1815.2 While he gave general support to the Liverpool ministry, he often voted for economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation and supported parliamentary reform. This, however, did not mollify his local opponents, who, following his defeat at the 1818 general election, continued to bait him as ‘Charles Quassia’ and cast aspersions on the quality of his beer, which was generally held in high esteem.3 Barclay blamed such ‘unmerited obloquy’ for his refusal to stand again at the 1820 general election, when he declined an invitation from the Tories of Great Yarmouth and a last-minute offer from Norwich’s anti-Catholic ‘Purple and Orange’ party to start in opposition to his kinsman Richard Hanbury Gurney*, but reserved the right to reconsider at the next election. In Surrey he seconded the nomination of the ministerialist George Holme Sumner*.4 During the rumours of a dissolution in September 1825 he canvassed Great Yarmouth, apparently hoping that his religious background would split the vote of the Dissenters, who in the event were unimpressed with his opposition to Catholic relief. By December 1825 he had withdrawn.5 Next year he served his term as master of the Brewers’ Company.6

At the 1826 general election he was returned unopposed for Dundalk by the staunchly Protestant Lord Roden, from whom he apparently purchased the seat.7 He again seconded Sumner at the Surrey election. The Irish Catholic press inexplicably surmised that he would support their claims, but at a post-election dinner in Southwark he insisted that he was ‘now, as he had ever been, a Tory, and an enemy to the admission of Roman Catholics to power’.8 He duly voted against relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He asserted that the government’s proposed alteration of the corn laws struck a ‘fair medium’ between the manufacturing and agricultural interests, 8 Mar. 1827. He divided for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., when he related how accidental injuries on his own estate had led him to set them unloaded. He was in the minority for inquiry into the Irish estimates, 5 Apr. He sought to exonerate his brother David from any corrupt dealings at his election for Penryn the previous year, 8 May, and he questioned one of the defeated candidates in the inquiry, 18 May. Deferring to the committee’s ‘opinion’, he spoke and voted for the transfer of its seats to Manchester with the proviso of a restricted franchise, 28 May. Citing his brother’s testimony that corruption was not endemic and had ‘much improved’, however, he moved and was a minority teller for a wrecking amendment to the disfranchisement bill, which failed by 145-31, 7 June. On 15 May he was added to the select committee on the alehouse licensing bill. He argued for the committal of Thomas Flanagan, who stood accused of forging signatures on an Athlone election petition, 14 June 1827.9 He secured returns on the distillation and trade of spirits in England, Ireland and Scotland, 12 Feb. 1828. On 27 Feb. he welcomed an inquiry into the Malt Act of the previous session, for which he had lobbied Lord Goderich, the former premier. He was appointed to the select committee on the Scottish alehouse bill, 12 May, and secured accounts of the amount of beer brewed and type of malt used in the United Kingdom, 7 July. He called for the examination of witnesses in the East Retford inquiry to be confined to the elucidation of hard facts, 7 Mar. He presented petitions against the Battersea and Wandsworth enclosure bill, 14 Mar., and from the justices of west Norfolk against the poor law, 17 Apr. (He had taken a summer residence over the border in Suffolk at Henstead, near Beccles.)10 On 22 Apr. he introduced a bill giving county magistrates extra powers to deal with the unrest in the town of Galway that arose during elections. It was read a first time, 24 Apr., but frustration at its subsequent lack of progress led him to kill it by his own amendment, 4 June. He was in the Wellington ministry’s majority against ordnance reductions, 4 July 1828.

In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that Barclay would vote ‘with government’ for their concession of Catholic emancipation, and he duly supported the bill’s third reading, 30 Mar. On 7 Apr. he suggested that opening Birdcage Walk to the public would be a cost-effective metropolitan improvement. He presented petitions from the Phoenix Gas Light and Coke Company of Bankside, Southwark against an innovation in gas apparatus, 10 Apr., and the Lambeth improvement bill, 15 May. He concurred with calls for the postponement of the London Bridge bill, 6 May, when he contended that discussion of the Orphans’ Fund should be brought before a select committee. He divided against allowing Daniel O’Connell to take his seat unhindered, 18 May 1829. He voted with ministers on the address, 4 Feb. 1830, and was curiously listed as one of ‘28 opposition Members’ in the majority, but thereafter his voting record showed no consistent pattern.11 He divided for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5 Mar. (as a pair), but against parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He divided for omission of the Bathurst and Dundas pensions from the civil list, 26 Mar., but against reduction of the grant for South American missions, 7 June. He presented petitions against the watching and parishes bill from the commissioners responsible for paving and lighting Southwark, 8 Apr., and against the New River Company bill from his fellow trustees of an estate at Stamford Hill, who included his cousin Hudson Gurney*, 26 Apr. He dismissed late objections to the Southwold harbour bill, 3 May. On 18 May 1830 he cautioned against any hasty alteration of the laws governing the arrest of debtors.

In March 1828 Thomas Creevey* had recorded hearing that as a result of the removal of the duty on gin, the output of Barclay’s firm, which was ‘by far the greatest brewer of ale and beer in England’ in 1826, had fallen by almost half.12 Barclay was appointed to the select committee on the sale of beer, 4 Mar. 1830, when he insisted that the government’s proposals to free the trade would prove ‘inefficacious’, since there was no monopoly to break. Testifying before the committee, 10 Mar., he warned of ‘great misery’ for licensees from the opening of new ‘beer shops’, but candidly admitted that it would not threaten ‘great brewers’ like himself, who could ‘sell cheaper and better than others’ as ‘we are power loom brewers, if I may so speak’. Smaller brewers, he added, would inevitably resort to adulterating their product in order to compete, and the ‘country gentlemen will very soon be up in arms, by having beer shops ... established in every part of their country’.13 Speaking in similar terms to the House, 11 Mar., he welcomed the reduction in beer duties, for which he had pressed, and stated that he and other London brewers had ‘not the least objection’ to having the ‘trade thrown entirely open’, 15 Mar. Next day the Morning Advertiser alleged that licensees had been ‘sold’ by ‘false friends’ and on 19 Mar. named Barclay as the subject of hostile correspondence. He objected to their ‘insinuation and threats’, but conceded that the beer bill would injure ‘publicans to a very great degree’, 22 Mar., and urged the implementation of extra safeguards, 8 Apr. On 4 May he announced that he would support the second reading, but demanded ‘sureties for good behaviour’ to be imposed on beer shops and disputed claims that more benefit would accrue from reducing the duty on malt than on beer. He denied that earlier remissions had not been passed on to the public by the great brewers, 21 May. He was in the minorities to restrict on-consumption, 21 June, 1 July 1830, but that day opposed an attempt to defeat the bill, which overall he believed was ‘absolutely necessary to save the beer trade from ruin’.

At the 1830 dissolution Barclay retired from Dundalk. There is no evidence that he sought election elsewhere. Seconding the Tory Hylton Jolliffe* in the Surrey contest, he denounced ‘wild fantasies of reform’ and urged support for the government in the aftermath of the July revolution in France. At a by-election in Southwark that November he used his interest against his brewing rival Charles Calvert*, who complained of his ‘vindictive hostility’.14 Following his father’s death in October 1830 he inherited an eighth share in the brewing partnership, coal-rich land in Philadelphia, where his grandfather Alexander Barclay (1711-71) had been comptroller of customs, and estates in Surrey, including Bury Hill, which was close to his rented home at Betchworth Castle, near Dorking.15 An accidental fire at the brewery caused a reported £40,000 worth of damage in May 1832, but the firm was well insured and rebuilding was rapidly instigated.16 In 1833 he published Letters from the Dorking Emigrants who went to Upper Canada, a vindication of a local resettlement plan he had sponsored, in which he hailed the strategic importance of Canada as a check to the ambitions of the United States.

Barclay was returned as a Conservative for West Surrey at the 1835 general election, when he recalled his hostility to the Grey ministry’s reform bill but support for the disfranchisement of individual corrupt boroughs and measures of economy.17 His retirement in 1837 was prompted by the failing health of his wife, who died, 15 Mar. 1840. Commenting on the fortitude he then showed, his nephew Robert Barclay Fox observed that ‘his manly way of looking at misfortune in the face and counting the alleviations is a credit to his head and his heart’.18 Barclay died in December 1855 a fortnight after a riding accident, in which ‘in consequence of meeting the hounds, he lost the command of his horse and fell to the ground, sustaining so much injury as to result in his death’.19 By his will, dated 9 Aug. 1852, his Surrey estates and the tracts in Philadelphia passed to his eldest son Arthur Kett Barclay (1806-69), who shared his father’s moiety in the brewery with his surviving brother Thomas George Barclay (1819-94). The widow and two children of his son Robert, who had died in 1843 after failing in business, were also generously provided for, eventually causing a slight deficit on his personal estate.20


Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer


  • 1. C. and H. Barclay, Hist. Barclay Fam. iii.278-9.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. To the Electors of Southwark [BL 1302.h.13.]; P. Mathias, Brewing Industry in England, 129.
  • 4. Courier, 14 Feb.; County Chron. 21 Mar.; Norf. Chron. 26 Feb., 4, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Norf. Chron. 24 Sept., 1 Oct. 1825; Diary and Jnl. of C.J. Palmer ed. F.D. Palmer (1892), 39.
  • 6. M. Ball, Company of Brewers, 130.
  • 7. Barclay, iii. 279; Dublin Evening Post, 15, 16 June 1826.
  • 8. Dublin Evening Post, 8, 15 June; The Times, 14, 28 June 1826.
  • 9. The Times, 15 June 1827.
  • 10. Barclay, iii. 279.
  • 11. The Times, 6 Feb. 1830.
  • 12. Creevey’s Life and Times, 261.
  • 13. PP (1830), x. 9-17; T.R. Gourvish and R.G. Wilson, British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980, pp. 11-13, 75, 77-78.
  • 14. The Times, 30 July, 25 Nov.; County Chron. 10 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. PROB 11/1778/690; IR26/1218/881; R. Moffat, Barclays of New York, 22-23.
  • 16. The Times, 23, 24 May 1832; VCH Surr. ii. 389.
  • 17. The Times, 13 Jan. 1835.
  • 18. Barclay, iii. 380; Barclay Fox’s Jnl. ed. R.L. Brett, 193-4.
  • 19. Gent. Mag. (1856), i. 190.
  • 20. PROB 11/2225/7; IR26/2053/28.