BRAMSTON, Thomas Gardiner (1770-1831), of Skreens, nr. Chelmsford, Essex
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Family and Educationb. 24 July 1770, 1st s. of Thomas Berney Bramston† of Skreens and Mary, da. and h. of Stephen Gardiner of Norwich. educ. Felsted; New Coll. Oxf. 1788. m. (1) 6 Feb. 1796, Maria Anne (d. Feb. 1821), da. of William Blaauw of Queen Anne Street, Mdx., 2s. 6da. (3 d.v.p.); (2) 18 Nov. 1823,1 Charlotte, da. of Sir Henry Hawley, 1st bt., of Leybourne Grange, Kent, wid. of Rev. Brook John Bridges, rect. of Saltwood, Kent, s.p. suc. fa. 1813. d. 3 Feb.1831.
Capt. W. Essex militia 1789; lt.-col. S. Essex militia by 1805.
Bramston was descended from an old London family who had migrated to the Maldon area of east Essex in the sixteenth century. His direct ancestor, Sir John Bramston of Maldon (d. 1654), lord chief justice, 1635-42, had bought the Skreens estate, six miles west of Chelmsford, in 1631. Sir John’s son and namesake (d. 1699) sat for the county at the Restoration, as did this Member’s grandfather and father: Thomas Bramston (d. 1765), 1734-47, and Thomas Berney Bramston (1733-1813), 1779-1802. The desultory journal which Bramston kept in his mid-thirties reveals him as a pious, serious-minded, rather priggish man, anxious to fulfil with credit the duties of a respectable country gentleman and ambitious for a seat in the Commons, preferably for the county, but not to the detriment of his children’s future financial well being. On 4 Jan. 1805 he bought £75 in three per cent consols as the first step taken in execution of a plan ‘for laying aside so much of my income, as by the strictest economy I might be able to lay aside, for the purpose of accumulation, and the future application in aid of the fortunes of my younger children’. His intention was to set aside £150 a year for this purpose.2 That month, after deputizing for the incapacitated chairman of quarter sessions, he noted his aspiration to ‘a rotation in the chair’ in future
because I considered a seat in it, when not a tribute paid to supereminent rank or wealth, nor the acquisition of political influence or confederacy, as one of the most honourable distinctions which it is in the power of a country gentleman to obtain ... He who in this situation is solicitous only to act well, and, though not holding in contempt the opinions of other men, yet primarily refers his conduct to his own conscience and the approbation of his God, finds continually opportunities of speaking a word of compassion to the unfortunate; of encouraging the injured; of vindicating the oppressed. He may, with authority, not offensively if discreetly used, repress the influence of those, whose purposes are bad, and present to the face of day merit, in whatever shape it may be met with.
He stoically accepted the death of his infant daughter Catherine: ‘the ways of God are inscrutable, and past man’s finding out’.3 He shared his father’s devotion to Pitt and recorded with dismay his parliamentary humiliation over the Lord Melville scandal in April 1805. At the Essex county meeting, 28 May, Bramston opposed the petitions and address calling for the further investigation of abuses, taking the Tory line that ‘the business was brought forward too late’ and that ‘the object principally in view ... had by the measures already taken by Parliament been in great part attained’. He was
conscious that I had not ... done complete justice to my argument, nor to the knowledge of the subject matter, which I possessed ... arising perhaps in a great measure from a want of due consideration that to a great part of my auditors all particulars were entirely new and that to produce the just effect upon them these particulars should have been stated ... In delivering my sentiments ... I was not exclusively influenced by any casual or momentary circumstance, but I did it in compliance with an opinion I had formed, that a country gentlemen, whose general conduct is calculated to extend the respect which naturally attaches to him, may often by a facility of delivering his sentiments in public be entitled to advance what is right, and to counteract the designs and schemes of the self-interested, the factious and the inconsiderate. The language in which I wished to express myself was not that of oratory, but simply of common sense and plain argument ... candour, temper and firmness. That I wholly succeeded in this my first essay according to my own conceptions I do not at all presume to think; but I trust it is not mere vanity which suggests to me that I did not fail entirely.4
He was chagrined at the disembodiment of his militia regiment in July, noting that his ‘present income’ was ‘of so limited a nature that, with a very reduced establishment, it prescribes to me the indispensable necessity of attending to every practical curtailment of expense’; but, with the aid of Lord Braybrooke, lord lieutenant of Essex, he obtained from Pitt’s ministry a compensatory payment of six months’ salary.5 On 13 Sept. 1805 he reflected that while the county representation was ‘the highest object of honourable ambition’, his current financial circumstances put ‘entirely’ out of the question his standing if the expected vacancy arose: he told his brother-in-law John Archer Houblon† that he would stand aside for him, though he did not rule himself out in perpetuity.6 On receiving news of Trafalgar, he praised Nelson’s martial talents but deplored his adultery.7
On Fox’s death in September 1806 Bramston, who believed that ‘the excellence of our civil polity pre-eminently consists in the just equipoise of the three branches of which it is composed’, charged him with having tried to upset that balance in 1783 and concluded that
the spirit of party so absolutely controlled his actions that it converted by metamorphosis right into wrong and wrong into right, and rendered him indifferent or blind to the value of measures bearing the stamp of sterling wisdom and fraught with the most substantial benefits to his country.8
On the eve of the general election of 1806, when an opening for the county was thought possible, he told his friends:
I do not engage to stand under any circumstances except upon the following conditions, viz., that I will be at no expense in the employment of agents, in the conveyance of voters, or in their entertainment, excepting to such a limited extent as has been customary when no opposition has taken place; and also excepting upon further condition, that my father’s consent to my standing shall first have been obtained.
No change occurred and Bramston seconded the nomination of the Tory Member Admiral Harvey. His father privately ‘sanctioned my pursuit of the object subject to a further consideration of the expense attending it’, and was willing to try to persuade Archer Houblon to give him precedence if a vacancy arose through the anticipated death of the Whig Member Bullock; but Bramston was unable to convince other leading Tories that he had the better chance.9 Nothing came of talk of his being put up for Maldon on the Blue interest in the event of a void election there in February 1807.10 The last entry in Bramston’s surviving journal, 15 Apr. 1807, was a detailed account of the events leading to the fall of the Grenville ministry, from which he drew the conclusion that they had acted ‘dishonestly and falsely’ in trying to hoodwink the king and had been ‘prepared in the height of their arrogance to disregard the obstacles interposed by the constitution and to trample upon the just prerogatives and independence of the crown’.11
When Bullock died at the end of 1809 it was Archer Houblon who successfully contested the county; nor was there an opening for Bramston at the general election of 1812, when Harvey retired but was replaced by the respected Whig Western. On the death of his father the following year Bramston inherited Skreens and residuary personal estate of £14,257.12 At the general election of 1820, when Harvey came in again on the Blue interest, Bramston was nominated, without his knowledge or consent, by the eccentric Tory squire Henry Conyers and seconded, after an anti-Catholic rant, by Francis Wollaston, archdeacon of Essex, who hoped to get rid of Western. Bramston immediately withdrew himself, professing anxiety not to ‘disturb the peace of this county’.13 Chairing a West Essex agriculturists’ meeting, 5 Jan. 1821, he said that ‘the existing laws’ gave ‘inadequate ... protection to the capital invested’ by landlords and tenants.14 Early in 1822 he published A Practical Inquiry into agricultural distress and the means of relieving it, in which, arguing that the basic cause was the depression in grain prices, he dismissed the paper currency nostrum peddled by Western, urged landlords to reduce rents and contended that all Parliament could realistically do was to modify the 1815 corn law, implement some ‘consolatory’ tax reductions and reduce wasteful expenditure; he appealed to the king to set an example in this. At the county meeting, 8 May 1822, he maintained that such gatherings were ‘not calculated to produce a beneficial effect’.15 At the meeting of 20 Mar. 1823, which was also sponsored by the county Whigs, he maintained that agricultural prospects were improving and that the petition calling for tax cuts and currency reform would perpetuate ‘a delusion that the agriculturists might eventually recover the property which they had recently lost’. He was equally hostile to the alternative parliamentary reform petition proposed by the radical Daniel Whittle Harvey*, whose attack on tithes he deplored. (On the latter subject he wrote to Peel, the home secretary, 1 Mar. 1825, stating, in terms of great reasonableness, his aversion to any ‘parliamentary enactment to take from me and others by compulsion a material portion of our property’.)16 He was a regular guest at anniversary dinners of the Maldon True Blue or Pitt Club.17
At the general election of 1826 he nominated the anti-Catholic Tory George Allanson Winn* for Maldon. It was rumoured that he would start for the county, and at the nomination there were calls for him to be put up and returned free of expense; but he again demurred.18 In February 1827 he sent Peel a copy of his new tract, The Principle of the Corn Laws Vindicated, in which he argued for a reduction in the import price from 80s. to 70s., with a graduated scale of duties up to 90s.19 At the Maldon by-election of December 1827 he was nominated (but not seconded) in the chaotic proceedings which followed the retirement of one of the two serious contenders.20 At the Essex county meeting to petition on distress, 11 Feb. 1830, he attributed the problem to ‘defective crops and bad harvests’, said that the currency restriction was ‘only a secondary cause’ and that the beer and malt duties could not be remitted ‘without violating ... faith with the public creditor’ and trusted to ‘a congenial and productive harvest’ for relief.21 On Admiral Harvey’s death in February 1830 Bramston, who had alienated some leading Tories by sending his sons to vote for Peel at the Oxford University by-election of 1829, following his concession of Catholic emancipation, at last started for the county. On the late withdrawal of the independent William Long Wellesley*, he was opposed by Conyers. In soliciting the support of Lord Salisbury, he neglected to explain his political principles. At the nomination he observed that the Protestant constitution required ‘a Protestant sovereign’ and ecclesiastical hierarchy, again attributed agricultural distress chiefly to two consecutive poor harvests, but promised to support inquiry and sensible tax reductions, and made it clear that he could not afford a serious contest but would take the seat if returned at minimal expense. He led easily from the start, but Conyers did not concede defeat until five days had elapsed.22
Bramston was sworn in on 15 Mar. 1830, when he lodged at the Albemarle Street home of his friend and supporter John Round†.23 On the 18th he presented and partially endorsed a Chelmsford inhabitants’ petition for mitigation of the criminal code, though he believed that judges should retain their discretion to impose the death penalty. He voted for its abolition for forgery offences, 24 May, 7 June. He opposed the opposition motion for inquiry into distress, 19 Mar., claiming that the debate had convinced him that any committee would be obsessed with the currency and taxation; he was willing to credit ministers’ professed good intentions on the latter. He supported the prayer of an Essex millers’ petition for permission to process bonded wheat, 25 Mar., and presented and endorsed others for an increase in the import duty on foreign flour, 30 Apr., 28 May. He supported the St. Giles vestry bill, 2 Apr. He presented petitions against the sale of beer bill, 3, 10, 18 May, and on 21 June spoke and voted for an amendment to prohibit on-consumption, observing that alehouses were the venues for ‘those associations ... at which plans of crime and mischief are concocted ... and ... the industrious poor man is too often induced to waste a portion of his hard-earned wages’. He concurred in the prayer of a Colchester agriculturists’ petition for an additional duty on rum, 4 May. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He was in the Wellington ministry’s majority for the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830. When the king’s death later that month necessitated a dissolution Bramston announced that he could not afford to fight the expected contest and retired, so terminating a parliamentary career of 19 weeks. He was subsequently accused by Long Wellesley of having ‘violated his pledge’ by sitting on the treasury benches and voting with ministers; but Whittle Harvey said he had attended zealously and had shown intelligence as a member of the Rye election committee.24
Bramston, whose health had supposedly been ruined by ‘the fatigues of his parliamentary duties’ and ‘late hours of the House’, was found dead in his water closet at Skreens, 3 Feb. 1831, ‘in consequence ... of the bursting of a blood vessel’ caused by excessive straining.25 By his brief will, dated 26 Feb. 1825, he provided his three surviving daughters and younger son John (later dean of Winchester) with £6,000 each, invested at four per cent, and gave his second wife a legacy of £2,000, partly in repayment of the £435 which she had given him on their wedding day in 1823. His personalty was sworn under £20,000.26 He was succeeded at Skreens by his elder son, Thomas William Bramston (1796-1871), Conservative and Protectionist Member for South Essex, 1835-65.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1824), i. 80.
- 2. Essex RO, Bramston diary D/DLu 10/1/3-4.
- 3. Ibid. 10/1/5-8.
- 4. Ibid. 10/1/13-18, 22-26, 33-48.
- 5. Ibid. 10/1/61, 64-70.
- 6. Ibid. 10/1/74-76.
- 7. Ibid. 10/1/86-87.
- 8. Ibid. 10/2/5-10.
- 9. Ibid. 10/2/28-31, 36, 40-41, 46.
- 10. Ibid. 10/2/45, 48-49.
- 11. Ibid. 10/2/64-88.
- 12. PROB 11/1542/119; IR26/568/233.
- 13. Procs. at Colchester and Essex Elections (1820), 46-50; Essex RO, Gunnis mss D/DGu Z1 C1/1/5.
- 14. Colchester Gazette, 13 Jan. 1821.
- 15. The Times, 9 May 1822.